A new puppy wrecked my health, home and happiness

A new puppy wrecked my health, home and happiness: She hoped a dog would fill the hole in her empty nest. But in a confession that will horrify pet lovers, MARION McGILVARY admits she sent the pooch back

  • Marion McGilvary had always wanted a dog and prepared to welcome pet Blue
  • When collected the pup Marion cried and thought the mixed-breed was beautiful
  • However after week she was like a ‘zombie’ and had no quality time with partner 
  • Marion worried about everything and took Blue back to the breeder in Devon 

All my life I wanted a dog. I couldn’t walk past one in the street without dropping to my knees like a supplicant and talking to them in a silly, goo-goo language.

It wasn’t until I was 60 years old that the day I had longed for finally came.

I prepared for the arrival of Blue with the same nervous enthusiasm I’d had when I first became a mother. But instead of a cot I bought a cage; instead of a Moses basket there was a dog bed.

I also bought chew toys and rawhide and organic dog goodies and bowls and pee pads. I wanted to be primed so I read books on raising a puppy just as eagerly as I’d once read Miriam Stoppard and Penelope Leach when I was pregnant.

Marion McGilvary, pictured, had always wanted a dog and adopted puppy Blue from Devon

Blue, pictured, is a half Jack Russell, half miniature poodle dog and Marion said she cried when she picked him up from the breeder’s house

Nothing was too much trouble for the gorgeous ginger ball of fluff that was about to make my longest-held dream come true.

I had been a pet-starved child, whose mother thought animals ‘shed’ (said with a moue of horror usually reserved for doorstep evangelists and hire purchase sellers). As a result I had a childhood with no rabbits, no hamsters, no cats — and definitely no dog to pet. I was deprived.

I promised myself that when I got older I’d finally have a dog. Instead I had children. Four of them under eight and a husband who travelled.

A dog would seem to some like the perfect addition to a young family, but not if you are raising them pretty much alone, and not if your only help was sporadic visits from an animal-hating mother.

We tried a bunny, but next door’s cat ate it. We tried a fish. Ditto. I didn’t dare consider a dog. We went to my in-laws in the U.S. to visit for two months a year. Who would look after it while we were away? ‘Not me,’ said Mammy, so I put my dreams aside and my youngest son, who shared my longing, made do with a pet woodlouse called George.

Marion had always wanted a dog but didn’t get one until she was 60. Pictured is puppy Bue

Marion, pictured, said she ‘positively welcomed’ the walking that would come with getting a dog and was excited to welcome adorable Blue into her home

So, when I turned 60, my kids finally gone and a new partner in situ, I saw a litter of puppies on a friend’s page on Facebook. Hallelujah! Trumpets sounded, angels sang and my finger pressed send on a message to the breeder. I begged her to let me adopt one. She agreed.

Our puppy was called Blue to match his collar, and grew over the weeks in regular photo updates from a little vole-shaped scrap into a russet red, curly, floppy-eared bundle of joy. He was half Jack Russell, half miniature poodle, and according to his breeder the smartest of the bunch. He sat for treats at four weeks old and obeyed simple commands. I was utterly in love and he was mine.

My partner was less excited. Though a fanatical animal lover, known to rescue grasshoppers out of the lawn before mowing and to gently repatriate snails to nearby parkland, he wasn’t sold on having a dog.

He didn’t want the work of it. Although a keen hiker, he nevertheless didn’t want to walk it. It might distract him from PlayStation or catching up with the latest sad-man-with-a-guitar recording on Spotify. Walking a dog was a chore. He didn’t like chores.

I positively welcomed the walking. I could use the exercise. I’d enjoy it. I’d bond with all the lovely doggy people in nearby parks. I had an ulterior motive, too. I wanted affection. With my house finally empty of children, whose idea of warmth was a neck squeeze, I was a bit deprived of it.

During the first week Blue, pictured, had Marion up several times during the night and she revealed that she cried on the first few nights

I had also found love with a man whose only endearment was embarrassed silence. Kind, gentle and caring, his devotion was confined to Chelsea Football Club and ‘creatures’ — a term covering anything from beetles to cows.

He claimed he wasn’t used to giving compliments or whispering sweet nothings. It wasn’t in his nature, he said, until one day I heard him call a stray cat precious and realised that unless I grew a tail I would have to find my adoration elsewhere.

‘My spaniel is the only thing that truly loves me,’ a similarly ignored friend said. Another enthused that her golden retriever Forrest was always so overjoyed to see her, while her husband just grunted. Now, I too could have this gift. A loyal best friend to cuddle with, to talk to, to give me unconditional love and vice versa.

Marion, pictured, said she constanly worried about Blue and she even had a panic attack

And so the day came to collect wee Blue — and, there he was, asleep on his back, legs akimbo, long ears flopping out on either side of his sweet snout like a mini Dumbo. The minute I saw him I started to cry. My puppy. I had done it. He was beautiful and instantly my heart was his.

I cuddled him, cooed at him and held him as he napped in my arms. Luckily, and perhaps predictably, I wasn’t the only one smitten. My partner looked at the puppy like the two were starring in a rom-com.

But like all the best romances, it wasn’t a bed of roses. It was, in fact, a bed on the sofa, which I slept on for the first week.

