I can’t remember when my daughter started asking for a dog. Given that she is 19 and a half years old, I’ll guess that it was about 19 years ago. I think it’s entirely possible her first word, rather than dada, was doggo. Because above any toy, any Christmas present, above any freedom or financial package, she always wanted a dog. And we, being great parents, spent almost two decades telling her no.
When we lived in town we told her we couldn’t get one because the house was too small. Then we moved to the country, where everyone has a dog, often more than one — sometimes they have the makings of a fine sledding team. Before the move, we promised her that once we were out in the sticks we would 100pc, most definitely, absolutely get her a dog.
It has now been six years since we moved house. Did we get her a dog? We did not. Any time the subject came up, there would be some excuse as to why now was just not the right time — the youngest child was too young, the house already has enough faecal matter around the place, or we would blame my wife’s self-diagnosed allergy to dogs (really it’s more an allergy to having another mouth to feed and arse to clean).
So being a strong, independent young woman, our beloved daughter took matters into her own henna-inked hands, got a job, saved up, and bought a dog. We were vaguely consulted about the process, in that we were told it was happening and there was nothing we could do to stop it, but our one stipulation was that the dog not be too big. She took this on board, completely disregarded it, and bought a golden retriever. You don’t need to have a degree in veterinary science to know that this is not a small dog. I grew up in a time when the only thoroughbreds you saw were on Crufts, so I had a vague notion about what a retriever looked like and didn’t realise we were being landed with some sort of platinum-coated direwolf. But she’s here now, her name is Bailey, and she is great.
I spent the first weekend with her doing my best Ian Stirling impression — ‘Tonight on Puppylove Island, blonde bombshell Bailey has just arrived in the villa and is already turning heads with both the frequency and size of her poos, several of which have been gathered around the firepit’.
Obviously, the hilarity ended when I realised that despite all the paperwork Bailey came with, nowhere was there a contract signed by my daughter in which she pledged to look after the dog, something I raised with her after I had picked up the third massive scutter of the day from my once unspoiled lawn. But I knew we would all end up looking after it, and it’s OK because all the kids could do with learning about how to care for a living thing, how to fall in love with it, and ultimately, how to say goodbye.
The lessons learned from pet ownership are manifold, but perhaps the most profound lesson is about loss. The first deaths I can remember being really affected by were those of my pets. I can still point out where some of them are buried in the garden. I remember their names, and how they lived and died. Their little deaths were nothing compared to losing parents and a sibling, but in my young life, they affected me deeply.
Part of my resistance to getting a dog was just that — I feel like I’ve said enough goodbyes, and don’t want to set myself up for more. But it’s a sad way to live a life; scared to get a dog in case you love it and then it dies. So she’s here and has already started chewing furniture, peeing in the sitting room, pooing all over the garden, and whining when we don’t cuddle her. Basically, it’s another child.
A strange sense of completeness has come with her arrival, as though this is part of the natural order — our family is whole. I may not feel like that in six months when our beloved Andrex puppy grows into an albino Cujo, but for now, we have opened our home and our hearts to her.