Kate E. Reynolds

  • Hugo Reynolds

    Our darling dog, Hugo, died two days ago. He wasn’t a ‘proper’ service dog; he wasn’t trained to support my son who has autism with intellectual (learning) disabilities. We didn’t have to wait months on a waiting list for Hugo to be allocated to us after he’d been trained as a service puppy. At the time I bought him, I wasn’t even sure how my four year old son would respond to having a dog. However, I knew my daughter, who was seven, was desperate for one.

    I spent an entire year looking at different breeds, weighing up the pros and cons of each. I’d never had a dog before. We have a small house, so we couldn’t have a large if beautiful golden retriever, which I always dreamed would be the dog for me. So I scoured around the small to medium breeds.

    The decision to get Hugo was a process. My son jumps at home; this gives him sensory input and is a common behaviour among people with autism, like rocking or head banging. Such behaviours could alarm a dog. Part of the motivation to get a smaller breed was that I believe that any dog can get shocked or frightened and ‘turn’ so the smaller the mouth, the less injury that can be caused if that happens. My son’s behaviours also encouraged me to buy a puppy, which could grow up with my son’s jumping and unpredictable noises. The puppy had to be a known breed, I decided, so I could predict its behaviours as far as possible.

    We saw pictures of a litter of five Cavalier King Charles (CKC) spaniels online. This was the breed I wanted; small, friendly family dogs with a good nature, soft fur and those huge baby eyes. The only female had gone and one of the males. My daughter wanted a Blenheim, that’s a brown and white CKC spaniel, so we had to choose between the two in the litter. The owner/breeder had both the father and the mother in their home, so I felt assured these were not puppy farmed puppies. She informed me that one of the puppies could never be shown or bred from because it had poor markings with too much white on its head. In addition, this puppy was the runt of the litter, it being very small and weak. Clearly, this was the puppy for us. It wasn't until some years later that we realised our new puppy also had a squint!

    It took forever for Francesca and I to name the puppy. We simply couldn’t agree. Eventually the owner/breeder told me all the other puppies in the litter had a name so she and her husband had started calling our puppy ‘Coco’ because the whiteness of the top of his head gave our puppy the appearance of a bald head and his red/brown ears looked like a wig. These features gave our puppy the appearance of Coco the Clown. This information actually made us focus our efforts on names that ended in an ‘O’. Francesca thought of Hugo.

    My four year old son didn’t use words when we got Hugo. I dislike using the term ‘nonverbal’ because Jude made sounds, just nothing that approximated words. He would make a loud sounds and point a lot at things he wanted. It wasn’t until he was six that my son started to make specific sounds for objects, such as “A, a, a, “ for apple. However, when Hugo arrived, my son started making the lilting sounds like a conversation as he lay on the floor with our puppy. That’s how their relationship went, lots of lying around and noise-making.

    Francesca, having Asperger syndrome, found difficulty making friends, so Hugo filled a huge void, giving her an unconditional welcome whenever she came home from the harsh realities of school without friends. When she went on residential school trips, I would write a ‘diary’ from Hugo for her to take, complete with a paw print, some fur and a note begging her to come home soon because he couldn’t stand being alone with the ‘Big Un’ (me).

    We developed a Bristolian voice for Hugo, despite the fact that we bought him in Wales. Francesca was the ‘Little Owner’ and Jude was the ‘Little Un’, even when he grew to be over my height! Hugo’s name morphed from being ‘Hugo-a-go-go’ to ‘Hugo-baloogo’ to ‘Gingangongly’, ‘Doggy-doo’ and various other terms of endearment. But to my son, he was always ‘Udo’.

    Hugo was the one ‘person’ who could persuade my son to walk any real distance. As Hugo slowed down over the years, Jude (my son) was able to attach the lead to his collar and actually hold the lead firmly to walk down the street just ahead of me. Hugo’s presence and the need to look after him, reinforced for my son the importance of stopping at roads, watching for cars before crossing without ambling or stopping midway across.

    When things were tough outside our home, both children found comfort in pressing their faces into Hugo’s fur, stroking him and lying on the sofa with him. Although he knows not to do this with other dogs, Jude used to put his face to Hugo’s and shake as he does when he (Jude) presses his face against mine. When I had chemotherapy Hugo stayed at my side on the bed, rather irritatingly insisting on burrowing beneath the covers, getting too hot then reappearing to lie on the top of the bed before cooling off and burrowing again. I can almost feel his soft fur against me now.

    On Monday I took Hugo for a walk. It wasn’t long, just long enough to get in among the trees and do one of his favourite things, bark up at squirrels and wood pigeons. He hadn’t walked this far for nearly two weeks. This would be his last walk. Hugo became extremely breathless overnight and I rushed him to vets. On Tuesday morning I rang my daughter from the vets. I lifted Hugo’s downy ear and held the phone to it so she could tell him that she loved him. I took a photo of Hugo to show my son, so he could understand how ill Hugo had been. Then I sat with him while he took his last breaths and I told him what a great dog he was, how important he was to all of us, how we loved him and we’d never forget everything he’d done with and for us.

    RIP Hugo Reynolds January 12th 2007 – February 21st 2017

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Kate E Reynolds - blogging

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