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My Passion is a White Ball of Fluff.

by Rachel Brennan 11 months ago in dog
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Thank you for everything, little Penny.

I am the feeling in your chest that motivates and invigorates you to swim through an infinite loop of desirable thoughts, to become excited and enthralled. I am the captivating, galvanization that intensely draws you to a subject, enabling you to endure endorphins at the mere daydream of fulfilling your task. I am a strong desire; I am a strong love. My name is passion.

I’m only joking, my name is Rachel. I just wanted to creatively articulate that definition for you, so you can mentally fathom an answer to this question... What is your passion? A lot of people have passions for things such as swimming, running, sewing, and painting. They’re admirable passions - I also have a passion for writing and literature – but one of my most unique passions, is a bit different to the typical, expected answer to that question.

My passion is a white ball of fluff. In other words - my West Highland terrier, Penny.

I know what you’re thinking – it is a bit bizarre to classify your dog as your passion. But please spare me a minute to tell you why. I have had Penny since I was six years old, she is thirteen now. She’s always been there, tapping the kitchen floor with her paws, gazing up at me with her oak brown, sparkly eyes which lure me in to giving her a scrap of food.

This is when I eat absolutely anything by the way, from salads to a greasy McDonald’s. She has always been there, sitting and painting my windows with stains from where she has sat and window watched endlessly in the evenings too, staring into the tangerine sunset dividing the array of hazy clouds.

I remember before we had a dog, my mum and dad were together. The thought of having a house without her mooching around is such a foreign thought to me now, a nightmare I would never wish to suffer. My dad was an immense clean freak when he lived with us, he was the type of person to feel infuriated and consumed at the thought of one of the ‘tea, coffee, sugar’ tubs being slightly slanted in the kitchen.

He told my mum, ‘We are not getting an unclean mut.’ She hated this, because back in the day, she had her own dog and fell in love with it the way we fell in love with Penny, her Labrador’s name was Lady. Mum always used to tell me about Lady whilst platting my hair, she was the dog that lived with my mum and her first love, Lee. I used to feel giddy when she filled my ears with her nostalgic dog-walking anecdotes and my insistent six-year-old self protested that we must get a dog.

When my dad had an affair and recklessly scattered my mum’s heart all over the doors and windows of our content and warm family home, it affected my mum to envelope tears and suffer silently as she feared the thought of being a single mum, but lso feared the thought of disrespecting herself by staying with him. My dad’s affair was thoughtlessly and awfully with my best friend’s mum who he met at my birthday party, who was also our neighbor and somebody my mum once named a ‘friend’.

After this deception and gargantuan stab wound that my mum was left with from the betrayal, my mum eventually decided she was going to get a dog to help heal the damage he had done. We all fathomed the “unclean mut” Dad described, was found in his own reflection. I remember my sister (Holly), my Mum and myself becoming elated, evoked by the concept of having a little wandering terrier, pondering through our home. My mum teamed an A4 sheet of paper with a black sharpie pen which we utilised to compose a list of different possible dog names for our new friend. We wrote about sixty, and that isn’t an exaggeration – probably around thirty for a girl dog, and thirty for a boy.

My mum was on her phone a lot – texting the breeder. A few weeks had gone by, and my mum took me and Holly to B&M to buy a dog bed, collar, lead, food, cage, and bowls. Whilst we were in the car park, my mum had brought the list of names. We contemplated as we browsed through the names, but we managed to conclude that we wanted a girl dog. We then were stuck on the three names: Tilly, Penny or Poppy.

When Pen was born, I assume the breeder was very fond of my mum because she had texted her to say we could meet the puppies before they were allowed to be released. We drove down, all bounding like puppies ourselves, and before we knew it, we were there. I don’t really remember what the breeder looked like – you’ve got to think, I was six years old. I recollect my mum saying she had auburn hair.

