Puppy Love

I can’t say this is exactly how I imagined it. It’s a Saturday morning, youngest is still in pyjamas chowing down on a bag of ‘breakfast biscuits’ (I’m pretty sure these two words aren’t meant to go together but we are still in school holiday mode and that’s the line I’m sticking to), eldest is in tracksuit bottoms and tutu accessorised with various loom band constructions. I haven’t had a shower yet. Or a coffee. We’ve had to rush to the vet at 8.45am. I have a small dog under one arm, a bag of poo delicately balanced under the other and I am trying to hold both children’s hands in the vet’s car park while reassuring them that I know exactly what I am doing and everything is under control.

To add to the merry mix, it is, today literally and metaphorically raining cats and dogs. The car park is packed with four-legged friends each sporting various afflictions; barking, meowing, hissing, even ribbiting (yes, there is a frog – I wish I was making this up). It’s like a scene from A&E on a Saturday night seen through the lens of a Pixar movie.

We take shelter under the open car boot, all three ‘pups’ plus me trying to quickly clean the boot with a Boots make-up removal wipe. I am fairly sure this is not what they had in mind. ‘Not tested on animals’ even the packaging mocks me. Yes, that is quite clear, I think to myself, as I double up said wipe in a futile attempt to use it to remove doggy-do from the upholstery.

This summer we became pet owners. A beautiful bouncing Golden Retriever. She is adorable and adored and as well as taking over the garage, necessitating a new car, and an old sofa, she has stolen my husband and children’s hearts. She’s named after a Disney princess and with her golden hair, sparkling eyes and boundless energy she certainly lives up to her title – she also has an inimitable ability to, shall we say politely, ‘Let it go’. Or at least she gets the blame for it.

Elsa is our first dog as a family. We’ve always talked about having a dog but it never felt like quite the right time, we had things we wanted to do first, it all seemed expensive, our lives maybe weren’t quite ‘set up’ for it… Okay, I’ll be honest – it was mainly me making the excuses. You see, I knew I would grow to love our dog, I knew I’d cuddle her and care for her – but deep down I also knew (whispers) I wasn’t ‘A Pet Person’. I know. It’s like saying you don’t like kittens or that you’re not that fussed about chocolate. I feel bad even typing it.

But it’s true. So getting a dog was kind of a big deal for me. My other three housemates are all animal people. It comes naturally to them – when they see a dog on the street they instantly crouch down and pat it or want to know its name, its breed, how old it is. I’m as comfortable as a non-swimmer on a cage dive who’s just watched the Jaws trilogy.

But that Saturday morning in the vet car park was a game changer. A bit like the first time you take your newborn to the doctor and the receptionist calls out their name and you realise you ‘own’ that little name, it’s you who’s the grown up, you who is responsible and that they are so completely dependent on you – for love, yes – but also for care, for safety, for everything. “It has stung her on the eyelid and inside her mouth, twice, that’ll have been sore”, the vet said as I held Elsa, steadily, comfortably, like someone who had been doing this for years. I stroked her sleepy head as he gave her anti-histamine and an injection to help ease the pain. I felt my own eyes sting with tears as she pressed her little golden head tight against my shoulder while the vet treated her. “Ssssh, Elsa my wee darling, it’ll be okay, Mummy’s got you…” I found myself soothing and hushing her.

I carried her back out into the car park, curled in my arms and wrapped her in a blanket and got her strapped into the car-carrier. Number One pups sang to her the whole way home as I held back tears. And then, like we’ve done a hundred times before with chickenpox, sore tummies or teething – we did what we all do when your baby needs you more. We cancelled our plans (a work summer party which the ‘pups’ had been desperate to go to) without a second thought. We cosied up on the sofa, watched the rain, cranked up the heating and had a house day. Because we had Elsa to look after. She is our dog, our responsibility. And that wet, slightly fraught Saturday – I’ll tell you a secret – Elsa became my dog too.

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