Abba Xanthias once said; “a dog is better than I because it also has love, but it does not pass judgement” (from the sayings of the Desert Fathers, 5th Century, Egypt).
Sceptical at first to add ‘puppy chaos’ to our busy family life, I am now suitably besotted with our five-month-old, elongated bundle of dots. Lionel (affectionately known as ‘Wy-nel’ to our son, Percy), is referred among dog-enthusiasts to be; a tri-coloured chocolate dapple miniature dachshund. If that reads too much like a window-display at Baskin Robbins, it may be easier to refer to our new addition as a brown spotty sausage dog.
We initially had grand plans of rearing an astute guard dog; one that was obedient and dutiful with a passion for the outdoors. In actual fact, what we received was a dependant, rodent-sized companion that was a negative match to our classified aspirations. Gifted to Percy as a belated birthday present from his Nanny (and prize-winning dog breeder), we received Lionel (named after performing legend, Lionel Richie), at the tender age of 6 weeks old. The novelty was infectious, and I likened him to a newborn for some months – he could bend time with a single yawn or stare, would whimper and yelp for food and attention, chewed our favourite material possessions, and mistook each new patch of carpet for grass.
And then a state of sobering reality crept in…or perhaps it hit us like a wet towel? The nights became long and littered with mournful cries from his bed which was tucked away downstairs in the laundry. Mornings became hurried and disgruntled as we sniffed out hidden surprises and removed soggy Weet-bix from walls. It wasn’t long before we would hear Percy over the monitor, shushing him back to sleep in the wee-hours and oftentimes rescuing him from his dungeon in order to salvage some peace.
Lionel often mimics a platypus gliding through the water as he frantically sniffs the front lawn – other times when fast asleep with limbs lifeless, I liken him to a legal-sized flathead buried in the mud. My husband and I love Lionel truly, but that picture of love often changes shape, loses clarity and purpose as we cope with the mess and havoc he creates in one breath, and the joy he conjures up through a warm embrace in the next. Interestingly enough, Percy’s image of love was developed purely from day one and has not discoloured. What is it about children and love? Or more curiously, about dogs and their sincere ability to love without limitation? As adults, have we been hindered and chipped by life experience and responsibility, or are we impatient and often a little dismissive because we are too busy hanging on to what works among our ordered state of being?
When I was 11, my parent’s got me my first puppy – a stunning, pure bred German Boxer called Cashmir. Gentle and unassumingly warm in nature, I slept night after night in the dog house alongside her until she learned how to be without her mother. I would sneak her inside and under the covers during a thunderstorm, and I ran with her morning and night down our sandy stretch of beach; delighted by the bounding enthusiasm and gratitude she gifted me in return for my companionship. My Mum and Dad loved her dearly, but as parents they were predominantly concerned with her diet and quality of life. They were the ones who washed all of the sheets she shouldn’t have slept on and filled in all of the holes she shouldn’t have dug. In the end, they were also the ones who mindfully managed the difficult news that my best friend had become very sick – the same people had to deliver the news of her passing before I could manage a goodbye. I on the other hand, just had to love her.
Each day I observe the same precious relationship growing rapidly in value between Percy and Lionel. No language is required, rarely even a visual cue – they just know how to coexist in a way that benefits them both positively. Lionel is the first to be woken by Percy in the morning – the same puppy gets offered his uneaten breakfast under the table. Percy once even threw his bath towel over a puddle of yellow in the hope I might not see it and become disappointed in his friend. Our son seems to rely on Lionel’s reassurance in the form of a lick and cuddle if he falls and hurts himself; and sometimes he can’t fall asleep until Lionel has taken up residence on the teddy rug at the foot of his bed.
A resonance and harmony exists in our home now, and it is a force to respect and treasure. Lionel doesn’t care if I am a day late to bath him, or if the floors aren’t vacuumed. He doesn’t even seem to mind anymore if we have to leave him at home for a couple of hours unattended – he is void of judgement, and hasn’t learned how to punish us emotionally. I will always harbour a natural level of concern for his wellbeing, worry when he runs too far ahead of us when outside the yard, and fear when he grows older and becomes less capable of keeping up with his long-time friend. In any language, I think that is called parenting, and I guess it doesn’t always apply to your children.