This is the dog who took me by surprise.
I have always liked cats, always had cats, always admired their independence and cleanliness and beautiful rolling purrs and elegant gait. I have always felt honoured when my cat chooses to come and sit by me or on my lap, when he chooses to chirrup for my attention.
I used to dislike dogs, with their eager enthusiasm about everything, their muddy paws, their unselfconscious habit of pooing anywhere they fancy, safe in the belief that their owner will clear up after them. A cat has self-respect! A cat goes off somewhere discreet and covers up traces of its poo, how civilised.
But then slowly slowly I have got to know a few dogs and have got to truly look into their wise brown eyes, or see for myself their feisty protective instincts towards the young humans in their pack, or their sheer laziness and simple pleasure at a tummy rub. I like the expression in their eyes, the way they use their ears and the whites of their eyes to convey pleading or guilt or just asking for play. In short, they have shown me that of course each one has its own unique character.
So this alien species slowly became fascinating to me. I started saying hello to the dog walkers I encounter on the school run every day. I started looking up dog rescue sites and’#adoptdontshop’ became my mantra. I shed tears over the pictures of horribly mistreated dogs in countries abroad, rescued from roadsides and killing stations by dedicated and caring people who took them in, helped them back to strength, and managed to find forever homes for those who were not too badly emotionally-scarred by their earlier experience. I rejoiced in the ‘after’ photos of dogs successfully re-homed and now enjoying a life of good food and comfy sofas and Christmas jumpers, a far cry from their miserable past. How can these animals still love humans and trust humans, after what they went through? I learned that rescue dogs are often extremely grateful souls who understand that their human chose them out of hundreds.
And then one day I encountered the shaggy, characterful dog in the photo. Something happened, and my heart melted for him. There was something about his expression which reminded me of one of my cats, a soulful and deep look in his eyes. I became a bit obsessed with his photos, I started imagining how my kids and my cats would take to him. I imagined beach day trips with the dog, nice walks in the spring, pub lunches in a beer garden with him, a cuddle with a snoring dog at home on the sofa while the rain lashed the windows. I had spent happy hours window-shopping online for collars and leads and toys. One of my friends commented that I was starting to be a stalker, looking at and commenting on so many dog photos!
But, like many love stories, this one does not have a happy-ever-after ending. When I finally phoned to make an appointment to go and meet this dog, someone had beaten me to it. I was gutted, and asked the charity to let me know either way as soon as the other family had been to see him. I knew of course that, unless the dog had bitten them or been terrified of their children, they were not going to walk away without him. And so it was. They loved the dog and are adopting him into their family.
I have to be honest: I cried. I mourned this dog who was not mine, who I had never met. I had got myself involved in a fantasy existence with my perfect canine companion. Who knows whether the reality would ever have lived up to my expectations? Like any true teenage first love infatuation, the fantasy was probably better than any reality could have been, and is probably best preserved as such.
I will fall in love again, there will be a dog in my life, and if my experience of my cats is anything to go by, a perfect dog will somehow choose me when the time is right for us to meet.