Lulu was one of six finalists in the HiLife PAT Dog of the Year 2019 competition, but unfortunately when the final came round at Crufts, all her owner, Pets As Therapy volunteer Carol Clare, could bring along was a photo. Lulu sadly passed away in January 2019, and we wanted to share this tribute to celebrate her life and the huge amount of love and happiness that she brought to others through working as a PAT dog.

Carol has shared with us some stories of how she and Lulu met, their life together, and her visits as a PAT dog. She’s also reflected on the experience of going to Crufts without Lulu for the PAT Dog of the Year final, and shared a poem that’s a beautiful tribute to her time with Lulu.

Living with Lulu

The last 18 months of my Mother’s life were spent in a Nursing Home near Swansea. I used to go and visit for the day, travelling from Hereford, with my German Shepherd Dog, Fleur. I could not leave the dog behind, my husband having died of cancer a few months earlier and having no family, she had to come along. She was allowed to go into the Home, and it was during these visits that I realised the power a dog had to bring back light, activity and speech to people. Residents who had been slumped in chairs, showing no interest in anything about them, came to life when Fleur entered. Shortly I was not just visiting Mum, but going round talking to a whole roomful of people.

Mother passed away, and Fleur lived a few more years, my last link with my husband. I then resolved that my next dog would be a registered, active PAT dog. Lulu came to me at 12 weeks of age, a black Labrador, bred for the show ring. She was good to go, and go we did! Straight to puppy classes, ring class training, to the town, out in the car, into the pet shops, round the village visiting friends houses, lunches, coffee mornings – you name the social event, she was there. But she was a wilful, naughty puppy at times. I used to say she lived in Lulu land, running on Lulu time. However her amazing, lovely nature shone through at all times and she won friends wherever she went.

At 15 months she was assessed for Pets As Therapy and passed with flying colours. Her first assignment was to a local care home. From the time she put on her tabard and started visiting my lively, bouncy, juvenile dog was transformed into the quiet, sensitive and caring soul she was for the rest of her short life. She passed her Kennel Club Bronze Good Citizen Award at 18 months, her Silver at 2 years and Gold at 3 years. 

She was asked to be a PAT dog at a Nursing Home for severe dementia residents when she was two and half. This is where she really excelled. Her ability to understand the varied responses of the residents from the totally passive, to the noisy and at times violent, to the distressed and unhappy, was amazing. I loved this work too, and realised the smallest of positive responses she engendered were actually huge in real terms. One resident, a sheep farmer from mid-Wales had had a stroke, and was left (we thought) devoid of speech. After a year of visiting him with Lulu just being by his bedside and me chatting about farming locally, he started to use a few words, and continued to speak until he passed away. I was always surprised how she could calm the most upset of residents who were crying, swaying, waving fists about, and then seeing Lulu, all smiles and laughter.

PAT dog Lulu visits a care home

Lulu’s last visit was on 19th December 2018, and the very last resident she saw that day had never, never in three years ever spoken. She was in bed and as we put Lulu near to her, she opened her eyes, put out her hand and said Lulu, Lulu. The activity co-ordinator and I were in tears. 

What a legacy, what a dog, what memories, what heart ache.

PAT Dog of the Year 2019

When I heard in September 2018 that Lulu had been selected to be one of six finalists for PAT Dog of the Year 2019, I was overwhelmed with pride and joy. My naughty little puppy had evolved into the most caring, loving PAT dog and had for the past three years given out love and calm assurance to so many dementia residents in the two care homes that we visited. I bought new livery for us both, which was put away in the wardrobe for the big day on 8th March and set about asking friends to vote for her.

Lulu had to be put to sleep on 2nd January after suffering a cataclysmic collapse on 29th December. All the efforts of the local veterinary team, and the referral clinic could not save her. I will never know what the cause was.

It was with a heavy heart that I set out for Crufts on 8th March, determined to be brave and to receive her award as recognition of all that she had done. It was hard to stand with the other five finalists and their dogs when all I had was her photograph. Everyone was so kind and supportive. I was shaking and fighting back the tears. When I received her glass plaque, certificate and rosette from James Middleton, and he gave me such a warm hug, I was pleased that I had not been a coward, stayed at home and asked for the award to be sent through the post.

HiLife PAT Dog of the Year 2019 - Carol is centre with a photo of Lulu

My thanks to you all at Pets at Therapy, to Hi-Life Pet Food and Yours Magazine for sponsoring the competition, and to the other five finalists who were equally charming and aware of my difficult situation. All our dogs are winners – they do wonderful work – it is humbling to see the effect canine love can have.

My aim now is to get another dog soon, get it trained, to pass the assessment test and to resume the wonderful work that Lulu did. When that happens my life will be back on track, the black days will disappear and I will have my own personal canine therapy.

PAT dog Lulu visits a care home

Her Flowers Fade And Die: A poem for Lulu

The flowers fade and die,

they came for you, to

celebrate a life, so short,

and sudden death

so unexplained, so sharp

and undefined.

How great the pain,

how deep the dagger to my heart,

and utter disbelief that fate

could deal a blow

so cruelly harsh.

I just ask why.

Empty box, and folded rugs,

leads hanging limp,

and collars, no neck to now adorn,

coats all washed and clean.

Silence, no joy, no life

and still I mourn.

So much packed into one life,

and love to all who came

to stroke her ears and then

to call her name.

Awakening latent memories,

lost for some time.

Daffodils and irises burst

through the earth around

the cold, stone slab

that covers ashes grey.

And they in time will die

then simply fade away.

Will memories do the same,

or will they stay?

Bright days, long walks

with friends and other

dogs, who came to play

and share your time.

So brief, a quarter spent

so much more to give.

Why did fate determine

you should not live?

Goodbye my darling dog

mine for so short a time.

By Carol Clare

We’re always looking for new volunteers and PAT dogs who can continue the brilliant work that dogs like Lulu do. If you think your dog could be a good fit then please fill in an application form and we’ll get back to you shortly.