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The dogs who left their paw prints on my heart

The dogs who left their paw prints on my heart

Why dog-years are the best years of our lives.

"I’ll be honest, I got Pooch to impress my girlfriend. To show her I had a soft side, a caring sweetness. I think it worked. "

I’m a non-dog person who’s had dogs for the past 20-odd years. What happened to my life? How did it get so hairy? 

As an adult, I met my first dog after donating a spare PC to our street’s gifted recyclist, a gentleman named Hansie, who used his trolley as an assistive mobility device.

He wheezed up and down the road with a cacophony of things happening around him.

As he was leaving that day, I spotted a little furball in his waentjie and asked – how much? The dog?

I paid him R20, pointing at the monitor, mouse, keyboard and hard drive by way of negotiation. Hansie died soon after. Maybe because of that transaction.

Pooch carried his memory very lightly. 

I’ll be honest, I got Pooch to impress my girlfriend. To show her I had a soft side, a caring sweetness. I think it worked.

She felt emboldened to take in a stray one day, a roaming Dalmatian she’d encountered.

I opened the front door and was greeted by a strange and excited dog. There was no one else at home and Pooch had nothing to tell me.

Somehow, we found where she lived and got her back home. 

After enhancing my bona fides with Pooch, our relationship only deepened when Siegfried came along.

A fellow foundling, from the golden generation of Grassy Park’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), a pavement special bad boy and dim as a rake – he was quite a looker.

Debonaire, unkempt, like a druggy musician who never reached his potential.

He peed all over us when we met him, a sure sign of something or other. My girlfriend was a better person than me, and found him irresistible. 

We eventually got married, my girlfriend and I, the taker-inner-of-dogs and the non-dog person, but neither of the hounds came to the wedding, despite the part they played.

This was around the time of their expressionist phase, where they assembled multi-media shows on the back lawn.

Nothing was sacred. Like many canine installation artists, they were little known or acknowledged during their time.   

So, for a while then it was the two hounds, happy families. Pooch and Siegfried somehow a container for our marriage, in a way, the dogs that went with the situation, the shared project, the children coming.

They were a gentle presence, benign spirits, approachable, dependable. Then Pooch died of old age.

Before this though, Spike had arrived, a ginger cat, whom my wife derided. And a portent of change. A crack in the enterprise. 

Spike somehow became an emblem of our difference. I’m not a cat person either, but I liked Spike. He had attitude.

He ran off once for months, and months later returned. The neighbours came for supper and called him by another name, wondering where he’d gotten to. A master manipulator.

But then he died too, and around the same time, our marriage. And yes, Spike did have something to do with it, this time.  

In an often-empty home, Siegfried was getting a little long in the tooth, so off I went to find another hound for company, and for my daughter. In for a penny, in for a dog pound, right?

This time a strange little seal-pup of a dog rescued from alongside the N1. Quite adorable and almost a recovery dog, you could say, who makes quite an impression on people. Milo.

Suddenly Siegfried was really old. We went for a final walk together, down to the vet for the last time.  

My family all live apart now. Happily so. We all get along. The dogs have been threaded through our shared story.

We all loved them, they were a locus of our affections.

They witnessed an overlapping sequence of life and death, of childbirth and love and loss.

In a way, they have passed a kind of tooth-gnarled psychic baton between them, watching us change, keeping us company over the years in return for food and exercise and affection. 

Now there’s just me, on the other side of all that, with Milo. We’re both a little grey and grizzled, both of us carrying a minor limp at the moment.

We’re a mirror pair, like many ‘owners’ and their animals.  

When I’m seen with her, as I am every morning, as we walk down to the beach, people smile and greet her, loping along.

When I’m with her, it’s as if I’m wearing red-rimmed round sunglasses and driving a bright yellow Volkswagen Beetle. She makes people happy. They wave and smile.

Sometimes I’m asked how old she is. I have no idea. Like I said, I’m not a dog person. 

Sean O'Connor

Change expert, Sean O'Connor, believes that the big change equals big opportunity.

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