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That's puppy love - how dog helped overcome grief

OWNER: Luke Mannion, aged 16, from Bray, Co Wicklow

Animal: Pepper, his eight-year-old Springer Spaniel

Background: Pepper has been both friend and family to Luke over the past eight years

When Luke was just six, he suffered a major emotional trauma - his grandma died. She'd been blind, and had suffered from cancer. This was a challenging time, especially for such a young child.

Luke's mother remembers that he changed when his grandma died. He stopped being the cheerful, bright young boy that he had been.

His mother says that he "lost his lightness".

Grandma had loved dogs and had often talked to her grandchildren about them, even though she didn't have one in her later years.

She made a deep impression on young Luke, and after she'd gone, he started to talk to his parents about wanting a dog.

Up until then, they had felt that it would be impossible to introduce a dog in to their busy lifestyle.


Their house was too small and their schedule was pressurised with young children, work and not enough time to fit everything in. Luke was determined to have his own dog, and he never stopped asking his parents about it.

He asked Santa for a dog, he prayed to God for a dog and he even asked if he could pray to Grandma for one. Eventually, after two years, his parents decided that the time was right.

One morning, Luke came downstairs to discover the wonderful surprise of a Springer Spaniel puppy. Pepper had arrived in his life. Luke's mother remembers that day clearly: Luke immediately cheered up and went back to being the "old Luke".

Luke has done everything for Pepper from the start: he feeds the dog, walks him, brings him to the vet and talks to him.

Luke's older brother Adam has been less involved: he pretends that the dog annoys him, but when no-one's around, he talks to Pepper too. The dog has a way of working his way into people's hearts.

Pepper is a typical Springer Spaniel, loving exercise and enjoying swimming in particular. He gets a thrill from chasing a tennis ball, leaping into the surf on the beaches of county Wicklow to bring it back.

He likes swimming beside humans, too, moving right up beside them, making the most of swimming in their wake.

His enthusiasm for ball chasing caused Pepper a problem last year: he landed awkwardly when trying to catch a ball, fracturing the humerus of his left foreleg.

He needed a major orthopaedic operation, with the bone being plated, but he healed well.

Pepper still has a connection with grandma: her husband, Luke's grandad, is in a nursing home with advanced Alzheimer's.

Whenever Pepper visits, his eyes light up. He calls the dog "Piper", which was the name of a dog he used to have with grandma.

Pepper may just be a dog, but he's been as valuable as a highly qualified therapeutic counsellor in the Mannion household.

Visit Pete's website at www.petethevet.com