My mum was very thankful for our ‘special access’ – but when we arrived, we were not picking a puppy, just simply looking at them all in awe, eight weeks before we could bring one home. I wonder if my mum asked if she could see the puppies just because her daughters were so excited. If she did, she secretly knew she requested that because she was just as giddy as us too. We all beamed at the thought of our new family member, we were so goofy about it.

I remember meeting Penny’s mum, she was a very large westie, especially in comparison to the pool of tiny puppies surrounding her, she was fast asleep in the cage. Approximately fourteen dogs were squirming all over her, some were laying on her back, some laying on her paws, there was even one little puppy laid across her forehead, which she woke up and scrambled with her paws to remove it.

You couldn’t see her back legs or tail for the number of puppies which were rummaging all around the cage, it looked and smelled a little claustrophobic. I actually feel really upset when I think about Penny being taken away from her mum and family – it’s cruel really. But she couldn’t have gone to a home that loves her as much as we do.

We asked the breeder lots of questions, I think my mum was nervous because she had owned dogs before – but not alongside two children. The breeder told us that Penny's mum’s name was Tilly, so we decided that we would narrow down our name choices to Poppy or Penny because it would be weird to directly name her after her Mum.

When it came to the day of selecting which puppy we wanted and taking it home with us – the traffic swarmed as my mum’s sweat dribbled down her forehead, in conclusion; we arrived late. When we got there, there was only two dogs left. A typical looking cute puppy, and a fat, plump and beautiful puppy. We chose the fat one, we instantly thought that she had been fat shamed and that’s why no one chose her. The one that wasn’t fat looked like somebody would take her for definite. We all looked at each other and collectively agreed her name was Penny, I don’t know why – she just looked like a Penny.

She was the most beautiful thing I had and have ever seen; she had a tiny, midnight black button nose and a huge forehead. She was so adorable, fluffy like a duck feathered pillow, and precious like platinum. We caressed her in our hands as my mum drove home, she was around the size of my palm itself. She was so delicate and weightless, she would stretch her tiny paws when she yawned, letting out a high-pitched moan which followed with our collective ‘aww!’ exclamation.

She mended the hole in our family and filled the void of where my dad was missing, my mum was in shock from her husband and the father of her kids suddenly leaving and starting a new life without her. She was constantly stressed, immersed in divorcement and financial paperwork. Penny was an excellent addition to the family and her lovable eyes eradicated Mum away from all that chaos.

“Look!” I would shout, when Penny was that size, she had a habit of crawling in our shoes and sleeping in them, her little head would pop out of the opening of my Mum’s converse like a sleeping bag. “Grab my phone!” My mum would run to capture a photograph of all of Penny’s precious moments like these.

When Penny was a puppy though, she would miss her mum, the breeder generously handed my mum a teddy bear which had once belonged to Tilly (Penny’s mum). It’s grotesque really – it was smeared in dog poop, but the woman recommended that it would smell of her Mum and comfort her. Penny tucked up to the teddy and fell asleep in the cage each night.

Most nights, she would wake up and cry very hard for her Mum. Of course, I was only six, I think I must have slept through it. My mum was extremely passionate about looking after Penny, so passionate that at 3:00am/4:00am she would wobble downstairs, still half asleep with crumbs in her tear ducts, adjusting to the light and the transcendence of her slumber – to hold Penny in her arms and console her, helping her go from weeping to sleeping.

We all fell in love with our dog, she gave us all a purpose, she made us all feel warm and fuzzy when we stroked her and watched her precious little eyes snooze. Most mornings of the first eight weeks of having Penny, we would wake up to find our mum asleep on the settee, cradling Penny still from the night before. You could tell by her cradle that when it came to mothering – our mum was a natural.

Years later of Penny’s adjustment and eventual settling in as a part of our family, after many precious moments and valuable memories - when I was fifteen years old, something tragic happened. My mum’s hernia was misdiagnosed. The cancer tumor, which was looming inside of her, was eating away at her without us knowing.

