Dear Dante,

It’s difficult to remember a time without you Dante. We’ve stuck together for a while now. We cuddle up when we’re tired and we go on adventures when we’re not. We don’t have cross words anymore, yet I know you get frustrated when I don’t understand what you’re trying to tell me. But do you ever wonder why it’s you and me?

What was it that made the universe decide you would live with me and I would try my best to look after you?

Sometimes when we’re chilling on the sofa together I remember the first time we met and how excited you were to tell your brothers and sisters I was going to be your Dad. When I came to see you, your siblings were fast asleep, until you woke them up with your squealing and dancing. From the moment I held you in my arms I knew we were in for a lifetime of adventures.

You were too small to come home that first time we met, I had to leave you a little longer with your Mum, Izzy. But I remember that freezing cold day in December when I could take you home as if it was last Wednesday. You didn’t cry as you said goodbye to your family, and you took the car-ride home in your stride. You snuggled down on my lap and only whimpered when you were thirsty.

When we stopped in the bleakness of South Mimms service station I realised how vulnerable you were and that you had unconditionally put your trust in me to provide for you. For the first time in my fifty years, here was a being who completely depended on me. Until then I was “needy me” expecting the rest of the world to look after me. In that moment, parked between the huge lorries, I knew we were a team and I had to make this work.

Before you arrived I’d read puppy handbooks telling me that you would miss Izzy for the first few nights as we settled into our home together. But you were born to be different and once you’d explained you weren’t sleeping on the floor in the kitchen preferring to snuggle next to me, all was well and there were no more tears. You still sleep in the same place, the only difference is you comfort me more than you will ever know. My anxiety and worries dissolve as you give out a long sigh and tell me it’s time to relax into the moment and drift off to sleep.

We soon settled into our routine of eating, sleeping and growing up together. Like me you were a late developer and only learnt the proper place to pee when you were sixteen weeks old. But once you understood where to go, you never looked back. It might take us a little longer than others to learn our lessons, but once we’ve learnt them, they stick!

On the subject of learning lessons it didn’t take long before you signed up for Doggie Day Care. So like every youngster it was time to go to school. For the first few weeks you enjoyed the puppy pack, it was only when they put you in with the big boys class you felt the pain of the bullies. Like me you suffered at the hands of the cruel and insensitive herd.

That evening you came home limping, holding your back leg off the ground, I knew it was serious. Quickly we ran to the vet, me panicking, and you not quite sure what was happening. When Elinor, our wonderful vet told us you had broken your leg, the world stood still for a minute or two. How could my gorgeous puppy be anything but perfect? Elinor calmly explained you needed urgent surgery. It was the first time I’d cried since I’d been bullied at school. The helplessness flooded over me because I knew I’d let you down. How could I have put you in such danger, when I was supposed to be the responsible one? Again I had failed, again I realised I can’t even look after me, let alone you.

We cuddled tight that night and you wiped away my tears. You, wiped my tears, it should have been the other way around. Why wasn’t I being the grown-up when you needed me most?

Sometimes when things look bleak a ray of hope shines through. Our ray of hope was a call from Elinor to say the wonderful Queen’s Veterinary School in Cambridge would fix your leg that very day. Quickly we packed a few things and jumped in the car, even then you were excited about the car ride! If there’s one thing you’ve taught me, it’s to live in the moment. However bad a situation might seem there is also joy in the moment. Be it drifting off to sleep or going for a car ride.

The next few days were a blur for both of us, you in the hospital and me at a loss. Why was I feeling so alone? We’d only been together a few months.

After a week you were ready to come home. I will never forget the day I collected you. I caught a glimpse of you through the window as I walked into the reception. My little black dog with a cone on his head and a steel brace on his leg. I started crying and the kind receptionist comforted me. Again I was making it all about me, when you need me most. You came out with the nurse wagging your tail and licked my face. Here you were again propping me up when it should have been the other way around.

We don't talk anymore about that time because it has passed and it’s over. The day your leg braces were removed and you could walk again was the day I understood what it meant to feel grateful and how difficult times help us grow into stronger and better souls.

They say when a dog reaches two years old, they enter their teenage years, and like me you were no easy teenager. Your confidence reached the stars and my “No” became your “Don’t tell me what to do”

“That dog’s out of control” some said, but I knew, like me, you had to spread your wings and learn your lessons the hard way. That time you got so lost in the woods, and the time you ran out of Kensington Gardens in front of a lorry careening along the Bayswater Road. Both were traumatic for you, but both helped you grow up. You don’t go far these days, and you normally check I’m around, unless you’re in the sea having too good a time.

You’re six now and we’ve woven our personalities together. We’re both noisy, excitable, and impatient. We both wear our emotions on our sleeves which some find irritating. We’re not great at sharing or saying thank you, but we’re triers and every day we do our best. We know we are imperfect and a work progress, and that’s perfectly fine. Above all we know we have each other and until the end we will walk this path together.

Dante, I love you!