Cleo is my Toto

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How important are pets to mental health? Briannah Devlin tells us how her beagle’s absence has impacted her time abroad.

Let me take you back to late last year. As a Journalism and International Studies student, it had finally come around— time for me to embark on my year abroad.

Imagine… you have just gotten your plane tickets, picked up a Christmas casual position to make some last-minute savings, have a fresh VISA from the French Consulate stating that you ARE eligible to live in France for a year, and are booking in many last-minute catch-ups and going-away parties, making sure you see everyone.

While all this was happening, I was wondering how different life would be in Bordeaux, and what I would miss most. The one thing that instantly came to mind was Cleo, my beagle. Here is what I have realised while being away.

I miss having a walking buddy

One of the best things about walking Cleo is that all of my attention is on her. This is partly because her nose is constantly glued to the ground, following a scent, and I am often zigged, zagged and jolted in all directions. I also have to watch her because she can be like a baby, always putting things in her mouth. I'm not proud to admit that she once ate three hot chips off the curb.

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I miss having a wagging tail to come home to

Everybody has days when they come home frustrated, sad, stressed, or just a mix of everything. Getting home from high school, coming home from a late shift, or just even from being out, I always enter and look out the window for Cleo. Seven times out of ten, she is sitting there waiting for me, and I always shout excitedly “HELLO!”, and let her in, feed her or go outside and talk to her. The other three times, she either comes galloping over in the yard, or she is already inside, sticking her nose through the door. In these moments, I would forget what I was feeling. Even when coming home after a great or mundane day, I always look forward to seeing Cleo. Only having that over FaceTime for the last couple of months has been bittersweet.

Sometimes not saying anything is the best thing

I have had Cleo since I was in Year 8, and many things have been happened since then. Particularly in the downs, where I squeeze her tightly, and she sniffs my tears. Cleo has always been there, and in those brief moments, I feel lighter.

My family sent me a package for my birthday. It almost instantly caused water-works, as on the card was the sentence “Happy birthday, Love Cleo”, and inked, slightly-smudged paw-prints on the front, inside and on the back of the card.

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She is a good distraction

Whenever I am completely engrossed in assignments or studying, I lose track of time. So whenever I finish a paragraph of an essay, or a chapter of a reading, I get up from my desk and go over to Cleo. Whether it is sitting next to her indoor bed, or just giving her a pat outside, it always provides a moment to stop, recharge and focus my attention on something else. I love taking walks in Bordeaux, and going outside to see the cityscape from my balcony, but it is not the same.

I kind of miss not having a pushy busy-body around me

One thing to know with Cleo is that whatever you are doing, she makes it her business. She's constantly at your feet in the hopes of you dropping some food, running outside when she sees a wash-basket, or lying down near you while you go about your daily business. Whatever the situation, it is always warming to see a pair of brown eyes staring up at you.

Cleo is very much an opportunist, and Mum constantly tells me how chaotic and nosy she has been. I laugh, but there is always a twang of sadness from not being able to shoo her away personally.

Briannah Devlin a fourth-year Journalism/International Studies (France) at UTS, spending this year in Bordeaux. She is passionate about food, fashion, all things Disney, and spends her spare time walking her beagle Cleo, and filling her Instagram with food.