Puppy helps Canadian woman adapt to UK life during Covid-19 pandemic

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Kat Downs, originally from Vancouver, Canada, decided to move almost 5,000 miles across the pond, with fiance Joe Smithies in January 2020. The couple enjoyed a trip to Paris where the couple got engaged before moving to their rented home in Chesterfield, Derbyshire.

Explaining the reason for their move, Kat said: Kat said: “I was taking compassionate leave from work after my grandma passed away, and Joe had a really bad day at work and joked that we should move to England, where he was born.

“I’d never been to the UK but was able to get an ancestry visa because my nan was born in Scotland. Six months later, we landed in the UK – then covid hit.”

Within weeks, the pandemic saw the country fall into a national lockdown, leaving Kat ‘staring at the white walls’ of her home for hours on end.

With no friends, unable to work until her national insurance number came through and nothing to do, the 33-year-old struggled settling into her new life.

During lockdown, Joe, a dog trainer, would bring dogs home, and Kat found solace in their company.

She said: “I was so envious of Joe heading out to work whilst I sat at home staring at white walls.

“But one day he brought home a German shepherd called Pablo, which gave me a reason to get out and it also gave me some company. So, I told Joe we needed to get a dog.”

A few months later, the couple discovered a rare breed of dog called a Hovawart, through one of Joe’s clients quickly fell in love.

They welcomed their own Hovawart puppy named Oberon, Obi for short, who Kat said gave her purpose to get out and explore, meeting new people when safe to do so.

She added: “I’d never heard of the breed before, and there are only four UK breeders, who breed show lines. A breeder in Surrey invited us to meet her dogs, and I completely fell in love.”

Kat and Joe discovered a Swedish breeder, who was expecting a litter of the German working dogs, who were used as protection and search dogs during the World War.

“Obi has helped me adjust to living here and being in a foreign country I’d never been in before and dealing with lockdown.” explained Kat. “It sucked when lockdown first happened – for months I only knew where Tesco, Lidl and Aldi were.

“Getting a dog gave me the purpose to get up and go adventure around where I live and discover trails and reservoirs. Training him even gave me a hobby, because I couldn’t take anything up when I got here because everything was closed.

“I was so bored that all I wanted to do was paint a wall in my rental but I wasn’t allowed to paint it anything other than white. I was going crazy.

“My adjustment of living here wouldn’t have been as easy if I didn’t have Obi. We get to go on hikes and walks and people are always asking questions about him, it’s such a social thing and we’ve been able to chat to people about him and educate others on his breed.

“If we didn’t have a dog, I think I’d still be sitting at home not exploring the places that I am. He’s helped me get out there and meet others with dogs and like everyone who was affected by the restrictions, and it sure is nice to say hello to people out and about with their dogs.

“He makes me feel safe and confident and not alone when I’m home alone while my fiancé works.”

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