For the love of dogs

Apart from a thoroughbred horse in full gallop there is no finer sight in the animal world than a boisterous dog on a long walk. The little furry givers of joy are found in houses all over the land lying by fires, begging for food, chasing their tails or other dogs. Their every act can melt the heart of even the cruellest fiend. I adore the silly old things greatly.
Many moons ago I reached the nadir in my relationship with dogs. My parents were taking a Sunday lunch in Bedford, at the wonderful MP John Carlisle’s house. The Honourable Gentleman had a suitably large country pile, with stables, ponds (of which I have fallen in) but that’s for another day, and a gleaming croquet lawn.
After the long drive from London we were desperate to stretch our legs and taste the rich bucolic air. The moment my child-self touched the door handle, I heard a proud bark and a black bullet shot across the gravel drive. I took sanctuary in the car cowering whilst my parents and siblings entertained this athletic beast. I remember him revelling in his rippling coat and his youthful lithe body, lapping up the attention and circling the car in showmanship.
The car, a safe island to me, but to the labrador it was a challenge. He barked at me, perhaps in friendship. However like sarcasm in writing, sincerity in a barking dog is oftendifficult to pick up. The poor animal was put in his kennel and I was ushered into the house like an old Great Dame. Sadly my cowardice denied me a splendid day running in the country with a dog, an activity which is now one of my favourite pastimes.    
I resolved after that sunny day of another lifetime to force my fear away and bow at the altar Shvan (WHAT IS SHVAN). 
Dogs are man’s best friend, and if we could be half the man that our dogs think we are we would be fabulous and possibly able to deliver world peace. Sadly I only reaped the benefit of a dog in my early teens, a marvellous rescue dog called Tiramisu – he was named by my sister because, just like the pudding, he was a mix of black, brown and white colour. If ever there was a dog to live up to the old mantra “never trust the wolf curled up by the fireplace” it was this mad, yet gentle collie cross. He was generally a loving old chap, but did have a tendency to bite nearly all the family and their friends! 
When the old stager went to that great kennel in the sky, it was like losing a member of the family. Perhaps a twee and clichéd ideal, but the reality is that those furry canine delights are there for 15 years of family life – many marriages don’t last as long, and I am yet to find person with such unwavering love. 
This fido agape is never found in cats, which makes the canine a finer species. Please note that is a blog to praise the joy of the brilliance of dogs, but the world is divided into dog people and cat people so I must address the white elephant. Personally I am averse to having an ungrateful supercilious feline animal glide around my home, with sharp claws, and eyes that can see into your soul. More than anything they feel like a bag of tangled coat hangers in a fur bag with razor blades ready to attack. I will admit that in an IQ test the dear old dog would finish a gallant second, but all the cats I have encountered are completely devoid of any emotional intelligence. 
I am reading the book ‘Travels With My Aunt’ by the inimitable Graham Greene. A lovely amusing novel, in which includes a fine story about a ‘Church for the Souls of Dogs’. They have a mild discourse in a Swiftain manner about the merits of dog’s souls – equally rubbishing the idea and the pomposity of the Catholic Church. Though I don’t believe in Heaven, if it does have packs of dogs roaming around, it seems more interesting to me than the usual ethereal notions.
Aside from devotion and amusement, dogs serve many purposes for the English chap, with his tiny matchbox of overt emotion; the main being that we are able to bestow words of adoration and love that our stiff upper lips are incapable of doing. The other I find, especially when I’m in solitude, is the relief of madness – on a rainy day if no one is home and phone is silent, one can go along in blissful silence but one can get the urge to speak…but if we tell the dog about our lunch we certainly aren’t, mad just mildly eccentric or just wholly English! 
The current apple of my eye is the well dressed Jack Russell above – Gambon, named after the great Sir and actor. Like the great man, this great dog is an absolute scene stealer. He replaced Tiramisu with great aplomb and zest, which leads me to another point about the dog owner – we never replace the old one, rather allow the lineage to continue even if we occasionally let the past linger like Banquo’s ghost. 
Whilst most dogs are content with scraps on the floor and a roll in the mud, Gambon shows a distinct preference for cheese and smoked salmon, sits at the dining room table, and sleeps on the sofa. He believes himself to a guard dog but sadly looking like Stefon Armitage makes him as useful as Casper the friendly ghost!  His boundless enthusiasm, despite a ruptured cruciate ligament, is infectious to all around until the poor chap tires himself out and sleeps by the fire.
On that walk that all men take on the beaten path, into the setting sun, I hope that I take it with a furry friend for company.


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