The head of our family is ten years old today. Happy birthday Poppy, and thanks for all the support and companionship down the years. We understand each other pretty well by now, as old dogs and their men do, and I sense from your expression that you consider my writing a birthday tribute to you as yet another of those displacement activities of which I am so fond. What about your walk? It is that time.
According to the traditional 1:7 ratio of dog:man years, you overtook me some time in August 2011 and you have definitely reached an age where your wish is my command. So I will interrupt this post and pick it up again this afternoon, when I have restored circulation to my extremities and you have returned to your bed of goose feathers.
A good walk it was too.
My intention is not to lay down yet another sentimental piece about our faithful hound, the best friend a man, woman, child or golfer ever had, though of course we believe that Poppy ticks all those boxes. This is not an obituary. Poppy may be slowing down, but she has a bit left in the tank or so we earnestly hope. I would like to think she will still be greeting me with an enthusiastic ‘here I am, over here in my basket, not averse to a spot of breakfast’ thump of the tail when I come down in the morning on March 13th 2016 to salute her as a teenager. But that may optimistic. Her beloved mother Cinders died recently at 12.
I hope she makes it to admire herself in the Daily Telegraph, appearing as a golf dog in an article the paper has been sitting on since she was little more than a puppy and newly trained to sit quietly by the bag, leave the ball where it lies and not set foot on the green.
Whenever: the bell tolls, and not just for Poppy. I watch her getting older with particular interest. She is ageing fast, and in this she is not alone.
Over recent months it is as if she has taken stock of her senior citizen status and decided to act the part. She limps, surely with some exaggeration, towards the table as supper advances and enough wine has been taken for the ‘no dogs at table’ rule to be relaxed in her favour. Look how stiff I am. Are you going to send me back to my room, cruel people?
There comes a time when you stop reminding a dog of the house rules, and she tells you how it is going to be from now on. For evening relaxation, Poppy recently decided that she had outgrown the dog sofa with its hairy and infra dig dog blanket, and moved across to the VIP guest sofa.
A few months ago she stopped getting up in the morning; from now on she would be receiving visitors chez elle. Would breakfast in bed be too much trouble? Sorry Poppy. Ask me again when you are a teenager.
When she does heave herself to her feet with a great sigh, she looks at her food in its bowl on the floor and then looks at me. Do you really expect me to bend down all that way? So the food has been raised up for her, and is now served on a plastic step that was last used to help our daughter up to the lavatory seat, probably at around the time of Poppy’s birth.
We have been talking about changing the car, because the roads around us are flooded so often we feel we need something with higher clearance. But if we have a high car, will Poppy be able to get in? In the crowded SUV market, which model has the best extending dog-ramp for access to the boot? The Nissan salesman was puzzled by this question, preferring to talk about Bluetooth connectivity and leatherette trim. Surely we are not the first customers with an old dog.
It has often been pointed out to me that road-running alongside a moving bicycle is not the ideal recreation for a dog. Of course – and her morning stiffness pains me because I know it is my fault. But if you saw her racing ahead you wouldn’t deny her the fun of it. And besides, if she doesn’t come out with me on the bicycle, she won’t go out at all. Ask her.
She is even stiffer after an afternoon spent running miles on the beach at Aberdovey, in and out of the waves, fielding in every position from long stop to long off at beach cricket. Nobody criticises me for letting her do that.
The spirit is willing. Poppy is not beyond a play fight with her daughter on the lawn, as long as no one is watching. If there is a walk going at around lunch time, she is extremely interested, especially if there is a tennis ball going too, and a lift in the back of the car.
Poppy will not be with us for ever. She was our first dog, and will probably be the first we lose. We treasure each day, and have stopped telling her off when she snarls at her daughter, as happens very occasionally. She is an old dog now, that’s normal. Her joints are probably aching. Mine too. No one can be cheerful all the time.
Her daughter Rafa – I know, it does not quite add up – has never been on her own for long and becomes quite anxious when she does not know where her mother is. I have started taking her out for walks alone to get her used to her own company, but I know she will be inconsolable when the time comes. We talk about this, but it is displacement talk. The real issue is: how will we cope?
A few more years please, Poppy. Your long suffering and all-forgiving good manners are an example to us all. And in the noisy world we live in, your silence is a great consolation to me.