Okay, you’re going to look at this picture and go ahhh, what a sweet, little puppy and yes, I remember feeling the same way when, three years ago, we brought home the latest addition to our family. She was this adorable black blob who everyone fought over to hold. So why didn’t I connect with her in quite the same way as my husband and boys? Perhaps it was the guinea-pig moment (no, stay with me). We’d been through many guinea-pigs and while the boys would give them the odd cuddle, muggins here would be left to clean out their poo-infested cages and deal with them when they got sick as they invariably did. I could see this scenario playing out again, only on a bigger scale and to be frank, it was hard enough finding me time with a family of four to look after without the additional responsibility of a dog. Tip: don’t have sporty boys. You get up at hideously early hours and spend far too much time in the car.
Don’t get me wrong. As dogs go she’s as good as they come. She has a gentle nature and is the ideal family pet, but there are drawbacks. Do you have any idea, for example, how much a black lab molts? I could carpet our house with the amount of hair she sheds. Well, perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration, but we have pale, tiled floors that show up every speck of dirt and leaves house proud, tidy little me forever plugging in the Hoover.
Fact. Labradors like to eat. Indiscriminately; left-overs, felled apples and plums from the fruit trees, industrial size bags of chocolate Minstrels (foolishly left in the garden for a kids party); cow pat – yes, disgusting. You name it, she’ll eat it and sometimes she’ll bring it back up (and eat that too!) Fact. Labradors are big dogs and need plenty of exercise. I enjoy walking as much as the next person but I don’t want to do it every day. Sometimes I want to have me time. Then I have to live with the guilt. Walks are the highlight of her day.
No doubt all you dog lovers are reading this and thinking what’s all the fuss about? She’s a dog. Love her and get on with it, which I do, sort of. Just not in that ignore everything including your mother/wife as you rush through the front door to embrace her way. If anyone’s going to dish out the discipline it will usually be me. I’m the one who trained her to sit and to lie down, to wait for her meals until she’s told she can go. I’ll scold her if she’s caught in the kitchen or approaches the table when we’re eating and I’m also the one who dispatches her to her bed when she’s in the way, which from my point of view is a lot.‘Poor dog,’ my boys lament, frequently coming to her defence because they think I’m too hard on her and don’t give her enough love. Its true. I probably don’t.
So here’s the rub. Last week I took her to the vet to have her spayed – well, it was never going to work having a litter of puppies taking over the house for two months, never mind the pressure I’d have been under to keep one. I did have a slight pang of guilt as I drove her, blissfully unaware in the back of the car, to the veterinary clinic, but it wasn’t until the vet started explaining how while performing a full hysterectomy was routine for him, for her it was a pretty big deal, that the impact of what I was doing suddenly hit home. I was responsible for her well-being. This dog of ours trusted me completely and here I was not only denying her puppies ever, but putting her through a major ordeal. I was completely unprepared for the hard ball of emotion that surfaced and lodged in my throat as I accompanied her into the little operating theatre to ‘hold her paw’. Quite suddenly, my maternal instinct kicked in and I felt ridiculously protective as they put her under and she went floppy in my arms. I will admit to my own Wuthering Heights moment, howling all the way home to wait, anxiously, until it was over.
She’s fine now and is, this very moment, happily stretched out on her bed gently snoring. Dogs are like that; bounce back quickly and get on with things – as with our relationship. She remains a person needing my attention and my attention is often elsewhere. But while she’s never going to be top of my pecking order, there is a softness to my touch when I rub her tummy or stroke her head and yes, all right, if you’re going to push me, a little love in my heart. I know it and you now know it.
Just don’t tell the dog.