I’ve had a whole lot of dogs in the last 40 years or so, and they were all loved, but some were special. Very special. Mr Punch was a dog in a million, he was the cleverest, stubbornest, gentlest, most companionable bulldog the world has ever known. When my husband died, and I was putting on a front for the rest of the world, with him I could be openly and brokenly me, he was always there for a hug and he was the one beside me as I walked through my grief on the Derbyshire hills. And he was funny. Dogs really can be funny. We only had to pull a face at Punch and he was ready for a game, when we sang a silly song he joined in the nonsense, and we had to stop spelling out w-a-l-k and d-i-n-n-e-r because he was surprisingly good at spelling. He was full of derring-do, sometimes alarmingly so. It was adventurous Mr Punch who fell into the River Derwent in Darley Park, needing me to wade out to him, waist deep, feet sinking into who-knows-what, my skirt billowing out around me. I managed to heave his sturdy unco-operative body onto the bank and then to clamber out (I couldn’t do it now) and as I lay exhausted on the grass, recovering, a chap walking past, oblivious to my muddy soaking clothes and breathlessness, nodded pleasantly and said “Lovely day for it.” It was Mr Punch who clambered onto rocks chasing a bird and then couldn’t get down. It was that same stalwart soul who decided, aged 10, to chase a fish in my Koi carp pond…. another near drowning.
Right now I have three dogs in my care and I’m fond of them all, but one is decidedly special: Percy is a sturdy, handsome little dog, brave and deluded enough to take on even the most murderous (he says) Rottweiler, but gentle at heart, home-loving, immensely embraceable, well behaved and faithful. He doesn’t charge away into the distance after seagulls and sandpipers (Pip and Pico), he doesn’t eat rabbit droppings (Pico!), he comes when he’s called (Pico!!), after a walk he goes back into the car without complaint (Pico!!!), he doesn’t chase sheep, cats or cars (Pico!!!*!) and he doesn’t run hysterically into the road every time I open the front door (Pico! Pico!! Pico!!!!**!)
He has his tiny flaws of course; he refuses to be towelled when he’s dripping with sea water and caked with sand, hides when the grooming scissors and comb come out, howls heartbreakingly at some of my favourite music, and sleeps all night in the crook of my knees so that I hobble for the first ten minutes every morning.
When I get to glory, I hope there will be a Percy and a Mr Punch waiting, tails wagging, eyes bright. And it wouldn’t be too terrible if there was also a bewildered Pip and a naughty Pico.