Sometimes, usually when my son is messing with a dog I like the look of – read: basically any dog – I half-heartedly mumble that we should get a dog. My heart is halved in these scenarios, because I don’t really mean it. For one thing, my wife is not on board. She is the only ethical vegetarian I’ve ever met who dislikes the company of animals intensely. Her disdain for mice and squirrels has gone remarked here before, but it extends to literally all of nature’s non-human creatures, dogs included. Dislike is a bit strong, it’s more that she gets a bit spooked around them and the threat that they might jump on her, touch her, lick her, or even sit quietly in her vicinity, surely plotting an attempt at the forementioned.
But there’s also the fact that I can’t imagine owning a dog in a city, since I grew up around country dogs, who experienced the kind of low-maintenance, high-freedom lifestyle that I couldn’t provide in our Hackney flat. Others do it wonderfully, but I don’t think I’m cut out for the job.
All these things came to mind this week, because we got heartbreaking news from home. My father’s dog, Sally, hadn’t been in good health for a while and a tearful trip to the vet on Sunday morning resulted in he and my sister Caoimhe making the kindest, hardest decision. She was a 15-year-old golden retriever cross, who loved belly rubs, muzzle pats and indulging the attention of grandkids who doted on her, unconditionally.
Sally came to us via my sister’s partner Eddie, who’d reared her from a pup before gifting her to my dad when she was a sprightly four-year-old. Sally didn’t complain, talk back, or flood WhatsApp with inane puns, so she immediately became my father’s favourite child.
Perhaps it was my own jealousy that led me to allege that Sally’s cheery temperament and blithe manner implied she had the intellect of a sea sponge. My father responded by sending me pictures of Sally reading the Observer, sporting her best approximation of an unhappy expression. Such was her cheerfulness, even then she looked delighted.
As recompense, I sent my dad a book called Test Your Dog’s IQ and he revelled in the fact that she aced every test, so much so he didn’t even mind when Caoimhe and Eddie flooded WhatsApp with pictures and videos of her completing each task. Finally, he thought, this was content worth reading.
It’s cruel to think I’ll never again rub her belly with an outstretched foot, or apologise as our toddler pulls her tail a thousandth time. But she lived a life showered with affection, spending her days in the quiet comfort of human company, or tramping through country fields. I take solace from knowing that whatever better place she’s reached by now, it won’t be much different from what she left behind.
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