My husband had a dog when I met him. I don’t mean I met my husband for coffee at Sainsbury’s or somewhere and he just had this random dog; I mean before I married him. The first time I met the man who would become my husband. That’s better. Anyway, he had a dog, Carly, a little black collie cross who was possibly the most intelligent dog I have ever met. She never needed a lead, even in London. I remember going into the Nisa supermarket on Queensway, and Steve told her to sit outside and wait. I hadn’t known him long, and I was a bit dubious about this, especially on such a crowded street, but he was confident so in we went. It was as we were at the checkout that we became aware there was a crowd outside the doors to the shop, the kind of crowd you get round a really good street performer, and they were making quite a lot of noise; laughing and clapping. The people in the supermarket pressed against the windows to see what was going on and there was Carly sitting neatly on the pavement, as we had left her, but now surrounded by a semi-circle of admirers. As we watched she stood up and walked to the doors, which automatically opened. This obviously confused and bothered her, so she backed off and sat down. After a few seconds, she tried again, the doors opened and she retreated. And then she tried again. To all the world it looked as if she were playing with the doors.
Shortly after the three of us moved in together (that’s me, Steve and Carly, in case you were wondering) there was a knock at the door one Sunday afternoon and outside were some kids with a black scruffy dog.
‘We brought your dog back,’ said one of the kids.
‘That’s not my dog,’ said Steve. But he took her in anyway. She was too thin to ignore. Jazz, as we called her, had black curly hair, a black curly tail, soulful brown eyes and the kind of breath that would strip paint. She crapped all over the house, ate margarine by the tubful, and peed herself every time she got told off. She loved travelling in cars, especially when she could sit on the back seat, lean on the door, and hook her paw through the arm rest.
She liked to lick newly hatched chicks too, but when they got a bit older, the way she gazed at them became rather calculating, and you could see they were beginning to look less like weird feathered puppies and more like dinner.
Then Megan arrived. She was en route to Battersea Dogs Home with a guy I worked with, when he brought her into the office and I took her home. Jazz’s immediate reaction was to growl at this new upstart, but when Carly, rather stiff-legged and grey by now, went up to make friends, Jazz changed her mind and adopted the new puppy. This meant that Megan was washed rather more than she would probably have liked, and each time she attempted to do some exploring was brought back to safety by a heavy black paw.
Megan was patient and loving and when children arrived, extremely self-effacing. When toddlers attempted to stick their fingers up her nose, or tried eat her dinner, she would simply go and sit behind the sofa. When our daughter got to the age where she wanted to climb stairs, she and Megan became partners in crime. As we would all too soon discover, Rose would undo the bottom stairgate, grasp hold of Megan’s collar, and carefully and patiently Megan would help her up the stairs. Once at the top, Rose would reach over and unbolt the top stairgate, and then they could split up, Megan for a comfy snooze on our bed, while Rose would make a beeline for her sister’s bedroom and her box of paints, which she would happily daub all over her face and arms, before she too climbed on to the bed for a cuddle with Megan.
But Carly got cancer, and when the vet came round to put her to sleep she yelped like a child as the needle went in. Even the vet, a brisk kind girl, was shaken by this. Then Jazz got ill, and eventually I had to give in to reality and call the vet for her, too. This left Megan, who had been so patient while we absorbed ourselves with our children. She was ecstatic, after those first couple of years, to once more be taken out for proper long walks, and I’m glad we made the time for her, when I think of how she died, as self-effacingly as she had lived, on the floor of my office one Saturday morning, with her head in Rose’s lap.
We’ve had dogs since. We have two now. But I still miss those three. I miss them following me everywhere. I miss Jazz. Sometimes I see a black hairy dog in town, and it looks so like her I have to go up and stroke it. But of course, it’s not Jazz and never will be. No paint stripper breath, you see.