A Man and his Dog
I used to be terrified of most dogs.
When I was about five or six, I was 'attacked' by a dog. I say 'attacked' in quotation marks, because it wasn't exactly the kind of attack that's everywhere nowadays, but as a kid it was enough to leave its mark.
I was a friends and we'd kicked a ball into their neighbours garden for the umpteenth time. We did the usual drill: go over, knock on the door, look like the innocent kids we were and get them onside to allow us to go rooting around in their immaculately kept garden.
I'm terrible at knowing what kind of dog a dog is unless I either know said dog or it's an obvious breed, like Labrador or German Shepherd. All I knew about this neighbour's dog was it was about as big as me, and particularly keen to be all over me. I backed away; it moved forwards. Then it started barking.
I ran it. He ran after me. I fall. His teeth clamp on my knee.
He never draw blood; like I say, it wasn't exactly an attack that lands on the front page of BBC News, with a local MP baying for it's blood. But it left its mark, both on my knee and in my head. The owner eventually took the dog away, chastised me as I should know the dog was only playing, and that running only encourages it, as if as a six year old with no history of pets I should be an expert in animal psychology. And so dogs joined spiders on my 'stay away from' list.
Not all dogs, I should add. My nan would rescue greyhounds, and while there was some initial nervousness, it's difficult to be constantly afraid of an animal who was far more reason to be terrified of you. Plus, there were times I'd go to a friends house and they had some kind of dog that would inevitably want acknowledging. I'd mostly freeze and do the bare minimum whilst begging the owner to get it away from me with as much composure as I could muster.
Time did it's thing though, and eventually dogs became more of a mild annoyance, and then when I had bigger things to worry about and I'd gotten more confident around them, they became cute and playable and lovely so long as they were someone else's problem.
My wife always loved dogs. As a child, she had a former show dog, but her parents got rid of it when she was three. A life of poverty that followed meant no more pets until she was able to afford her own dog, but a misdiagnosed dog allergy in her sister meant her parents made her get rid of that one too.
She bought Ted as a present for her mum when it became clear it wasn't a dog allergy causing her sister to cough. A little Lhasa Apso/Poodle cross, he was adorable. Not the brightest, and not the most obedient out of the box, but I guess that's what happens when you breed two stubborn dogs together. Her mum was made up, her dad less so, and the others, well...
I had met him a few times when we went over. He'd also ran right to me when I walked in the door, and I'd always be 'roped in' to taking him out. It worked out for the both of us; Ted finally out for a walk with someone who take him out for ages as opposed to just down the road, and I had a cast iron excuse to spend a fair amount of time away from the in-laws.
But then her parents had to move; their landlord at the time was selling up. They couldn't find a place that would allow dogs, so they were looking at getting rid of him. Another dog returned to sender.
Emma had other ideas. We'd just move into our first place together. She was an adult, both of us earning alright. There was zero chance of her saying goodbye to yet another dog in her life. I had more than a few reservations: we were in a one bed place with a tiny garden, not a lot of space inside, and plus dogs get expensive if you do it right. But I saw her face, heard the tone in her voice, and knew we would work around all that. We weren't let another dog go back.
The first day was rough for him. He was barely a year old, and Emma had bought him over. He ran around and explored, but still thought he was going home at the end of it. When it came to bed time, he jumped on the bed and made himself comfy, but kept looking at us, then downstairs, then back to us as if to say 'Why am I still here? Where's my mum?'.
I don't know why I did it, but I got up, picked up my guitar, and just played. Simple, gentle, strumming major chords next to him. He watched me curiously for a little while, then lay his head down, and started to close his eyes. That sealed it. I was in love.
It took about a week for Ted to get used to the idea of walking in new surroundings. He still hadn't quite grasped that this was a permanent state of affairs. His harness didn't help; we were still using the one that Emma's mum had bought, and it was a thin and flimsy mess of blue fabric. Quick trip to Pets at Home solved that.
