My Dog Is Not Just 'Okay', Sir
On being a mother to a wonky dog
I was walking along the street with my mum one day a couple of years ago, both of us with our faithful hounds by our side, when a man stopped in front of us and cooed at my mum's dog.
"Look at you!" he said. "Aren't you beautiful?"
My mother's pooch looked at him expressionlessly. She's used to these types of compliments. They come her way all the time. Meanwhile, my little dog pattered towards the bloke hopefully, wagging her tail and looking for some praise of her own.
He glanced at her. "And you're okay," he said.
'Okay', sir? Just 'okay'? I was silently seething. My dog is the most precious and perfect four-legged, fur-covered creature to ever walk this Earth. How dare he reduce her to a mere 'okay'?
But it happens all the time. My sweet little baby is regularly ignored or dismissed or glanced at with nothing more than a frown, particularly when she is standing beside my mother's dog.
For my mum's dog, Tia, is a Shepherdoodle - a German Shepherd Poodle mix (I know, they'll Doodle anything these days.) Tia is tall and leggy with coiffed silver-grey curls and big black eyes peering down a long, snooty nose. She's elegant and poised, and yet just scruffy-looking enough to be the dog next door.
Tia is regal, almost medieval, the epitome of (wo)man's faithful best friend. She's robust enough that you feel like she'd have your back if you got into trouble, but she's also a great big teddy bear. You see Tia and your heart melts, and all you can think about is how you'd like to put your arms around her and give her a great big squeeze, and you know your heart will feel fuller and your day will feel brighter for doing so.
My dog, Skippy, is a Heinz 57. She's unidentifiable. She's probably got some Jack Russel in her, probably some Staffordshire Bull Terrier, potentially a little dollop of Corgi. Her too-long body is somehow both chunky and skinny at the same time. She's barrel-chested and slim-hipped. I can relate, poor thing.
Skippy's neck is as wide as her head. She has these pathetically skinny sticks for legs that look like they're not quite strong enough to hold her up. Her ears are too big for her and one of them sits a tiny bit higher than the other so that she always looks like she's sat on a slope. Her toes are too long for her paws as if someone switched out her designated dog feet for those of a squirrel. She has a bit too much skin at her top end which has a habit of gathering up around her shoulders when she lays down, giving the impression that she's wearing a hand-me-down sweater that she'll never grow into.
The white strip that runs down the middle of Skippy's face towards her nose is slightly off-centre so that it looks like her muzzle was glued on at a wonk. There are two long cow licks running down her chest that look like seams, as if she's had her front end stitched onto her back end skew-whiff. She has a small tuft of long hair on the top of her head that serves no purpose other than to generate confusion.
People look at beautiful Tia and think, "Aren't you lovely?" People look at odd bod Skippy and think, "What is that?"
Skippy is a weirdo. She looks all wrong, as if she was made up of all the spare parts that don't quite fit together. She's not immediately beautiful or adorable like Shepherdoodle Tia. But she's fascinating - as strange in personality as well as looks. She's an enigma.
Sometimes I look at Skippy and think she's got some badger genes in her. She has the gruff, snuffling energy of a woodland creature, and when we go for walks in the forest she sets her legs to zoomies mode and zips about exuberantly as if she has returned to her natural habitat. She's also, I'm sure of it, partly aquatic. When she relaxes her ears flat to her head she looks like a baby seal that has suddenly found itself with legs and doesn't know what to do about it.
When she pricks her ears up to full mast, Skippy looks like she could take off like Dumbo. When she gives me the wide-eyed "I'm-starving-give-me-ya-pizza-crusts" act, she's the spitting image of Dobby asking desperately for a sock. When she hears the dizzying rattle of kibble being poured into her bowl, she bounces around on her hind legs like her kangaroo namesake. When she's tired she curls herself up into a tiny ball with her nose tucked under her tail and I wonder if she's part croissant.
Sometimes Skippy grumbles and groans for no reason other than to get you to look at her and ask if she's okay, and then she wags her tail and walks off satisfied. She eats carrots and sticks of cucumber with a big happy grin on her face simply because she knows it's human food. She stands at the far end of the room in the shadows and stares at people - not wanting anything, not asking for anything, not begging or in need of a walk - simply for the joy of staring. She likes to hunt for pinecones when we go to the park and when she captures one she will dutifully carry it all the way home where she can proudly plonk it down in the garden to be ignored forevermore.
Skippy often barks for half an hour straight without actually opening her mouth, producing a muffled "bhuff" that gently warns any potential intruders that they're not to mess with her because she's feeling too lazy to chomp them. She has a healthy fear of cats and usually keeps her distance from creatures of the feline variety - including the one she lives with - but one day several years ago she made friends with a 3-legged kitty at the top of our street. Now, whenever they meet, they politely boop noses and some mysterious, silent communication seems to go on between them that I'm almost certain is rife with gossip.
When Skippy spots a spider creepy-crawling along the floor she'll wag her tail at it and offer up a play bow in invitation for friendship. More than once she has accidentally stomped on a new spider friend and proceeded to pitifully stare at its lifeless body for half an hour straight, only to eventually eat it with a remorseful grimace as if to make its death seem less futile.
When you ask Skippy is she's a dog she cocks her head at you as if she really isn't sure. When you tell her she can't eat chocolate she shakes her head as if she understands completely and is adamant that the sweet treat will not do her harm. When you say the word 'recycling' to her she gets excited for reasons I am yet to understand.
All this is to say that Skippy might look just 'okay' because she's all wonky and mismatched and she doesn't quite know what species she is, but there's lots of brilliant weirdness beneath that strangely average-looking surface. She is endlessly entertaining, beautifully beguiling, confoundingly confusing.
Don't get me wrong, my heart will always melt a little when I see a beautiful curly-haired Doodley teddy bear, and I'll feel that urge to wrap my arms around it and give it a great big squeeze. But I'd much rather spend my days with a mixed-up muddled-up mystery hound, forever asking it, "What are you? Where did you come from? What the hell are you doing now?"
Perhaps it's because I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that if I was a dog I'd probably be one of the weird and wonky ones too. Us odd bods have to stick together. And I'm immeasurably glad we found one another.
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