I have a friend whom we’ll call Daisy. Last spring she had two dogs and a cat: an extremely old cat, an elderly dog and a getting on for old dog.
This summer all three of them died within a few weeks of each other. How colossally unfair and awful is that.
I’ve known her four or five years, and she’s been saying all that time that she and her husband were getting old* and that they weren’t going to have new critters when the current incumbents checked out. I’ve been thinking for four or five years that she’s lying through her teeth, whether she knows it or not, and that she’s going to be glued to the ads in the ‘livestock and pets’ column in the local paper** during the lucid moments between bouts of catastrophic weeping.*** But I’ve also told myself that I’m a Dog Person, and I’m projecting.
And then all three of them left her.
I swear she’s spent the last two or three months in shock. She admits to missing her critters but she’s kept insisting that she and Roy are too old to start over with new critters and that’s just the way it is.
And then last week when I saw her she suddenly said, staring at me with these big haunted eyes, I don’t know how I can go on without an animal.
HOLY DOGS AND FERRETS, BATMAN.
So I dithered for a couple more days, because generally speaking I prefer to allow people to mess up their own lives and for them to allow me to get on with messing up my own without interference, thank you very much, however necessary and well-judged the interference might be. And then I rang Daisy’s daughter. I THINK YOUR MOTHER NEEDS A COCKER SPANIEL PUPPY, I said. Now here’s proof I’m not entirely projecting: Daisy had had a Cocker and a whippet. And I knew that while she loved her whippet, what her heart really longed for was another Cocker spaniel.
The daughter agreed.
WHY DON’T WE JUST GET HER A PUPPY? I said. I’m an American. We can be unbelievably pushy.
There was a blank moment on the other end of the phone, and the daughter said the British equivalent of, you’re on.
The daughter–whom we will call Zara–is a, um, hellcat, when she gets moving. She had the whole family organised in a day and had apparently rung every Cocker spaniel breeder in the south of England. I, meanwhile, had in a somewhat more leisurely manner emailed two breeders with web sites and also our own southdowner, to ask if she knew anything about Cocker spaniel breeders. I was not in fact expecting anything immediately: this isn’t really puppy season.†
Saturday morning the phone rings. It’s Zara, and there’s a Cocker spaniel puppy about half an hour from here to go visit. Oh, okay. That was fast. Then I went riding.†† When I got back there were two messages on the phone machine: every Cocker spaniel breeder in England wants to sell Zara a puppy, but she has finally chosen one woman with two eight-week-old ‘lemon’††† males for sale as sounding the nicest and most plausible. Who lives on the other side of the planet, naturally, or anyway it seemed like it when we set out that afternoon. I’m so used to my own little local briar patch that I half-forget both how beautiful and also how impenetrable a lot of the back of beyond of the agricultural wilderness is around here. We saw rather a lot of it yesterday, while we all tried not to hiss at each other: Zara’s husband was driving but we were sharing the burden of getting lost.
We did find where we were going at last‡ and there was a nice smiling lady in proper country clothes which is to say muddy, and she led us up a narrow little path past a nice friendly red-brick house and then suddenly, whoomf, there’s a tiny shed with an open front with a grate over it, and five eight-week-old Cocker spaniel puppies at the veritable height of their irresistible adorableness, flinging themselves at it and making little eager whimpering noises in their frantic desire to get to you. She fished out the two that were still unspoken-for from among the melee: a thumping big bruiser who nearly was lemon-coloured and a slightly smaller what I’d call red chestnut. Zara’s older daughter‡‡ fell for the chestnut in a big way, so, fine, I’ll have them all no no what am I saying,‡‡‡ what a good thing most of them were already taken.§ We brought the chestnut home.§§ And he didn’t throw up. I don’t think I’ve ever brought a puppy home who didn’t throw up in the car on the way: from long experience I’d supplied the cardboard box and the towels. Sometimes puppies perform other delightful activities as well, but the throwing up is genetic.
And then Daisy wasn’t there. Arrrgh. Well, this is the problem with surprises: you can’t nail someone’s feet to the floor without losing the surprise element. Roy, however, was part of the conspiracy, so Zara’s husband rang him on his mobile and said, We’re here. We’re at your house. We’re, ahem cough cough, we’re all here. So we played puppy tag for about ten minutes while Roy convinced Daisy it was time to come home.
When we heard them at the door, Zara shut the puppy and me up in the conservatory. I heard Daisy coming in, sounding rather tired and low, and Zara said, Robin’s here. Daisy said, Robin’s here? And Zara said, yes, she has something for you. And Daisy said, ????
And I walked out of the conservatory carrying the puppy and said, Happy Christmas.
And because I am an utter evil cow beyond human brain to comprehend–and because I am again spending waay too much time on this blog–I am going to finish the story tomorrow. I even managed to load a photo this evening–my first, you know, since the demon-infested WordPress update–so I think there will be photos too.§§§
* * *
* She’s a few years older than me. Although you’ve probably heard me say I’m not going to do puppies again either. Maybe a nice mini bull terrier? They have shorter legs. Although I gather I’d need a block and tackle if I’ve got old and feeble.
** One of the subheadings is ‘domestic pets’. I like this. But I’m sorry they so rarely list ‘undomestic pets’. Lions. Tigers. Hellhounds.
*** Been there. Done that.
† A dog is for life, and not just for Christmas. But for a genuine dog person who is pining for lack of a dog, a dog for Christmas sounds really good.
†† We had a rather silly ride. It was more or less tipping it down–in gusts, so you might be able to sprint from the barn to the arena, but you will certainly then get caught in a downpour while you’re wrestling with the latch–and there were three of us in Jenny’s tiny indoor school: herself on a new mare in for remedial schooling and therefore an unknown and possibly dangerous quantity, Miles on his pony, who are together rather an unguided missile, and Connie and me. Nobody died.
††† All brownish Cocker spaniels, barring dark brown ‘chocolate’, are apparently now ‘lemon’. Everything from orange to chestnut to primrose to ecru: they’re all lemon. Kennel Clubs are weird.
‡ Thanks to modern technology. How did we ever find anywhere before mobile phones, and people on the other end telling you, telephone pole by public footpath sign by barn with aluminium roof, where you are and what to do next?
‡‡ Zara’s younger daughter was at home, keeping Gran occupied, so she wouldn’t ask too many questions.
‡‡‡ Zara’s husband, who was perhaps slightly less undone by puppies than the other three of us girls, remarked somewhat drily that puppies are very appealing, and I said, 40,000 years of living with humans, and it’s the crassly ravishing puppies who live to grow up and breed.
§ I so need more dogs. Not until I grow a third arm.
§§ You never really know unless you’re a professional dog person and/or live next door, but this woman and her puppies really did look pretty classy. And I liked the part about how she and her dad had been breeding working Cockers for thirty years. We met the mum who is a very solid, good-looking, interested, sociable dog, and the woman said this is the second time they’ve used this stud dog to this bitch because they were so pleased with the first litter.
§§§ Which should mean you will also finally have photos of Orange Horse.