Woman faces loss of her faithful friend and companion
Rachel Cresswell's heart is breaking.
A few days ago she discovered the dog that is one of her greatest supports in living with a painful chronic medical condition has only weeks to live.
The New Plymouth woman suffers from a type of arthritis and fibromyalgia. She can't work full-time and had to give up a lot of activities, including horse riding and cycling.
Over recent months her rottweiler huntaway cross dog, Libby, has learned to help her in many ways, but now Libby has developed a painful and progressive disease that will soon make life not worth living.
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The news was devastating to Cresswell and her husband Leigh.
"We found out on Wednesday, and I got all of my tears out then."
When Libby started limping a few weeks ago, the vet suggested rest, but it didn't heal.
An X ray revealed severe progressive cruciate ligament disease, and it was worsening fast.
"She's just one wrong step away from tearing the ligament completely," Cresswell said.
An operation at a cost of about $4000 would only bring temporary relief as the problem would progress to other joints.
"Surgery would just be prolonging the inevitable. I don't want her living the rest of her life in pain," Cresswell said.
"It was a really hard decision, but we decided it would be easier for her to put her to rest in a few weeks."
It is hard to believe the gentle, friendly dog at Cresswell's side was formerly nicknamed "monster" because of her wild ways,
When the couple adopted Libby in July, her favourite activities included chasing cats and ducks, hauling her owner on a leash, and not listening.
Cresswell tamed Libby with the help of New Plymouth dog trainer Luzelle Cockburn.
Now, Libby is so well-behaved she is often called to demonstrate good behaviour at dog training classes, and regularly goes with the couple to a cafe on Saturday mornings for a 'puppaccino',
"She is just so calm, she's the star pupil. She goes everywhere with us."
Training Libby had helped Cresswell cope with having her own life curtailed by illness, she said.
"As much as we have given to her, she has given to us. I would not be the person I am without her, she's taught me how to handle frustration."
A few months ago, Libby started learning to help Cresswell with tasks she finds difficult. The dog fetches items by name, such as medication, and takes them to her.
Libby carries shopping into the house, puts items into the rubbish bin and even tidies up her own toys.
She helps with the washing, passing dirty items to Rachel to pop into the machine, and out at the clothesline, to peg up.
Cresswell said the dog had been her close companion through some dark days.
"She's really sensitive to how I am feeling. When I am having a bad day she stays with me the whole time, she just seems to know that kind of stuff."
Thanks to powerful painkillers and lots of rest, the only visible sign of Libby's illness is her limp.
Cresswell said she planned to make the dog's last weeks as good as possible.
"I still do training with her, although it seems like there's not much point, I still do it to keep her brain active, teaching her to do new things."