Who’s this - alone with stone and sky?
It’s only my old dog and I -
It’s only him; it’s only me;
Alone with stone and grass and tree.
Chappie was my parents’ dog, a German Short-haired Pointer. Rehomed from Spain, he then lived a happy life in South Northants. Sadly, as he got older, his vision got progressively worse and he had been completely blind for a couple of years.
At the age of thirteen and after a contented life spent sleeping in the sun and running like the wind, he was recently put to sleep. The words of Siegfried Sassoon’s poem, “Man and Dog”, brought us all some comfort at what is always a sad time.
I have never yet been able to own a dog of my own. My lifestyle up to this point has meant I could not have looked after one properly.
I can honestly say, however, that without family dogs my life would be much less fulfilling.
So, what is it about dogs that brings joy to me and so many other people? Sassoon has one answer.
What is it makes us more than dust?
My trust in him; in me his trust.
Dogs are loyal. Of that, there can be no doubt.
Capitan was owned by a man called Miguel Guzman in Argentina. Guzman died in 2006. The next day Capitan, his German Shepherd, disappeared and turned up at the cemetery where his master was buried. And he spent the rest of his life there, sitting at his master’s grave being fed and watered by the cemetery staff.
And what about Argos, Odysseus’ hunting dog in Greek mythology? A puppy when Odysseus leaves for Troy, he waits patiently for the entire twenty years of his master’s absence. When the king returns to his palace, disguised as an old beggar, Argos is one of the only ones to recognise him and in one of the most touching scenes in all of literature, the old dog wags his tail one last time and dies in his master’s arms.
The fidelity of dogs is unquestionable. But dogs are great for our wellbeing, too.
Siegmund Freud, the renowned psychoanalyst, had a Chow called Jofi who regularly attended consultations with patients. Freud notes in his diary how Jofi would read his patients’ moods, sitting close by to be stroked if they were calm but remaining more distant if they appeared anxious. Jofi was also a great timekeeper, yawning and stretching when the allotted hour was up. She was never late, according to Freud.
Freud got used to working at home with his dogs in the same way that many people have done through 2020 and, in many cases, are still doing in 2021.
Lockdown dogs have definitely become a thing and countless dogs must undoubtedly have enjoyed their owners being more at home than ever before.
But dog news from the last year is not all positive.
There have been many media stories both about unscrupulous breeders cashing in on the lockdown puppy market and new owners ill-prepared for the demands that a dog puts on your life. This BBC report from November 2020 outlines some of the issues surrounding dogs in lockdown : https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-54602197
Owning a dog is a real commitment which is why reputable animal organisations spend time and energy assessing whether people who want to adopt a dog are suited, both in a general sense and to that particular dog.
Wild at Heart Foundation’s current motto is Adopt a dog - not for lockdown, but for life (https://wildatheartfoundation.org/about/) This is an organisation whose mission is to compassionately reduce the world’s 600 million stray dogs through rescue, adoption, sterilisation and education projects.
One of their collaborators in the UK is Dogs4Rescue (https://dogs4rescue.co.uk/about-us/), a rescue centre in semi-rural Manchester where the dogs live together in a kennel-free environment. Dogs4Rescue rehomes stray dogs too with the aim of convincing us that rescue dogs can make wonderful family pets.
Both these organisations and many more do amazing work to care for dogs and improve their life experiences, no matter where they have ended up. Both are open to donations via their websites, if you feel you would like to support them.
Without a rescue organisation rehoming GSPs from Spain, my family would not have met the great Chappie who will get a plaque in the garden along with all the family dogs of the past. Not a monument quite as grand as Lord Byron built for his Newfoundland, Boatswain, but a memory of a legendary dog, nevertheless. Perhaps Chappie needs an inscription like that on Boatswain’s monument as well. He certainly deserves one.
Near this Spot
are deposited the Remains of one
who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferocity,
and all the virtues of Man without his Vices.
This praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery
if inscribed over human Ashes,
is but a just tribute to the Memory of
Boatswain, a Dog
who was born in Newfoundland May 1803
and died at Newstead November 18th 1808
Rest in peace, Chappie.