Friday, 2 September 2011

Shaggy Dog Story

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Warning for length, dogginess, and slight sentimentality.


Very odd night last night. I could not sleep, was wracked with anxiety, my startle reflex on high alert. My monkey brain was racing madly in my head; at four in the morning I sat bolt upright in bed, with three new book ideas. (In my deranged mind, they were quite, quite brilliant.)

Must call my agent, I thought, urgently. Then I realised that it was, in fact, four o’clock in the morning. The Pigeon raised her head and regarded me thoughtfully, then fell back to sleep. She has a very touching way of hurling her whole body against mine when she does this, with a little sigh of contentment.

I realise that I have now, once and for all, revealed that the Pidge sleeps beside me on the bed. I know some people find this horrifying. Either they are strict country dog people, who believe that dogs are dogs, mostly for working, and should not be insulted by being coddled by their humans. Or they are hygienists, who think it rather unhealthy that an animal should be in such close proximity. But she is so neat and clean; I feed her on healthy dry food so her breath does not smell. Her natural scent is of earth and leather and fur. I love it so much sometimes I just bury my nose in her neck and sniff. (I realise we are verging on too much information here, but that’s what happens after insomnia.)

The funny thing is that usually after a night like that I am cross and muddled. But today I am curiously renewed. These are the unexpected cycles that I am learning to go along with. The Brother comes round, in his hat, and we walk up the beech avenue to see the pigs. I tell him that I feel strong and clean.

‘Probably because Pluto has moved out of Mercury,’ he says. He says things like this. It’s the hippie in him.

‘That will be it,’ I say, very dry.

‘Pluto’s an absolute bugger,’ he says.

For some reason, we find this inexpressibly funny. We shout with stupid laughter under the trees, startling the cows.

The sun comes out, for the first time in days, and the hills are almost purple in the light, and my rowan berries are turning scarlet and autumnal. I feel…what? Something that has been missing for a bit. I check my aching bones for metaphorical cracks, and then I realise: I feel happy.

I like counting my luck. I think it is important. I don’t like taking things for granted. I feel often amazingly fortunate to have the trees and the hills and the garden, and a functioning brain, and democratic freedoms, and opposable thumbs. Just lately though, I have been thinking of the tremendous luck that I have my Pigeon. I know it’s a crazy, sappy thing to say. But I am all about truth at the moment, and that is what I have been thinking.

Since her sister died, I have been wondering if I should get another dog, as companion for her. People say it’s like getting back on a horse after a fall. Occasionally, I go on the internet and look for puppies. Then I think, no, I should rescue some poor abandoned mutt. Last night, I wandered around the dog rescue sites. They are rather heartbreaking: Lucy is a very nice girl who was found wandering in Moffat, accompanied by a picture of a poor, plaintive lurcher. Yet they are also heartwarming, because there are good people out there who take Lucy in and feed her and comfort her and find her a new home.

Anyway, there I was, having a look, and some of the dogs were very sweet indeed, but here is the thing. None of them was quite as lovely as The Pigeon.

I know I am insanely biased. Of course I think my own dog perfect in every particular, as all dog owners do. But I do start to think that she really is quite oddly special. She is a very gentle, still presence around the house. She does not fret or whine or pace. She loves her walk and her ball and her stick, but once those are over, she is happy to lie at my side as I work. Occasionally, she desires some love. She sits up very straight, close beside me, gazes at me in entreaty, and I lean over and talk to her and stroke her and make a fuss. Then I go back to working and she goes back to dozing.

She makes friends wherever she goes. The small children of my friends adore her; is The Pigeon coming, they ask, when I am planning a visit south. There is crashing disappointment if the answer is, occasionally, no.

I have seen small babies pull at her ears and tail and she stands patiently and lets them do as they will, no hint of a snap or growl. In fact, she does not growl at all. She will bark at the postman, but then fawn all over him once I open the door. The man from John Lewis, a regular visitor to the house, loves her.

