Cleo is now eight years old. Many of you will remember the day when I first collected Cleo and brought her to my home. She had not had the best of starts … She was eight weeks old and scared, she had never seen grass, a door, stairs, food or people.
Cleo has given me far more than I could ever have foreseen. She has given me back so much that was taken from me in 1999 when I became ill with hypoparathyroidism. I have no parathyroid glands, which means I have to control my calcium levels via regular blood tests and medication based on those results. It also means I have some physical and neurological limitations.
Cleo has been my passport to a new life with wonderful and kind Portuguese people.
I started to show Cleo when she was eight months old and on my 60th birthday. After a few local shows with help from Laura Browne, we raised the goalposts and started showing at the CPC (Clube Português de Canicultura) shows. I had never shown a dog so this was all new and scary. I was in a new country with a very limited Portuguese language to work with.
My memory is severely affected by my condition and trying to remember a new language is difficult. Everyone over the years has been so helpful, translating for me, pointing me in the right direction.
At that first show, Cleo and I were without doubt rubbish! However, a very kind gentleman, Augustus De Gifford, took me aside and spent the whole weekend training me. He remained a supporter of both my Porties for the rest of his life.
That first weekend Cleo went on to win the Best Puppy. Slowly, with much support from some lovely people, Cleo achieved her Portuguese Champion, International Champion and Gibraltar Champion titles.
Cleo attended Crufts several times and 2012 was to be a real big show year. I was persuaded to put her forward for a new Championship, a Grand Champion title – beyond my wildest dreams it has to be said…
However, my critical condition was a handicap to Cleo. I could not run fast enough for her movement to be shown correctly. My Portuguese friends found me Raquel Colaço, who showed Cleo for me.
Cleo won her Portuguese Grand Championship. I was just amazed that she could achieve that. Cleo had by then won enough points to be awarded Best Female Portuguese Water Dog in Portugal 2012.
When Cleo was three years old, I took her to a Dog Whisperer to try and find out why she sometimes ran around a ring enthusiastically and other times refused to run but ambled.
Through this person we found out that Cleo was indicating she wanted to help mummy but could not work out how to. She knew mummy was in pain, she knew mummy was often ill, which upset her, and she needed to know how to help.
Following on from this, I began to notice different things. Cleo was now becoming my medic alert dog; I did not train her but she started to alert me.
She continued to refuse to run with me if she considered I was struggling to walk. She alerts me 30 minutes before I collapse and she is correct every time. If I try to leave the house with no medication she will not get in the car.
When Cleo is with me in the UK, she can go everywhere with me, but in Portugal it is not quite so easy. However, I have many places that I go, such as banks, post offices, pharmacies and some cafés where Cleo is welcome as staff know she is my medic alert dog.
Cleo rarely leaves me. She gives me the confidence to live life to the full. I would not attempt so much without her by my side.
I can honestly say Cleo is my guardian angel. An amazing little girl and has taught herself all she does for me. I just had to learn to listen to her…
By Janet Cobley