Friday, 30 July 2010

4. For the Love of Dogs

My Goddaughter Minky stayed with us at my mother's this week.

Children seem to find their own amusement. The Tank played endlessly with two upturned flower pots she found on a white metal jardinière while Magpie sat on the lawn with Minky, fat and happy, eating daisies. How can she eat flowers but hate vegetables? I must check if daisies count towards a child's five-a-day.

I hosed off a snorkling mask, and other accoutrements of youth which I found in my mother's gazebo. The water from my cleaning efforts collected in a puddle next to a oval-shaped flowerbed, which Magpie decided was far more interesting than the mask.

She sat, wearing only her nappy and smart purple pants (knickers, as opposed to trousers), in the muddy puddle, patting the wet ground as if she had struck gold.

The Tank, never to be bettered,joined her.

My mother makes a move to rescue the mud-bound girls, and I'm not sure what Minky's mum thinks.

'Leave them,' I say. 'They're happy and they seem to like the mud.'

The fact that the mud gave me five minutes peace was an added bonus. It was far more savoury than eating snails, stones and cigarette butts.

I wonder if I have spent too much time bringing up dogs? Do I treat my babies too much like them? Is that why I do not panic at the sight of chubby toddler hands wrist-deep in good, honest soil? I am far more used to dogs than I am children.

'It's nearly bath time,' I add, as justification. 'Don't worry the girls will scrub up like new.'

I text a photo of a muddied Magpie to Big Daddy. He approves.

Our daughters appear to be unneurotic and happy. Maybe our life as dog owners has served us well?

It's been a strange week for canine and human comparison.

Klefti, our wonderful hairy, fat-pawed, naughty, willful dog, who looks like a bearded man in a dinner jacket with his black coat and and white chest, has a lump on his throat. Several lumps in fact. I don't know how we missed them.

It seems mad to write about him in this context, when as readers you don't even know him. He is a clown. He was a clown when we first met him in the car park at Ios Iannis in the Greek Pelion region, what, eight years ago? He was our holiday romance. We were waiting for a bus to take us somewhere and there he was. This silly puppy with huge white-tipped paws, a wise man's beard, a plumy tail and glistening chimp eyes, playing with a pack of fellow strays. He oozed charisma. We were transfixed. He tried to get on our bus. He stayed with us in our hotel annexe where we smuggled in bacon butties. On a beach he stole a woman's sandal, and ran off with a man's money belt. That's why we gave him his name, Klefti: the Thief.

He lived with us on the West coast of Ireland, when he was at his naughtiest, running at a sprint down to the gates to bark at passing cars, or chasing gulls on a wide, tideless beach. He has lived with us in Gloucestershire at a famous writer's gatehouse and in South West London, making himself comfortable wherever we let him, rearranging cushions with his teeth to suit his needs.

A world without Klefti would be a strange one. He has been family for nearly a decade. He is a loving animal, with a mischievous sense of humour. The Tank reminds me of him. She has the same sense of mischief. Is that why she loves him so, leaning on him as if he were a giant teddy bear, looking at us for approval?

Klefti is an excellent guard dog, but with sleeping babies his warnings are not always welcome. Today, having picked him up from the vets for more tests, I do welcome them. Tatty, our Westie, likes to join in the chorus, while Purdey the ever-hopeful lab has no ear for intruders, only a nose for food.

Long live Klefti. We love him.

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