Paws for thought

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Image description: Beth and her dog standing on a bridge, looking out onto a snowy scene

If there’s one consistency in my life, it’s my desire for a dog. Since I was little, I would buy dog leads and collars for my ‘invisible pet’, storing away chicken bones for the dog I would inevitably have and allowing myself to be irrationally hopeful each time I came home from school, dreaming that a canine companion would be awaiting me in the garden, only to be devastatingly disappointed every time. Friends will attest that, even in my twenties, I strive to do well in my degree in order to be able to financially support a furry friend as soon as possible.

When I was eight, my dream came true. Our beautiful Bracken, named after the colour of the ferns in autumn, came bounding into our life from a rescue centre in Dublin and became a part of our family for the following six years. He was a gentle soul, reluctant to do as he was told or come back when called but always loyal and affectionate to his pack. I learnt a lot, too. I learnt that, at the age of eight, I wasn’t exactly ready for the responsibility of a dog: I was unwilling to walk him, disappointed with the reality that the chicken bones that I’d stored away since my youth were in fact a significant danger to dogs and not yet mature enough to participate in proper dog training. I also learnt that dogs need these things: they need routine, rules, and boundaries. At the age of eight, I wasn’t quite ready to take this on.

For every moment that he’s a pain, there are a hundred moments of joy and solidarity that make it worth every second.

Now, in my twenties, things have changed a little. Currently on my year abroad, I arrived in France in August of 2020 and met one of the most wonderful dogs I’ve ever encountered. His name was Hilton, and he was a sheep dog owned by farmers in my mum’s village but could more often be found waiting outside the house for me after work or when I got up in the mornings. He followed me wherever I went and was reluctant to go home at night, sometimes choosing to stay and sleep outside my door, keeping watch on the cats that occupied my mum’s house. Knowing that he was someone else’s dog but discovering my newfound determination for all that I lacked as a child, I took an innocent look at the local dog rescue and swiftly fell in love with a young Sirius-Black-esque dog, called Caïd. 

And so, one sunny afternoon at the end of August, we went to visit him. In a rescue centre with hundreds of dogs, howling and whining, I wanted nothing more than to take all of them home, provide all of them with a family, a shelter and unconditional love. But  I wasn’t there to adopt a dog. I just wanted to see Caïd, to know how he was doing and to maybe take him for a walk. Unfortunately, he wasn’t on the list for walking, but I was able to watch him bounding around his paddock with his roommate, tongue lolling out as he gleefully performed sprints up and down the length of the cage. And then we left.

A few months later, after several months of Caïd playing on my mind, we went back up to the rescue centre. This time, he was available for a walk, and he was an absolute joy. When we got him back, I spoke with some of the staff about the possibility of taking him home. The rest is history. In these two months I’d thought a lot about Caïd: not just about the simple joys of canine companionship but about the costs, whether financial, emotional or temporal. Dogs require frequent walks, substantial nutrition, boundaries and company, as well as the financial stability of their owner, should they require any veterinary costs. Having spent the past year working and saving money, and with the pandemic teaching me a lot about how much I myself value routine and order, I was finally comfortable in my ability to look after – and be depended on by – a dog.

Caïd came home with me the next day and since then has become a part of my house, my life and myself. I’ll admit, there are times when he can be annoying, placing his paws on me to demand attention or barking at the wind as it hits against the window panes of the house that he and I now share. Yet for every moment that he’s a pain, there are a hundred moments of joy and solidarity that make it worth every second. In the town where we used to live, I’d experienced some frightening interactions with men, both on the streets and in my apartment building, to the point that I was scared to leave my flat and, upon leaving, scared to return. But Caïd and his need to explore and exercise obligated me to go out; he compelled me to be brave in the dark and gave me a reason to want to go home. 

By virtue of taking care of my best friend, I began taking care of myself.

When we moved to a house in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by the planes and the hills of the Lauragais, with no signal or WiFi and with the darkness of winter encroaching on us, Caïd gave me company. By virtue of taking care of my best friend, I began taking care of myself. Walking for hours along the canal or even longer on the wild paths of the hills, I was meeting a commitment not only to Caïd but to myself. On cold winter evenings, with just four records and a fireplace, Caïd would curl up at my feet and warm my heart. I’d feel a comforting weight in my chest – a weight that replaced some of its heavier counterparts. Instead of the weight of grief, or loneliness, or anxiety, I had the weight of Caïd: the weight of his importance in my life, the weight of my gratitude for him, the weight of my pride in our ability to look after each other. And now, months later, as days get brighter and warmer, and with newfound WiFi, not much has changed: we still walk for hours on end and curl up in the evenings.The weight in my chest is ever pertinent.

It’s nice to achieve long-term ambitions. I’ve always wanted a dog, but I haven’t always been ready for one. Yet now, here I am, with a very visible dog, who doesn’t eat chicken bones and who is there every day when I come back from work, like the realization of a repeated dream. A dog who wakes up from his slumber when I clear my throat, whose ears prick up asymmetrically when I call his name, who lays his head on my chest when my alarm goes off in the mornings. He knows my habits better than I do and has his own in response, and I couldn’t ask for more. He holds a place in my heart and tethers me to my reality like nothing or nobody ever could. Whilst I wouldn’t necessarily encourage people to adopt a dog whilst at university, let alone on their year abroad, I am so glad that that’s my story because it means that the main character is Caïd. 

Image credit: Beth Chambarlain

 

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