Like all dog mums, Natalia Ashton fell madly in love with English Cocker Spaniels when she welcomed her first Cocker puppy Oscar into her heart.
She did everything she could to be the best puppy parent, studying training, grooming and canine nutrition.
Heartbreakingly, Oscar died aged just seven in 2016 leaving Natalia, 42, and her husband Simon, from North Lincolnshire utterly bereft.
It inspired her to write a journal to ease her heartache. In time she felt ready to welcome another dog Cooper, and started a blog and in 2018 Cooper was joined by Fred.
To share her experience and tips with other Spaniel parents she decided to write a book, Perfect Cocker Spaniel.
Natalia kindly agreed to talk to us about her dogs, her book and her advice for anyone considering the beautiful breed.
Can you tell me where the idea for the book came from?
I’ve had dogs since I was 12. When I moved to England from Russia in 2002 I naturally wanted to have a puppy when the time was right.
We chose the English Cocker. I studied grooming and read every book about Cockers I could find, before searching for a pup. Oscar came to us in 2009.
In 2016 after seven happy years together we lost him to an L4 vaccine that lead to Haemolytic Anaemia, or IMHA.
Cocker Spaniels are genetically predisposed to the disease but IMHA can be also caused by certain medication, tick bites, toxins and some foods.
It was a year later when I learned there had been a change in Oscar’s booster vaccine. IMHA was listed as an adverse reaction.
I lived in a fog after I lost Oscar and I had blamed myself for what happened. Learning about the cause of his death was agonising but gave me closure.
I can’t imagine what that must have been like for you.
It was the hardest time of my life. I suffered from insomnia and lost interest in life.
A month later we met a dog. It felt good to hold a living being again.
We carried on without making puppy plans until the day I saw Cooper’s advert.
How long after losing Oscar did you feel ready to consider having a dog again?
A few months after losing Oscar I decided to Google puppy photos. A picture appeared. I simply knew it was my puppy and called his breeder. We cried on the phone.
She said I was the person she was waiting for. I suddenly felt as if a heavy load was lifted and I could breathe again. Cooper mended my heart without trying.
Fred joined us in 2018 to complete our family.
We see people with their dogs on social media and it’s easy to think everyone has happy lives but you have been through so much. How did you start out on Instagram?
After we brought Cooper home, I started sharing his pictures on Instagram to keep visual memories of Cooper’s life and soon his photos got attention and followers.
We’ve found a few special people who we consider friends.
When we got Fred, I created an account for him, too.
I also kept a blog to document special moments and talk about Cocker Spaniels.
What’s it like sharing your journey as a dog mum online?
After Oscar, it made me feel alive again. It was also nice to write about raising my puppies and read the notes months and years later.
I was usually the one who shared tips and got asked questions and I am glad that I could be useful for those people and their spaniels and learning about their happy dogs.
There’s something about Cocker parents that makes it easy to connect.
People who love and choose this breed are warm, open-hearted, witty, very patient and supportive.
So what started out as a blog became the Perfect Cocker Spaniel book?
Yes, I kept a journal after losing Oscar. It was my way to deal with the pain and this evolved into a blog.
It was easier to type on the screen than write in an actual journal, so I created an online space for it.
After finding Cooper, I decided to write a few puppy-related posts and opened the blog for everyone to see.
I started getting questions from people and, as Cooper was growing up, a lot of people approached me and asked for tips.
I ended up spending a few hours replying and explaining things.
I thought writing a guide would be easier than answering similar questions and that’s where the book came from.
It also meant that I could dedicate it to Oscar and keep his memory alive.
My message is that having a puppy comes with a huge responsibility, which goes beyond being a dog lover.
We’ve got to have the knowledge and skills to make these lives the best, safest and happiest.
Your book is in memory of Oscar, can you tell me a little about him?
Oscar was the most perfect Cocker Spaniel and I still remember the moment I saw him for the very first time.
I couldn’t wait to welcome him into our lives. I worked from home, so we were always together.
He loved to sleep on my lap as a puppy – and a grown up. He travelled everywhere with us too.
Oscar was such a loyal boy that I never had to teach him recall – he simply couldn’t imagine being too far from me.
I will never stop feeling the pain of not having him around.
If it was old age or a long illness where we might have had time to come in terms with the outcome, it would have seemed less unfair.
My boy loved life and didn’t deserve to go the way he did.
Having his name in my book gives some comfort. It won’t replace him, but he will be remembered long after I am gone.
We had a Cocker Spaniel, Charlie, who we lost sadly in 2010 and he was such a fantastic dog. What do you love most about the breed?
Once you have a Cocker, it’s impossible to want another breed.
A Cocker is like the most charming, slightly eccentric English gentleman. Very handsome, intelligent, curious, absolutely unforgettable yet goofy and adorable.
They always make you smile. They make the best companions either at home on a sofa or walking for miles in the country.
What do you think is the most important thing owners need to know if they’re considering a Cocker Spaniel?
Be prepared for everyone to always remember your dog and his name, but be forever known as “mum of …”
Your Cocker will want to greet everyone and you’ll be constantly stopped and have lots of conversations with people you’ve never met before.
Say goodbye to personal space! Cockers follow you to the bathroom and love sleeping on top of your head.
They are also fabulous at head tilts and doing ‘Elvis lip’ which is like a curl!
On a serious note, Cockers hate solitude and can develop separation anxiety, so don’t leave them alone for hours if at all.
They’re high maintenance with coat care and general grooming.
Cockers are very healthy, but make sure that you get a puppy from a good breeder and health tested parents.
Can you tell me about what you aimed to create with the book?
The book is created for the love of Cocker Spaniels. It is based on my experience and scientific research.
I set out to create a source of information that would help owners avoid any mistakes and some potentially heartbreaking outcomes, and instead enjoy every moment spent with the puppy.
I designed the book myself filling it with unique photos and art works inspired by Cocker Spaniels. The cover of the book is a portrait of Cooper by Sandra Chiocchetti.
I called it Perfect Cocker Spaniel because to me that every puppy is perfect.
You’ve put a lot of your experience as a puppy owner and that first year into the book too.
Yes I wanted to do this because I know how stressful being a first time puppy parent can be.
I can easily navigate through every topic, from choosing a pup to grooming him to training and diet.
Cockers are the love of my life and I’ve spent every day of the last decade making sure my boys are well and happy.
Plus I’ve been talking about my boys and Spaniels with other people, from parents to breeders and vets.
I’ve drawn on experiences from the time I was 12 studying dogs and raising my first puppies to my life with Oscar, Cooper and Fred. I hope people can relate to and benefit from it.
What’s the most rewarding thing about being a Cocker Spaniel parent?
Having the privilege of being in the a company of a beautiful being and being loved unconditionally.
What advice would you give to anyone considering the breed?
Learn about every aspect of living with a Cocker Spaniel first. Ask yourself if you’re ready financially, physically and emotionally.
Use a reputable breeder. Puppies must be from health tested parents and registered with the Kennel Club.
See both parents because your puppy will inherit their looks, character and habits.
Thank you so much for sharing your lovely book Natalia. Where can people find out more about you?
I write on www.perfectcockerspaniel.com, use Facebook to share any updates and interesting articles about dogs I come across and my book is available on Amazon.
You can meet Cooper and Fred on Instagram @cooper.spaniel and Fred the Spaniel
Order Perfect Cocker Spaniel on Amazon £34.99.
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