Dear Readers, in the fading photo above you can see me aged about 10 with our new puppy, named Spock because of his black shiny fur (rather than his ears, which were of a distressingly-normal size). I had always wanted a dog, but there were five large humans crammed into our little two-up, two-down house, and my Mum wasn’t sure she could cope with one more living creature underfoot. I don’t blame her, but mine was a long-standing campaign – there’s a photo of me aged five clutching a toy dog and looking wistfully into the camera. When asked what I was thinking about, I apparently replied ‘getting a doggy’. Who could resist? Well, clearly my parents as it was five long years until I finally got my hands on a real live dog. I look utterly besotted in this photo, and so I was, but having a dog soon proved to be rather more of a challenge than I’d thought.
From the start, Spock was a nervous and highly-strung dog, characteristics not helped by the fact that he was at everyone’s beck and call, and had nowhere to call his own. In the end, we took to ordering him to go under the armchair: on the cry ‘Under!’ he would slink behind the legs of whoever was sitting in the chair and would peer out with the biggest eyes you ever saw. Ours could be a fractious house, and, being a sensitive animal, he must have picked up on the nervous energy in the air. It wasn’t helped by the fact that our resident cat (Fuzzy) had no time for the puppy at all. Spock would occasionally jump on her back in a frenzy of sexual frustration and she would run up the garden with him clinging on like a baby giant anteater. Eventually, he took things too far: she was sitting on the fence one afternoon when he jumped up and, with impeccable timing, she drew a single claw down his nose, leaving a perfect line of blood. That was that, and he never bothered her again.
It probably didn’t help that I took to knitting clothes for Spock, including, on one occasion, little booties. How gentle he was as I put each one on, and how eager he was to shake them off! The tam o’shanter that I knitted didn’t last very long either. What he did like was when we set up a show-jumping ‘ring’ in our tiny back garden, though he was prone to go under the obstacles rather than over them. He would probably have loved agility training, but this was unheard of in East London in the 70s. He must have been stressed and bored, a difficult combination.
Walking Spock was a nightmare. He was so pent up and so excitable that he wanted to murder any passing dog, child or pram, so we took to only taking him out after dark. Sadly he was also afraid of passing large, parked vehicles and took a serious dislike to any peculiar shadows. Poor, poor little dog. We were all on edge in our house, and Spock absorbed all of it. Sometimes I’d be sitting on the sofa and the dog would look at a spot just behind my head. His hackles would rise and he’d start to growl. There would be nothing there when I turned around. On other occasions, he would sit in the middle of the floor and howl. I always felt as if he expressed the feeling of claustrophobia that we all felt.
And then, a miracle happened.
We managed to move house to Seven Kings, just a few miles up the road from Stratford where I grew up, but a completely different world. Our ‘through lounge’ was nearly thirty feet long. We had a garden. We had room to get away from one another, although on the first night that we moved in all of us, dog and cat included, huddled in a little circle in the living room. And then, the following morning, Spock, tail wagging, tongue lolling, started to run from one end of the living room, through our fancy new ‘sun lounge’, before descending to the garden with a huge leap. He’d gallop to the end of the garden, turn on a sixpence with a great scatter of turf, and then run back, over and over again. At some points it was as if he was trying to become airborne. I have never seen such unfettered joy in an animal. Overnight, most of his ‘neuroses’ fell away. I suspect many of ours did, too.
What a very good boy he was! So tolerant of being at everyone’s behest, so gentle with his family, so determined to protect us from terrifying vans and passing toddlers. He died when I was at university: Mum and Dad found him collapsed in the middle of the living room that he loved to run through so much. When he saw them, he gave a feeble wag of his tail and tried to get up, but he’d had the doggy equivalent of a stroke, and the vet could do nothing for him. He was my first, and so far my only dog. For the longest time I’d catch sight of a black shadowy shape out of the corner of my eye when I was at home, but it was never there when I looked head on. I am not sure where animals go after they die, but if there is a heaven then they deserve to be in it. I hope that they can finally be utterly, uncompromisingly themselves.