Standing at the entrance of the farm, I looked out at the dusty paddocks.
Could I really make this my home? I wondered.
As a city girl, I was sceptical. But from the moment my husband George laid eyes on the land, he was sold.
Ever since I’d met George in my 20s, he’d always dreamt of us building a life together in the bush.
My work as a journalist had kept us near the city. But I knew George’s heart belonged to the country.
So, after 13 years of marriage, we decided to buy the farm in Victoria.
‘Let’s do it!’ I smiled, full of excitement and nerves.
George, 63, quit his job to become a farmer and began building the perfect farmhouse that would become our new home.
I quickly realised our patch of dirt was where George belonged and where I wanted to grow old with my husband.
I still lived and worked in Melbourne during the week, but when Friday arrived, I couldn’t wait to escape to our little slice of heaven.
Years passed and we were happier than ever.
Then, one Monday, I got up at the crack of dawn like normal.
I kissed George on the lips and said, ‘See you Friday.’
‘Mind those kangaroos,’ he said, before I set off.
That evening, I rang George. He said he’d felt a pain in his stomach in the morning and had spent the rest of the day in bed with a fever.
At 73, George was healthy and fit but I still wanted him to see a doctor.
He was prescribed antibiotics for a suspected UTI and I hoped he’d feel better.
But the next morning when I rang George he didn’t answer.
I tried again and again with no response.
Worried, I drove straight home where all was quiet.
Then, I walked into our bedroom and my stomach dropped. George was collapsed on the floor.
In a daze, I dialled Triple-0.
‘Don’t even think of leaving me now,’ I told George.
But once paramedics arrived and checked George’s pulse, I realised he was already gone.
Sitting on the bed, I whispered a goodbye.
In the weeks that followed, I was numb with grief.
We’d been happily married for 23 years.
Now what am I going to do? I thought.
The coroner believed George had died from an abdominal aortic aneurysm, when part of the major vessel that supplies blood to the heart expands and ruptures.
I eventually forced myself back to work but I could barely function.
Then, just 12 weeks after I’d lost George, I was hit with another devastating blow.
A routine breast screening revealed I had cancer in my left breast. It had spread to my lymph nodes.
Still grieving, I underwent two surgeries followed by seven months of chemotherapy.
I lost my hair but somehow, I found the strength to keep fighting.
Afterwards, I made the tough decision to sell the farm. It was heartbreaking, but it was too difficult living there without George.
With my year from hell behind me, I tried to focus on the future.
Then, a few years later, I found myself thinking about something a friend had said to me.
‘Jill, you need something to love,’ she’d told me.
I wasn’t ready for a relationship, but I thought maybe there was something else.
Maybe I could get a dog, I thought.
I visited a kennel and the second I clapped eyes on the cavoodle my heart melted.
With soft orange fur and big brown eyes, he was hard to resist.
The puppy was just seven weeks old and fitted in the palm of my hand. I decided to name him Harry.
I’d never had a dog before and when we ventured out for our first walk, I quickly discovered that I had a lot to learn.
After a few steps, I turned around to see Harry chasing his tail in a frenzy.
‘Come on Harry,’ I said optimistically, giving his lead a tug. But it was no use.
So I enrolled Harry in puppy training and then for obedience lessons.
But things were never quite plain-sailing with my unruly pup.
Somewhere along the line he earned the nickname Dirty Harry and it stuck.
Whether he was tearing around the house at full speed or running around me in the park, Harry never failed to make me laugh.
This sweet and cheeky pup was the little ray of sunshine I so desperately needed in my life.
Whenever I came home, Harry would be waiting for me, tail wagging as soon as I put my key in the door.
Over the years, he got us into all sorts of trouble but keeping up with Harry’s escapades kept me entertained.
Of course I thought about George often, but it was no longer the overwhelming grief I’d felt before.
Now, I had something to live for. I had Harry.
Harry is seven now and I couldn’t imagine life without him. It’s 10 years since George died, and my diagnosis, and thankfully I’m still cancer-free.
The wonderful team of doctors saved my life.
But it was Dirty Harry who found a way to heal my broken heart.
A Dog Called Harry is out in bookshops now.