Alex age 4 weeks
Ground down by the years of appeals you can read about here, we were driven to get our ten-year old daughter a cat.
It was a chink in our armour Son Number One winkled away at to eventually persuade us he needed a pet of his own.
Despite being scared of dogs after being attacked as a child, I’ve always loved the idea of having one. It’s all my father’s fault. He grew up surrounded by pets, and had a million great stories from his childhood such as The Dog Who Played Buses. One child drove a home-made go-cart round the garden, picking up his brothers and sister at various stops along the route. Podge sat and waited her turn to hop on and off the cart like all the other passengers.
Who wouldn’t want a pet like that?
Unconditional love, a friend who’ll never spill your secrets, and all wrapped up in one beautiful animal. I dithered. Dogs take a lot more looking after than cats. Cats have servants, but dogs need owners who’ll not only look after them but stimulate their minds, too. Constant barking is a big problem. A lot of that is due to boredom or separation anxiety when dogs are left on their own for long periods. I work from home so that wouldn’t be a factor, but dog owning would still be a big responsibility.
Son Number One did his research, and told us the ideal breed for us was the golden retriever. I contacted a breeder. Goldies are friendly, easy to train, and really love a romp in the countryside. That won me over. I enjoy walking in the woods, and with a dog, I’d never have to go on my own.
We went on the waiting list for a puppy, but you can’t organise nature. The potential mum didn’t come into season, but a golden labrador in the same kennels did. The retriever/labrador cross produces successful assistance dogs, which sounded perfect. We weren’t committed to a pedigree—all we wanted was a dog who would walk on a loose lead, and come back when called. We live in the Wye Valley Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and during the tourist season visitors are divided between those being towed along behind their dogs at high speed, or those who are hoarse from screaming their missing animal’s name through the woods for hours on end.
The countdown started. The breeder posted regular updates on Facebook about the bitch’s pregnancy. We pored over every detail and admired every photo until one morning we discovered a litter of nine puppies had been born overnight! The next few weeks we got everything ready, from a dog crate (enormous) to the puppy food (tiny) recommended by Alex’s breeder.
He could be shut in his cage for short periods to stop him getting underfoot while we were cooking or eating. A few minutes of confinement was useful while I swept our tiled floors, as little Alex kept sitting on the brush and trying to eat it. I assumed he had to be shut in at night, too, when there was no one about to stop him getting stuck behind the furniture, or climbing onto the couch.
Alex aged 8 weeks
On the first evening, we put Alex to bed with a toy primed with the scent of his mother and siblings, a nightlight, Classic FM playing quietly in the background, his dish of water and a litter tray. Everyone says you have to ignore the lonely cries of a puppy’s first night alone. Everything’s new, and he misses the warmth and companionship of his litter mates. If you go down to comfort him, he’ll never learn to spend the nights alone. Taking him into your bed once means you’ll have to do it forever more.
We’d studied all the books, but Alex hadn’t read any of them.
Night after night, we’d settle him in his cage and he’d stay quiet as we went up to bed. Then just as we were drifting off to sleep, he’d start howling fit to bust. We tried earplugs. We tried turning his radio up, and leaving the main light on. Nothing stopped his heart-rending cries. The racket made our cat leave home. He was closely followed by my husband, who went away on business in order to get some uninterrupted sleep. The rest of us were left red-eyed and exhausted.
After a week, we rang the breeder. She was at a loss to know what could be wrong. We’d done everything according to her instructions. Alex was otherwise fit and healthy, happy and playful, and never made any fuss during the day. Son Number One swore he wasn’t disturbing the puppy by going down to check on him. We believed him. If anyone’s nerve broke, the others would have heard the tell-tale footsteps on the stairs.
The only thing I could think of was the deer who stroll through our garden every night. Our patio is covered in crunchy gravel, and right outside where Alex’s cage stood.
‘But he’s bright enough to move away from the noise, and find somewhere to sleep where he can’t hear them.’ said the breeder. ‘He can’t. I shut him in the cage at night.’
There was a horrible silence. The breeder must have been mentally putting me in the stocks and pelting me with mouldy fruit. ‘Please don’t shut him in. He’s got to be free to wander at night,’ she said, with amazing tact.
I dropped the phone, moved the cage straight out into the kitchen and put Alex’s litter tray by the back door. Unable to hear the deer, and now free to wander where he liked after dark worked like a charm on Alex. He went straight to sleep that evening, and we all had a silent night for the first time in what felt like centuries.
EDITOR: The link in the first sentence refers to From Pester Power to Puppy Love and can be viewed here.