Thursday 25 April 2019

For the Love of Dogs by Emma Pass

Anyone who knows me knows that I am, unashamedly and unapologetically, a dog person. Here's my very first dog, Scamp. He belonged to my mum when she was a little girl, and she passed him down to me. He's a little worse for wear now – his paws are patched where my aunt's puppy tried to chew them, his fur is a little threadbare, he can no longer stand up on his own and in places, his straw stuffing is leaking out, but I still treasure him.

And here I am, aged 2, with our family dog, Shep. We're not sure what mix she was, but she was a sweet, gentle soul, and I'll never forget the story my mum told me about the day she left her with my grandparents for the day. They lived on the Cornish coast, in a big house on top of a cliff, and when my mum returned my grandfather told her the foghorn had been sounding all day. He was puzzled; it was a bright sunny day, not a scrap of fog to be seen. When the "foghorn" went off again, the mystery was solved: Shep, pining for my mum, was sitting on my grandparents' bed upstairs, howling mournfully.

Naturally, when I left home and got a place of my own, getting a dog was a priority. (Luckily, my husband, who'd only ever owned cats, gave in…)

We'd already decided we wanted to get a rescue dog, and after much research and deliberation, ended up at the East Midlands branch of the Retired Greyhound Trust. We were introduced to two dogs – both ex-racers – but although they were lovely, one was too much of a handful and the other so nervous we couldn't even coax her out of her kennel. "Wait there," the kennel hand told us. "There's one more dog we'd like you to meet. He's the biggest greyhound here, but don't let that put you off." She disappeared, returning a few moments later with a tiger-striped giant who walked straight up to me, waving his tail, and leaned. That was Kelly, A.K.A. The Hound.

Unbeknownst to us, Kelly had numerous health problems, we suspect thanks to poor treatment he received before landing in rescue, and we lost him tragically young, at just six years old. I hope in the three years he was with us, he knew how much he was loved, and that he had more happy memories than bad ones. After his death we decided we weren't going to get another dog for a while – any animal is a big commitment, and my debut year was almost upon us. I was still working at my day job and barely had time to breathe, let alone adopt another rescued greyhound and get it used to living as a pet.

Fate had other ideas.

The night we lost Kelly, I had a vivid dream we'd adopted another greyhound – small, skinny, black, with a bald bum and a white zig-zag on its chest. "A bit of TLC and you'll be fine," I remember telling this dog in my dream, while it laid on its back and begged for belly rubs. Four weeks later, I had the same dream, and told this dog the same thing. Later that day, I was "just looking" on the East Midlands RGT website…

…And there he was: the dog from my dream. Everything about him was the same, even the zig-zag marking on his chest. "Email them!" my husband said. I did. It turns out I was the first person to do so; this dog, Gunner had been put up on the website just hours before. Four weeks later, after all the paperwork was sorted, he came home. Yep, our dog-free time had lasted all of two months…

If you made it this far, you're probably saying, "But this is a writing blog! What has all this got to do with writing?!"

As anyone who writes knows, it's a sedentary occupation. Having a dog means I must leave the house twice a day, whether I want to or not. Whether it's summer or winter. Whether it's sunny, or snowing sideways. Gunner – known as G-Dog on Twitter and Facebook – lives for his walks, and if you're so much as ten minutes late taking him out, he comes and STARES at you until you put the laptop down and fetch his lead. And if you don't respond to the STARE, he'll start whinging through his nose, very softly at first, then louder, until the sound is impossible to ignore. (And that's a lot of nose for whinging down.)

Even if it is snowing sideways, I love our walks. Not only do they keep me fit (I suffer from mild CFS/M.E., so more strenuous exercise isn't possible for me right now), but they give me time to think; to chew over tricky ideas and figure out plot tangles. If I've been struggling with something, I nearly always have an "ah-ha!" moment when we're out and about. If I'm really lucky, I might even get an idea for something shiny and new.

But the best thing about having a dog?

Getting them to write your books for you, of course!

How about you? Do you have any pets? Do they help with your writing? I'd love to hear about them in the comments!


Susan Price said...

I love the phrase 'snowing sideways.'

Andrew Preston said...

In Scotland, there is, apparently, a theory that there are two types of dog. There are dogs. And there are dugs.

The first are those where bystanders murmer ... "Oh..., isn't he/she lovely...".
And the other kind is where someone mutters tersely...."Watch out for that *******g dug..."

I reckon that your stuffed one must have been one of the latter.
He's a bit of a hard looking so and so.

Andrew Preston said...

Actually, I loved reading about your greyhounds, thank you.

Anne Booth said...

I love this post so much. I got my first dog, a golden retriever when I was 40, and he is now 13 and each day is so precious with him and I dread saying good bye. Since then we have also got a spaniel who is 8, and we love them both so much. I find them vital writerly companions!!

Emma Pass said...

Thank you, everyone! Susan, me too – and it DOES snow sideways where I am, so it's not an exaggeration!

Andrew, I love your description about "dugs"! Brilliant. But Scamp is in no way a "dug' - he's far too gentle. ;)

Anne, I know exactly what you mean. Our time with them is far too short!

(And apologies for replying to everyone in one comment, but for some reason I don't have the option to reply to individual comments on here.)