Saturday, 5 June 2010
Saturday 5 June 2010
"Pleeease can I have one of those?" I implored. "It's all I need to make my life complete. I promise I'll never ask for anything else if you get me one of those."
My partner didn't look convinced.
"But Jasper," she replied. "You have already got a printed vest, a T-shirt, two 'Bullseye' neckerchiefs, a Union-Jack fleece jogging top (from Harrods, no less) AND your Robin Hood costume. Not to mention your nice blue sheep-fleece-lined waterproof jacket for the Winter. Plus which, you said that if I ever made you wear the waterproof coat again, you would kill me."
"I want a fluorescent jacket with my name on it!"
"I'll think about it for your birthday."
“Captain, is Kipper going to come home tomorrow?”
“No Pebble. Kipper is gone and we won’t be able to see him anymore.”
“Oh… Well, will my family be coming to get me tomorrow instead?”
“Yes Pebble.” I smiled at him in the darkness. “You must get your sleep, for tomorrow you have a big day ahead of you. Your new family are coming to collect you and take you home, where they will love you very, very much.”
I heard a sharp intake of breath from the little Staffie-cross.
“Do you mean that, Captain?” he whispered. “They’re REALLY coming? D’you promise?”
“I promise, Pebble.” I replied, praying silently that fate would not conspire any more against Pebble.
“Ooooh!” I heard him gasp, just before he fell asleep.
Sure enough, the next day at around 11.00am, we heard the sounds of bustle in the reception area, with the sounds of excited children in accompaniment. Pebble stood up, wagging his tail, in eager anticipation.
“It’s time, Pebble.” I said, recognising the scent of the family from their previous visit. “You are a very good little dog. You be sure to have a happy life – and look after your family.”
“I will, Captain.” said Pebble, his voice quivering with emotion. “Thank you for everything you have done. Thank you Rats, thank you everyone. I will remember you all for ever.”
A variety of replies sounded forth, along the lines of “Cheers, Peb.”, “Be lucky, son.”, “Look after yourself.”, making Pebble’s tail wag even more frantically.
The Door of Doors opened and a kennel-maid came down the corridor, clutching a nice new leather lead. She opened Pebble’s pen and clipped the lead to his collar. We began straight away.
The Song of Triumph for Pebble sounded throughout the block as he walked along the corridor, and the little dog almost seemed to grow with happiness and confidence as he trotted beside the kennel-maid. As he reached the Door of Doors, he turned, beaming widely, and whispered “Goodbye.”
I felt strangely moved, although my heart rejoiced for little Pebble. I missed him terribly for the first few days, and it was eerily quiet at bedtime every evening, without Pebble’s nightly queries.
Time passed. More dogs came and went. Rats was chosen by a young married couple with a good sense of fun. Rex went to a single gentleman with a high-powered job and a great passion for hill and fell-walking, which I knew would suit Rex perfectly. Although the Boxer dog was good-natured and pleasant, I knew Rex preferred not to be around hordes of baying children.
Soon, there were only a few of us left who were around from the time of Kipper and Pebble. Only I remained unwanted from the old ‘glory days’, but was used to my routine at the shelter and I affected not to care.
After Rex’s departure, a tiny Yorkshire Terrier named Mouse petitioned me very hard for the role of Pack Enforcer. I was initially highly sceptical, Mouse being tiny even by Yorkshire Terrier standards. Clearly a runt, Mouse had to have a special mesh around his pen, so he couldn’t slip through the bars. In addition, he was prone to hyperventilation and a bucket of cold water was on permanent standby for him, lest he should have a seizure. However, Mouse was a fiercely dominant little fellow who could argue down the best of them. I once saw a visiting Great Dane bowing in submission to Mouse – which is a sight I’d never, in my life, expected to see. Mouse was like the ‘Puss in Boots’ character in the Shrek films; he was disarmingly adorable – until crossed, at which point he became a vicious little b*st*rd, usually getting the upper paw over even the bigger dogs. Little Mouse had easy access to a chap’s most vulnerable point, you see. He knew exactly where to nip with his sharp little fangs. After a day or two’s consideration, I accepted Mouse’s applications and appointed him Pack Enforcer. Privately, I suspected he might even have been Pack Leader material but I didn’t bark this out loud, not wishing him to get ideas above his station at present.
One day, Ghost, a large German Shepherd from the other side of the block, who seemed to have permanent problems with an in-growing claw, was brought back to his pen following yet another vet’s appointment.
“You’ll never guess who I’ve just seen up on the board!” he barked.
By “the board”, Ghost meant the shelter’s “Rogues’ Gallery” – a board where photos of former residents of the home were pinned up, having been sent in by their loving new owners (the shelter, usually in the form of Dave or Miss Smart, always paid a ‘check-up’ visit to an adopted dog about three weeks or a month after re-homing, just to check that the dog was settling in with no problems. The Rogues’ Gallery usually comprised of pictures taken much later – often holiday or playtime pictures). The Rogues’ Gallery covered the wall opposite the main door in the reception area.
“Who?!” I asked, intrigued.
“Only ol’ Pebble!” replied Ghost. “There’s about four pictures of him with his family. He looks really, really happy.”
A few days later, I had an opportunity to see the pictures for myself. I was taken off to the vet for what were universally known as one’s “annual jabs” – booster vaccinations, basically. My chauffeur – in the guise of Dave – had mislaid the van keys so, whilst I waited with a kennel-maid in the reception area, she and I looked at the Rogues’ Galley. And – indeed – there he was. Little Pebble.
But what a different Pebble! Were it not for the little white diamond-shaped patch of fur on his forehead, I almost might not have known him. There was a picture of Pebble swimming in the sea with the family’s two little boys; a picture of Pebble playing football on the beach with the family; a picture of Pebble being fed a sandwich from a picnic, with a long ‘wig’ of seaweed on his head, being held in place by one of the little boys; and one of Pebble with the little female toddling child, clad in a pink bathing costume, tightly hugging him with her chubby little arms around his shoulders. In each picture, Pebble was grinning so widely that it almost looked like his lower jaw might drop off. The nervous, slightly panicky look had entirely disappeared from his eyes and he positively exuded relaxed and confident happiness.
You will think me slightly mad, but I swear that it was almost possible to sense Kipper in the pictures, smiling approvingly down from the clouds on Pebble’s happiness. Kipper would’ve loved to have been part of that nice family (although he would not have been able to join in the energetic games as Pebble did) but I knew that, if that pleasure was denied him, then his next wish would be for a happy life for his little protégée Pebble.
As Dave reappeared with the elusive van keys, I felt a little lump in my throat. I’d always thought I was happy at the shelter – but I realised that, subconsciously, I strongly desired a home of my own. At the vets’, too, I felt miserable. I recalled the last set of ‘annual jabs’ I’d received – back when I’d arrived at the shelter as an empty and battered husk. This meant that I was now more than two years old – and over half my life had been lived within the dog shelter.
A few weeks later, the bitches’ block was positively a-buzz with excitement and anticipation. The reason was swiftly gleaned from their wee-mails in the exercise field. Miss Smart had been engaged to pick out a special dog for a very special person. We didn’t know who it was, exactly, but the unnamed individual had adopted two shelter residents in past years, both bitches.
The various sniffets of gossip and news coincided on exactly two points – which could therefore be taken as the bare facts of the case. One was that Miss Smart was definitely tasked with picking out a particularly special canine character. The other was that the unknown future owner was “not wildly enthusiastic about Staffordshire Bull Terriers”.
As, therefore, none of the future developments would concern me, I contented myself with ignoring the matter entirely and being slightly amused at the wild speculation amongst all the others.