When mum and dad announced they had booked up to go to Croatia (thanks for the invite, I wasn’t interested in a holiday anyway) it transpired that the duty of taking care of our dog, Charlie, would fall to me, since my sister has found herself a job with more regular hours than her usual freelancing provides. She works the beginning of the week, and I work the end, so it’s all worked out nicely.
Except I’m concerned. This is actually going to qualify as July’s ‘take myself out of my comfort zone’. You see, Charlie is now eight years old. And, believe it or not, I have never looked after him by myself for even one day.
When we were kids, my sister and I begged our parents for a dog. Eventually it was ‘obvious’ (ah, hindsight) that we would ‘never’ get a dog, and we stopped asking. Then my parents had the daft idea of letting my sister go horse riding. When she started talking about wanting a horse (definitely never going to happen) I think my parents reconsidered the idea of a pet. With Hayley and I possibly only a few years from leaving home, I think my parents might have had other reasons for taking on what is, in a way, another child.
Charlie was selected by Hayley a week before we collected him. His original name was ‘Mr Darcy’ and he was the woman’s favourite of the litter. Hayley chose him because he had a bump on his head, wasn’t as boisterous as the other pups, and kept close to his mum.
I first met him on the day we went to pick him up (and I admit I was quite won over by the little black Labs that were clamouring for attention). The poor woman cried as we left with Charlie. He sat in the back seat between Hayley and me on the way home, sleeping already, and he’s been the perfect addition to the family ever since.
As a puppy Charlie was ridiculously cute, and he’s still gorgeous now. Being a cross between a Labrador and a Retriever, he’s not stocky like some Labs can be, but his coat isn’t as long as that of a Retriever. (Probably for the best – mum hoovers nearly every day as it is, without him shedding even more.)
He loves people, and I think he might have forgotten he’s a dog. No use shutting him in a different room if you have guests – he wants to be where everyone is, even if he’s just lying sleeping. Sleeping is one of many things he enjoys:
And food, of course. The first time we fed him we were torn between falling about laughing and being shocked. Being so used to fighting with the other puppies for food, he maniacally gobbled up the little bowl in less than five seconds.
Although mum, dad and Hayley were more likely to feed and walk him, I loved teaching him tricks. He’s quite a smart dog, but feigns stupidity or selective hearing if you ask him to do something he doesn’t want to do. He sits, stays, high fives and will lie down on command, but has never quite mastered ‘hide’ or ‘bow’. He will fetch, but only once; he prefers to be chased. If you throw that toy twice, he will not bring it back to you.
He doesn’t bark, so shows all communication through his tail, which is pretty much constantly wagging. He always greets anyone who comes to the door with some sort of gift, normally a shoe or slipper as these are his favourites, wagging his tail so hard that he’s broken several things, including a fancy candle in a glass jar we’d got mum for her birthday. Then he was wagging his tail low because he felt guilty. He wags his tail when he’s nervous, being incredibly sensitive to people’s stress or anger. Even before anyone has raised their voice, he’ll shuffle up to them, tail going furiously, half-nervous, half wanting to ‘help’.
So he’s cute, friendly, loyal, eager to please and funny – basically he’s the best dog you could hope for – and yet still I’ve never given him the attention he deserves. Why not? Perhaps at first I was just a bit lazy, and then when I moved out a couple of years later I wasn’t around to look after him. Now Hayley’s also left home, so even she’s not able to see him every day. He’s really mum and dad’s baby that’ll never grow up.
While we’re comparing dogs and babies, however, I have another confession: part of the reason I’ve avoided walking him by myself is that I have never yet had to clean up after him. Yep, I’m still that childish.
These next few days it’s just Charlie and me, and I’ll need to actually take care of something other than myself. It’s a good lesson, and a rare opportunity to embrace every reward and responsibility that being a pet owner brings with it. That is, feed him, walk him, shower him with attention, and – yes – pick up poo.