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The secret life of dogs

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Tuesday, 13 November 2012
Secretly, surreptitiously, I start to look for dogs on the internet. I had thought that, along with the sorrow, I might feel liberation, when this moment came. My dog was old. I knew that she would not be with me forever, even though, when the blow fell, it was as shocking as a punch in the stomach. I had thought of this time, in a vague, hesitant way. Perhaps, I had wondered, it might be freeing to be without that daily responsibility. I could travel again, get on aeroplanes, go to Italy or St Petersburg. I would no longer have to worry about arrangements, fret about the poor old lady.

It’s not liberating at all. It’s horrid. The house is quiet and empty and my walks through the beautiful autumn trees are marred by the lack of a faithful black shadow. The missing pulls at my chest, setting up an ache there that will not go away.

Two old ladies who will be impossible to replaceTwo old ladies who will be impossible to replace

Everyone says: get back on the metaphorical horse. I had an idea that I should not do that, out of some nutty idea of respect. My girls were not so easily replaced. I had had a rare love with them, I could not just go out and get some more of that as if I were going to the shop.

Yet, I find myself, like a thief in the night, stealing into dog rescue sites and canine advertising spaces. There are so many dogs. There are the posh puppies, KC registered, all bells and whistles, going for hundreds of pounds. There are the old-timers, accompanied by heartbreaking messages – won’t someone give this dear old boy a forever home? Sad eyes stare out of the internet, telling nameless stories of neglect. There are the young abused dogs, and the circumstance dogs, where the owners are changing jobs or going abroad. One of the oddest recurring themes is that of couples breaking up, and the remaining single feeling unable to keep the canine.

There is also the hidden epidemic of the Staffordshire Bull Terriers. I had no idea, until I started looking about. By far the biggest number of homeless dogs are staffies; it’s an extraordinary majority. I look them up. I discover that far from being the fierce attack dogs of myth, they are a breed famous for intelligence, affection and loyalty. The problem, apparently, comes because people illegally cross them with pit bulls, and then train them for aggression. Even the sweetest dog will turn sour if treated badly, and I suppose a dog as strong and muscular as the Staffordshire will be more difficult to deal with than most. Whatever the reason, there they all are, colonising the hard-pressed shelters and rescue centres, looking at the camera with pleading faces as if to say: don’t believe our bad reputation.

The other oddness is that people abandoning dogs at the vet is a thing. In particular, owners take their bitches in for spaying and never come back. Why would someone do that? I don’t understand any of it.

But alongside the human badness is overwhelming human goodness. There they all are, the rescue volunteers and the shelter owners, the foster carers and the dog walkers, stretched to the limit, taking in the orphans and strays and giving them love and care. It is incredibly touching.

I don’t know yet about getting a new dog. There is a very nice fellow called Stanley near Frome. It seems stupid to live in a place that is dog heaven, with acres of grassland and woods, with rabbits and mice to chase, with open air and mountains, and not save one of those poor mutts. I have the time and the place. It is almost a moral duty.

My secret fear is that my sleek, black, clever, funny, dear sisters were once in a lifetime dogs. Nothing else shall ever come close. I fear that any other canine could only be second best. But perhaps that is not a good enough reason. I go back and have another look at Stanley’s questing face. I think: Stanley really is a very splendid name for a dog. I think: when my heart really is mended, I could get another one and call it Dr Livingstone. I think: we shall see.


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