Once upon a time a boy and a girl fell in love and because Valentine's Day was just around the corner they wanted to give each other a special present. Life together was shiny and bright and promised eternal bliss. What better token of their commitment to each other than to add a new life to their household, a brand-new puppy, a bouncy, furry, bundle of joy, a labrador, just eight weeks old. Their idyll was complete. They forgot that both of them went out to work during the day, but the boy took the pup out early in the morning and late at night and they were happy with this arrangement. Muttley, for that is what they called their new toy, was less happy; being locked up indoors was very bad for his social training. He never learned to play properly and made no friends.
A year or so later the boy and girl had a baby, and for a little while things improved. Muttley was taken out during the day, together with the baby, but soon the new mum found it quite difficult to cope. Although his owners didn't ill-treat Muttley, they had little time and even less money available to spend on him; he was an extra mouth to feed and, by now, a large presence in a small flat, for he had grown to his full size.
Things got worse, the boy and girl started to fall out of love with each other and there were many rows. Muttley became nervous. The day came when the little family broke up and the girl moved to a room above a Chemist shop in a small town. She took the baby and Muttley with her, which meant that his walking hours became even more restricted; problems multiplied, it was difficult to take dog and baby up and down the stairs, access to green spaces was limited and money got scarcer. Muttley's great size needed feeding, he grew very thin.
Just then Muttley's luck changed and a guardian angel in the shape of a dog rescue lady appeared. She decided that enough quite definitely was enough and Muttley needed a new home. She knew that Friko and her Beloved had lost their own, very much loved, Boris, another great hulking black labrador, a few months earlier, and could probably be persuaded to take him on. She was right, these rescue ladies know exactly how to coax prospective owners into giving up their freedom!
At the appointed time Beloved and I, in the company of the rescue lady, knocked on the door to Muttley's home and he appeared, instantly made for the corner opposite the narrow entrance and peed; I tell you, he peed and peed, and peed yet more, until the whole area was flooded. I've never seen a dog, before or since, stand on three legs, at an impossibly slanting angle, for that length of time. Automatically we stepped back to save our shoes. When he was finally done, he stood, uncertain what to do next and stared at us.
My first thought was "He's ugly, what a misshapen object!" Overlong legs, a long body with the ribs sticking out, with a small head stuck at one end and a thin, wispy tail at the other. The usual, thick labrador ruff, the cuddliest bit of the breed, was entirely missing. Oh dear me, we had already agreed to take him back with us, we couldn't possibly change our minds now. Besides, I have never been able to reject any creature out of hand. The girl, sad-faced and thin herself, handed us a large bedsheet holding a dozen or more dog toys, all of them originally children's toys, but no food. All she said was that he hadn't been fed or taken out 'today'. Luckily, we knew that we had some of Boris' food left in the garage.
Muttley jumped into the open back of our car without much fuss, but he whined all the way back to Valley's End. When we got home we found out why: he was desperate to relieve himself further. He made for the nearest green space, one of my prized flower beds, and deposited a large turd, probably half a week's worth. Only then could we coax him to come into the house.
He was very nervous at first, but he soon learned to appreciate the hand that doles out regular meals. Even so, one of his first actions in our house was to steal a loaf of bread. He was absolutely ravenous. Another thing he did was to take up residence under the kitchen table; perhaps that had been the only safe and free space in his previous home.
We hated his name and he became Benno on his second day with us. He absconded only once, following a family with children into the village, but, as the rescue lady had prepared a tag with his address and phone number for him, which he sported on his brand new collar, a nice man brought him back to us. He never tried to escape again, although he could easily have done so. His appearance changed, he filled out and tail and ruff became those of a proper labrador within six months. Benno flourished, his coat grew shiny and his eyes bright. Eventually, he lost his nervous habits and he became totally attached to us. He had his own passport and crossed the Channel to Europe in the back of our car. He never made any doggy friends, although he got on with all of them, but he loved people and was happy to be taken for walks by quite a few of them. On the way back, though, he invariably ran off, leaving them way behind in his eagerness to get back to his own home, his mummy and daddy (okay, scoff, you cynics, I don't care), but most of all, his feeding bowl.
And so endeth the story of my darling Benno-boy, who died yesterday, Monday, of lung cancer. His end was peaceful. The picture above was taken on Sunday evening.
It is purely co-incidental that this post happens to fit into this week's edition of Tess Kincaid's Magpie No. 128