It was my dog, so I had to do pee patrol at 2am. I also had to get up at 5.30 when he woke up and wanted to play. The first few nights, he cried. So did I. I walked him, sang to him, petted him, and eventually he fell asleep in his cage with me lying on the floor beside him with my hand on his belly.

By night two he was sleeping on my chest. By the third night he had the sofa to himself. I’m not saying where I was.

Then there was the middle-of-the-night peeing. Or that was the idea. In reality, he didn’t seem so inclined. Instead, he got lost in the dark garden and hid under the decking, refusing to come out. He barked. His puppy yip now a sharp howl.

When eventually coaxed in with treats he promptly made a mess of the kitchen floor. I made a makeshift pen in the garden for night-time toilet training. He escaped.

This time he hid in the bushes, trampling my tree peony. I followed all the rules. He broke them. By the end of the first week, I was a zombie, but he was as fresh as a daisy. With a stomach upset.

Little Blue, pictured, did not follow the rules and once hid under the decking from Marion

My partner couldn’t see what the problem was. He carried him around, telling him how special he was, while I washed the floor. And the cushions. And the carpet. Then it was time to go to work. I work part-time, as did my partner, and there was only one day when we were both out.

‘But I can’t look after him when I’m at home,’ he said. ‘I’m busy those days.

‘Can’t you be more flexible?’ I asked. But no. He wouldn’t do doggy day care. I said I’d have to leave him on his own then.

‘But he’ll cry if you leave him alone,’ boyfriend muttered darkly. What can I do? I have to work. To make matters worse I was offered a much-needed extra day of employment. So now he’d be alone for even longer. I couldn’t bear to leave him by himself, so I took extra holidays. Meanwhile my partner was never seen without a puppy cradled in his arms except when specifically asked to do so, when he was suddenly busy.

We had no quality time alone together. There was only puppy time, which excluded me. I had a rival. Instead of having the affection I’d craved, I had been abandoned by both of them.

Since returning Blue, pictured, Marion said her children call her Cruella, but added that they didn’t volunteer to help with the new addition

He cheerfully let the puppy chew playfully on his hands and ankles. I got bitten, he got licked. He watched him fondly as he ate whatever took his fancy, including my sunglasses, my gardening shoes, and anything he found in the garden. I had to take him to the vet three times. 

I was worried he’d get poisoned. My worry began to blossom and I was assailed by dark thoughts, vague feelings of doom that I couldn’t put into words, and as I picked mangled pieces of insole out of the third poo of the day, I had a massive panic attack. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t eat and I totally freaked out.

While my partner and Blue frolicked in the flower beds, I was staring into space, crippled with anxiety, having one panic attack after another, in a state of blind, if totally unjustified, terror. I couldn’t even enjoy the dog when I got the chance because I was rigid with worry. What was wrong with me? And then it hit me. I had post-canine- adoption depression.

Well obviously, that’s not really a thing, but it was exactly the same feelings that swamped me when I had a breakdown with my fourth child — fears of being unable to cope, being overwhelmed, being sleep deprived, being burdened by responsibility.

I hadn’t three other kids to take care of now, but other details were the same — a doting father who left most of the care to me, or at least the hard bits.

Marion’s friend called the breeder to arrange taking Blue, pictured, back 

The thing is, I’d signed up for this willingly. I had known it would be hard, but I wasn’t prepared to feel trapped. I wasn’t prepared to feel burdened. And I wasn’t prepared to be flooded with all the feelings I’d had when small children tied me to the house; when I couldn’t work and was at the mercy of their timetables and my husband’s schedule.

It’ll pass, said my partner, wearing the puppy like a shawl, but I couldn’t wait. I realised I just couldn’t hack it. I’d had enough of dependents. I couldn’t do this again.

So, reader, I did the unthinkable. I became the poster child for irresponsible pet owners. Three weeks after I took Blue home I returned him to the breeder. I admit I roped in my dear friend, who knew the breeder, to help. She did all the negotiation and drove the puppy back to Devon. I didn’t have the courage to approach her myself. I cowered like the snivelling failure I was.

Naturally, the breeder hasn’t spoken to me since. I wouldn’t talk to me either. My partner was heart-broken, but still not willing to give up on his days out.

My children called me Cruella, but weren’t volunteering any help. It was to be my job. I’d asked for it, but I’d had no idea what it would entail.

Although no longer having Blue, Marion does still have her cat who mostly ignores her

Looking back now, I do regret it. I still look at pictures of his little woolly face and wish it had been different. But every time I walk out of the house alone, or decide on a whim to go off for the weekend, I know that for both me and the dog, I did the right thing. I wasn’t fit to be a dog owner. Or at least not a puppy owner. If there’d been an exam (and there should be), I would have failed it. I didn’t deserve this lovely animal. I felt and still feel guilty.

A few friends have since confided in me that in the early days of their puppy parenting they all felt the same.

One said she secretly wished her Coco would just run away and never be found for most of the first year, and another admitted they’d made a terrible mistake with their cockapoo, but with small children they were already tied, so they soldiered on. After a lifetime of child-rearing, with a house newly empty of all dependents except the middle-aged one, my soldiering days were over.

Little Blue now has a new name and a new family. He went to live on a farm with one of his brothers. No, he really did.

Naturally I’m probably blacklisted at all the animal shelters and could even be on the RSPCA’s most-wanted list.

But I do have a cat. He mostly ignores me. And that suits me just fine.  

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