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animal companion

Shadow pair - Minnie protested having to hang about for this photograph

That’s a picture of me and my dog Minnie on our daily morning walk – well, our shadows anyway.

I’ve often pondered the strangeness of sharing your home with a creature from another species, with whom you have limited communication and a vastly different set of behaviours. Yet, the bond that develops is deep and steadfast – at least for me. I’m never under any illusions that Minnie is anything but a dog. She doesn’t think the way I do and has a simple system of priorities:

  1. Food
  2. Walks
  3. Play
  4. Sleep

Plaaaaaay with me!These are all perfectly reasonable demands in the Minnie universe, and she gets quite perplexed if they don’t occur in the right order. Plus, she doesn’t understand why I don’t put as much effort into those four items, and instead spend so much time in front of the computer screen.

Humans are mad!

In exchange for meeting her four demands Minnie offers companionship and protection. She’s a terrific watch dog, and since she’s mostly black all people tend to see is the flash of white teeth when she’s barking, so she intimidates those unaccustomed to the displays of dogs.

Once she realises visitors are not a threat she quickly assimilates them into her notion of the family pack, and after they leave mopes around the house for a day or two. More people = more attention, and perhaps she might trick one of them into giving her extra food. Since Minnie is part Labrador (we don’t know all her mongrel heritage) her food drive is very high. She’ll practically do a back flip for a piece of avocado (one of her favourite things to eat).

One time while I was away from the house Martin invited  a group of geeks to take up residence with the aim of computer-gaming en masse. While Martin was comatose one morning, after a long session of gaming aided by the ingestion of caffeine and sugary snacks, Minnie successfully guilted a newcomer into thinking she was starving. Not knowing what she ate the kind-hearted fellow dumped almost an entire bag of dog treats into a bowl. As she crunched her way though them I’m sure she was thinking the dog equivalent of “This one’s a keeper,” and “I must attempt this stratagem again”.

Minnie has certain traits I wish were different. For instance she’s not the kind of dog that likes hugs. She puts up with them, but is happy for them to end. She likes to lie up beside me on the couch, but as long as I’m quiet, because if I shift about too much she will issue heavy sighs, slink off the cushions and leave the room in disgust. She dislikes being photographed, and is impatient. If I linger too long in one spot during our walks – say, to take a photograph – she will whine to indicate her disapproval. Still, I’m sure she’d prefer I didn’t yap at her in my nonsense language all day.

Beaches are her favourite place on the planet. She loves nothing better than to retrieve a stick that is thrown into the waves. She will repeat this until your arm or her legs are exhausted. For her it never loses its novelty, and it’s wonderful to see her so engaged and happy as she dashes in and out of the ocean, her tongue flopping and tail wagging. At least she’s finally realised not to drink sea water.

Last winter she had two accidents one after the other that left her almost immobile: she strained the cruciate ligament in her back left leg and then tore it in her back right leg. She required surgery, and a very long period of recuperation where two of her Fundamental Four – walks and play – were impossible. I’m not sure who was more depressed, me or her.

The good news is that she recovered well. Ligament injuries are difficult and slow to heal, but she’s now getting back on beaches and parks and running almost at her old speeds.

She reminds me daily that simple joys are the best kind.

Martin throws for Minnie on Kinvara beach

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