Look who replaced my fella

Dumping my ex for a dog would change my life...

Published by: Laura Hinton and Rebecca Moore
Published on: 11 October 2012

Hobbling toward the front door on my crutches, I reached out to open it - but couldn't get to the latch. My arthritic limbs just wouldn't stretch that far.
‘Mum, is that you?' I yelled. ‘I can't get to the door.'
‘I've forgotten my key,' she cried. ‘I'll have to call Dad...'
Half an hour later and Mum was in, shaking her head.
‘Where's Pete?' she gasped, referring to my absent boyfriend.
‘He's staying with his mum,' I mumbled, flushing red at the state of my house.
I'd been desperate to move out and get some independence when I met Pete seven years ago. I'd been suffering from juvenile arthritis since I was 15 months old, and couldn't do anything
for myself.
It wasn't that I didn't love my mum and dad, I just needed to be me - and Pete, 29, seemed like the answer to my prayers.
‘I suffer from depression and panic attacks,' he'd told me when we first met.
‘That's okay, we can support each other,' I'd smiled.
‘I think I can be strong for you,' he'd gushed, kissing me.
And at first he had been. But as time went on, and our relationship became familiar,
his depression took hold. ‘Let's go shopping,' I'd suggested one day. ‘I need some new shoes.' But as soon as we'd stepped out of the car, Pete had broken out in a cold sweat.
‘I'm... having... an... attack!' he'd gasped, as I rushed to get him back in the car.
‘You go, I'll wait here...' he'd said when he calmed down.
But I couldn't shop alone. I couldn't bend down to put shoes on, or even reach into my bag to get my purse.
A few weeks later, we were supposed to be going to a party.
‘If you could just help me put my dress on?' I'd smiled to Pete, but he shook his head.
‘I don't feel like going out tonight,' he'd sighed.
Desperate to inject some life back into our relationship,
I surprised him with some tickets to see his favourite band, U2. Surely that would get him excited?
But when I gave him the tickets, he threw them to one side and packed a bag.
‘London?' he'd snapped. ‘I can't go there! I'm going to my mum's instead,' he'd huffed.
‘Every time he feels he can't cope, he disappears,' Mum moaned. ‘He loves me...' I mumbled in reply. ‘He's not well...'
But these excuses didn't really wash with me anymore, let alone my parents.
‘A bloke at work told me about a charity called Canine Partners,' Dad said. ‘They pair you up with a trained dog to help you out.'
Instantly, I liked the idea.
‘Ship Pete out, ship a dog in,' Dad joked.
‘Stop it!' I giggled. Later though, when I mentioned it to Pete...
‘I'm allergic to animals,' he said, brushing it off.
Something in me snapped. This was my chance at independence and Pete was crushing it yet again. ‘I'm sorry,' I sighed. ‘I really can't do this anymore. It's over.'
As difficult as it was to break up with Pete, it was what I had to do. It wasn't a man I needed - it was a dog.
Instead of moping, I contacted Canine Partners and days later, they invited me to meet the dogs.
As soon as I saw Yasmin, a golden labrador,
I fell in love with her. ‘She's beautiful,' I gasped, stroking her soft fur. Two weeks later, I brought her home.
Straight away, life was easier! Yasmin could put the washing in the machine for me, get the phone when it rang, turn on the TV, pick up the post from the mat... absolutely everything!
Soon, Yasmin was helping me get out and about and try new things. I saw more of my friends and felt safer alone in the house.
I soon forgot all about Pete - someone I once thought I couldn't live without.
Yasmin also gave me the confidence to look for love, so I registered with a dating website for disabled people. Soon, I got chatting to Mark, 42, who had the same condition as me. There was something about his smile that made me melt.
A few days on, we met in Gloucester. Shuffling along with my sticks, I spotted Mark and my heart lifted. He was gorgeous! He had sticks too, so I didn't feel self-conscious.
‘It's great to have someone who understands what it's like
to live with this condition,'
I smiled. There was such a spark between us. Mark soon moved in.
About a year later, he took me out to a local cathedral. We were sat feeding the ducks when he suddenly seemed flustered.
‘What's wrong?' I asked.
Then I noticed the ring. ‘Will you marry...' he grinned.
‘Yes!' I whooped, before he had a chance to even finish asking the question!
Six months later, we had a fancy dress wedding, with me as a fairy and Mark as Prince Charming! Then we started on our next adventure...
‘We could have a baby with Yasmin's support,' Mark said one evening. He was right. With Yasmin in our lives, everything was so much easier.
It meant we'd have to come off our medication though and after six months of trying for a baby, my entire body was in agony.
‘I can't take it,' I groaned.
‘At least we gave it a go,' Mark sighed, sadly.
I nodded, but did a pregnancy test just to make sure - and it was positive!
For the first three months of my pregnancy, I was bed-ridden from the pain in my joints. But thankfully, they eased off.
Then, just before Christmas 2010, little Christopher was born.
Now, nearly two years on, Mark works from home as a graphic artist so we're both on baby duty. Yasmin is constantly on alert, too. She's forever tidying up Christopher's toys.
One thing I didn't think I'd be able to do was play on the floor with Christopher - I just wouldn't be able to get back up.
But the other day, Yasmin pressed herself against me and gently lowered me down.
‘I can't believe it!' I grinned, blinking back tears.
It really is thanks to my poochy pal that I ditched my rubbish bloke and got my happily ever after.

• Caroline offers advice to parents with a disability at
Caroline Jephcott, 35, Gloucester