Beautiful Nala

5th Apr, 2024

Written by Anthea Rickard

Professional photography by Nat Gold ZA  

Nala’s Happy Tale is a story that really needs to be shared, as it celebrates the important things in life: the love and care of our four-legged companions as well as how that same love and care can so often manifest into an equally deep love and care for our two-legged companions that share that heart space.

Nala is a Golden Labrador and, when she was nine, her family discovered that the grandchildren were allergic to her, so they set about trying to rehome her. Her rehoming post caught the eye of Kim Selvan who sent it on to Susan Hayter in Switzerland. Susan had been on the lookout for just such a dog to help mend her father, Brian Hayter’s, heart, after his beloved Swiss Shepherd, Bella, had died very suddenly in his arms.

Mending hearts

Brian lived for his dogs and their long walks had been the most important part of his day for many years. Susan immediately set about arranging for Nala to get her second chance at life, and in so doing, also give her father a new lease on life.

Nala went to live with Brian at the end of September 2022. She settled in very quickly and she and Brian adored each other, and he was determined to get her to lose some weight and get fitter for the outings! Nala was gradually introduced to the rest of the bigger walking group, and in no time at all, she truly belonged.

As the months went by, Brian developed a hip problem and was advised he’d need hip replacement surgery. In the pre-surgery check-up, the doctors discovered he had a leaking heart valve that would need to be fixed before he could have the hip replacement. While doing the procedure they found one of his vessels had too tight a bend in it and they weren’t able to replace the valve using the non-invasive trans-catheter procedure.

Brian was devastated because that meant no hip replacement. He spoke to his medical team who then reviewed the situation and decided that although he was now 82, he was a fit and healthy man and should be able to cope with the open-heart surgery that would be required to replace the valve. Brian didn’t hesitate as he knew he needed the hip replacement in order to carry on doing what he loved most – being out and about around the Cape Peninsula with his beloved dog and all their friends.

A devastating turn of events

The day before he went into hospital, Brian walked the length and breadth of Tokai Forest with his two- and four-legged friends in what was to turn out to be his last walk. A few days after his surgery – on the day he was due to go to step down – he had a sudden relapse and passed away. Nala had been with him just under a year.

It was a huge shock and a huge loss of a truly special man. Brian epitomised a true gentleman. He was always offering to help people with whatever problems they may have and he never tried to hide his emotions, particularly when it came to dogs and dog stories. I recall clearly one day he was telling us about a dog film he’d watched on TV. He wept unashamedly – even though the story had ultimately had a happy ending.

Another place in the sun

During the sad days after Brian’s death there was a lot of concern about Nala and what would happen to her. It was no surprise to his dog-walking friends when his dear friend Kim, with whom he’d walked many dogs – on the Fish Hoek sports fields during weekdays and at various other places around the peninsula over weekends – over the 24 years they’d known each other, offered to take Nala home and give her her third place in the sun.

Nala knew Kim and Kim’s dogs very well and has settled in to her new loving, caring, home very quickly and continues to keep Brian’s memory and big heart alive for us all as she walks his paths with her four new brothers and doting mom.

PS: Kim, I suppose it’s to be expected that you featured in so many of the pictures I have of Brian and Nala as you two were such special friends. Thanks again!

Kim, Nala’s new owner, shares...

Having had three Golden Labradors previously, I pretty much knew what to expect when Nala came to live with me and the boys. Labradors are the most wonderful breed, full of love and affection, and Nala hasn’t disappointed in any way. I fell in love with her right from the start and am forever grateful that Susan allowed me to be the one to take over the care of Brian’s special girl.

She loves her brothers and has settled well in our home. She enjoys the company of her brothers when I have to leave them alone for a few hours for work. Of course, the many, many treats help too! Anyone who owns a Labrador knows they love their food, so no surprise there.

I would even go as far as to say she has a new lease on life, having three brothers younger than her.

There was some concern whether she’d cope with the two walks a day, but she’s proven to be able to keep up with the boys and me with no issues. She’s on medication for her arthro-arthritis, which helps tremendously, and I’m working on her weight so that she’ll be around for many years to come.

I know Brian is looking down on us, smiling, knowing his beautiful Nala is happy!

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