Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Power of the Dog

Ross's dog is gravely ill.

I suppose if you don't have a dog it is hard to understand why anyone would be so upset ( that isn't an insult or a judgement just a statement of fact) and if you do there isn't much need to explain.

As so often he's spot-on. I remember in my teens a girlfriend walking through the door one Saturday morning and bursting into floods of tears - and it wasn't the state of my room.

"What's the matter ?"

"They've taken her to the vet to be put down !" - 'her' being the companion of her childhood, a thousand walks and a hundred days out in the country with parents. But I didn't think like that at the time - I was properly sympathetic and held her till my shoulders were soaked in tears - but it was only a dog, a nice enough dog, but still a dog. At this distance memory fails, but I probably assumed it was just a girl thing, what with being more emotionally open and all that.

The same blindness afflicted me with regard to the effect of children, although I think I wasn't alone in this. Our single lives were so endlessly fascinating, what friends were doing, who was with whom, the places to go, the people, the parties, that we looked on people who'd got children slightly pityingly, as if they'd been afflicted with a crippling disease (and it IS crippling to a wild social life, although I know a few exceptional people and couples who have just carried on - I'm just not exceptional) which not only curtailed their social life but made them talk about children an awful lot - as if that topic was of any interest at all compared to the important things.

You live and learn. Hopefully. Now I feel more that becoming a parent is gaining access to the secret heart of life and the long chain of familial links down the generations. Not that it doesn't have its many, many drawbacks. Susan and I looked at each other one day after #2 had arrived and said 'whatever did we do with all that time we had?".

I digress. So I finally learned about why parents are interested in kids, but still didn't get the dog thing. Our neighbours were childless but treated their dogs like their children - they slept upstairs and their doings were part of our everyday chats. Most odd, we thought.

Dog lovers ...

I'd taken my firstborn up to visit his grandpa, and grandpa and I were out walking with grandpa's dog and the pushchair plus baby. I loved that new dad bit, with bonny boy getting cooed over by all and sundry ... the checkout queue turning into a little love fest ... and he WAS a beautiful baby - he's 21 now and six foot.

Lady approaching on the pavement, breaks into happy smile :

"Oh, what a beautiful ..."

(Dad smiles modestly... he's getting used to this ...)


(Smile vanishes instantly)

Then our youngest went off to Big School, and it left a bit of a gap in Susan's life. Suddenly there were no babies to care for - and she likes caring for things. One day she went off and returned with this chap (and promptly had him snipped, to my horror). Apparently Labradors were very even tempered, good with children and an all round ideal first dog for a family with no dog-owning history on either side, at least since our great-grandparents were on the farm. What's impressive is that AFAIK, apparently all dogs are descended from domesticated wolves. Just shows what breeding will do.

The kids were thrilled, promised to walk him etc etc - didn't last and soon Mum and Dad were doing most of the walks. But the exercise is great - he and we usually get about three miles a day in - it's good for an ageing chap with a desk job. I've learned most of the footpaths and circular routes round the house.

Labradors seem to eat anything - three week old bird carcases, stones, deer poo, sheep poo, horse poo - and they roll in fox poo, which is not a nice smell and means an hour shampooing him in the garden (then a shower and complete change of clothes). On the good side they love apples, blackberries, plums, the farmer's turnips - healthy eaters.

He once found a rotting, rank dead rabbit inside a plastic bag, scoffed it, then sat in his crate in the kitchen and disgorged the lot some hours later. Not a nice clean-up job - the smell at close quarters was truly evil.

They're meant to have more acid in their stomachs than humans to enable digestion of bad food - but ours pushes that way beyond the limits. The Muslims are right enough when they consider dogs unclean. They're filthy dirty creatures.

But they have a way of wrapping themselves round the heart. Always pleased to have human company, playful, cheery. All the family quickly grew to love him - even grandma, very much a non-dog person, has a soft spot.

October last year, grandma is round for Sunday tea/dinner, I'm just out in the garden using the last of the light at ten to six.

"Can he stay out here with you ? "


The call for tea. I call him - he's not anywhere in the garden. Round the house - no sign.

"Has he come in ?"


"He's not in the garden"

Poor grandma. She was left alone in the house while everyone emptied into the darkening garden, calling, then after a quick conference and grabbing of mobiles, two cars head slowly in opposite directions, and the boys are in the local wood with torches. Daughter and I take the car across rough farm tracks, along the routes of his favourite walks, stopping, scanning the gloomy fields, calling him, on again, repeat.

Forty minutes later it's pitch black and the cars are back. The boys have been right through the woods to the fields on the other side, which we've also scanned from the cars as best we could, then back again. Up and down the village - again - half expecting to see a limp form in the headlights. Not a sight or sound.

Tea at seven in almost total silence. The only thing I can compare it with was the first family Christmas without my grandmother.

Eight o'clock. He's been gone two hours. We've been out in the garden and around the house again. Nothing. The feeling that he's gone for good starts to solidify.

Nine o'clock. My daughter's standing at the back door, calling his name. Nothing. I feel she's wasting her time, but in solidarity I go to the side door to call. Open it - he's standing on the step.

God knows where he'd been. One moment of tremendous pleasure - calling my daughter into the kitchen, without telling her who was there, then watching the ecstatic reunion - the boys hearing the noise and tumbling in, happy uproar. "For he was lost, and is found".

Once again Mr Kipling has the words :

There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart to a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years which Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
And the vet's unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
Then you will find - it's your own affair
But ... you've given your heart to a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!)
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone - wherever it goes - for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart to a dog to tear.

We've sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we've kept 'em, the more do we grieve:
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-term loan is as bad as a long
So why in Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

It's an ill wind ...

I took an elderly relative out for the afternoon to Bristol, and on the way in this morning thought I'd call in at the shops in Bath. It was chucking it down.

The centre of town gave the impression that a massive wet t-shirt competition had just finished - most impressive. Turned out to be Race For Life day.