My Dog, Betty

I have a dog, Betty, who I’ve had for about eleven years. I bought her in 2007 for £50 from the dog pound here in Sheffield, and was drawn to her because she was the only dog there who wasn’t a scary looking brute or on his or her last legs. She wasn’t called Betty when I first met her although I can’t remember what name she’d been given by the staff there, the ones who had found her wandering the streets on a deprived housing estate, aged just nine months.

She just became ‘Betty’, and revealed her self to be a true character – nervous, grumpy, loving, shy, sweet, solitary and needy, all rolled into her Jack Russell/Staffordshire Bull Terrier exterior.

She came out with me and countless other dogs, day in, day out, when I ran my dog walking business, back in 2007-2009. She’d sit in the front seat of my car as we drove around picking up all my charges, her lower jaw jutting out slightly too far, a feature that’s always made her look quite comical (and made all the funnier because she takes herself so very seriously). In nice weather she would stick her head out of the car window so that her ears flew back in the breeze, causing passers-by to smile and point.

She was with me on the last time I ever drank alcohol, back in April 2011, and luckily, my reckless actions of that night didn’t result in her death or serious injury. I’d taken her out for her final wee of the night and then promptly collapsed, horrendously drunk, letting go of her lead and passing out. The person who called an ambulance for me also found Betty and returned her safely to my apartment, thank God.

Today, I took Betty running. She’s nearly twelve years old now, and has little grey hairs around her nose. She no longer sprints after squirrels as she always did but can still manage a five-mile run, like the one we did today. We reached a field and I let her off the lead. I ran to the top of the hill and turned to wait for Betty to catch me up, watching her as she took her time, sniffing here and there, not in a rush for anyone (least of all, me), enjoying the glorious sun on her back after several days of its notable absence.

As I stood there catching my breath, I thought of all the times we have shared during her life with me: how I was in such a dark place when I first adopted her, drinking lots of wine every night, alone, in the kitchen of the house I shared with my then boyfriend (Betty lying by my feet as I did so); how I put her in serious danger on the night I wound up in hospital after drinking; how I spent many nights pondering suicide with her sitting by my side, licking my hand gently as if to say, “don’t do it, there’s stuff here that’s worth sticking around for”; how I used to drink too much and not be able to stand sleeping alone, so I’d put her on the bed next to me to keep me company; how she has faithfully trotted around with me over the years, as I’ve changed from such a lost, broken person to someone who’s pretty much sorted, responsible, who can provide her with the good life she deserves; how she’s loved me and my daughters and kept us all safe at night; all the running we’ve done together, miles and miles and miles, through the countryside and up mountains and on the streets, in the snow and in the sunshine.

Betty’s life is a marker of the most incredible decade of my life – one where I’ve got my head around who I am, what I want out of life; one where I almost died and where I’ve conquered my demons; ten years in which I’ve left behind a painful and dark existence and found a sense of happiness and contentment.

As she trotted up the hill towards me, all of these things were running through my mind. I felt so aware of that moment with my dog, my faithful Betty who has been by my side through everything – and I felt an immense gratitude for her presence in my life.

Sometimes misunderstood, defensive and difficult at times, but through it all, Betty has been a great friend to me. I am so glad I found her that day in the dog pound, so pleased I picked her. So happy that despite everything, she’s stuck with me, and me with her, for all these years. But more than anything, I am so chuffed that eventually she got me like this – able, responsible, mentally well, and committed to her no matter what.