Our dog was supposed to be a cat.
Many years ago my husband went out to find a kitten for our daughter’s third birthday. We’d had many conversations about the type of pet that might suit this only child of ours: he was voting for a dog and I was firmly on the cat path. Although not a cat person, I was attracted by the idea of low maintenance; no room in my life for a pet who required lots of looking after. Definitely not. So off he went, one July morning, to find a kitten for our little girl. Cute, right?
A phonecall at work. “I found her! Just one thing though. She’s a puppy”.
“Just come and take a look and then decide. We don’t have to get her but just meet her.”
It’s the oldest trick in the book and he had me hook, line and sinker. I still don’t know if he even looked at kittens. BOOM, there she was, a whirlwind of soft grey fur, clumsy on her big paws, affectionate, snuggly and definitely our dog. She sat in my lap, curled up and looked disinclined to go anywhere else. We found out that she had been homed with a recently separated family: the mother had bought her to cheer up the kids, not understanding that puppies bring their own special brand of chaos to the house. It was too much, and she was returned after six weeks. So our puppy was a discounted, confused, return-to-the-shop who just needed a stable home and a family to love her.
Next thing we were taking her home with our daughter proudly holding her lead in a busy carpark on the way to the car – “Don’t let go!”. But she wasn’t letting go, and she spent the rest of her childhood holding on for dear life.
We named her Scouser, after the people of Liverpool where my husband was born. Generally speaking, Scousers are funny, tough, kind and clever. I’ve never met one I didn’t like (although I’ve met plenty I didn’t understand).
Our little triangular family became a square, and Scouser became our daughter’s constant companion, guarding her against any unknown adult who dared enter the property but welcoming every child with bouncy licks, furious tail wags and rolling over for tummy tickles. Patience personified, she was dressed up as a princess, used as a horse for doll races, covered in glitter and sequins and even wrapped up like a baby for domestic play purposes. She was a cross between a bearded collie and a schnauzer, so like a miniature English Sheepdog – think Nana in Peter Pan.
She got me off the sofa and out walking: just the mention of a walk would have her jumping in circles and we traversed the neighbourhood daily, getting to know the community, revelling in the sun, battling the wind or hunkering down in the rain. She had a very fetching Drizabone for such occasions.
Years went by with trips to the beach chasing seagulls, car journeys with head firmly out the window, frolicking on the trampoline, playfights, cuddles and snuggles. Time seemed to fly past in the wag of a tail.
As time went on, Scouser slowed down. The suggestion of a walk didn’t invoke the same enthusiasm; she was diagnosed with arthritis and given pain relief. Then sleeping became the most desired activity after eating; so we let her sleep. And then one day sleeping took priority over eating: then, we knew we had a problem.
A heart condition was discovered and medication dispensed, which kept her going in a comfortable place for around six months. But we knew we were all living on borrowed time. There is a thing called ‘anticipatory grief’ – when you process a lot of your grief prior to loss of life, and I think we did a fair bit of that. Suffice to say cuddles were number one priority.
And then one night three months ago while I was overseas, she sat up in her basket on the floor in our bedroom, coughed and lay back down again, asleep forever now. My husband and daughter sat with her through the night and for a lot of the next day, which was a Sunday. I was in Australia for a joyous family occasion and that Sunday was a surreal experience for me. I did manage to see her when I got back to Auckland at the pet crematorium: she was curled up in her basket still, snuggled and at peace with her favourite blanket on to keep her warm. The vet tells us this is the best case scenario: at home, with the family, and quickly. She was 15 years old.
Would I do it again? Absolutely not, and yes, in a heartbeat. I can’t recommend having a dog in the family enough. If you’re on the fence about this, let me try to pull you over the line. Children thrive with dogs in the house: they have someone to tell their secrets to, unconditional love is modelled unconditionally, and there is fun and laughter to be had. So, so much fun and laughter! It’s tough in the early days: puppies belie the chaos and stress they bring with their adorable little faces, but it’s worth it: that stage is just a blip in the life of a dog, if you’re as lucky as we were to have a dog that lives to a ripe old age.
And yet, we won’t get another one. Scouser was sent to us for a purpose: she bookended our kids’ childhood perfectly: arriving on her third birthday and leaving just months before she leaves high school. Her job was done and if dogs can feel pride, she would have been bursting with it.
So get the dog. Grit your teeth when it pees on the carpet and love it with all you have: you can guarantee it will love you back ten times harder. But remember when you do, a deal has been struck: it will end in a kind of heartbreak that is somehow okay because, well, you got the dog.