“The more I know people, the more I love my dog.”
— Apocryphal, but attributed to Mark Twain
Yes, let’s balance out yesterday’s moany post with one of almost unalloyed joy: Canis familiaris (or C. lupus familiaris as it’s been since the 1990s), a.k.a. “Man’s Best Friend”. Today it seemed singularly appropriate, because I’ve been out and about in Worthing, and if there’s one good thing about this town (and trust me, there is only one good thing about it), it’s that lots of people walk their dogs along the seafront and through the town centre, giving me ample opportunity to pet them!
I truly feel sorry for anyone who is afraid of dogs, or for some reason doesn’t like them, and I denounce any culture that treats them like vermin (oops, there goes my South Korean readership), because they are the superior beings on this planet, and we are but their humble servants.
I think that a good 49% of dogs I meet in public are friendly to me (sometimes too friendly, perhaps — my glasses have been knocked off or covered in slobber on a number of occasions!), while another 49% or so are well-trained enough to ignore me as their owners lead them along. Only the remaining 2%, possibly less, are ever aggressive to me, and that probably says more about the owner than the animal. My mother reckons I have a gift, a “dog mojo”, which means almost all dogs either like me or aren’t intimidated.
In addition, I’ve never med a Staffie that wasn’t thoroughly nice to me, and outside my workplace I once bravely approached a gigantic Rottweiler that turned out to be a big softie (but nonetheless difficult to manage). Dangerous dogs? Pah! Dangerous owners more like — I’m certainly of the opinion that we should be neutering humans. or at least the unrepentently horrible ones…
Until 1999, we had a dog in my family from my earliest memories — the first I remember being an elderly Yorkshire terrier named Minnie, who was sweet but not very active any more; one day my mother said she was dead because she was old and sick, which was a sad moment. The weird thing is, in later years she showed me a photo of a black working dog that she said we’d had before, but which now “lived on a farm”; this is a classic way of concealing the death of a beloved family dog, but since I had no memory of it whatsoever, and since she’d told me straight out that Minnie had died, without trying to cloak the truth…
Somewhere in early-to-mid-1984 we got a Jack Russell puppy named Scraps, who, after a shaky start (house training especially), became the best dog who ever lived. She was my companion through no less than three house moves, including the one that brought me to Worthing (admittedly the third one was basically up the road from there to the place where we now live), and it was a milestone in my development when I was able to take her for walks alone, during the summer of 1991. I teased and tormented her all the time, and it was clear she loved my mother more than me (dogs tend to choose one particular family member to follow), but we still had fun together, and she was always happy to see me when I came back from university…
Unfortunately, dogs grow old, and she became increasingly decrepit in the late 1990s, finally losing her personality entirely when I was away for eight months in Michigan; when I returned, she was like a ghost (and weighed about the same), and it wasn’t entirely regrettable when she was finally laid to rest. My mother especially still misses her, and I think of her all the time… but, alas, I can’t have a dog of my own while I live in rented accommodation.
It’s for this reason that I have to live vicariously through other people’s dogs. While on the aforementioned trip to Michigan, I met my roommate’s family dog, which I (apparently wrongly) thought was a Red Setter; she was very friendly, and recognised me when I came to visit in 2001, even though she only had a few months left (she was better off near the end than poor Scraps was).
After that, my American “second family” got a golden-haired Labrador, which I first met in 2003 along with a black Labrador that they were raising to be a helper dog; the two of them, who I encountered after a long and difficult journey, were instantly taken with me and wouldn’t leave me alone, leading me to nickname them “Shock and Awe”… the black Lab would even clamp his jaws around my neck, which the mother of the family claimed was his way of “kissing”. Ew! By the time of my visits in 2006 and 2007 (for two weddings), this dog had moved on and his replacement was a sleeker, female equivalent, who was also crazy about me from the get-go. Unfortunately I haven’t been back since then, and I miss both these dogs badly (as apparently they missed me, the equivalent of a grandparent spoiling their favourite grandchildren).
It really does seem that I have a way with dogs; not always, but when it counts. One time I was visiting my folks in this very town, when I saw a Husky-type dog running loose through the streets while on my way to the shop; at this point our old neighbour, a nice “animal lady” who used to let me look after a somewhat over-enthusiastic dog of hers, said that she was trying to catch this dog, which had broken its leash, with the aid of a young man who I’d seen running after it. I and the gentleman managed to corner the dog in someone’s front garden; it wasn’t scared, just having fun running around, but somehow I managed to bring it to heel simply by telling it: “Sit!” It was quite happy to let me hold it by the collar after that, but we weren’t able to figure out where it lived, and so left it with a family in a street where some Huskies were known to live. I never found out what happened after that, but I can only hope the dog was reunited with its owners…
My mother says we can get a new dog if we move to the Surrey area (she’s as sick of Worthing as I am, but has the disadvantage of not being able to live anywhere else for the time being), so the question remains: what sort of dog do I want? Well, another terrier would probably be the best bet (the aforementioned neighbour’s Labrador-mongrel, who I met in the winter of 2005, kind of soured me towards the idea of owning a big dog), but I’d really like a spaniel of some kind. Mumsy says they have a lot of health problems due to inbreeding (in dogs as in humans, racial purity is stupid and self-defeating), but still, as a child I really wanted a Cocker spaniel. No, stop sniggering! It’s because this is the closest breed to the little plush toy dog I was given for Christmas, possibly in 1983, and which I immediately named Benji (which gives you an idea of how old I am — hey, at least I didn’t call him “Littlest Hobo”!).
And before all you “cat-persons” out there give up on me, don’t worry, I like cats too — though they frequently don’t seem to like me. Many I see in the street run at the very sight of me, and one work friend’s cat even went so far as to hide under furniture, hissing and scratching at me… but on the other hand, I was able to befriend the tabby cat owned by my “second family” in Michigan, to the point where he was pleased to see me when I visited in 2003 (albeit because he was having to deal with those two crazy dogs), and actually climbed into my lap the first time he saw me. Of course, being a cat, he did it with a kind of “I’m going to sleep here now, wake me when it’s dinner time” attitude!
Another notable exception is the cat that my mother was looking after in 1999 while living in her absent friend’s house (up in Surrey, where they have half-decent wages); I lived there between Michigan and my final year at university, and made friends with this cat, mainly by feeding him (what choice did I have, he used to jump on me at 5am and purr incessantly!). It got to the point where we’d even rub foreheads together in a sign of friendship… it’s very rare to find a cat who does that the first time I meet it, though it did happen with the cat owned by a friend of “best mate” earlier this year. And the other weekend, when I was trying to find “female best friend’s” new home in Sheffield, I encountered a very “talkative” cat in the street that kept nagging me to stroke it. Perhaps cats are friendlier outside London, or perhaps I’m developing a “cat mojo” as well…?
(P.S. I’ll try to add pictures of family pets in the future, but for now, since I’m not on my own computer in London, it’ll have to wait!) Update: all done!