2015 will always be remembered as the year we lost Ella. She bounded into our lives when we were a loved-up couple just moved into our first home. Course, we had our initial teething problems, as she chewed her way through the kitchen table leg, gnawed through my entire cookbook collection, and demolished the bookcase too. A Labrador, she'd eat anything, and even after puppyhood, some of the funniest memories are of her helping herself from the pantry – goodness know how she ate an entire box of Weetabix, but I'll always remember her sheepish look, those guilty eyes and oatie-goatie beard.
But she was the perfect dog. She never batted an eyelid when Ruby came along, enduring hours being mauled about by chubby little hands, her bed invaded by a chunky toddler, she was no longer centre of attention. She never got annoyed, not once.
Ella was such a central part of our family, yet slotted right in. Equally happy on a 10 mile hike as she was curled up snoring all day if we were out. She had the bladder of a camel, the constitution of an ox but the patience of a saint.
Her health declined rapidly last summer. The vets were perplexed, but after numerous tests, she was diagnosed with leukaemia. She wasn't eating and could barely walk - her two greatest pleasures in life. It would have been cruel and ultimately futile to put her though any treatment. We had to make the saddest decision, which weren't ready for - it hit us like a body blow.
On her final day she was pampered and petted, she slurped her way through endless cups of tea and was hand-fed roast chicken. We all piled on the floor for cuddles and told her how much we loved her. While we wept, she feebly wagged her tail.
The loss was devastating. I was broken. My best friend had gone.
Our first holiday after we lost her was difficult. She wasn't there to jump in for a swim with the Old Man; to dig in the sand and help Ruby make castles. We didn't have to ask for a dog bowl in every coffee shop and pub we visited.
At one of the places she loved the most, by chance we got chatting to a couple and their two dogs. We told them all about Ella and how much we missed her. Sounds crazy I know, but it was almost like she gave us her blessing when the couple said they thought their girl was carrying pups, so we exchanged numbers and waited.
And what do you know, a month later I got a picture message of those Springer Spaniels with eight little bundles of fluff.
Delilah is very different to you Ella, but I think you'd approve. She has a lot to live up to, but we're getting used to her odd little ways, and I never believed I'd be able to love this much again.
This post is my entry to the #PetLovers competition with www.eurotunnel.com/uk/blog/Pets-Corner/Pet-Writing-Competition/ and www.ardengrange.com