Friday, 19 July 2019

Having a Dog

I read the other day that one of the many objections that people have to President Trump is that he doesn't have a dog:

I wasn't aware that having a dog made you a better person, but I do sometimes wonder if my pleasure in not having one is due to my not being genuinely - or even slightly? - good.

I have had dogs. When I was a child I had a boxer called Friday. She was the only dog I ever had an uncomplicated relationship with. I loved her and that was it. I didn't feel guilty about her or think that she needed more from me than I could give her. She didn't follow me around or try to get in between me and anyone else in the family. She seemed to be perfectly content.

But since then the dogs we have had have always been needy - and I seem to have always been the target of their complicated emotional demands. First there was Bertie, a beautiful and clever border collie who never grew tired. Apart from indefatigability, he was a charming fellow, entirely gentle unless you stopped the car and opened up the back door, exposing the area where he was sitting. Then he would become frightened and aggressive, proving that dogs do have strong memories - for Bertie had been found tied up by the side of the road and it appeared that no amount of time was ever going to erase the memory of how'd he'd ended up there.

I imagine the poor creature leaping willingly from the back of his owner's station wagon, wondering what exactly was going on when he had his lead put on and the end of it slipped over a wooden marker fixed at the curb - and then watching as his master got back into the car and drove away without him. How long did he wait, how long was it before he understood that no one was coming back?

After Bertie came a bearded collie but (inadvertently) we ran her over - (it was quite unspeakable - killing their beloved pet is one of the worst things a parent can do to their young children, I freely admit [and it was entirely my fault]) - before the relationship really got going.

Then Millie came to live with us. Millie was gorgeous, despite being what a young Finnish friend of ours referred to as 'a mixed up muddled up' dog, (that is, a mongrel). We found Millie in a Budapest dogs' home. She was the only dog there that wasn't barking, which was a big plus, as well as being the first sign that she was, as she proved later time and again, a very wise, (although, we also discovered, rather wily) hound.

Millie was part basset, part pointer, with a few other bits thrown is as well. She had been born into the household of a family of fishermen apparently, and although she'd only been young when they'd chucked her out, I don't think she ever forgot her early life. Unbelievably, (but truly), even years after Millie arrived in Australia, she would wake from the deepest sleep if we played Hungarian gypsy music and, ears pricked, would look around, apparently expecting to see something or someone from her past.

But my favourite memory of Millie is a couple of hours after she arrived to live with us. I'd taken a chicken out of the fridge and put it on the benchtop. Then I'd gone off to pick some herbs to cook it with. Returning, I saw Millie speeding out of the kitchen, an entire chicken dangling from the side of her mouth - she'd got hold of one of its legs, so it was hanging at exactly the angle Andy Capp allowed his cigarette to droop from the corner of his mouth. Just as I saw Millie, she spied me. For an instant we looked into each other's eyes. Should she drop the thing or run, is what I believe she was hastily asking herself. Run, she decided and made a headlong dash down the stairs. I'd left the back door open and Millie shot through it, along with the chicken. The two of them plunged into the undergrowth at the end of the garden and it was Millie alone who emerged some time later, looking rather stouter than when she went in.

We ate macaroni cheese for dinner that night.

Millie is long gone, and Bertie - and, of course, Friday, the boxer dog. And now we live in a flat at the top of a building with ninety-six stairs and no lift. We have no dog here - and it's not only because I don't want to go up and down those stairs several times each day that I am glad (although I am glad for that reason too, because I can imagine becoming as deluded as one of our neighbours who used to carry her very stout pet in a shoulder bag up and down the stairs, on the grounds that its legs were too short to manage the task itself).

But the bigger issue for me is that, apart from that first dog, Friday, I have always found the love of a dog so intense that it has felt like a burden. I have been overwhelmed by such devotion being directed at me. I don't think I've done anything to deserve it and it causes me anxiety - as does the situation of having my every action closely watched.

In our old house, this was a particular problem as most of the rooms had French windows that looked out onto the veranda and back garden, which was where the dogs spent the greater part of their time. It was difficult to pass unnoticed, however carefully you tiptoed, and moving about freely, in a normal way, was impossible, unless you were prepared to cause excitement that rapidly turned to huge disappointment.

I would creep out of my study to go to make a cup of coffee. The dogs would be out there, apparently sleeping deeply, not a care in the world. But the first creak of a floorboard, the first faint glimpse of a movement and, however quietly and lightly I trod, they would spring into total consciousness. Some sixth sense seemed always to communicate that I was on the move.

Then would come the sound of claws scrambling on wood and suddenly a four legged creature would be standing at the window staring, ready for action, eyes following your progress, trying extremely hard - and usually over-optimistically - to gauge the likelihood of an imminent walk or a meal or at the very least a pat. I didn't like the fact that on most occasions disappointment - or only the minimal reward of a pat - was all they received.

As I say, I don't find it very relaxing to live with all that observation, nor to be considered quite that important. For a dog, you are god and your actions, although mysterious, are - being the actions of god - hugely important. I am not ready to be god. I find the task overwhelming.

 But perhaps, after all, that makes me a very good person - at least if this, apparently genuinely serious tweet (???!?)  is anything to go by. If this tweeter is to be believed, in fact, I'm rather marvellous and extremely woke:

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