Ok, I confess one of my New Year’s resolutions was to blog every month in 2016 and I didn’t quite manage to publish this in January. I was close though.
Ah January… the month when everyone gives up alcohol and lives on salad and regret. I have always thought February was a much more sensible time to start the après-Christmas health kick. It’s easier when your house is no longer full of chocolate and random liqueurs and the freezer is free of small things wrapped in puff pastry. So am I going to be blogging about healthy lifestyle changes and sharing my recipe for kale smoothies? Am I heck as like.
Instead, I thought I might attempt to answer a few frequently asked questions over the coming months. I share a lot of dog-related stuff on Facebook and Twitter and people often ask what kind of dogs I have myself. No one who knows me will be surprised that I am using this as a flimsy excuse to write about ‘dogs I have loved’ and knowing my audience, no one will be disappointed about it either.
My first dog was Puppy, so called because I wasn’t going to get attached. I know how ridiculous that sounds but hear me out.
I found her wandering about a busy High Street when I was 18 and still living in South London. Or rather she found me and happily sat with me while I fussed her and made sure she didn’t run off into the road. She was a pretty little thing but I had no idea what breed(s) she was and still don’t. She looked young and a bit on the skinny side but she was wearing a collar, so I assumed she had just found her way out of someone’s garden. When no frantic owner showed up, I took her to the local police station but the Plod were not interested. They told me they already had a male dog in their kennel, so I could either sign to say I took responsibility for her or they would send her straight to Battersea Dogs Home. Guess what happened next? Well played, Police Officer who didn’t fancy looking after a dog that afternoon.
I was told that if she wasn’t claimed after 28 days, she would be mine. This being ye olden days before the interwebs I slogged around all the local vets, pet shops and such, leaving her photo everywhere. She even got her picture in the local paper but no one called. As time passed, I couldn’t imagine what excuse her owners could have for not finding her sooner. Finally, after 27 days, someone rang. I went to the phone ready to read them the riot act but it was a family who had seen her in the paper, offering to take her in if she hadn’t been claimed. That would have been an ideal solution, as I was a penniless student in rented accommodation with no idea how to look after a dog. I opened my mouth to say so and found myself telling them I couldn’t bear to part with her. Obviously. By that point she flatly refused to answer to anything but Puppy, so Puppy she stayed for the next 16-ish years.
I had always wanted a dog and she became my best mate as we learned how to do the ‘dog and owner’ thing together. Some of the stuff we got up to makes my hair curl now but if she knew it was bad for her to eat crisps or drink light ale from her own little bowl in my student local, she never let on. *Please* don’t do this with your dog. She may have lived until she was 16 but it was pure luck; I’m assuming she just happened to have the constitution of a canine Keith Richards. She grew up into a very healthy dog, despite her illicit teenage pub treats. She loved her walks, enjoyed a swim and once had the time of her life riding a sled with me in a snowy Richmond Park. She was ‘mum’ to a cat I also came by accidentally (that’s another story – animals find me).
During a brief spell in a dodgy flat in Tottenham, she had a near-death experience that has probably taken years off my life too. One evening I came home from work to find the Fire Service had broken in and taken her to the local PDSA. She’d been spotted on some scaffolding two floors up on the front of the building with a badly cut paw, having apparently jumped through a window. The (dodgy) landlord tried to tell me she had broken it, until I pointed out that there wasn’t a mark on her other than her cut paw and all the glass was on the inside. Someone had obviously tried to break in and my scrap of a dog had seen them off! I collected her as early as I could the next morning. Once I had finished sobbing and stuffing tenners into the donation box as she bounced around and licked me half to death, I carried her all the way home. Cheerful as ever, she played the sympathy card with her bandage and got fed biscuits by all the old folk on the bus…
She never really liked to be left alone and after I learned to drive she would come everywhere with me in the car. When I worked in the wine trade she would shamelessly snaffle goodies from catering staff while we were making deliveries. Like most ex-strays, she loved her food. When she stayed with my mum they would often watch a film together and share some snacks. I know this because I would go to collect her and find the pair of them looking guilty and covered in popcorn crumbs.
She was not fond of peas and could reject them from a full bowl of food at high velocity, spitting them out like spent machine gun ammo as she ate. She never knowingly refused a treat, she considered it rude. If she was offered something she didn’t like, she would politely take it then look for somewhere to hide it. Some friends of mine who were looking after her overnight discovered that she also did this when she was full. Their niece and nephew had come for Sunday lunch and snuck her many sausages from the table. After a few days my friends were baffled by a noxious smell in their flat and realised that when she couldn’t eat any more, she had started hiding them. Weeks later they were still finding mouldy chipolatas placed carefully behind furniture or in plant pots…
I was devastated when I finally lost her and I wasn’t sure I could have another dog any time soon. Then I learned another truth, which is that once you’ve been owned by a dog you will never feel right without one. The house was much too quiet. If I dropped food, it hit the floor. I had to talk to myself or the cat, who was a fabulous cat but didn’t really care about my human nonsense and had no interest in going for companionable road trips. More importantly I realised that all the time I was sat feeling sorry for myself another dog was waiting in a rescue cage somewhere, so before long I found myself at Battersea with strict instructions from the dog-sitter (my mum) to get something ‘not too big, that won’t get too muddy’. Which… didn’t quite work out.
This blog is turning out to be longer than I planned. You know what it’s like when you get talking about dogs. Never mind, it can become a short series instead. Next week: Honey the ‘pedigree Stafrador’.