The tumor had wrapped around an organ and manipulated the endoscope (the medical camera which they put into your stomach), making it look like a hernia. We found out that it was actually cancer, and after months of unimaginable suffering in hospital walls, my beautiful mum passed away. When my mum was receiving palliative care at home before her death, she laid in the hospital bed which was placed in our living room. My dad sat with my dog when my Mum died, I was holding Mum’s hand.

Penny broke my dad’s heart because, he said that she was sat on the stairs, completely unresponsive, looking down with her ears pulled back. He believes Penny knew what was happening.

When Mum was poorly, before she came home, during the four months at hospital, my mum would do nothing but talk to the nurses about how much she missed Penny. Of course, she missed us, but she got to see us. She only got to see Penny through photographs and videos on a rectangular screen, it was not the same as the homely smell of her fur.

It wasn’t the same as the whimpers she does after you have said ‘walkies’ and are taking a little long to zip up your coat, or the grunts she does when you stroke her head, and how with every stroke, she turns over onto her back, requesting a belly rub.

They missed each other enormously, and I think Penny was a huge contributing factor to why she chose to receive care at home rather than at a hospice. She was not excited to go home to wither away in a hospital bed, but the fact she knew she was seeing Penny after long and hellish months of absence, she was slightly elated. You cannot imagine it.

Can you imagine acknowledging you only have approximately fourteen days, if that, of your life left, and you miss your dog so much that the thought of your West Highland terrier makes you giddy in those circumstances? I haven’t thanked Penny enough for that, she kept my mum’s mental health beyond afloat. She was the light in my mum’s darkness. She gave my mum something to look forward to when the future was literally empty for her.

Penny needed to be babysat by my grandad when the ambulance parked outside my house filled with the flock of nurses which hoisted the hospital bed and positioned it in our living room. But hours after my Mum had settled in, we decided to ring my grandparents and get them to bring Penny in. My sister met my grandma at the door and clasped my dog in her hands. This was the moment my mum and Penny had waited endlessly for.

Holly slowly made her way into the living room with Penny in her hands, Penny was glued to her chest. My Auntie had placed pillows over my mum’s stomach where she had been operated on just in case Penny walked over my mum to kiss her face, which she did. My mum croaked: ‘Aww, is that my baby?’ her voice didn’t sound the same as it did when she was healthy, it trembled and sounded raspier from where the hospital tubes had been.

When Penny’s Westie ears heard my Mum’s voice, her white and fluff ears erected upwards. She knew who it was instantaneously. Penny’s ears stuck so far out of her head, she looked like a rabbit and her paws divided, spreading to Holly’s left and right shoulders, ready to do an ecstatic leap.

My sister entered the living room. Then when Penny’s eyes met my mum, her eyes filled with elation and tears, her ears flipped down as fast as light, and stayed like that the entire time. Her tale flickered, she scurried onto the bed and onto my mum’s chest over the road of pillows covering her stomach, bounding up to quilt her face in millions of kisses.

They really were best friends. Whilst I watched them reunite, the thought possessed me: I never thought when we were creating the list of names, that the little puppy we were buying would outlive our mum. On the nights that me and my sister needed it the most through my mum’s health decline, Penny would run up to us, and lick the tears off our cheeks which had strolled from our heavy, tired eyes.

She gave us a reason to get out of the house, I was glued to the chair next to my mum’s hospital bed, I was always frightened to leave or go to sleep in case I weren’t there to hold her hand whilst she drifted off to the angels. But to not go out, would be detrimental for our mental health. Luckily, Penny would sit by us and remind us of this, harassing us with her nose nudges and paw pats which would get us out of the house for an hour or so.

She made the nurses that visited and maintained my Mum’s conditions daily, smile and laugh, she would greet them all by wagging her tale and then turning over onto her back for a tummy rub once she had lured them into a head stroke. She knows what to do with her eyes – she looks at you and it all melts away. She is delicate, pure, and adorable like a little baby.

