Over the Christmas period, I thought I’d bring you some stories from my childhood that still warm my heart today. Aside from a few bad memories my upbringing was full of life, love and laughter – largely thanks to my beloved grandmother.
This post is not about my grandmother – that’s coming tomorrow in her honour (if I can find the time to blog). This post is about my childhood pet and inspired by a dream I had last night.
When I was barely six months old my father brought home a ridiculous-looking animal with an equally ridiculous name. Gangly, with enormous feet, a long body and a huge tail that refused to stop wagging, he looked rather monstrous in a comical sort of way. My mother was horrified, as he was already enormous and she feared that he was already too large for the house.
All the same, she allowed my father to keep him when she learned that he was the last of a set of pups and that a mutual family friend couldn’t seem to find him a forever home on account of his appearance. My mother would never let an innocent, healthy animal be put to sleep and so she conceeded that my father had saved “Snudge” from certain doom.
Besides, who could resist that soft muzzle and those soulful brown eyes? Snudge was allowed to stay, and was swiftly renamed Rex on account of the rather regal lines of his German Shepherd-shaped head (he was a Border Collie/German Shepherd mix).
As are all puppies, Rex was a chewer. He chewed a hole in the front door; a table leg was chewed clean off; he ate most of the living room carpet over time – so Dad decided that Rex had to live in the kitchen if he were in the house alone or the family were in bed. This resulted in both my parents being disturbed during the night by the clattering of claws from those ridiculously big feet and the dew claws that refused to fall off; eventually they had to be removed by the vet.
However, he was easy to housetrain, never barked unless somebody was at the door, never cried to be let out during the night and was naturally a very gentle and loving soul. There is a photograph somewhere, of Rex sat next to his doggie bed looking mournful, because his bed was full of a nine-month-old me. He wouldn’t hurt a fly, and would give me rides on his back, suffer ear and tail pulling and the usual curiosity of a toddler who still didn’t know why there was a “person” in the house who didn’t look like the rest of us.
As he grew into his gangly body and filled out, Rex became a very handsome creature – almost wolflike in appearance . With his sleek black coat and a tail that he carried proudly, he was every inch a canine king, who befitted his regal name. This was an illusion of course; Rex was daft and silly and enjoyed rolling around in smelly things as much as the next dog. I taught him to sing and count to ten, roll over and play dead.
When my parents divorced Rex went to live with my grandmother, as my Mum wasn’t allowed pets in her new flat and my Dad was a shift worker. Since Nan was semi-retired it made sense; he was a part of the family and the idea of finding him a new home was never even discussed. Besides, he was my dog – nobody was willing to take him away from me.
In time my sister and I joined Rex at my Nan’s large Edwardian home. You will learn more about my childhood there tomorrow, when I write about my grandmother.
During the summer holidays I always spent a lot of time at the playing field adjoining my school, and Rex would often come with me. He would either stay loyally by the swings where I liked to play and daydream, or he would run around doing doggy things, smelling doggy smells and making friends with other dogs. To the adult dog walkers I was “The little girl with the big black dog”.
No strangers ever approached me in that park for any reason; not when they saw how Rex immediately came to me when called and how he otherwise stuck to me like glue.
One day, when Rex and I were both fourteen, I kissed him on his big black head as usual as I was on my way out to school. He gave me a look that I’d never seen in those soft brown eyes before, and I puzzled over it all day.
I returned home that afternoon to find an echoing emptiness in the usually welcoming kitchen, and my grandmother in tears. Rex had gone to the vets that day and never came home. He’d had rheumatoid arthritis and cataracts; he was deaf, incontinent, becoming senile… and was in terrible pain. It wasn’t fair to allow him to live like that.
Rex had somehow known, and he was trying to tell me and say goodbye.
I write this story because of a dream I had last night. My grandmother came to visit and she had Rex with her – only he was glowing silver. Nan said that, after all these years of believing him to be gone, Rex had “Come home” to her. I like to believe that this is her way of telling me that they have found each other and are both waiting for me when it’s my time to make that journey.
Rex wasn’t only my friend. He taught me about life, love and death. In my heart he is still with me – which is why I’ve entitled this post “The World’s Oldest Dog”. He would have been thirty-eight and is never dead to me.