Last weekend my kids became very attached to a dog that wandered into our garden. A couple of days later when they were taking boys bestest friend in infinity for a walk, the rightful owners happened to be driving along and claimed him back. I have always feared the day their hearts would be broken but I thought they would be slightly older than the tender age of single digits. When I was their age I always wanted a dog of my own. Heavily impressed and influenced by the adventures of The Famous Five, I wanted a Timmy dog. A Timmy dog who would adore me and only me. One who would growl at anyone who so much as looked crooked at me. A dog that would be my friend for life. I didn’t get a Timmy. I got a Spider. A tiny Jack Russell who was the family pet for a couple of years. Back then, dogs, ours at least, didn’t know what a vets surgery was. There were no vaccinations, regular worming’s, or the eradicating of fleas. At least none that I was aware of. None of our dogs were ever neutered let alone micro-chipped. Spider disappeared only to be found dead at the bottom of our garden. Poisoned. Or that was what we were told. Cover your ears now, those of you who are die hard animal lovers. It was only when I was older, a lot older, it emerged that Spider had been shot by my father. A local farmer objected to the interest our Jack Russell had been showing in his bitch and my father took matters into his own hands. We never had another dog after that. It was too hard on us when the dog died so Spider was our last pet. We got over it and as an adult I would not be able to claim an affinity, strong or otherwise, to any animal. I’m not anti-pet. Just anti-hassle. We’re got four kids. Four full time kids and as far as I am concerned, introducing a pet into that mix is extra work and added expense. Just down the road from our house exists a field that fascinates my kids. Or rather, the inhabitants do. They are: a very regal and fierce German Shepherd, a donkey on occasion, a horse, some hens, a cockerel, a gaggle of geese, and ducks complete with fuzzy little wind up ducklings. There was tremendous excitement the day a couple of furry brown rabbits were seen outside the fence, devouring the clover. Clearly tame, there was great concern that they might meet their end on the road. My kids don’t get their gra for animals from their mother. They boys are captivated by this Neverland and its menagerie. So many animals in so much space. Who feeds them? Who put them there? Where do they sleep? Who owns them? And then the phone a friend question: “Mammy, can we have a pet?” For a while, every time we passed this field with its mixed bag of animals, I was issued with instructions to slow down so they could see if the rabbits were out. The lads hatched a plan to “trap the rabbits,” bring them home and put them in a box. The requests for a pet increased in their frequency and intensity and so too did my reasons/excuses why they couldn’t have one. And then a white shaggy dog appeared at our house and made himself very much at home. I wasn’t one bit pleased, least of all when he decided to accompany me on a run. Wherever he had come from, he wasn’t used to traffic and ran for cover into the long grass every time a vehicle heavier than a car passed. Somewhat naïve and too friendly for his own good, he ran over in delight to make friends with the German Shepherd on the way back and was almost savaged. I lived in hope that hunger would drive him on overnight. It didn’t happen. The next morning he was still there. The kids were delighted. Their new pet was sticking around. Unimpressed with his tenacity, I caved a bit nonetheless and he dined on a breakfast of Cheerio’s, Rice Krispies and milk. Then I beat it on out of there. When we returned home in the early afternoon, the lads were ecstatic to see the mutt curled up outside the back door, practically waiting for them. The dog possessed a lovely temperament. Clearly used to children and people, he was gentle and friendly. He wasn’t giddy and overly excited but he did scare one of the boys a couple of times and the toddler was a bit too fond of grabbing tufts of shaggy fur. Not once did the dog bite or snap. He had no interest in venturing out onto the road and was making firm friends with the two dogs next door. And inveigling his way into the boys’ affections. I could see what was happening, in particular with our oldest. They were loving this creature. Bonding with it. High on their agenda was what to call him. A bad sign. A very bad sign indeed. And just wait till Mister Husband saw him. He never made a secret of the fact he wanted a dog about the place. I spent a great deal of time on the phone that Friday afternoon, leaving messages, descriptions and contact numbers with all of the usual suspects. It still annoys me that our local neighbourhood watch contact service were not picking up the phone or replying to my messages and texts. This would have saved a lot of heartache a couple of days later. The longer this dog stayed with us, the harder it was going to be on the boys if an owner turned up. Almost 48 hours later, the dog had a new name and there were no reports of a missing white German Shepherd cross. The vet checked for a micro-chip – there was none. She also advised us to be careful in the event that the owners did materialise and we “didn’t like them.” But at this stage, the dog had cemented himself into the heart of the family. They wanted the dog to stay so they believed he would. I was very apprehensive. It was clearly a family dog so the chances of someone claiming him were high, especially now that local authorities had his details. It could be a week, it could be a month but the longer he stayed with us, the harder the parting was going to be. There was nothing I could do. The dog was in good hands, clearly happy to stay and it was pointed out to me that maybe he was sent to us. Possibly. But for what? The kids were too young for such a lesson if it all went sour. But I wasn’t. Maybe that was the lesson. I feared it was. The dog had been with us for three days and the boys wanted to bring him for a walk. It was all part and parcel of the newness that was the dog. So off they went and returned home some time later. I didn’t pick up on the sombre atmosphere immediately but when it was announced that the dog had been collected by his owners, I thought Mister Husband was joking. I was very much taken by surprise at the way my own heart lurched in disappointment even though I didn’t believe him. But one look at our oldest boy’s face and I knew the dog was gone. I held out my arms to him and he began to cry. I almost did too. The others didn’t cry but were very quiet. Damn dog! Damn dog for coming here and making everyone like him. Damn the neighbourhood watch service for not being available. Damned owners for losing their dog. Damned owners for not coming to find him sooner. Damned owners for taking the dog in front of my kids. A big huge little part of me hoped they would be back with dog in tow; I even toyed with asking them to sell us the damned dog. Instead it was decided we would get them one of their own. When I saw how upset Conor was over the dog being returned I wondered how he would react if a much loved pet passed away. But you can’t shield your kids forever. It’s impossible to protect them from the natural way of life and the more I thought about it, I realised maybe having a pet would be a good introduction for them. And then another thing occurred to me. We had already agreed that for every poop scooped in the garden, there would be a bounty of 50c. So they would be learning how to take responsibility for their pet and also acquiring a little financial acumen. There was nothing else for it. It looked like we were going to get a fifth baby after all. We found our puppy through a website and on getting directions to the house, Mister Husband realised the family lived not too far away from where he used to spend his summer holidays as a boy and on arriving at the house, we were greeted by a lovely couple with no less than four young boys under the age of four. Maybe the stray dog was sent to lead us to Juno, who right at this moment in time, is curled up on my stockinged feet. She gets a little lonely when her young masters go to bed and needs a bit of company. There is a happy ending to this story and least of all because our boys have a new pet. There is another family down the road, happy out that their dog was found safe and sound and returned to them. The lady owner appeared at our door the day after she was reunited with her pet with a present and a thank you card for the boys. They did consider taking the dog back to us but their own children were horrified at the idea. And well they might be. Dogs, it seems, have a pesky habit of showing up and staying just that bit long enough to make you care. Sometimes, just sometimes, one will wander into your life and subsequently your heart. Kind of like kids I suppose.
If you enjoyed this you might like to hear how the stray dog came to be with us in the first place. Doggone It! on www.wonderfulwagon.ie