Sometimes we don’t realise how much we can change our own lives and need to be shown the way. We could not have foretold the impact that an event taking place on 21 April 2000 would have on us. That was the day our first cocker spaniel, Felix, was born.
I wanted a dog, an active dog, to help me become more active after working from home for six years. Mrs Z had always wanted a black spaniel and she tracked down his litter in Hampshire. When he came to live with us in June, he changed our lives forever.
For a start, I had no idea what a challenge it would be to train a working cocker spaniel. We have come to realise that he trained us. He tested us and I like to think that we passed his test. He developed in me calmness and patience I never had before. Life became an adventure as on our walks and his swims, and he became a true pal.
In 2002, when my Mum and Aunt needed a lift down to Devon on their holiday, Felix and I volunteered. We stayed over for a day and visited Ilfracombe on a glorious sunny day. Felix decided we should move there and we all agreed. We swapped the background din of M4 traffic and Heathrow aircraft in Windsor for the beauty and serenity of Devon.
We rarely looked smart as waterproof coats and wellies became our new uniform and we strode along muddy paths and many beaches in whatever the weather threw at us. I easily lost weight and became accustomed to walking for three hours every day, benefiting from sunlight, a greater appreciation of nature and far less stress.
Running along the fringes of the waves on Woolacombe beach, carefree and content, Felix personified freedom. He was a toned athlete and a rascal, with a remarkable sense of humour.
He was there too in tough times. During my own illness and when family passed through illness and we felt despair, he was an immense comfort, as though he knew and felt everything, exerting a presence of infinite strength.
As time went on, he was joined by a ‘brother’ cocker, Bosley, a delight in different ways. Possibly affected by a difficult birth, Bosley seemed unable to learn, but followed Felix and adored him. It seemed we would all live forever, but, of course, life is as full of good byes as it is of hellos, and we lost both in 2013. Now we have Barley, a sprocker spaniel, chocolate not black, because we did not want to try to replace Felix and Bosley.
Felix opened our eyes to living a more fulfilled life, for which I will always be grateful. I cannot underestimate the beneficial changes – physical, mental and spiritual – that I underwent since he entered life with us. Thinking of him reminds me that we have considerable power to change our lives for the better, even when life appears bleakest.
This evening we will drink a toast to him in gratitude. What a giant character. Along with Bosley, he lives on in our hearts.