Today is Charlie’s birthday. He is two today.
‘Can we get a puppy?’ asked my kids, relentlessly, for seventeen years. No way, absolutely not, I had no interest whatsoever in owning a dog.
‘No, we can not.’
‘We could always get a puppy?’ pleaded Husband when it became clear that another baby was out of the question. His heart ached for a puppy to love. Mine did not.
‘No, we could not.’
Then, in the summer of 2014, my Grandmother died and we had a couple of attempted break-ins. I was heart-sore and anxious. I was weak.
‘Would you consider getting a dog?’ suggested the Garda who reviewed out security measures. What was this, a conspiracy?
‘Alright,’ I relented, ‘we might think about, maybe, considering looking for a suitable dog.’
Charlie arrived four days later.
‘Your family is complete,’ a visitor to our house said that fine August day. I honestly did not comprehend his statement.
‘I won’t be walking this dog,’ I declared.
‘I won’t be brushing him either,’ I continued defiantly.
‘ I won’t be training him,’ I meant it with all my heart.
‘ I most definitely will not be picking up any Cockapoo poo’.
Who was I kidding? Do you think they even heard me amidst the frenzy of puppy cuteness.
September came, the older kids scampered merrily back to school and I was left to referee a toddler and an incontinent ball of fluff.
I bought a nifty scooter for Small Girl so that she could keep up with Charlie as his legs outgrew hers and we walked, the three of us together, through the frost and through the fog.
I secretly relished brushing his coat until he fell asleep on my lap.
We stayed outdoors, for obvious reasons, as much as we could. I encouraged Small Girl to race Charlie up and down the length of the garden, exhausting them both. I passed the time by weeding the flowerbeds and pruning box plants. The garden was immaculate but Charlie took a shine to my gardening gloves. The instant I laid them down to drink a cup of coffee Charlie would nab them and tear across the grass, falling over his own short legs to get away. I gave chase which made the game twice as much fun. Did I mention that I’ve never had a puppy before? I was clueless and he knew it. I bought a squeaky rubber bone and convinced Charlie that he was getting a good deal by swapping gloves (or shoes, socks, hats and even underpants) for his toy. Eventually, I taught him to sit and stay and let me pass through the back door ahead of him.
I picked up plenty of Cockapoo poo. What choice did I have?
We became friends, Charlie and I, but the relationship was lop-sided. I felt a duty of care towards him and I liked him well enough but, from Day One and for no obvious reason, he loved me.
I was wading through a lake of grief that autumn and Charlie was the one, perched on the cold back step, who licked my tears. They say dogs just like the saltiness but Charlie was convincing in his sympathy.
While I made jigsaws with the Small Girl and taught her the alphabet, Charlie slept at my feet. When I put on my apron to make the dinner Charlie tucked himself under the kitchen curtain. When I sat in my armchair to knit he wiggled underneath for a nap.
He’s under my desk right now and if I get up to make a cup of coffee, he will come with me. If I pick up the laundry basket he knows we are heading for the washing line and will be there before me. If I put my phone into my handbag he knows I’m going out and will take up his farewell position at the side gate. He has studied the routines that punctuate my day. He has learned to read me.
He is loyal and protective. He isn’t guarding the house, he is guarding me. I have my own personal protection officer. But he’s still just a dog, right?
He’s still a ditsy dog. He still gets over-excited and pulls on his lead and jumps up on people. He’s still a clingy, whiney dog. Not one of my human charges ever matched Charlie’s demonstration of separation anxiety. He’s still a hairy, messy and often very smelly dog.
Charlie turns two this week. Something happened the other day that made me re-evaluate his position in our home.
I was preparing for a visitor. I’d made a cake and swept the floor. I walked out to the garden, secateurs in hand, to pick a few roses for the kitchen table. As usual, I got side-tracked into a bit of therapeutic dead-heading. From the corner of my eye, I noticed my polka dot sunhat on the grass beside my feet and one pink glove on top of it. I turned around in time to watch Charlie trotting back to fetch the second glove, bring it out and drop it beside its mate.
I was gobsmacked. That he had observed me so closely and desired so much to please me, surely that counts for more than simple respect for the mistress who doles out the dog food.
There are still moments when I regret saying yes to a puppy. Owning a dog is a ton of work and loving a dog is not obligatory. No-one is going to call social services if I leave him home alone. He is not my child. There were no hormones coursing around my body to make me love him. Charlie had to earn it. He had to convince me that even someone who isn’t a dog-lover could love one dog.
Unconditional love is a rare and precious commodity. Only a fool would scorn such a gift regardless of how furry or how smelly the giver. Charlie has made my family complete. I understand that now.
Happy Birthday, Charlie. I love you too.