One of us

12 months ago, I started a journey which involved giving up late morning lie-ins, the use of my left hand, wearing pretty shoes and having clean floors. It also involved learning Italian commands, making friends, getting more active, setting new routines and embracing the new little being that had not only taken over our home but also our hearts. Hund “Qweela”.

Right from day one it was apparent that Quila was a special dog. Specifically bred to become a service dog, she possesses the perfect character traits … a soft, gentle nature, intelligence, obedience, friendliness, a strong desire to please, a calming presence and extreme loyalty. The calming presence however is specially reserved for “at home” and “while working” and is N-E-V-E-R present when greeting neighbours, playing with other dogs and walking in the forest.

I often used to question whether our daily walks through the forest were hindering her training and wondered whether more disciplined walks would be better for her. I mentioned these concerns to my trainer on more than one occasion and his response was always the same … “Why would you want to change that? What a beautiful life!”

Puppy socialising classes developed into obedience training sessions where one thing became clear … Quila L-O-V-E-D to play. At first, I didn’t think it was a problem, after all, she was a puppy and puppies love to play however as time went on we realised that Quila’s love for play was different to the other dogs around her. She even started to realise that she played differently to other dogs and that out of all of the dogs that crossed her path, Labradors were in fact the most fun and made the best play-mates … she would recognise a passing Labrador in a train station and try to reach out to them for a game of tag and when that didn’t work she was equally content to play with the stray pigeons that flew in from the open platforms or anyone who happened to make eye contact with her as they walked passed.

Her very own Labrador

As Quila got older, we started to realise that her need to play was a coping mechanism for her anxiety. As my trainer explained to me, there are four responses that dog’s have when dealing with stressful situations … Fight, flight, fidget or freeze and Quila’s response was to fidget. She was literally playing with everything in order to feel ‘safe’.

When training in and around the city, Quila will often show signs of anxiety and I find myself being led in a completely different direction to the path I have chosen due to a strange looking statue, a noisy street sweeper or a busy construction sight. At home there are also certain triggers that send her running to hide under the bed, however these are easier to recognise and manage. She loves to watch TV but this too can be scary. The other day I was watching ‘The Crown’ and those pesky little horses had her running to hide behind the Christmas tree.

Throughout this process, the one thing that became perfectly clear is that the Guide Dog Association will never force a dog to do something they don’t want to do. A guide dog needs to absolutely enjoy every aspect of their training and eventually their ‘work’. At every stage the dogs are closely monitored and if at any point the training is proving to be too much then it is stopped.

At a training session last week, Quila had to take part in a Gun Test. Our trainer stood approximately 15m away from us and fired 6 shots into the air. A guide dog should not respond to the noise but rather continue to walk calmly with its handler. Proud Mamma over here thought that she handled the situation really well because she didn’t run for the hills, but simply kept looking over her shoulder to see where the noises were coming from. (I do think, however, that at this point, if Peter had taken one step in her direction that she would have bolted.). This was not the desired response and unfortunately Quila was removed from the guide dog training programme.

Quila is no longer an “Allschwili”, the affectionate term given to the Guide dogs from Allschwil, Basel but rather a “Monticelli”, officially one of us, and my heart can’t stop smiling.

Roger A. Caras said, “If you don’t own a dog, at least once, there is not necessarily anything wrong with you, but there may be something wrong with your life.”, but I think my trainer Peter said it best …. “What a beautiful life!” and I get to share it with her.

Winter, Christmas & family

Four years ago, we came to Switzerland on holiday not only to check a few items off our bucket lists but also as a Winter ‘test-run’ to experience a European Winter – within hours of arriving, I knew we were in trouble. We’d stumbled upon something magical and there was no going back.

There are certain things in life that will take your breath away – the birth of a child, a sleeping baby, a beautiful sunrise, an incredible act of kindness. Let me add to the list … snow covered landscapes!

That holiday became the gateway to my love of Winter, with sub-zero temperatures outside, bundling up in Winter woolies, Christmas markets, open air ice rinks, twinkling lights in every window, frozen lakes, huddling around outdoor fires sipping Gluhwein and hot chocolate, the coziness of home and the soft, quiet, calmness of falling snow.

And it’s not just me, my ‘sun baby’ loves it too!

and so does her Dad!

Side note: When you find a man who’s enthusiasm for snow matches your own and who doesn’t bat an eye lid at your suggestion to spend 5 hours driving in the car to find it – hold on tight, he’s a keeper!

This is now our second winter living here in Switzerland and the excitement of it all has still not worn off, although busy work and late school schedules mean that we need to get creative with our time to ensure that we get to experience all of the Christmas festivities. I also have to keep reminding myself that we live here now and that if we don’t get to it this year, there’s always next year.

The only thing that’s missing this time of the year is family, so when I received a text earlier this year from my cousin asking if they could spend a few days with us, my heart was over-joyed. These are my people, we live the same, we love the same …

We squeezed in a lot over our four days together but the best part, was climbing into bed at night after a long, fun day and snuggling up with a contented heart knowing that just outside my bedroom door was family. Big cousins, little cousins.

Merry Christmas!