That’s a long time to live with a dog.
Seven whole decades. A lifetime; and now he sits in the waiting room of the local – and I should add, excellent – dog rescue, waiting to see if he can have one more. Just one more.
He has a stick. He looks your typical pensioner. Appearances, though: one can polarise one’s thinking so easily, can’t one?
When I arrived at the Dog Rescue Centre, it was raining and inhospitable and I was early to meet my contact (Freddie, Age:3, black lab/retriever cross, softie in every way). I stood and flapped my arms against my coat to keep warm. And then the door opened a crack and a weatherbeaten face looked out. “You want to come in?” it asked. “Cold out there.”
Ah, so there was a waiting room, even out of hours. How kind.
I sat down, and we got to talking.
“Which one are you after?” he said.
“Freddie, I said. “Black lab retriever cross. You?”
He didn’t answer directly. He had come two weeks ago to find a dog but they had looked at him and said a big dog might be a hazard for him; wouldn’t he like something smaller?
It became clear that he wanted a collie. His last dog had been a collie, and she had recently died, and he was heartbroken. She had gone everywhere with him, and now people – on the bus, walking along the street, walking by the river -would ask him: “Where’s your dog?”
Each query, he said, hurt rather like a knife.
And so he was back, hoping for a collie to go with him wherever he went. And a collie had arrived that morning, sent from Ireland on a ferry, complete with pet passport, to save it being put down.
He had come a very long way – in British terms, that is. He had started out two hours before from the outskirts of London, and paid £20 for a taxi to get himself from the station to the rescue. “I had to walk across the fields to get to the bus, get a bus to the station, and then get a taxi when I got to this end,” he said.
Fields, I asked? He lived surrounded by fields?
Indeed he did. And behind his house runs the river which supplies the great ornamental ponds of Hampton Court. There are some beautiful places on the outskirts of London, if you care to look. The Colne Valley is one of them. And if that collie made its way to him, it would have all those fields and that river. The gentleman walks miles every day.
Yet the rescue, responsible for the welfare of the people they home dogs with as well as the dogs they home, was reticent to home such an active, bouncy dog as a collie with someone who looked as if they might be knocked over by such a weight of canine enthusiasm.
But my gentleman had lived with active, bouncy dogs for 70 years, he told me. How was he supposed to live without one now?
The staff came to meet us. Which dog was I interested in, they asked, and I said, Freddie please, and was led off. As I left, I heard another of the staff talking to the old gentleman. “Would you consider something smaller?”she was saying, kindly. But then, she didn’t know about the Colne, or the miles he had walked today to get to the bus stop, or the knife in his heart.
Life is many things, but it is not fair.