Dogs (and cats)

Dogs have soothed the souls of lonely, bitter men for time immemorial.  Cats have done similar for women, but can their application be easily demarcated and reasoned by gender?

To me, cats fundamentally appear more feminine: flighty, aloof and unpredictable, pretty and confident and choosy; yet not loyal.  They will go anywhere for food or affection.  You could reasonably argue that the latter points apply equally to dogs, although my hunch is they would be more obviously inclined to identify their owner, and stay close.

Dogs’ affection is less calculated than cats, possibly because they are more dumb, trusting and forgiving creatures.  If you have children who mistreat cats and swing them around by their tails, they will leave.  It’s how ours adopted us when I was small; that and my coaxing.  The then villainous toddler is now standing for election as a Liberal Democrat councillor.  Not sure if there’s any connection.

Dogs are stupider than cats, more male and gullible – as anyone who has ever feigned the throw of a stick, whether they have something in their hands or not, will testify.  Cats are less likely to be duped.  The eagerness and willingness to be excited, to look really pleased to see you and wag their tails and grin, yes grin, and not want anything except your attention: that can’t help but be warming.  The unadulterated pleasure, the transparent zest for life, for walks or for food: that cannot help but be partially infectious.

The cat equivalent?  A sprightly approach, a nuzzle, a where’s my food?

For the avoidance of doubt, the dogs I refer to here are proper sized dogs.  Most certainly not yappy little accessory hounds with weird faces, but not massive Dobermans or Rottweilers either.  Mid-size family pets.

Pet allegiances often depend on preferences formed at a young age, according to your strongest bond with a pet.  Mine was to a dog 6 weeks my senior who I’ll never forget.  Since then I’ve hankered for one of my own.  That craving has grown with the years I’ve spent living alone, and more recently working alone from the same place.  Just having a soft furry canine presence on the floor that calmingly mooches about the place, something to look after and walk and nurture, and give reason and structure and routine, a living breathing body to look pleased to see you when you come home; that would be brilliant.

Well, much better than nothing, better than a row of meals for one and that last lonely can of Guinness.

As a mildly pathetic bloke who searches, mostly fruitlessly, for recognition wherever he can get it, having a dog would surely be an easy win for the ego.  LOOK!  SOMEONE LOVES ME!  They require considerably less effort than women.

But owning them can be attractive to females, albeit probably just batshit crazy ones.  You see it in films so it must be true.  It mightn’t offer the level of human validation that wheeling a cute toddler down a high street in a pushchair does, (in that brief spell a few days ago, not a single attractive woman walked past and I wanted a refund of some kind) – yet it does suggest a base-level of responsibility and care.

Sadly, tenancy agreements for those perpetual renters of property, as I am, never allow such luxuries.  Not beyond fish, if you can even call them pets.  Or maybe, at a push, silly halfway pets like rodents or rabbits.  I want a proper dog.

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Dead Dog

Klinsmann had been going downhill for a while.  He was getting slower on rare walks, which were shorter than ever, and limped gingerly when he rose after a sleep.  Cocking his leg looked like it took too much effort and he’d recently taken to squatting.  They knew there was a lump.  It was just about how big, how fast.  Now he’d begun yelping and whining when he moved up and down steps.

Graham knew it was probably curtains.

In the hallway he crouched down and looked Klinsmann in those big soppy eyes.  Face-to-face with his reliable old friend, Graham held Klinsmann’s head, tugged at his sad drooping jowls before scratching behind both his ears.  The Labrador closed his eyes, enjoying the soothing nails of his master like he’d enjoyed them hundreds of times before.  Graham stopped scratching; the dog opened his eyes and looked at him.  What?

Klinsmann slunk out onto the driveway and looked at the car.  Leaping into the back of the car had long been out of the question.  Do we have to? his face asked Graham.   Afraid so pal, Graham leaned down and took the dog in his arms, lifted him up and onto an old rug which lay across the floor of the boot.  He felt Klinsmann wince and tighten before whining as he touched down onto the rug.

Sssshhh.  Easy now.

Graham had bought the young puppy when he was on the cusp of giving up.  As much as he tried, other people still didn’t seem to work for him.  Or he didn’t work for other people.  Maybe both.  Graham worked alone from a small converted office room of his house.  Always of modest ambition, he didn’t mind his work itself.  But he was growing sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, and bored and lonely, and not having conversations with anyone for days on end, sometimes weeks; of barely having any relationships at all.  He pretended it was all fine to anyone he did speak to, of course, because that’s what you do.  Saying anything else scared people and made him sound like a self-obsessed idiot.  If ever he did say anything, they gave empty platitudes and he nodded and shrugged.  It was all rather pointless, so he stopped doing it after a certain age.

Having been raised around them, Graham always liked dogs and often entertained the idea of keeping one.  The idea wasn’t one which could be realised while he rented properties, but after buying his first place – yet  another new start in another part of town which would surely herald new things (what those ‘things’ were exactly, he wasn’t sure) – getting a dog was a realistic option.   It was a greener part of town too, with easy access to other parts of the country.  Walking would be good for both of them.

Conversely, he took up light smoking around the same time, despite never smoking before in his life.  Once he got the hang of it, the breathing and taking it in properly, it was enjoyable, a sensation like no other.  There would be no global disaster if it sped up his time to expiry.

Like the smoking, Klinsmann made him calmer, less anxious.  That was, once the frenetic puppy years and misbehaviour were done with.  He became a handsome, fit and noble looking young dog; people said they complimented each other well.  They looked at them both, admiring the affable dog and pretending not to glance over Graham with that mixture of pity and sympathy.  They thought that by now he would have found a..  Perhaps there was something wrong with him.  But maybe the dog would help with.. you know? some had suggested.

