The Le Pard home, circa 2002 comprised four humans of various sizes, sexes and sophistications, two cats, two tortoises, the last survivors of a tropical fish experiment and a dozen whistling cockroaches. In considering the decision-making structure that existed back then, you need to know the following: the cats refused to join in any discussions, reasoning that as the superior species they would do what they damn well liked; the tortoises were indifferent to anything beyond cucumber and making bids for freedom; in all honesty the fish never stayed still long enough to count their votes; and the cockroaches had been disenfranchised after escaping one Saturday and taking up residence in the airing cupboard.
That left the four of us, vieing for supremacy in issues of the day. A tense equilibrium had been maintained for a while but about this time the Balance of Power began to shift. The Lawyer and the Vet, respectively 12 and 9, had started to realise that The Sibling Wars were in fact a sideshow to the main event namely Home Domination and they were both failing in their aims. So a new force arose in the land: a dangerous cadre called Team Sibling, their antipathy and rivalries being buried in their need to thwart He Who Would Like To Be Obeyed and the then centre of all power: the Matritatorship herself.
And the first real test of Team Sibling’s growing subversion was the Dog Paradox.
On the one hand both she and me had enjoyed pet dogs as children and understood Proposition Canine when it was presented to us. On the other we were well aware that (a) promises to help, eg with walking were illusory unless dog walking happened to be trending that day and (b) Team Sibling were now of an age where we could go away more easily so having the responsibility for a dog would instantly curtail those hopes.
HWWLTBO gave in first. It was too easy really: I would be at the legal coal face for hours everyday and they understood how to guilt trip an absent adult with the same surgical precision as our cats eviscerate mice – plus I was a sucker for the idea of dog walking as a weekend treat.
Only the Boss was left unconvinced and even someone as redoubtable as the Textiliste couldn’t survive for long. Finally the thick walls of common sense that had been maintained by the distaff side crumbled and fell.
Sometimes, when a fight has been hard fought but eventually successful you assume the next phase will be a doddle, or in this case a doggle. We all agreed on what we wanted:
- It had to be a rescue dog
- It had to be neutered
- It had to enjoy walks
- No handbag dog but also nothing that could pass as a horse in the dark with the light behind it
- It had to get on with the cats
Battersea Dogs Home is well known and calls out for people to take on unwanted dogs and cats. It is also a couple of miles from our front door. So one weekend, a Sunday I think we set off in high hopes that that evening we would return with our new family member.
On entering we booked a time to see a re-homer and set off up the sloping entrance to visit some of the dogs. It’s tough this bit. So many brown eyes and intelligent faces follow you on your journey. If, like me, you are utterly soft you have earmarked some fifty candidates by the time you reached the desk to meet a smiling assistant. The others had a few ideas but we were told there were a lot more not in the visitors’ areas (for a variety of reasons) which we could view online and if we liked them we could meet them. But first, some admin.
You expect details to be taken, don’t you? And we had it all planned. We were rather smug. We would tell them all about our wants and needs, they’d tap everything into the computer and we could start choosing. That’s when the questions started.
‘How much walking can you do?’
‘How big is you garden?’
‘How high the fences, gates etc?’
‘How long will he/she be left at any one time?’
‘What about holidays?’
And on. All of them were really about the dog’s want and needs not ours. We began to realise we were approaching this for entirely the wrong perspective. It’s not about us, stupids, it’s about the dog.
Eventually forms were filled and logged. Can we choose now? We’re getting peckish.
It didn’t happen. In total, this process took four interviews spread over two weeks. They needed to see us, us and the children, the house and garden and for us to meet the size of dog we said we wanted to make sure it was right for us. Then and only then could we meet possible candidates.
Eventually a dog was identified but first he needed to pass the ‘cat test’. Which comprised a cat being brought into the room where we all waited, taken out of its basket and put on the floor. The cat in question wasn’t happy. He had an expression somewhere between my gran sucking a lemon without her false teeth in and Donald Trump on being told the wasp he’s just swallowed is actually Mexican. Or Muslim. Or both. If the dog ignored the cat, bingo.
We held our breath. The dog looked up, registered this tight packed piece of fur with attitude and turned away.
He’d passed. In truth, that was rather misleading since he hated our cats and they just about tolerated him but thank heavens he passed.
Blitzen, our German shepherd-lurcher-heaven-knows-what cross had melted our willing, if rather exhausted, hearts. He stayed with us for 10 years until one evening he keeled over on the hall carpet, a heart weakness having taken him prematurely. I did try mouth to mouth but even accepting there was a major flaw in the geometry of what I was attempting there was no bringing him back.
We had some great times; the ancestral greyhound in his gene pool driving him to run in circles but the German shepherd torso meaning he regularly fell over. A steam punk of a dog really. That need to twist had him rip his ligaments from his back leg before an MRI scan and pioneering surgery got him back up and running.
We learnt something about vet’s bills then and endorsed the Vet’s career choice.
It was a tortuous process getting him in the first place but it did mean we really really wanted him and we wouldn’t have missed those 10 years for all the tea in Tesco’s.
And now? Well, as with Royalty, the Dog is dead, long Live the Dog. As readers of this blog know, there’s a new king in the kitchen, bending us to his will… May Dog be with us for many years yet…