For some months now I have been without a dog. Our lovely Border Collie, Suzi, had to be ‘put down’ (where does that dreadful expression come from?) when the pain of her arthritis and our pain at watching her suffer became too great. It was a merciful and gentle act that took place at home with her cradled in our arms. In dog years, she was ninety-eight and she was with us for seventy-seven of those, in and out of canoes, up and down mountains, proud of her buoyancy aid and panniers. Naturally she has left a gaping hole in our lives, but what I most miss is the early morning ‘walkies’, generally around an hour and mostly through local woodlands.
You would imagine it isn’t difficult to maintain that routine dog-less, particularly in view of the benefits of starting every day with a therapeutic plunge into what the Japanese call ‘forest bathing’. But it has become all too noticeable that Suzi spurred us to put in miles that have now vanished from our weekly walking tally, and mind, body and soul are suffering as a consequence.
Of course the simple solution is to get another dog, but the one thing owning a mutt in the UK inhibits is international travel, particularly now that the dumb-arsed Brits have been suckered into leaving the EU. We are certainly ready to adopt a successor to Suzi, but have agreed to knock off a few foreign adventures first, making do with borrowing Elsa (another Border Collie) from a pal as often as doesn’t seem pushy.
Returning to the fold of early morning dog walkers, I have noticed a sudden proliferation in ‘professional’ dog walkers, with their compartmentalised white vans (liveried with crass Disney cartoons and dreadful business tags like ‘Woofer-Walker’), their belts laden with more pouches than a Community Copper, and their wilting leaflets stapled to the first tree out of the car park. I have also noticed that the dogs they walk do not look happy dogs, but then I wouldn’t be too chuffed if I had to share my morning (and possibly evening) constitutional in close proximity to some loud-mouthed klutz who was up his own arse!
But what is it with people who own a dog but don’t stoop to walking their presumably beloved pet? Why get the beast in the first place? What do they do with them – pat them on the head when they come in from work, bung ‘em a bowl of Winalot and send them to their bed while Mummy and Daddy slob out to ‘Strictly…’ and a G&T?
F’crying out loud, get up an hour earlier and walk the bloody animal yourself! Get the exercise, smell the dew. I don’t care if it’s cold and dark, some of my most memorable ‘walkies’ have been in the ludicrously early hours, catching the sunrise, watching the mist burn off, glimpsing the badgers turning in for their ‘night’. Certainly Suzi never minded. The important thing for her was that she was with us, retriever of sticks, chaser of tree rats, and one of an exclusive pack.