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A very personal view...

2012 was an remarkable year for Lauren Langman and Mathew Rouse. Two extraordinary things happened to them - both life changing and emotional. Life will never be the same for them. Lauren opens her heart in this very personal story of  life and death.

So do you want the good or the bad?

I am an eternal optimist. I am always at least half full and, more often than not, a bit more than that so let us start with the good. Good news makes everyone feel good!

On the 9 February 2012, my partner and I had a baby girl. We called her Eliza. I remember being about 18 years old and saying time and time again to friends, family, boyfriends and girlfriends that I would never ever have a baby. Never, ever! Well, there you have it. I did! With just some gas and air, cloudy lemonade, a cold towel on my head and the odd square of chocolate she was born!

The experience was amazing.
Life is so precious, and her birth was a moment  that I will never ever forget. (Well, maybe it was more than a moment a good few hours, if we are truly honest.) Matt was amazing! He is my partner, my soul mate and my best friend.

I have never ever felt so out of control and yet so, so, looked after. It takes a very special person to help you through that. And Eliza was loved immediately with a whole new love, a different love and a truly deep and long lasting one. I love my dogs and I love Eliza very differently. I can't explain it - both are special and unique.

And then the low...
I have to say this year was the lowest of the low. I have never hit such depths of uncontrollable sadness.

A friend and employee at the time was travelling with our young and very specially talented collie Riot, aptly named Devongem Dark Knight. He was home-bred and gorgeous - as black as they come but soft-eyed. Oh, how he had big brown soft eyes and a huge ruff that I loved to snuggle into. At just four years old, he sparkled with a glossy health, a powerful and pushy dog. All in all he suited his name.

The dogs were travelling with our friend to visit Fern for a bath and a full groom and to have a play session at doggie daycare where he loved obsessing about football and generally living it up with the other 'lads' - retrievers, boxers and his other buddies.

Our friend stopped on the motorway to settle a dog in the back of her vehicle and somehow - I still can't believe it to this day - Riot managed to get out onto the A30, a busy dual carriageway. Then the worst thing we could have ever imagine happened. Riot was killed at just four years old. His life stolen away from us in a moment.

I was at home. I had been teaching in the sand school at Bowerland since 8am that morning. I had a good customer with me along with my baby Eliza, Fiji and my mum. I could tell instantly that something was wrong, deeply wrong. My poor mum couldn't look me in the eye. I knew instinctively that something horrible - something final - had happened.

My poor mum gave it away. It was the look in her eyes, her expression and her demeanour. She can't lie - just ask anyone who knows her. She's useless at it. I now realise the depths you would go as a parent to protect your children.

Riot was gone.
When I saw her face, I thought for a split second it was one of our cats. I never imagined that it would be our beautiful boy, so vibrant, so full of life. He was a great dog. Only weeks before we had been celebrating his G7 win at our favourite show DINAS and drinking and singing along to Tom Rooney and watching Ashleigh Butler. Life can be so fragile.

In that moment it seemed like our lives were over. Matt wasn't working at home that day. My dad had already left to collect Riot's now seemingly small and lifeless body from the road. My mum didn't want me to have to see it. She still wanted to shield us from the sadness. I never ever realised the impact of death. I hadn't lost anyone in my life - perhaps an old dog and the odd cat and my hamster or four, but never in such a tragic way - a way that could have been prevented, a careless moment - and such an absolute waste.

To this day, not a day goes by without us crying. In fact, I cannot read this piece without welling up.

Life goes on. It's just different.
My life has new meaning. My balancing act has created a whole new level of awareness. With both Riot leaving and Eliza arriving, I began to appreciate the fragility of life as well as the amazing moments you have together on a whole new level.

I don't believe that it was meant to happen. I can't understand why that would ever be. In fact, I hate it when people throw that in. I do, however, now recognise how such precious life is and how it can be whisked away in just a moment, a tiny moment.