I’m sorry that Penny lost two mums in her life, every single day that my mum was in hospital, she would lay at my front door, with her ears up, but also half down, it was like she was on alert, waiting for something that consistently never came. Her ears looked upset. Her eyes wouldn’t be closed, but they wouldn’t be open either. She seemed dismal and would wince and sigh.

Most nights, I would have to literally pick her up to move her away from the door. I’d then clamber into bed and read the text from my mum, sent from the melancholy hospital walls: I miss Penny. When Penny does die, my heart will shatter. But I know she will be with her best friend again. Until then, I am passionate about enabling Penny to live the best life she can. She has had a lot of loss in her life, but she still bounds around with an exhilarated spirit.

It has not withered her ability to stand at our porch windows, barking, howling, and jumping whenever she sees a dog walk by. Or if I'm being honest, she barks if a bee lands on a dandelion in our garden, her enthusiasm has not withered in the slightest.

I love her so much; I love how when she is sleeping her little paws tread the air. We always laugh and joke about her dreaming about running, but the funny thing is, is that she probably is imagining just that. I once came in with a common cold, I felt so run down, and I hurried upstairs, I wondered why she had not greeted me at the door, leaping down whilst the sound of her paws followed her.

I sat on the settee. Moments after I wondered where Penny was, she decided to greet me by wagging her tail so fast I could hear it clobbering the sofa, accommodated by her resting her tiny chin on the sofa, whilst latching her precious puppy eyes with mine.

It’s those things that make Penny my passion, I am so passionate for her to have a good life. I want to bury our living room with toys, treats and I want to take her to new places. I feel bad for little Pen, because ultimately, she is thirteen years old and has only been to the beach once or twice, I cannot wait to drive.

She doesn’t have many doggy friends – a lot of them are old now and have sadly passed on. I explained this concern to our dog groomer – who introduced me to a Facebook group called ‘westie walkers UK’. This group, I kid you not, is basically a westie appreciation group and westie support group, I love scrolling through photographs and videos of people’s westies. I have also received advice about the best westie diet, Penny's pimples - you name it.

We all collectively understand the love, I wish my mum were around to see the group, it makes my day when I'm aimlessly trailing through my timeline on my phone to be surprised by a picture of a beautiful Westie. The group even have a name for when a Westie has an attitude – ‘westitude’ – now that really made me laugh when I saw it.

Penny’s groomer informed me that every summer, a group of people who own westies take their dogs for a walk on Filey beach, and that they all look beautiful, doing their little westie pondering together, that was what the group was initially made for. I wish one day to host my own Westie walk, and somehow transform the event into a charitable one, raising money for the cancer I lost my mum too.

I’ve never seen a dog strut the way Penny does – she cocks her bum out, and flicks her paw pads up and down, sniffing and running around with her ears down. She has a carrot shaped tale, and it pricks up in the air whilst she scurries through dandelions and daisies, absorbing all their foibles.

I remember once, my mum was staring at my dog's tale and commented on how funny the shape is. It seriously is just like a carrot; curiosity captivated my mum and Google told her that the shape was revolutionized to aid Westie's to pull themselves out of small holes.

My mum then pulled at my dog's tale, receiving a growl. We all laughed, because it was such a spontaneous thing and Holly and I looked at Mum to say, what are you doing? That's when she explained this, we still giggle about it.

Passionately, I hope to find Penny some good friends someday, she loves other dogs and is a very friendly, enthusiastic thirteen-year-old dog who is ninety-seven in dog years (I believe, I am about as good as Math as Penny is at not stealing food off my plate) but regardless of her age and her losses, she has the spirit of a four-month-old puppy.

Penny has really adorned my mum’s, my sister’s, and my life, so my passion right now is to reciprocate and adorn hers. It is my first thought when I wake up, and the last thought before I go to bed, I am passionate that little Penny deserves the best in this unpredictable world.


About the author

Rachel Brennan

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