We took small walks around the block, just enough to get his business in, slowly building up on that until he was comfortable enough for exploration. After a while, he was in his element, waking me up with licks already to hit the road. We bonded really quickly; I was a permanent home worker whilst the wife was out every day, so we'd be playing on lunch break and having impromptu cuddle breaks throughout the day as long as I wasn't overly busy. He would miss her, but when I left to go shop or a team day? The world was ending.
One of the better things I'd managed to get him comfortable with was being picked up. My wife would constantly have a go at me for it, telling me he's not a baby and doesn't needs picking up. Tune changed the first time he hurt his leg running around and needed carrying to and from the vet, or when struggled walking and peeing after being fixed as the stitches got too tight, much to our neighbours disbelief after I had to explain why I couldn't brush his hair for two weeks because we had to have to dog version of a baby grow on him to protect the stitches.
It wasn't all smooth sailing. One of my fondest memories of us is a particularly difficult day when we'd doing whatever constitues as arguing all day between a man and dog. He wanted to walk his way, wanted to follow whatever scent was leading him towards other people's gardens, wanted to zoom down the road after that black and white cat. I wanted to work, he wanted to bark at the postman, and the salesman, and the guy with the obnoxiusly loud car. Most of the day was me telling him off, him grumbling back at me, and culminating in him not even trying to come up my end of the bed to say good night, and me turning away anyway. Even my wife was a bit like 'What's been going on with you two today?'
Next morning, he was up with me and I was playing with him like nothing happened. Everything forgiven.
Another problem we have is his separation anxierty. He didn't have a lot of time to himself for the first year, so he never got used to the idea of being alone. The first time we left him alone, he'd ripped up their carpet in the front hallway (which was fine; it was flimsy as all hell anyway. THe landlord wasn't particularly surprised). It's become a problem again with the pandemic and the house move, but we climbed that mountain once before, and we can do it again.
He developed allergies, which costs us about £65 a month to keep under control. He's hurt himself a couple of times, usually on a Friday night when it's past time the normal vets are shut so it's off to the out of hours emergency vets. He once came in limping from the garden, shook his paw a few times, and off fell a wasp. That was a fun day, and another time getting him used to being picked up came in handy.
Socially he knows who he likes and doesn't like, and isn't afraid to bark at the bigger dog trying to tell him off first. We think that defensiveness comes from a Husky who attacked him before my wife bought him, and not helped by an attack he had while out with me by a little dog who charged across the road and had to be thrown off Ted. But he's great with kids, made plenty of dog friends, and especially friendly with small breed females. Turns out, he has a type.
Oh, and he hates buses and lorries. No idea why. Has done since he was two. Loves being on a bus though. Found that out one day after we took him to a local field by taxi, and figured to try him on a bus back. To this day, he'll try and get on one that stops, but will bark as it goes away.
The mystery of dogs.
It's an overused phrase, but if you'd have told me a decade ago that I'd not only have a dog but consider him a vital and irreplaceable part of my life, I'd have told you you were insane. But here we are.
He drives me mad. I drive him mad. He can be stubborn, difficult, argumentative, and so can I.
But he looks for me in the morning. He'll sit by my side in the sun. He'll follow me upstairs if I go for a nap, and I swear I sleep better with him leaning aginst my legs. The way he walks and runs with confidence in where he's going melts my heart. Watching him grow, watching him explore, watching and helping him learn and make friends. It's like having a kid that won't cost me £180,000 just to grow up. Still have to deal with the occasional waking up in the night and arguments though.
But it's worth it. There's been more than one time I convinced myself to keep going for him. People can understand, move on, grow. The image of Ted staring at the door waiting for me to come home and not understanding why I'm not is motivation enough for me to keep walking back through that door.
Nothing lasts forever though, a fact I'm reminded of as he recently turned six. And so I cherish every moment I have with him, good and bad. Chaning from the bog deathly afraid of dogs, to the cliche man and his dog.
How strange life is.
Words - 1,900 Running total - 5,777/50,000 (11.55%, 776 words ahead of target)
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