I grew up on the fringes of a town near a valley and large tracts of fields, mostly abandoned to the wild. This made for a childhood of running around exploring, building forts and having boyhood level adventures.
And, like any Enid Blyton character, I always was accompanied by a dog. I’ve always had a dog in my life, sometimes two or three, and they always were part of the family. It was also a different time, stray animals were not unusual in the streets and there was a lot less responsibilities to being a pet owner other than providing food and water. My dogs would be let out in the day and run around for miles returning only to wait for my school bus to drop me off. Being a dog owner was easy.
Fast forward a few years to when I moved to a busier part of the island (calling it more urban would be a stretch anywhere in Malta). Feeling the absence of a canine companion I went to adopt a mutt at the SPCA (plenty more there for rescue, hint, hint). Maybe I had taken my past experiences too much for granted. Having a pet dog in a modern world is a lot more of a commitment than it used to be.
To begin with, my new friend would require an active companion on walks. The very idea of walking on a routine basis seems too much like exercise - a concept which offends me on a primal Maltese level. I needed to have a leashed dog who wants to pause at every pillar and corner for a sniff and whizz. Also novel is the amount of poop I’d have to handle. When a dog is taking a dump in the street (invariably a metre away from a group of people having a conversation about civic hygiene) you really have to learn the art of appearing nonchalant. You twirl the baggies around as the process occurs, reassuring passers-by the leavings will be gathered.
And sometimes, when you’re feeling ill or really blue, they will just curl up at your side, knowing that you need comfort
As a child I never really noticed certain things which now seem to demand attention. Dog hair is everywhere, all the time, all the places. It’s on your jacket, it’s in your shoes, it’s in the cracks of the couch and in every corner. If you have a short-haired dog it’s even worse (it’s short, because it falls off before coming long). I’ve become conscious of the colours of clothing I wear because it’s easier to not wear black than to remove the never-ending supply of dog hair on my person.
The next thing is the fact that with the inability to have independence as my childhood pets had, my dog got really bored when I was at work. Arriving home, feeling knackered after a long day at the office and the mutt shoots out like a bullet, ready to burn up all the energy of the day with you right now. First it’s a dose of hyperactivity, followed by all the dog toys being brought and paraded in front of me.
The rubber bone is dropped at my feet, and after I groan and try to ignore, it will be tossed in the air as if to say “hey, you’re supposed to throw it!” After a few moments of me not moving, another toy arrives, along with a demonstration on what I’m supposed to do with it. “Maybe this is the one he wants to play with,” the dog thinks. I find the tennis ball is a good bet in moments like this – it bounces around like crazy and takes a while to be retrieved.
Having a dog does also means you have a perennial toddler. On stormy nights a barking fest fuelled by fear is triggered with every thunder strike. Ever notice how the bulk of Maltese storms take place after midnight? I do now. If you have company over they’re looking to get in on the attention. If you’re watching television, you’ll be clambered upon and given expectant looks for scratches or fuss.
There are benefits. Cooking for one is never an issue, just make extra and share. Whatever leftovers you have, just scrape them off into the doggie bowl (I can feel the glare from veterinarians here). I’ve gotten used to asking for a doggie bag in restaurants when there are some good things remaining in the dish. You’re always coming home to a welcoming reception, however foul your day has been. You’re always warm in winter, when the mutt becomes a living hot-water bottle. If you’re single, a dog is going to be a very good wingman when employed correctly.
And sometimes, when you’re feeling ill or really blue, they will just curl up at your side, knowing that you need comfort, doing nothing more than not being a bother, and giving off their devotion. Which is the best kind of medicine there is.
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