It’s a Thursday. I’m sitting at work preparing to present my first show in my new job.
The phone rings.
A rather innocuous situation you’d think.
I pick up the phone.
“Hi, is that Nicki?”
I reply that it is.
The conversation lasts about five minutes – but for me it’s five minutes too long.
I make an excuse to my boss that I need to give Chelsea a drink – rush into the toilet and shut the cubicle door.
It’s then that the tears I’ve been holding in for months come.
Chelsea’s outside. She’s oblivious to the fact that I’ve just been told a lady from guide dogs is coming round to finalise the paperwork to get me on the waiting list – and therefore, retire Chelsea when a new dog is found, if not before.
In the grand scheme of dramas it’s quite a daft thing to get upset about.
Nobody died, nobody even got slightly injured – but to me it’s as if someone’s taken my life raft away.
For the last eight years she’s guided me, silently, and without questions through everything.
It’s not just a physical thing when you have a guide dog, they give you confidence, companionship – and in some instances they really save your life.
When Dad died – and even before when we found out he was terminally ill, it was Chelsea, not my friends who was there.
I couldn’t talk to them at first, because it was too painful to acknowledge what was happening.
When I moved to Cardiff, it was Chelsea who kept me strong when I wanted to run back home.
I finish crying and try to compose myself.
My boss asks if I’m OK and I tell her about the phone call.
I manage to present the show and get through the rest of the week till Friday, the day we are due to do the paperwork.
The lady is really lovely when she visits.
We walk round the block with Chelly and she comments how good we are together.
She asks what kind of dog I’d like.
“I don’t think I’d like a black Labrador again,” I say.
“It’d be too difficult to think it’s not Chelly. I’ll compare them anyway, no doubt, but if it feels different it might help.”
She fills out the paperwork.
I’m calmer than I thought I’d be.
I know it has to happen, but it’s just strange now it’s actually official.
I’m waiting for a new dog.
But, as I see Chelly getting a bit slower and a bit stiff as she stretches in the morning, I know she’s almost ready to retire to Llandudno – like so many other old ladies!
She’d fit in nicely I think.
I’ve told her my heart is big enough for all my dogs.
I didn’t think I could cope when Vale retired, but Chelsea showed me I could.
The new dog will be just as lovely, I know.
I just hope it knows what huge paws it’s following in.
I know Chelsea will teach it what to do.
For now, every day of our working lives together is precious.
I’ll still see her lots when she retires, until then, we’ll have as much fun as we can.