A Dog’s Life

August 5, 2012 2:01 pm

An Alsatian Cross

A bitch called Lassie, that was our first dog.

She was an alsation cross, one year old and donated by a woman around the corner. She didn’t want her anymore, so we took her in.

Lassie was chained to a battered wooden kennel in the back yard but that didn’t last. My oldest brother, Stan, kept pigeons. He hated it when she dragged the kennel across the back garden when he let his flock out, so she was allowed to sleep indoors.

I first saw her the day she arrived. It was fascination at first sight. Her previous owners mustn’t have fed her because she ate a piece of her own shit. I made a mental note not to let her lick my face, for the time being. My mother took her time getting to like her because of all the dog hairs sticking to the carpet and, in those days, using the old eubank cleaners, keeping a carpet tidy was a task and a half, but take to her she did – or so I thought. The thing was, nobody took personal responsibility for Lassie. Nobody walked her regularly so she had no chance to bond. At six, I was too young to take her anywhere and it would have been a case of her taking me anyway. When she was in season, we had about three dogs camping outside the door for a couple of weeks. My dad wouldn’t walk her. He was too busy going to the pub, work, betting shop or nowhere. He certainly wasn’t going to waste his time on a dog.

One day, Lassie wasn’t there anymore. Mum had taken her to the vets and, as you could in those days, had her put down. I never understood why. Her only explanation?  ‘It’s not fair on Lassie getting pestered by other dogs when she was in heat’. For me, the house seemed that little bit more empty, but because I hadn’t properly got to know her too well, I accepted mum’s story.

Then, along came Paddy. By this time, I was eight, a little more conscious about life around me. It was 1964. Brother Stan had left school and now worked on a farm. Our baby sister, Carole, was two. On her birthday, Stan brought home a little black and white mongrel puppy from the farm. He got called Paddy.

Dad didn’t know anything about it. He wasn’t home from work yet. Mum said he would go mad. ‘Why the hell are you getting a puppy for a two year old? Who’s going to look after it?’

I didn’t hesitate. ‘I will!’ I didn’t want this one taking the Last Mile to the vet. Sister Carole, being two, really didn’t give a damn about puppies. Mum just shook her head and got on with making the evening meal before dad got home.

When I heard the key in the house door, I quickly tucked Paddy beneath the settee and crouched down beside him. Dad came in, his usual morose self, not speaking. It wasn’t long before Paddy wandered out and playfully sniffed at him.

‘Whose is that?’ dad said, his face showing no emotion.

‘Got it for our Carole for her birthday,’ Stan offered.

‘Well, get rid of it,’ dad said. He walked out to the kitchen to get his meal. I clasped onto Paddy. I felt panicky and looked to Stan for help.

‘Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘I’ll talk to him.’

I don’t know what Stan said but, half an hour or so later, dad came back. He bent down and stroked Paddy, who lay on his back with his legs in the air.

‘Peter,’ dad said and looked at me. ‘I had a dog just like him called Peter. You can keep him,’ he said. I was relieved.

Paddy became the centre of my world. I played with him in the house, got him to bark, chased him around the garden, threw sticks for him, and gave him his biscuits to eat. He was so well behaved for a four month old, never made a mess in the house and followed me everywhere. When I came home from school, he would dance around and yelp in this child-like way. His pink tongue hanging out, his teeth showing, it looked like he was smiling at me. At night, he came upstairs and slept on the double bed I shared with another brother, Alan, who was closest to me in age but distant due to the meningitis he had suffered when he was a baby. Alan didn’t connect to Paddy. He didn’t really connect to anybody apart from mum. But who cared? I had Paddy.

I took him down the fields where the small brook ran through to the river Dane. Paddy was a quick learner. Within a week, I had him swimming in the shallows. Mum hated it when I brought him home with muddy paws and a wet coat. When I went to school, I told all my friends about Paddy and a couple of them came round to meet him. He jumped up and rested his paws against them. His tongue reached up to greet them as they stroked and patted him. We took him down the fields a couple of times and played hide and seek. He was good. He would always find us in record time after some frantic running and sniffing around and would do his puppy bark of triumph, with tail wagging.

I hated going to school in the mornings. I couldn’t bear being separated from him. I think mum was beginning to warm to Paddy. He was cute and well-behaved. I no longer feared that she might mistreat him. But I missed him when I was at school.

I couldn’t wait for the bell. As soon as it sounded the end of lessons, I ran all the way home. Paddy was asleep. I grabbed his lead and attached it to his little black collar.

‘Come on, Pad!’ I roused him with his favourite words. ‘You comin’ a walk?’ He was really reluctant and wanted to sleep some more. I wasn’t having any of it. He knew we always went for a walk at this time. ‘Come on, Paddy.’ I let him stretch and yawn, then he walked with me out of the door.

The fields were about a ten minute walk away. As soon as we got through the farmer’s five bar gate, I let Paddy off the lead and I ran and threw his stick for him. He ran after it, big ears flopping. I raced him to it and managed to grab it before he could. I threw the stick again and ran. Got there first again, easy. I held up the stick to throw it again and saw Paddy running for the gate.

‘Paddy!’ I yelled. ‘Come here!’

He was heading for home. I ran after him, calling his name. ‘Pads!’

He ran across the road and a car clipped him on the head and sent him spinning across the tarmac. He was dead.

‘No!’ The car stopped and the driver got out. He was apologetic. ‘I never saw him,’ the man said. I was stunned.

He opened the boot. I saw a fireman’s helmet there. He took a blanket and wrapped Paddy’s unblemished body in it and laid him down. He looked asleep.

‘Get in. I’ll take you home.’

I told him my address and I was quiet all the way. When he pulled up outside our house, mum opened the door. ‘Is it the dog? Aw’. The fireman was really sorry. Paddy had come ‘from nowhere’.

I stood at the back window in the living room watching. Stan and dad dug a hole in the garden. I saw dad say something and he smiled as he kicked Paddy’s limp body into the grave and Stan laughed as he piled the dirt on top.

‘That’s it,’ dad said, when he came inside. ‘No more dogs.’


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