Twelve years ago yesterday, 21st April 2004, a tiny little Lhasa Apso came into the world in Rochdale, Lancashire. He was just one of a litter of puppies brought into the world in order to sell – dog breeding can be a lucrative venture as I’m sure you are aware.
That very same day, I hugged my (then) three young children as they sobbed uncontrollably after my daughter found her beloved pet rabbit had died in his hutch. Despite the driving rain and howling wind outside, my husband performed a very swift burial for said rabbit in the garden – not an easy task in complete darkness! Although it was obviously a traumatic experience for my kids, I didn’t regret it and was sure they would survive the upset – I guess I considered it character building. If you don’t count a goldfish called Gretel that curiously changed it’s appearance several times during it’s very short life, Pippin the rabbit was their first real pet. My eldest child was barely school age when she won Gretel the goldfish and death wasn’t a concept I particularly wanted to discuss at that time and yes, I flushed the first two dead Gretel’s down the toilet with the furtiveness of a serial killer – don’t worry, I have since confessed my sins to my disgusted children.
Pippin belonged to my middle child/daughter – she actually insisted we bought it a lead as she was convinced she would be able to take it for walkies. That resulted in a chaotic hour in the garden with the poor rabbit doing a very convincing Buckaroo impersonation as it tried to free itself from the harness. Admitting defeat, my daughter contented herself with keeping Pippin within the confines of a hutch and a regular, frenetic run around the garden….we averted a near disaster when, in a moment of temporary insanity I thought it a great idea to house train Pippin. One chewed telephone wire later, the house was designated a no-go area and it languished in it’s ridiculously expensive hutch in the garden. I’m not completely heartless, we brought it into the garage in the winter months….
Anyway, Pippin died on the day Skip was born. We like to think he is the rabbit re-incarnated…..Buddhism at it’s best. From lowly rabbit to Tibetan Terrier – maybe the elevation to it’s new life a kind of reward for putting up with a mundane existence stuck in a suburban garden as a rabbit in the previous life, who knows? We didn’t get Skip until he was four months old. He was the last of his litter, the dog nobody seemed to want……..*unashamedly plucking at heartstrings…..
I’d never had a dog so the acquisition of a tiny bundle of black and white fur that emitted both liquid and solids anywhere and everywhere was a complete shock to my system. Several weeks of 6am starts, with me blurry-eyed and wondering what had possessed me to succumb to my husband’s reassurances that bringing a puppy into the household was a fantastic idea ensued; this was worse than the exhaustion I had experienced with a new baby, at least most of their bodily secretions ended up in a nappy!
Then there was the chewing of, well – anything and everything. Long gone were the days of leaving newspapers unattended, shoes discarded in the hallway…..nothing could be left within reach of Skip’s tiny gnashers. The early morning starts were well organised – luckily it was the school summer holidays so we all took turns. It was a great exercise in shared responsibility for the kids and they soon learnt that those cute bundles of joy were demanding, their doggy needs had to be met and therefore that would take precedence over playtime, tv shows or lie-ins. It really did them no harm and I think was an essential life skill that hopefully built their characters.
Getting a dog made me more aware of other dogs; one day I found myself oohing and aahing at a puppy outside the supermarket – I did it before I could stop myself and spent the entire shopping trip in a state of shock. I suppose it’s a little like having a baby – once the maternal instinct kicks in there’s no going back!
Skip comes with us on holiday. He’s not that fussed to be honest; usually he gets into a mild state of confusion. On one particular trip, we hired a converted barn that had the bedrooms on the ground floor, rising to the lounge and kitchen above – in order to appreciate the views. Great, you say. Not for Skip – he’s barred from the bedrooms at home and we spent the week trying to persuade him to join us upstairs, as he grew grumpier by the day. I think he just wants an easy life but then again, who doesn’t?
His twelve years with us have gone so fast and so much has happened in that time; the signs of ageing grow more apparent with him……although he’s not the only one, none of us are getting any younger! The cataracts on his eyes grow more visible, the blue casts across his pupils ever more apparent. His short legs are more bowed, and he sleeps. A lot. He’s quite deaf too, poor thing. Where once he would come bounding into the hall as soon as the car pulled up on the driveway or a key turned in the lock of the front door, now he barely moves. He simply can’t hear us. We have to be careful not to frighten him so I gently tap his head as I approach him while he, yet again, lies sleeping. He jumps up temporarily startled but then, realizing there’s no immediate threat, goes back to sleep.
His energetic moments invariably involve food – usually someone else’s. Dog food just doesn’t do it for him – give him some chicken and you’re a friend for life. He’s a great character – loving, funny and completely loyal…….apart from when there’s chicken involved, obviously.
Bringing Skip into our family is one of the best decisions we ever made. I think it made us all a little less selfish and experiencing a dog’s complete loyalty to those who look after it is priceless. We’ve spent a ridiculous amount of money on dog beds, dog toys, dog grooming (he definitely has his hair done more than me, no question), vet bills and surcharges on holiday accommodation; every last penny is well spent and I envisage many more years to come…….and I’m sorry Skip but you’ll just have to get used to the holidays!