ME AND MY BITCH

Fiona Fraser was slow to suc­cumb to puppy love but, she writes, there was no es­cape

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Fiona Fraser was slow to suc­cumb to puppy love but, she writes, there was no es­cape

Un­til July 6, 2016, I was the only bitch in the house. Ev­ery­one knew it. I ruled the roost, made the rules, and rev­elled in be­ing the only fe­male in a house­hold of men.

Then we met El­lie. She lived in a mo­tel and pissed on the car­pet in ex­cite­ment when we turned up. “She’s ac­tu­ally re­ally well house­trained”, Steve-from-the­mo­tel told us anx­iously. He’d been look­ing for a new home for his puppy for a while. An en­er­getic lab/bor­der col­lie cross in a busy mo­tel en­vi­ron­ment, with limited con­trol of her blad­der, wasn’t work­ing out too well for him.

A cat per­son from birth, I’d never dreamed of a dog. I ac­tu­ally still think that cats’ paws are the most beau­ti­ful things I’ve ever seen. (I just re-read that sen­tence back, and yes, it’s weird.)

But my 8-year-old son Sal­vador had been imag­in­ing this day since the mo­ment he’d first imag­ined things. At a sec­ond-hand book­store in Napier, he’d spent a month’s pocket money on a colos­sal En­cy­clopae­dia of Dogs and thumbed through it at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity he could, mak­ing elab­o­rate pros and cons lists of the var­i­ous breeds. If a dog was im­mi­nent, I was shoot­ing for some­thing an­kle-height and docile. A dog that would flop qui­etly at my feet. ‘What breed do you want, Mum?” “A corgi.” “Dad?” “A Ger­man shep­herd.” Snig­ger. Sal­vador wanted a Ber­nese moun­tain dog. Or a boxer.

So, for ob­vi­ous rea­sons, we set­tled on a labrador/ col­lie cross.

“He’s an only child — and an only child needs a

She seemed to re­ally like me. I’d lie in bed at night googling ways I could train the adu­la­tion out of her, be­cause I couldn’t stand it.

dog,” nod­ded var­i­ous grand­par­ents, ap­prov­ing of our par­ent­ing.

But from the mo­ment she ar­rived in our home, I re­sented El­lie’s pres­ence. All the leap­ing about, the smelly dog food, poo­ing on the lawn, strain­ing on the lead, whin­ing at the door to go out, whim­per­ing at the door to come in. The hair got ev­ery­where and I found my­self do­ing some­thing I’d never thought I would be ca­pa­ble of. Sweep­ing. Daily.

She seemed to re­ally like me, though. I’d lie in bed at night googling ways I could train the adu­la­tion out of her, be­cause I couldn’t stand it. Par­tic­u­larly the jump­ing up. Dirty paws on In­grid Starnes. The more agi­tated I be­came, the more ador­ing she was.

My hus­band was the dog walker in the fam­ily — my­self a grumpy by­stander, de­spon­dently lob­bing a ball into the mid­dle dis­tance for our springy, spir­ited, beam­ing ca­nine. The El­iza McCart­ney of the an­i­mal world.

One morn­ing, I sloshed some wa­ter into a bowl for her — ap­par­ently dogs need wa­ter be­cause they per­spire through their mas­sive, sop­ping, soursmelling tongues. I was dressed up for work — this was maybe week two of dog own­er­ship — and El­lie was so over­joyed I’d done some­thing for her that she hurled her en­tire labrador form at me, and I ended up slip­ping on the wet tiles, in heels, and land­ing on my rear.

“THAT IS IT!” I howled. “She’s do­ing it on PUR­POSE. She’s go­ing to the SPCA.”

Sal­vador sobbed. “You don’t mean it, Mum, do you?” I’d bro­ken my son. Ter­ri­ble dog owner. Ter­ri­ble mother. Ter­ri­ble hu­man be­ing.

I re­mem­ber think­ing, “Okay, so this is my life now. Un­til the dog dies.”

Stuck. With a dog I loathed and a fam­ily that loved her more than they loved me. Or at least that’s what they kept telling me.

‘I love El­lie so much. More than any­thing. More than you, Mum.”

“Mum, have you smelled El­lie? It’s the most amaz­ing smell in the whole world.”

(I mouthed, “Is he f***ing kid­ding?” at my hus­band). And speak­ing of hus­bands, he was no bet­ter. “You’re so pretty ... Who’s a pretty girl, eh?” Not me. And not nearly as shiny, ei­ther. Be­cause: “Aren’t you shiny? The shini­est in the whole fam­ily ...”

I can­vassed my dog­gie friends. “How long did it take you to — you know — like your dog?” I asked Vicky.

“But Fiona, what do you mean? I loved Bil­lieJean from the mo­ment I laid eyes on her!”

I cried my­self to sleep that night. My hus­band re­minded me to chill out and that Vicky is so at­tached to her cabral­abraspoo­dledo, or what­ever it is, that she hires a babysit­ter for Bil­lie Jean if she’s go­ing out for din­ner.

Jane had more sym­pa­thy. “I think I hate the dog.” I texted.

“Oh honey ... I know ... a work in progress,” she texted back.

“Sonny is 10 and he’s so f***ing an­noy­ing he drives me crazy. Some­times ... if I had a gun ... Michael says it’s just as well I don’t have a gun.”

The weeks went by. I got over my­self — a bit — although I was still prone to the oc­ca­sional out­burst.

Some­thing was chang­ing, though. The anx­ious, pan­icky feel­ing I had been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing re­gard­ing dog own­er­ship seemed to be al­le­vi­ated by long walks in the fresh air, with a puff­ing ca­nine at my heels.

When I saw her play­ing well with other dogs I FELT PROUD OF HER.

When she’d slink up the hall­way at a quar­ter to seven to poke her head around the bed­room door, I’d smile and say, “Good morn­ing, beau­ti­ful.”

That an­noy­ing thing that she did, with­out fail, at break­fast, where she shoved her wet snout into my right armpit, be­came en­dear­ing, some­how.

And the sound of our son gig­gling un­con­trol­lably as he wres­tled with her on the floor made my heart sing.

Who had I become? “Some­one who is fall­ing in love with her dog,” con­firmed Beth, know­ingly, as she buffed my nails. “I have three kids and get­ting up in the night to Rusty was worse than all of them put to­gether. But we wouldn’t be with­out him now.”

Okay, so it’s still gross when she finds a mouse in the wood pile and be­heads it, de­light­ing in this sur­pris­ing and crunchy lit­tle ro­denty morsel. The en­ergy is bound­less. The ap­petite will never be sa­ti­ated. And the farts are deadly.

But I love the way she moth­ers the chick­ens, and when we put the scraps out for them she tears up the fence­line at speed mak­ing sure the sheep don’t get to them first with her “WOR WOR WOR” Big Scary Bark.

The way she likes to help us col­lect pine cones and fire­wood. The soft­ness of her ears. She hasn’t saved me when I’ve been trapped in the well, although I’m en­tirely con­vinced she’d be ca­pa­ble of it.

Me and my bitch, we’re tight.

El­lie, the writer’s labrador/ bor­der col­lie cross.

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