It’s Doobie’s birthday. He is six years old.
It’s a house rule: on your birthday, you make the rules.
So far, his day has consisted of trying to steal my sausage sandwich and rolling around on the carpet with Pumpkin. It’s been a good day.
Having grown up with Rupert, a jet black labrador cross alsation, who had been rescued from a high rise flat when I was barely born, I have always been a dog person.
He broke my heart and died when I was twelve. Several empty and painful months passed before my mother insisted we needed a dog.
Bouncer was a labrador cross lunatic, named after the dog from ‘Neighbours’. He was very over excited, like a sugared up children’s tv presenter.
This was the logic in Lucy, a black whippet with white socks and a snowy tip to her tail; she was meant to calm Bouncer down. It was a sweet if misguided idea.
We only had Bruno for a month and a half before his owners returned from Cyprus to reclaim him.
In effect, I’m just not right without a dog. And I was without a dog for a very long time.
Working full time at the shop was exhausting. Like every woman who had ever had to work with women, I knew my boss (underqualified, decidedly ordinary and didn’t like me in the slightest) was evil. I had to get out of there. Realistically, the sheer number of panic attacks I was suffering at the time should have told me it was time to move on.
And so I did.
I was alone in the bungalow, working part-time at the Legion and otherwise keeping myself busy studying electricals, but the house was too quiet.
And then, something rather wonderful happened. Word reached me that a friend of a friend was planning on breeding from her jack russell.
Rosie was a wonderdog. She was obedient, could do any number of tricks and was, in short, a gorgeous little cuddle monkey.
Two things were certain: I had needed a dog for ages. They were definitely going to breed from Rosie.
They asked me questions: did I have a preference over colour or gender?
Colour had never meant anything to me and, much as my own experience had taught me that females were easier to train, I didn’t much care whether the resultant dog was boy or girl. So long as it was – dog.
My buddy Charlotte, who had been broody for some time and whose boyfriend had acquiesced to a puppy in lieu of a baby, could only have a female. Her Staffy, a bulky, muscular alpha male, would not accept a boy.
As such, it was decided: if Rosie had a female, Charlotte would have her. If there were any other pups, I would have one.
When the vet confirmed that, indeed, Rosie was pregnant, I named my dog immediately. I don’t suppose it occurred to me that they would speak his name to Rosie’s belly, but my dog was going to be either Mrs. Dubcek or Doobie, depending on sex.
I just thought it would be a giggle to tell the fellas at the Legion that I had to get home to Mrs. Dubcek. It would certainly make them think, besides – she was my favourite character on Third Rock From The Sun.
Doob arrived, definitely male, and fitted snugly into my palm. A few weeks later, his legs flopped and floundered over the sides of my hand, but he was still effectively beached.
He had been in the house for two days, play-acting at ‘sit’ and watching me eat dinner.
A proper little man with puppy dog eyes, he melted my heart and slept in my bed. He wasn’t old or big enough to jump down from either bed or sofa and so he just moved as close to the edge as he dared and peed at his leisure, into the mattress.
On the second night, I had a chicken bhuna. It was gorgeous, but not exactly mild. He stared at me from start to finish, so I gave him a little nip of the sauce. He ran from bedroom to kitchen, panting frantically. This, I thought, would stop him begging. It didn’t.
I make no bones about it: I was weak. He got fat.
We worked hard, me and Doob, to get the weight off him. He slimmed down through endless walks and a tightening of dinner time.
(Yes, I know what I need to do.)
We went to the vets for a check-up. By this time, he was two and a half, my best friend and greatest defender.
The vet explained that Doobie’s boy parts hadn’t dropped to the vast space between his back legs. In effect, they had got stuck in the hinterland of belly.
In terms of pain, the vet told me, quite casually, that it would have been similar to a man getting caught in his own zipper.
There was no choice. By that age, his spuds should have descended, to leave them where they were would be to invite disaster, and almost certainly testicular cancer. I didn’t want my boy to be in any more pain than I didn’t realise he’d already had, and I certainly wasn’t going to inflict a death sentence upon him due to any testicular-squeamishness on my part.
He was castrated. I felt lousy about it, even though it was for health reasons.
When I went to collect him, there were small, swollen, bloody scars either side of his penis, and another between his legs. There were tubes and remnant maleness that had to be pulled through the back end but it looked like they’d botched up a sex change.
When we got back to the house, Doob was on painkillers. I’d taken the feet off the sofa, so it more closely resembled a futon, and we watched Buffy The Vampire Slayer from beginning to end for two weeks straight.
About a year later, Aimée hadn’t long moved in and we had a dinner party. Some friends had brought a plastic bag loaded up with wine and such.
I’d seen the wine. Not the such. The bag remained on the floor for some weeks.
One night, Aimée and I went to the Legion for a little drink and when we returned, the house was flooded with vomit. We practically had to swim across the sitting room. In the bag with the wine was a box of minty dark chocolates. Doob had eaten the lot.
Quick call to the emergency vet, and we were informed Doobie would have a heart attack if we didn’t get him in immediately. I drove the wrong way to Cullompton, having mixed it up with Okehampton. I went through a red light, went the wrong way down a one-way street, and was grateful it was so late that no-one was around, to be inconvenienced by me and my panic.
We got to the vets just before one in the morning.
They filled him up with charcoal and kept him for the night.
The following morning they called. He was fine, feeling a little sorry for himself but otherwise okay. I could collect him.
I drove the right way but almost as fast as the night before.
The receptionist asked if I’d like to pay then, or have a bill through the post.
They hadn’t brought Doobie through as yet, so I said I’d pay right away. She handed me to invoice.
I paid. They brought Doobie through. He looked shaken and went straight to Tara, the labrador. Not a thought for me.
He vomited two small puddles in shades of silvery grey. He crouched and did what a dog will do all over their floor.
I’d already paid, so we left.