Father of four Steve Dempsey recently lost his wife to cancer. He writes about life after saying goodbye
The dog is a problem. He’s a golden retriever called BMO — pronounced Beemo — after a character in a cartoon the kids liked. He’s big and friendly. Actually, friendly is a gross understatement. He’s jumpy to the point of over-exuberance but he’s a gentle giant and the boys all love him. So what’s the problem?
Well, he was my wife’s idea. She got a dog and died months later, leaving me with four kids and a needy — if lovable — hound. Most of the time he feels like another chore, another body that needs my time and effort. I’m still resentful, still reluctant to love him fully.
"In fairness, we did have a big garden. We already had a cat, some fish, and yes, a snake. So surely a dog would fit right in.”
We got him in March or April last year. “What we need is a dog!” my wife said. In fairness, we did have a big garden. We already had a cat, some fish, and yes, a snake. So surely a dog would fit right in: a nice family pet for the kids to run around with, more sociable than the cat or the snake, more fun than a fish. That was Kate’s thinking. A natural killjoy, I wasn’t so sure.
In my defence, she’d got a dog before and it didn’t work out. Before we had kids, she arrived home one day with a beautiful chocolate Labrador puppy who grew into a handsome dog. Turned out he was also an asshole. Despite puppy socialisation classes, he snarled at other dogs. He bared his teeth at children who tried to pet him. Vets refused to go near him and he tried to bite me once, so we sent him to live on a farm with a nurse. Honest, it was a literal farm, not the proverbial farm.
So my scepticism was well-founded. There were enough mouths to feed, enough creatures to look after. A hairy brute that needed walks, vet bills and poo bags sounded like far too much work. But sometimes marriage means going along with the other person’s dream, even if it sounds like a nightmare. So Kate did the research. Lots of it; she was nothing if not thorough. The result was BMO.
The children played with him in the summer months, rolling around the garden with their tiny white fluff-ball. But nothing stays the same. He grew and grew, the weather worsened and Kate got sick.
When she was diagnosed with cancer, she said: “We’ve got to get rid of the dog.”
She wanted to simplify things, reduce the number of children and animals we had to worry about. For once, she had to worry about herself. Ever the contrarian, I said “We can’t do that, the kids love him already” — and I didn’t want us to become one of those families getting rid of troublesome pets after the lockdowns.
"Maybe we should have got rid of him but he was one of the family by that stage, albeit a hairy member who spent most of his time in the back garden.”
Our roles had reversed. Maybe we should have got rid of him but he was one of the family by that stage, albeit a hairy member who spent most of his time in the back garden. He became an outdoor dog — I didn’t want him in the house while she was dying, he made too much of a mess.
So now Kate’s gone and BMO’s here. But that’s life, I guess. You love someone, and one way or the other, you take on their concerns, their belongings, their pets. If they die, you take sole custody of their stuff, whether you like it or not. At times, I look out the window and he’s looking in at me. His big sad head cocks to one side and I feel like I’m letting him down. “Don’t pull that shit with me,” I say to him. “I never wanted you. You’re not my dog.” Then I feel guilty and take him for a walk to make amends.
The boys love him. But from afar, they won’t walk him themselves. They rarely play with him too now that he’s no longer a teddy bear like puppy. But they love walking to school with him by my side. When I hug my eldest boy at his school gates, BMO jumps up on us both with his heavy paws and joins in. In my weakest moments, I use him as a threat when the boys misbehave. “If you don’t get dressed, then we’ll have to get rid of BMO,” I say, or “BMO will have to find another home if no one goes out to the garden to play with him.” The boys all howl with outrage when I wheel those lines out. It’s pretty poor motivational stuff and very bad parenting, I’m sure. I’m not proud.
But occasionally, he wins me over. Sometimes I take him to the beach and he explodes with joy and excitement. He hurtles around with other dogs, rolls in the wet sand and runs in big looping circles, his ears pinned back by his speed.
Despite myself, I laugh and thank Kate for lumbering me with this crazy dog. Sometimes it feels like he’s mine.
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