There for each other: How my rescue dog helped me through grief
When Richard Littledale lost his wife, Fiona, in November 2017, he was left with intense loneliness and found himself having to adjust to life living alone after 30 years of marriage. But after adopting rescue dog Ginny, a two-year-old Lurcher from Dogs Trust Newbury, two months after Fiona’s death, Richard says that they found each other during a time of vulnerability and are helping each other to find happiness again.
Richard, who is the Baptist Minister at Newbury Baptist church, says:
“Even when the death of a loved one is anticipated or expected, the physical, social and emotional impact of loss can still take you by surprise. Adapting to living alone in the home you’ve shared together with a lost loved one is difficult, and you become so aware of otherwise unnoticed details such as the frightening size of an empty room or the different echo when you climb the stairs alone.
“When Fiona and I moved into our current home, it was always part of our dream to share it with a four-legged friend. But when she died, that dream became somewhat shattered but the dream was there nonetheless and I still wanted to fill that dog-shaped hole.”
In the early weeks of bereavement, Richard visited Dogs Trust Newbury, initially to look for a German Shepherd, as this was one of the only breeds he had some experience with, after caring for his sons dog whilst he was on holiday. However, after several trips to the rehoming centre with no suitable German Shepherds at this moment ready for adoption, he spent some time looking for what other breeds might be suitable for his lifestyle.
“I spent several weeks looking for a dog to share my home with me – always to no avail. The dogs were not right for me, or I was not right for the dog. However, on January 19th, that changed when I walked, once again, around the kennels keeping an open mind as to what other breeds might be suitable for me. Then I spotted Ginny and was drawn to her instantly. There was something about the quietness of this beautiful creature that spoke to me, and I perhaps saw some of my own sadness reflected in her beautiful amber eyes.
“I chatted her history through with the team at the rehoming centre and like me, Ginny found herself adrift in a place she didn’t expect to be with no one by her side but she was ready to make a new start. During such an emotionally vulnerable time, a nervous dog wouldn’t have been suitable for me, but I needed a dog that would be able to offer me companionship, loyalty and be able to come with me to Church so needed to be happy to meet strangers and have a gentle fuss. We agreed that Ginny could well be the one for me and we started the adoption process.”
After several meets to get to know each other, and the usual formalities when it comes to adopting a Dogs Trust dog, Richard eventually brought Ginny home.
“In the days before I brought her home, my excitement began to mount but so did my anxiety. Adopting a dog is a serious commitment and a significant life change. Coming so soon after such a massive upheaval, it was sure to bring its own stress.
“I began to worry about the tiniest thing, from where the dog’s bowl should be kept to where she would sleep at night and how I could organise our arrival home. Fortunately, my family were very reassuring, and Dogs Trust were patience and understanding personified. This kind of support is especially important when an emotionally vulnerable person adopts an animal.”
Richard has now been living with Ginny for two months and he says she has settled in remarkably well. She is enjoying her new routine, accompanying him to work and watching television together. Richard says she has given him a routine that was lost in the aftermath of Fiona’s death.
“One of the early casualties of bereavement is routine. The routine that was there when your loved one was well is long gone, and the routine you had when caring for them is gone too. However, Ginny needs routine to settle into her new home.
“She needs to be walked and fed and it falls to me to provide these things. In return, she has given me so many things including removing the discomfort I previously felt in my sitting room, which seemed far too big for weeks after Fiona’s death. She provides a calming presence whilst we watch television together in the evenings.”
Richard and Ginny are looking forward to a future ahead of them and sharing a life together in each other’s company. During bereavement, facing the day and other people can seem like a daunting task, especially when returning to work and getting up and about. But with Ginny by his side, Richard is finding this less of a struggle.
“People often stop us on our walks, and they no longer see Richard the widower - they see a man with a dog and strike up a conversation. On my first day back at work as a minister after three months off, Ginny came with me. Without realising it, she was my guardian, happy to greet everybody as they arrived and I was grateful that awkward but well-meaning enquiries about how I was feeling were eclipsed by comments about her.
“Ginny and I will hopefully have many years of each other’s company and I hope that I will do as much for her as she does for me. I am sure she will continue to provide loyalty, fun, and an enthusiastic greeting whenever we see each other and in turn I will provide protection and the kind of reassurance she craves.
“Fiona’s ashes lie at the foot of a cherry tree overlooking Beacon Hill and Watership Down in Berkshire. Whenever we stop there, I shall tell her about the one I've lost, and she will stand beside the one she's found.”
Nicki Barrow, Dogs Trust Newbury Rehoming Centre Manager, said:
“Dogs are truly wonderful animals and hearing how much Ginny has helped Richard is absolutely heart-warming. They are the perfect partnership and a lovely example of how much love and joy a dog can bring to someone’s daily life. The relationship they have is incredible and we’re sure they’ll have a great life together.”