‘Ah, you silly soft old thing,’ says my eighty-year-old friend Bob, who arrives to mow the lawn. (Bob is one of those extraordinary tough Aberdeenshire men. I mean physically tough; he has the kindest heart. He used to be a farmer and, in retirement, cannot bear to be idle. So he comes and does the lawn, because I am no good at mowing, and it is always a keen pleasure to see him.)

I have a long conversation with my mother.

‘I am starting to think,’ I say, ‘that she may be a once in a lifetime dog.’

‘I’m afraid,’ says my mother, ‘that I think she is.’

There is a pause. ‘I think,’ says my mother, ‘that the Duchess was too.’

It is very lucky that, through a twisting skein of chance, this canine came into my life. She and The Duchess were bought on a whim by my sister, then came to me when the family suddenly moved abroad for a year, and, by mutual agreement, stayed.

I never thought I would become a dog person. I love The Pigeon because she is kind, and funny, and intensely loyal. All the characteristics you would look for in a person, in fact. I like that she is polite and well-trained; she will sit and stay and walk to heel and come when called.

I like it that she is so willing and eager and filled with appreciation. Each morning, when we go on our walk, she bounds out of the house as if I am giving her some precious present. She canters off through the trees, her tail held high and wagging in great, slow circles, her nose up, sniffing the air, as if it is the walkiest walk that anyone ever invented.

I like that she is so physically pleasing, her coat so soft and shining, her body so solid and present, her paws so delicate and pretty, her eyes so bright and filled with interest.

I like that when I cry, at a sad film, or, just now, in memory of my dad and my other dog, she sits close by me and licks the tears off my cheeks. I try not to be sentimental, but it is quite hard not to be when things like that happen.

I’ve been thinking for a while that I wanted to write something about her. It is for memory, mostly, because she is thirteen, and each day I have with her is precious. I wasn’t planning to do it all in one go, but that is how it came out. It’s rather a long, doggy post, so forgive me for that. But then, one of the loveliest things about all this is that not only does she make friends in life, but on the internet too, as the Dear Readers kindly admire her through the ether. So I suspect that you may forgive a bit of canine indulgence.

One mustn’t get too soppy about these things. But I do think that all loves are important, and this, quite unexpectedly, turns out to be one of the finest ones I ever had. And it makes me feel lucky as hell.


Today’s pictures are, appropriately, of light and shade, and the sun came in and out of the clouds:

Sun on the grass and trees and hills:

2 Sept 2

Sheep, because there must be sheep:

2 Sept 3

And, as a special Friday bonus, coos. In the bright sun:

2 Sept 4

And then in a bit more cloud cloud:

2 Sept 5.ORF

Then more wonderful sun, on the limes:

2 Sept 6

First autumnal colours, with black sky in the background:

2 Sept 7

Back in the garden, there is still salvia:

2 Sept 8

And the lovely, fat, white hydrangea:

2 Sept 9

And some special Scottish heather:

2 Sept 10

And my dear little beech tree, only planted six weeks or so ago, and starting to look quite at home:

2 Sept 12

The purple planting in the wild garden:

2 Sept 13

The smallest cotinus:

2 Sept 14

The little shrub roses have suddenly sprung into life, having been rather reticent up till now:

2 Sept 15

Again notice the difference in the light:

2 Sept 15.ORF

The violas have suddenly gone yellow:

2 Sept 16.ORF

And the dear lavender is still leaning south, as if yearning for its Mediterranean roots:

2 Sept 17

And now for the heroine of this post, in all her glory:

2 Sept 19

2 Sept 20

2 Sept 21

2 Sept 24

I do apologise for being so nakedly partisan and partial. I do understand, as the BBC has to say when any brand is mentioned, that other products are available. I’m not saying she is the best. But she is my best. I bless her each day.

