It’s been strangely quiet at home today. I rushed in after the morning school run, my mind full of all the domestic tasks I needed to accomplish before I could sit at my desk and put my working hat on. Talking out loud as usual, I stopped in mid sentence; where was the tail beating in noisy happiness on the floor or the madly grinning face, beaming in expectation of his morning walkies? And then I remembered, my husband had taken the dog to work and so I was freed from canine responsibilities. I know I should have been happy and I one sense I was but the apartment seemed very empty and I felt a cold touch of the lonesome blues.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my fur baby Duke recently. I know that he has four legs rather than two and that he doesn’t talk- although his amber eyes speak to me with more feeling than many a talented word smith could conjure. It’s also true that, while he exhibits total indifference or mild mannered friendliness towards nearly all of the many, many dogs who cross his path, it’s his inexplicably passionate hatred of two dogs who live in our building that puts the most patient dog parent to the test. And yet my love for this Duke of ours runs deep and true.
I often wonder if he is so dear to my heart because he reminds me of another canine rapscallion I once knew. We had a dog when I was a child, a mongrel stray called Brian. Family legend has it that he was found outside a sweet shop, came home with my father and never looked back. He was not what you would call a well trained animal, had terrible halitosis. I have memories of waking up in the night to see his eyes glinting in the darkness, hear his faint panting and of course the smell… I loved Brian deeply and unquestioningly; he returned the emotion in spades and was faithful to a fault, once running away after a house move only to be found back at the old place trying to scale the back gate. He was our companion and his death, when I was around eleven years old, was a seminal experience. He lay peacefully in front of the shrine while his strength and life force faded slowly away. I remember some friends, whose beloved family dog departed more recently, telling us how she had, at the very end, looked around at each one of her family as if to say goodbye and thank you before her mind slipped away from this life.
Dukie and I spend most of our days together while my husband is at work and the children receive an education at school. Often he smiles in slumbering contentment while I work or puts me through my paces while we are out on his daily walks. Anyone who knows pitbulls properly knows the extent to which they are capable of love. Duke’s endless capacity for affection, both in giving and receiving, is almost matched by the strength of his stubborn streak. Duke likes to walk when Duke likes to walk and when he doesn’t… good luck to the unfortunate human who is at the other end of the leash. 85 pounds, at last weigh in, of intransigent bulk is a tall order when it comes to coaxing forward movement. And so there’s a point on every walk where we face one another in a silent yet implacable wrestle of wills. I refuse to use treats because, well, because they don’t really work with Duke and because I don’t like bribery. Although I’ll admit that the downright trickery and subterfuge which I’m often forced to engage in is little better from a moral perspective.
Then there are the emotions! My husband insists that I anthropomorphise the dog and he could well be right. My daughter and I returned from our extended stay in France last month in eager expectation of an ecstatic welcome from Duke. ‘Of course he’ll be so, so excited‘ I assured her (and myself naturally). When we arrived home he was undoubtedly very happy, make no mistake. However, I sensed a certain reserve, an unwillingness, for example, to climb up into my lap- all 85 pounds - and snuggle as he was wont to do; a refusal to come running when I opened the front door and called his name. Concerned I talked of insecurity and abandonment issues. Maybe Duke had considered himself truly forsaken, perhaps he had believed that my daughter and I would never return and that he would forever remain in a perpetual masculine prison or paradise! Thus he simply could not accept the reality of our return. Such musings were met with frank disbelief and mockery by the male members of the household. Other, wiser, family members gently pointed out whilst on FaceTime that the beast was probably just sulking and would forget his displeasure soon enough- as indeed has proved to be the case. All is forgiven and cuddles and snuggles are once again freely offered and received.
Evening has arrived, the afternoon school run was completed long ago, the children are busy about their business and still the apartment feels a little empty. Then suddenly my husband’s key turns in the lock, and those beloved trotting feet come closer until, at the corner of my vision, I see a pair of glinting amber eyes…..