We loved Riot. We knew what we had. He was a special dog and very precious. He and Matt were going far. From the moment he was born, he had this presence. We never doubted him and didn't want to change him one bit. So many handlers want their dog to be this and that and the other, i.e. to have more drive, to have prick ears, to have a longer coat, to be a certain colour. We didn't.  We had our perfect dog. He was everything we wanted. I only wish that I could have seen him grow old with our family, but we had to realise in that moment he was gone.

We buried Riot at the bottom of the garden, near our training area, on the day after the accident happened. There was not a mark on his body. We wrapped him in his comfy rug with his favourite tuggies, his G7 trophies - all our hopes and our dreams were buried in a tiny sleep. About a dozen of our closest friends were there. It might sound over the top to some, but we needed their support. We appreciated the Rafters food and drink, and we all celebrated his life with us, even though it was just for a short time.

So back to finding the balance
For once I do not mean proprioception, body awareness or core strength as demonstrated so nicely by Fiji in her stand tall. I mean work, life, relationships, baby and so on. Are there enough hours in the day? I can honestly say I would not object to a few more.

How do you move on?

Can you ever move on?

Eliza and our five other dogs have forced us to do just that.

Life has new meaning for me. On the whole, I now appreciate its fragility as well as those amazing moments you have. I don't believe the accident was meant to happen. I can't understand why that would ever be. I do, however, now recognise how such precious life is and how it can be whisked away in a moment, a tiny moment.

So how does it work? Or does it work?
Having a baby is not dissimilar to having a puppy. I always bring my puppies home around six weeks - controversial I know... tut tut tut. At that age, their needs at that age are pretty simple but time consuming - warmth, food, love and toilet breaks - otherwise known as nappies with babies! I actually found the whole thing relatively easy. Life with a baby has just changed in the sense that you have more to prepare for, live for and laugh at.

I don't know how that happened with me not working for three months, but the business has got busier. We now have flyball, lifeskills and Dash2Devon camp incorporating behaviour talks, 'Naughty But Nice' class, Heelwork to Music and so much more. The company growth is a great motivator as well as a huge test on every relationship I have Matt Rouse, Eliza, my mum, my friends, the other instructors, the whole package.

While balance of life with so many dogs can be hard, they are also incredibly useful with Eliza. They are great at reading moods. Their emotional intelligence never ceases to amaze me, and they are continually refreshing to watch with a young child. Reef is just a big goof with her. Popi adores her. Tik thinks she is something to play with. Bailey is her right-hand man and Fiji her babysitter! We also have a young pup, Coco who is living with us for just a short time but is already fabulous with Eliza - and Eliza is mutually fabulous back.

Since that moment I think differently about life
My advice is to stop waiting around. Our lives really are good. Enjoy every minute as best you can and quit whinging. That's what I am trying to do. For instance, I've wanted to study canine behaviour for about five years. I have now started.

I have been to two gigs recently - Plan B and Florence & the Machine. We go out for meals when we can take time and when we can't, we simply have to enjoy the odd romantic service-station dinner on the way to or from a show.

During the year we mess around with our dogs. We go to shows, spend weekends as a family unit and enjoy  'good ol' evenings, having dinners with friends and getting merry. In the winter, we train and work hard. We are living our dream.

But is this really the good life?

Actually, it is! There are no dress rehearsals - really there aren't. Life is now - as it is - and actually this whole balance thing is pretty good, right?

Don't wait for luck. Go for it, every inch of it and Run Riot!'

Photo: John HillAbout the author...
Lauren Langman
runs a dog training company in Devon, Devon Dogs Ltd and runs the LLAAI Accredited Instructor programme for other up and coming instructors. She co-owns Bowerland Holiday Cottages, teaches seminars across the UK and abroad and is currently studying for her Advanced Canine Diploma in Animal Canine Behaviour.

Lauren and her partner Matt currently own five Border Collies, four of whom are G7 and one talented youngster who is on her way up through the grades.

Photos: John Hill, Lesley Huggins & Lauren Langman

First published 23 January 2013