When 81-year-old Maureen Lenehan was turned away from a pet rescue centre for being “too old” to rehome a dog, she lost all hope of finding a four-legged companion to ease the loneliness she was feeling.
She had lost her beloved husband, Carol, seven years earlier, followed six months later by the family cat Chester. And although she desperately wanted a dog to help fill the void, Maureen initially feared that another pet may be too much of a tie.
“Everyone kept saying to me you’ve got the freedom to do whatever you want,” said Maureen, who had owned dogs throughout her 56-year marriage. “It was true – I could go here, there and everywhere, but that’s all very well until you get home and all you’ve got is the television.”
So after much thought, she started her search for a dog earlier this year and was delighted when she came across a Chihuahua that needed a home at a rescue centre.
“It was all going well until the moment that I told them my age. They told me that I was too old. It was very upsetting, and I lost all hope,” said Maureen.
But, seeing how heartbroken her mother was, Maureen’s daughter Emma didn’t give up.
“I really was made to think I was too old,” Maureen continued. “But my daughter told me that I wasn’t, and said that I had a lot of love to give, was active and had a lovely home.”
Thankfully, Emma came across Blue Cross, where age is no barrier to rehoming a pet.
She found a Chihuahua called Bandit at our Tiverton centre in Devon, described as a “tiny chap with a big personality”; he too had plenty of love to give and was at his happiest around people. It sounded like a perfect match.
Emma and Maureen were soon embarking on the seven hour-round trip from Walsall, West Midlands, to meet the two-year-old dog, who had to be given up by his previous owner due to a change in circumstances. The rest is history.
“Myself and Bandit gelled straight away,” said Maureen. “He walked through the door and the first person he made for was me, and he was straight on my lap and all over me.”
And Bandit wasted no time in settling in with Maureen at home either. They go for a walk each morning and then play in the house with Bandit’s forever-expanding collection of toys.
Bandit sits and watches as Maureen – who is a whizz with her electric saw – crafts furniture in the garden, and in the evening he snuggles up on her lap while she watches TV and crochets.
On the day Blue Cross visits, Maureen is working on a new blanket for one of Bandit’s Christmas presents, and he contently curls up underneath it while she works away. They’re simply inseparable.
“He’s just adorable, the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” Maureen said. “He makes me want to get up in the morning. In fact, I think he’s given me a new lease of life – I feel younger now than I did at the beginning of the year. So we’re just right for each other.”
She continued: “He’s brought me a lot of love and a lot of joy. We have great times together; we play in the house and we go on little walks. All the family love him. The grandchildren idolise him. And I take him to see my daughter-in-law’s mum and dad, so he’s getting a lot of love.”
He makes me want to get up in the morning. In fact, I think he’s given me a new lease of life – I feel younger now than I did at the beginning of the year. Maureen, Bandit's owner
And the incredible bond they share is clear for everyone to see. Her daughter Emma added: “I haven’t seen mum smile like this since before we lost dad. To say it’s a match made in heaven would be an understatement.”
Charlotte Gowing, Animal Welfare Assistant at Blue Cross Tiverton, who fostered Bandit during his time in our care, said: “I was honestly so disappointed for Maureen when she said that other rehoming organisations had refused to give her a dog before she even talked about the amazing support network she had.
"Maureen has given Bandit a life better than some people half her age could offer.”
Louise Thomson, also an Animal Welfare Assistant, added: "We knew Bandit would make someone a fantastic companion, but I don’t think any of us could have imagined what a perfect pairing Maureen and Bandit would be – it is evident that Bandit is very content in his new home!
"It just goes to show that age should never be a barrier to rehoming. In fact, we often find our older rehomers are the ones who have the most time to give to their pets."
Maureen has only one complaint, and that’s how Bandit – for a dog so small – manages to take up so much space in the bed.
Laughing, she said: “He seems to grow in the night. He glides his way closer and closer until I’m out of bed and then I go round the other side and get back into bed and he glides back again. He just wants to be as close to me as possible.”
Christmas-mad Maureen is now looking forward to her first with little Bandit, who is set to be spoilt rotten; he has already been given a special red Santa-style coat to keep him warm on festive walks.
But for both of them, the gift of unconditional love that they’ve given each other is the best present of all, and one that money can’t buy.