Dogs are important to my well-being. As a child of 7 yrs old I got bitten on the throat by the neighbour’s pet dog Bonnie. It was a bit shocking but to be fair I was straddled over her at the time whilst she was trying to eat her dinner! Anyway being quite robust I got over that and forgave her and the following summer she had puppies. I spent all summer long with them pups.
Now, as a family we’d had hamsters (I laughed when one died out of shock and then laughed when another died as I was jealous that my sister had been given one and not me…….. but enough of my shadow side) and, we’d had a stray cat and a chicken but, we’d never had a dog.
During the long hot summer holidays of the early 70’s when the tar was rising from the roads, I played and smelled them puppies every day and kissed them and bundled them up into my face. At 8 years old I was in love. Yes in love, in love with the primitive earthy scent of the wolves, in love with the tactile sensual feel of warm fur, in love with the honest, easy way the pack played and accepted me (the youngest child) just because …………..well…………I was me………Lindy.
The day came when the pups got to 8 weeks old and I had gone back to school. Each day I returned from school and another one of the 6 babies had been homed. I was both resilient and bright enough to understand that this was a good thing for the pup, but my heart felt heavy to think the day would come when the pups weren’t in my world any more.
The day came when the last puppy was left, a little grey runt of the pack with a white star on her nose and white chest and socks. I smelled and bundled and dodged the needle teeth and kissed her (although by now I had been told not to kiss anything shiny pink or black!) and I cuddled that last pup accepting that soon she would be gone too.
Resigning myself to the fact that it would be me back to hugging only the big dog that bites again, life went by that summer. But life changed all together when my family accepted the last pup as our family pet. Tina=Joy. Tina…. just saying the name makes me calm. She slept with me, she jumped in the car before anyone else had chance to get in, and she waited at the concrete bollards down the road for me to return home from school. Tina filled my heart with joy and my arms with hugs and I loved her so much, I couldn’t breath.
My beautiful, gentle, loving Tina. I am now crying folks. The joy of the memory of the day Tina became ours is mingled with the rawness of losing her in a road accident 7 years later when I was 14 and she was out with my parents on a walk. A car clipped her as she sprang in excitement off the kerb, a moment of time which resulted in dads crumpled and tear stained face as he carried her home and then gently placed her into the car to be taken to the vets…………but she never returned.
I walked to the park after that and it was raining and I couldn’t speak. My tough mate was with me and she could not speak. The grief of my family was so intense they didn’t speak, and so my grief for Tina was never expressed or resolved, just buried deep down, half cherished, half choking, and if I thought of Tina it was not the joy I recall now, only the pain of losing my best friend and not knowing how to say……………….. I miss her.
When the family bought another dog 4 years later I was indifferent and couldn’t bond with the dog and over the years although I loved the dogs which my family shared a life with, I did not desire my own; it felt in some way like a betrayal of Tina and I wanted to avoid ever losing her again.
But then …………I married a dog mad man! And many years later in my 30’s a friend at work was reading a Dogs Today magazine and on the front cover was a face so beautiful I had to have one! A Beardied Collie, long haired, awful to groom, costs a packet and the mental age of maturity……….never! We ordered one (should we be allowed to be able to order one of anything living?) and me and my partner went to collect our little boy……………….my son………….my sun.
Our Scout (after the character in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee mine and my other halves favourite book) the Beardied Collie pup was handed to me by the breeder and I felt choked,…………the smell, the feel, the instant falling in love and need to protect was evocative.
Off we went in our car and I nursed Scout on my lap. Suddenly just seconds down the road the car drew to a halt and my husband took off his seat belt and arms out stretched with urgency said…………. let me hold him! As he enveloped Scout in his arms for a nuzzle I thought what a lucky dog Scout was and what lucky people we were. Scout = Joy.
All our love went into Scout, and he went every where with us. Scout would lie on my chest to sleep (yes even at 22kg when he was fully grown) and he would greet me from work in a way which put the working day of mismatch expectations and trodden values behind me, those eyes drank me in. How does that old nursery tease go when two people are that into each other…………ah yes………………..Scout and Linda sitting up a tree K-I-S-S-I-N-G.
Three years later we rescued another dog whose name was Rowan who had been over bred, with a ruined tummy and she didn’t even know what a ball was or how to play. It was painful to see a Beardied collie just like our scamp Scout, acting so damaged and inhibited. But we loved her. We loved her uniqueness, her anxieties her beautiful face and the way she needed lifting onto the bed in later life and would just arrive at the side fully expectant that this would be accommodated…………..and her dirty looks when we didn’t do it soon enough!
Our dogs lived to a ripe old age. Scout was diagnosed with spleen cancer at 7 but lived until he was 13, when sadly we lost him and could never have prepared ourselves for the all consuming grief. 6 months later Rowan died at 14 and just the month before she had climbed Helm Crag in the lakes! We weren’t expecting to lose Rowan and the circumstances of her last hours I find hard to reconcile even now 3 years later.
But 2 weeks before we lost Rowan my husband had finally talked me into having another Bearded collie puppy and our Dill (another character from to Kill a Mockingbird) arrived. Rowan had no tolerance for the pup but we are just grateful that in some way Dill had met the old dame and shared her space and there has been a continuity of our beloved animals and it gives us comfort in some strange way that Scout knew Rowan and Rowan knew Dill.
The support from my family and friends at this appalling time, and some people at work (I booked emergency holiday off to cope with my loss) was fabulous. There was one person who ‘didn’t get it’ and cruelly asked me ‘is it dead then?’ But for the most my husband and I felt ‘got’ and loved and understood, and we have since been able to offer our support and understanding to our friends and family who have lost; Chrissy, Bess, Meg, Dexter, Tina2, Roxy, Max and Remus.
My Dill is now 3 ½ (born Christmas Eve) and Dill is as different to each of my other dogs as each was to each other. He is unique. He is the same breed and really, really, really good looking, but he is his own man. We don’t feel we replaced or displaced or betrayed the memory of any of the dogs we have shared our lives with……………..we just walked together for a while.
Dill got us through the loss and we are so glad we got him at the point we did. When deciding whether or not to get Dill a cherished dog loving friend of mine (Pat who I have since lost) said to me ‘hey you will keep buying them wont you? She asked me ‘is the joy of having them outweighing the pain of losing them?’ and I had to think, but of course for my wellbeing and the love I gain and give…………the answer is yes. Well then , she said ‘ you don’t betray the memory of Tina, Scout or Rowan, flower you flatter them, and you pay them the biggest compliment ever………..because you buying another dog to love, tells them that the experience they gave you was so fantastic you simply had to repeat it! Wise words indeed.
Linda Dickinson June 2010