‘I would like, to begin with, to say that though parents, husbands, children, lovers and friends are all very well, they are not dogs’. How true.
Elizabeth Von Arnim wrote this opening sentence in her autobiography. And I could well write the same. Without going back to childhood to catalogue all the doggie divinities who’ve ruled my affections, in the last forty years of my second marriage we’ve clocked up round-about fifteen or seventeen assorted dogs.
It’s difficult to be accurate, because it depends on whether we count the dogs we had for a few weeks before realising they were going to kill the others from jealousy, or the ones who adopted us for periods, but couldn’t stay the distance or had to be reluctantly returned to the owners they’d run away from. Thinking about those ones breaks me up. I wish we’d just kept quiet when I saw one poor lab slink back to his master with his tail between his legs.
We rarely chose the dogs who shared our lives. They came to us, sometimes because they had no home, or because some-one rang and said a dog needed a home. And there always seemed to be lost dogs needing to be rescued. One day my husband came home from work to find the family in the back garden, two cavaliers and a saluki, and a Pyrenean mountain hound tied up in the front as I didn’t dare let the saluki see a rival.
So we had a number of afghans, six Cavalier King Charles spaniels, two at a time, a labrador or two, a boxer, several salukis, a borzoi, a mastiff, a mastiff boxer cross. The borzoi had been found lying on the concrete floor of a cage with a scarcely healed broken leg, the boxer-mastiff cross had been left to starve when his owner went to prison and the girl friend walked out. When found three weeks later, his black coat had bleached to pale cream, and his ribs stuck out like a concentration camp victim. The vet said he had one more day in him.
It took months to get him back to black, and if we went out without him, we left the lights on, and a big sack of dog biscuits open by him, so he always knew there was plenty of food. The dogs who had been in happy homes, and were being “let-go” for various reasons, usually took about six months to settle in and realise that this was their new home where they were loved. The rescued dogs settled in straight away, with devoted gratitude. They knew they had been rescued and that they were only too welcome with us.
One little Cavalier King Charles who looked like a grumpy Charles the Second with his long curly black ears framing his face like the King’s wig, finally rolled over for me to tickle his tummy as he lay on my un-made bed in the sunshine, after six months. That was his turning point. Another cavalier made it clear she belonged, when after six months her previous owners came to see her, and when they left, she remained on the steps with us, and watched them get back in their car. But even the sad, badly treated, rescued dogs would often crane to look when they saw a car that looked like their previous owner’s car. What intelligence and what loyalty.
My brother’s labrador, after my brother’s three years absence overseas, when he visited the farm, didn’t wait for an invitation, but went straight out and sat in the back of the land-rover till my brother drove off with him. Who says animals don’t remember?
Two dogs are more fun than one dog, and three dogs are even more fun. On the rare occasions when we had one dog, he or she ran the house, and became top dog, so it was actually better for our self esteem to have at least two dogs. True, there’s less room on the bed, when you have two, and two lots of snores and scratching and general re-arranging can be somewhat disturbing, but I read in an English survey that we are not alone in this, and that seventy per cent of dog owners sleep with their dogs, and a surprisingly large number said they’d rather sleep with their dog than their partner!
Our last dog was a bull mastiff, the gentlest creature in the world but so strong that he pulled my husband over, and broke two ribs. He finally departed for the great kennel in the sky, leaving us with just the cat, after a life-time of living with dogs, and going to the vet and bathing and walking and brushing and feeding and de-fleaing.
I’m now down to looking after an elderly husband. And instead I drive him to the doctor, the dentist, the hearing aid repair people, the specialist, the optometrist. So I don’t walk as much anymore. I don’t miss the bed-time ritual of getting them to go out and pee, especially on cold rainy nights, but I miss everything else. So I have to cuddle the neighbours’ dogs, which include a black Labrador, a black and white English pointer, a little black bitsa, and a blissfully snorting bulldog, his master’s pride and joy.
Food for Threadbare Gourmets
When hungry and in a hurry, there’s nothing like pasta. Any pasta. I always keep freshly grated Parmesan in the deep freeze, so in hungry emergencies all I have to do is boil some pasta, chop some parsley, and when the pasta’s cooked and drained, stir in a beaten egg with cream and parmesan, and sprinkle over parsley. The other quickie is to saute tomatoes in olive oil, add garlic and parsley if you fancy, and tip the tomatoes over the pasta with parmesan on the top. I even love pasta with just melted butter and Parmesan. Hunger is the best appetiser there is.
Food for Thought: God, I can push the grass apart
And lay my finger on Thy heart. Edna St Vincent Millay