It’s a fact of life that pets are a bit like little people; their quirkiness, behaviours and peculiarities mean that each single owner can associate specific qualities to family members long after their departure for Rainbow Bridge. I remember visiting someone in San Francisco years ago; her eyes filled with tears as she pointed at the faded picture of one of her dogs still stuck to the fridge door. I am telling you, that dog had departed before I was born, but his specific memory, and the melancholy associated with it, was pungent still.
My dog William is one of those particular characters, and I mean this with a capital PARTICULAR. I have never known an animal as chilled out as William. William lives in his own world, a world of which I only see glimpses sometimes, for he mostly keeps himself to himself. What I say and how I say it doesn’t matter to William one iota. When he goes out in the garden while it rains, he does his stuff as quickly as possible so that he can rush back inside to towel-dry himself against the soft sides of my duvet.
And, mind you, this happens regardless the towel-drying I give him on the back step and regardless the blast of hair-drying that I go through the trouble to administer once he is inside. Crucially, whether I say anything to him or not, and more often than not I do, and at full vocal blast to boot, William doesn’t care. He shuffles along to his bed until he thinks I am not looking and then returns with a vengeance, damp sides pressed hard against the fabric, swishing back and forth like a snake slithering someplace.
Sometimes he seems to take notice; that’s when he walks away, stops wagging his tail and looks up at me with a frown corrugating his one black eyebrow. On a few occasions I have seen a thought bubble condensing above his head, the words: ‘What was that?’ spelt out in glossy gravy bones.
Treating my bed as a bathrobe isn’t his only peculiarity, as he also likes to mess about as a general rule. Most mornings I go to the office (Starbucks) where I work for three hours straight, at which stage I up sticks and come home for lunch. Upon my return, I am greeted by sleepy eyes and wagging tails, as I reward well-behaved dogs with a treat or two. There’s nothing like returning to an immaculate home that makes you appreciate dogs that don’t like to exercise when it’s cold and/or wet and/or autumn and/or winter and/or humid and/or warm and/or hot. When I am not in they sleep. Victoria gets up to check the post; I can tell by a light scattering of spiky white hairs on the dark wooden floor in a straight line, bed-to-front door. William doesn’t move at all.
After that treat or two, I take them to the toilet. Victoria does all she needs in one go, including having a drink on the way back, while William starts off with a wee. I close the back door and return inside. By the time I’ve sat down at the computer to resume work, he is by my side, emitting low-volume sounds not unlike those of a creaking door. This continues until I say: ‘Drink?’. Ok, so he didn’t dare disturbing Victoria while she was at the bowl and I understand that he may feel safer on his own. After all, he almost lost an ear once. I go back and let him out again.
Back in the study I can hear him lapping away. By the time I’ve blocked all noise I see him passing by, oscillating right and left like a watermelon on legs. He has, once again, drank the bowl dry. At this point he places a paw on my leg, with another squeaking request. He has realised he now needs to poo. So I go back, re-open the door and take him to the garden where, on lead, else he will eat all the pears, he performs.
Back in the study I say: ‘Enough now, go and play with Victoria!’. My word is now gospel. I hear him trotting away and soon after the bark-off begins, as Victoria has taken over his bed and he doesn’t want to lay down next to her. This goes on and on and on until I can bear it; eventually I make it to the bedroom, shuffle Victoria to the opposite side of his bed (William won’t take the right side, he only takes the left) and eventually he throws himself in growling, I am not sure at who. Could be her, as she is always in the way, but it could be me too because why the fuck did it take so long to come and assist?
William is the reason why certain people, especially those who have never had dogs, make me smile when they dismiss their behaviours this way and that. You just don’t realise how much of a character animals can have (and how much of a character they can be), until you meet one with a personality bigger than your own. That’s when you become forever enslaved to your heart and that’s why your eyes go liquid even thirty years after they have departed.