Over their thirteen and a half years together, there were a couple of possibilities which withered and faded as quickly and predictably as a struck match, nothing which Graham invested much meaning in.  His pessimism didn’t stop him from trying or hoping, but maybe it still shone through somehow, or he continued to exude whatever it was that consistently repelled.  Klinsmann and tobacco became effective crutches.

dog

The dog was good company too, a trusty dependable and dependent friend who could offer genuine affection of some kind, as well as a physical presence, from a buoyant puppy to a slow old dog.  The blonde blot on the floor plodded from room to room towards the end, grumbling and groaning in search of sunbeams which never stayed in the same bloody place.  He only became human.

*

Graham cut the car engine in the tight car part of the surgery and looked glumly ahead at the brick wall, concentrating on his breathing, not losing it too soon.  A glance in the rear mirror showed no excitable golden crown of Klinsmann’s head.  He didn’t care where they were, or he already knew.  The dog recoiled when Graham first tried to scoop him out of the boot, his eyes large and doey, his ears low and defeated.  Touching the cement, his rear legs bent and he expelled a small trickle of piss.  He squatted and gained some command of the flow.  They stood in the car park under an overcast, drizzling sky, watching the unusually luminous liquid running down the slope of the car park.  Many minutes had been spent over the last thirteen and a half years waiting for Klinsmann to piss.  Together they hobbled slowly into the surgery, Graham swallowing hard.

The Labrador’s hind legs buckled accommodatingly when Graham deposited him on the examination table.  Klinsmann flinched and tightened as the Vet inspected regions where he wasn’t used to being touched.  He was simply too exhausted to growl, although Graham could sense that he wanted to.  Ssh now, Graham smoothed his velvety ears, the fur there not as coarse as it had grown elsewhere.

The tumour had indeed grown, the Vet confirmed.  Can’t expect it to get better I’m afraid.  In pain now, aren’t you?  Graham nodded too, his eyes filling in direct correlation with the horrid, inexorable direction of the conversation.  His hand didn’t leave brave Klinsmann’s head.

The Vet delicately inserted a needle into Klinsmann’s rear left thigh, and pressed home the lethal fluid.  Off you go boy.  Thanks, Graham whispered, gently cradling the dog’s head in his hands.  Klinsmann’s chest stopped rising and falling, no air came from his nostrils, the Vet walked across to the other side of the room.  Graham wept silently, bent over his dead dog.  When he finally stood up straight, wiping his stinging eyes, the Vet looked at him from a table where he was feigning attendance to paperwork.  Seeing this kind of thing became tiring.  He looked at Graham, level and sober.  I’m sorry.  For the best.  Do you want to take him or..?  We can look after him here, if you..?  Miriam at reception can sort out the details.

Graham hadn’t thought about that.  He had nowhere to really.  Not in his small, untended garden where nothing grew.  He remembered digging graves for the dogs of his childhood: the mud sweat and tears.  What then?  Was it really worth..?  It was just the body of a dead dog now, after all.  Graham looked down at the perfectly still Labrador once more and kissed the top of his head.  Then he stroked him one last time, from his spongy nose, over his skull, neck, bobbles of spine and down to the tip of his tail, which he gripped in the fist of his right hand.  Bye lad.

Graham swallowed again, feeling his cheeks tearstained and grubby but not caring.  He took a handful of tissues from a tactfully positioned box, wiped his cheeks and blew his nose.  He turned around, thanked the Vet and accepted the forms he was proffering, before walking out of the room.  The lady at reception accepted the forms and offered him those sympathetic, pitying looks he was used to receiving and she was used to giving out.  Punchdrunk, he unthinkingly signed his name, gave a bank card and entered his pin number.

The house was empty when he stepped back inside the front door.  No fond, doddery old boy welcome, no other movements, no presence, no groaning or sly blipping farts.  Only stillness and ticking.  A faint waft of him – perhaps not as faint for visitors, he was used to it; patches of moulted hair which needed hoovering, his empty basket, that picture of him on that Welsh mountainside looking all regal, pretending he was Lassie.

Time echoes in pets

The parents recently bought a puppy which closely resembles one they bought when I was six weeks old.  I grew up with it and was probably excessively wounded when it died.

 

We were roughly 12 and a half and I’d never known a day without him.  It remains my harshest ever experience of grief, for which I suppose I should be grateful.  After all, it was just a dog.


(Even so, just typing that last sentence still smarts: “just a dog”?! *sniffle*)


Seeing recent photographs of Mum with the new puppy couldn’t help but evoke comparison with similar photographs taken roughly my lifetime ago.
 

The puppy itself is impossibly cute right now, eight weeks old, its character and lolloping running style still immature and undefined.

 

Can’t help thinking a touch morbidly though.  Will this be their last dog?  One which will see them into proper old age?  Might I even, one day, be obliged to take custody of it, when it’s fully grown, old itself, creaky, a faculty or two gone?  If not this one, maybe another.  A smaller, downsized, more manageable one.  Where will I be then?


As ever, I can’t even guess where I’ll be in a handful of years.  A decade or so hence still appears as intimidatingly unforeseeable as it did when I was a child.  There’s still no plan.

 

Time seems to resonate more strongly through family pets than through humans, possibly due to their limited lifespan: more manageable chunks of time for the memory. As well as their permanent-seeming embroidery into the fabric of day-to-day family life at the time, and the gaping space they leave when they go.