I’m not a dog lover in the have ‘em-in-the-house, bring-‘em-in-the-front-seat-of-the-car, put-a-little-coat-on-‘em sense of the word.
I don’t dislike dogs. It’s just that I like cats better. I love their ‘no-one is the boss of me’ insouciance. Our house has been home to a selection of felines over the years, all characters in their own way.
We had a dog too, for many years, a Dalmatian cross my daughter brought home as a scrap of a pup one day, begging to be allowed keep it. It was the runt of a litter, the one the owners couldn’t find anyone to take. She could stay, I agreed, on condition that she would be an ‘outside’ dog. I bought her a proper dog box and lined it with an old piece of carpet. She rewarded me by dragging it outside and chewing it into pieces.
Ours was a symbiotic relationship. She needed me for food, water, exercise and grooming, I relied on her, cross bitch that she was, (I reckon the other half of her was Rottweiler) to keep burglars away. It had certainly worked with the postman.
After forcing him to sprint like an Olympian back to his van one day, catching up with him as he dove head first in and tearing the pocket off his pants, we had to collect our post from the post office in the village. We had to keep her tied up after that little incident too, which meant more walking her on the lead daily so that she got enough exercise.
She got an angry red rash one time and I spent a fortune trying to cure it. At that stage my daughter was in college and all the dog duties fell to me. I had to slather her in foul smelling greenish goo every couple of days. She hated it and would shake furiously, splattering it all over me. Both of us were relieved when it was finally cured.
In adversity we bonded. I grew fond of her, in spite of myself. I realised that one January night as I was crossing the yard with a hot water bottle to put in under her blanket in her box. Finally, in her old age, I began bringing her inside to sleep by the stove in winter. I was sad when the time came to have her put down but not so sentimental not to recognise it was the right thing to do.
There followed a dog-less period. I didn’t miss the business end of dog ownership, the endless feeding, cleaning up after them, vet’s visits, grooming and walking. Especially the walking because it always felt like a chore.
Fast forward on to just after Christmas this year when himself called me into the garden one evening to witness the arrival of a new gun dog. An English setter. I wasn’t even inclined to go out into the garden to look at her. I didn’t want to know. This was going to be a working dog, not a pet. Good. No responsibility for me so. They let her out of the trailer. Through the window I saw a little small, nervous, shivering bundle. I went outside.
“You’ve destroyed her,” I was told last week of that same pup. No, I didn’t kill her. Well maybe I did. With kindness. Which is ironic when you think about it.
There was just something about her little face, that first night I saw her. Newly removed from her mother and her siblings, she was frightened and lonely. She spent every night of the first week whining like a newborn baby. I fretted that she was cold, lonely and afraid. I tentatively suggested we bring her inside.
No, I was told, reminded that she was a working dog and not to be coddled. Besides she had a perfect good house, inside the dog run. I secretly fitted it out, when no-one was around, with corriboard first, to keep her up off the cold floor and then a old mat. I stopped short of the hot water bottle.
All she really wanted was to be petted. I’ve never come across a dog who craves affection the way she does. I began stopping by the pen to pat her every time I went across the yard. That just made her worse. She’s become needy central. Now I can’t go out to the car but she’s out, leaping and barking for me to take her out and pet her.
I’ve taken to sneaking out and around the far side of the house to get to the car to go to work in the mornings, she’s so bad. I can’t bear to see her sad little face as she watches me pull out of the yard. On the upside, no-one in the world is as happy to see me of an evening when I return home.
When I do take her out she is hopelessly excitable, jumping up on me and licking me, rolling over to the rubbed. She loves to have her ears rubbed. It doesn’t help that she has the cutest little face with patches of black and brown on white.
The really, really shocking thing is not that I heated up soup and left over gravy to put over her dried dog food to warm it up in winter, or even, for a nanosecond, considered buying her a coat when I was in New York recently, but the fact that I can’t talk to her without resorting to baby talk. Roxy has become ‘Rox-a-boo-boo’ (imagine that in falsetto!)
This week she was taken on her second training exercise. I watched her go off in the back of the jeep, willing her to do well. She won’t even fetch a stick for me, how was she going to fare? I was as nervous as a Leaving Cert mammy.
I watched for cues as to how it’d gone when I heard them pulling into the yard. Not much was said as she was returned to her pen and given fresh water.
“So how did it go?” I asked nervously when he came into the house. I had a feeling Roxy wasn’t going to cut it as a gun dog, diving fearlessly into undergrowth to retrieve ducks or whatever. The news wasn’t good. She’d been far too intent on getting petted to follow any instruction. She ignored the whistled orders and just sat instead, looking up, begging for attention.
“You’ve destroyed her. You’ve turned her into a pet,” I was admonished. But, I wanted to protest, I couldn’t have! Not me! I don’t even like dogs!