Two views of the hill today, again amazing me with the changes in the light. This, from the far north of our morning walk, with the sun out:

2 Sept 23

This from my front door, in the afternoon, with the sky reverting to its customary sulky state:

2 Sept 25


  1. What a lovely post. I wanted to comment because it came at such a perfect time; I've just spent the last hour looking at local dog rescue websites myself. I haven't got a dog, yet, but the way you describe how the Pigeon and the late Duchess have given to your life urges me to add a dog to my family sooner rather than later. Because if there's love to be given and received, why wait!

    (though my beloved and handsome cat currently has pride of place on the bed and I think he should have to keep this perk when we get a dog - he's funny, too, just like I'd look for in a friend.) (I smell him, too, all the time - heaven)

    Thank you, Tania. I particularly love your dog posts, and the Pigeon wins my heart in today's pictures as usual.

  2. Canis angelicus! or, perhaps, canis angelica?

  3. Hannah - what a very lovely comment. I hope you find the dog of your dreams. :)

    Dominic - yes, yes. And it always sounds so majestic in Latin.

  4. This is the beginnings of another book...illustrated this time (with your photographs, of course).

  5. Sometimes it is not necessary to take any action at all: what you need will be provided for you, unasked for. I have a once in a lifetime cat, whom I love dearly and have been perfectly content with. Last Saturday night, in the middle of the torrential downpour from Hurricane Irene, I heard very high-pitched, loud mewing outside. So out I went, sloshing around with boots and a flashlight, until I located a wee tiny kitten, huddled under the hedge. Now, less than a week later, I am completely besotted with this tiny creature, only one pound of fluff and almost unbearably cute, who loudly alerts me to its every need. I would not have chosen to be the full-time mother of an orphaned kitten, but here I am!

    The photos today are exquisite, especially the limes, and the silly Pigeon, of course (I say that affectionately).

  6. Doggy posts are my absolute favourite. I've never missed anyone quite as much as my Bella, who sadly died this time last year.
    The Pigeon is truly beautiful, you are indeed blessed to have her.


  7. Loved the "walkiest walk"! Our two rehomed old boys act as if they've never been for a walk before every single time I take them out - it is very gratifying to be able to provide so much simple pleasure. Re the post from the reader who has just acquired a new kitten, it reminds me of how I felt when I was expecting our daughter, when our son was a little over three years old. I could not believe it would be possible to love another child as much as I loved him. It was. It is. Because love is elastic, plastic; there is not a finite amount of it to go round. Just as well, really.

  8. SO happy you are happy again... Why cant you love a dog like a human being? - its unconditional love - rare in humans!

    The photographs are outstanding as usual.... please do consider consolidating the pictures and comments in a book - we would love it (I am truly not Ed Victor so dont dive for the soup and duvet!)

    Keep on being happy and contented - you deserve it....
    Thank you for bringing such beauty and sensitivity to us out here who do not always live in such a world...


  9. Pat - how kind you are. I might have to get YOU to call my agent. :)

    Razinah - LOVE the kitten story. And what a wonderful thing to come out of such a frightening natural event. Feels like a little parable. And you are quite right about the dear old Pidge; she IS a silly old thing, in the best possible sense.

    Jennifer J - yes, yes, so agree about the love. I notice there are some people who really think it is a zero sum game, when in reality it does expand.

    Anon - what a lovely comment; thank you. The thought that one of the Dear Readers MIGHT be Ed Victor is making me laugh quite a lot.

  10. Wonderful post, we have our third 'once in a lifetime' dog, he's an ex racing greyhound, and is 12 years old. Every moment is precious with him.

  11. A wonderful post about a wonderful dog. I love The Pigeon and my day is always happier for seeing a photo of her beautiful dear sweet face.

  12. She does have a particularly lovely, expressive face. I miss my dogs terribly, but it's not the best time to have another right now. I rather wish that fate would send one to me, so that convenience goes out of the window.

  13. I can only imagine that the Pigeon (and your readers' pets as well) think the same thing about their owners!

    Thank you for a wonderful post after a long day -


  14. A beautifully written post about a beautiful dog.


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