“What’s brown and sticky?”
I step carefully over the object of my consideration; some dog owners are so thoughtless.
There’s a blur of black and white fur and Buster comes haring across the grass, his tongue lolling out the side of his mouth.
The Sun is shining today. Buster doesn’t care too much for wet weather, but days like this are just the sort he lives for. He comes tearing towards me so fast I fully expect him to knock me over, but at the very last minute he digs in his feet and skids to a halt at my feet, mouth open and panting, eyes shining with delight, tail fanning the air enough to create his own private hurricane.
Buster came to me a couple of years ago in a tiny bundle, so small he almost fit in the palm of one hand. I’d never considered keeping pets before, but my youngest son had left home that year – the last to fly the nest – and with my wife having passed away too many years ago to seem real, my daughter had decided it would be the perfect solution to my empty house.
In the beginning I’d directed a few unpleasant thoughts towards my meddlesome daughter. Border collies are very intelligent and active dogs; they get bored easily and need a lot of attention. During the first few weeks following his arrival our relationship was strained to breaking point as a series of unfortunate incidents brought havoc into my otherwise peaceful home.
It started when his youthful exuberance destroyed a number of porcelain knick-knacks; memories of my wife (he was named shortly after that incident). Then his lack of house training added a few stains and an unpleasant smell to my furniture until he gained bladder control and better manners.
Things only started to improve the day I went out for several hours and left him alone. I returned to find cushions strewn about the living room and my left slipper chewed into a soggy mess. I was angry to start with, but Buster was growling as well and it slowly sunk in how unkind I’d been to him. I sat down on the ground next to him (already regretting the effort and indignity it would cost me to make it back up to my feet) and I apologised to my dog. I know he didn’t understand my words, but he must have sensed something in the tone of my voice because he quietened down and licked my face. Oh if only we were all so quick to forgive.
From that moment I resolved to give Buster more of my time, and as a result we became the very closest of friends. As much love and attention as I had to give him, he returned generously and with interest, and since then we go pretty much everywhere together. I find that my health has improved and the emptiness in my home and my life has faded.
We come to the park most days. He walks slowly with me at my pace, which I must say has improved steadily over the two years since we started this, then as soon as we’re through the gates he looks at me waiting for a nod before he chases off to this corner and that. Wet days not so much, but he needs the exercise as much as I do so we persevere.
“Hey Buster,” he sits and looks at me, tail wagging, head cocked to one side. “What do you think eh? Some people just don’t seem to care.”
He still doesn’t understand a word, but he likes me to talk to him and it gives me someone to share my thoughts with as well. He looks at the path behind me and back at me, eyes shining like marbles after the rain.
“I guess it’ll do no harm,” I say, “and we’ll dispose of it properly when we’re done.”
I stoop and pick it up, Buster is already backing away ready for the game. With more effort than I can easily manage I launch the missile up and into the air and he’s away chasing after it.
“What’s brown and sticky?” My grandson asked me earlier in the week. It’s an old joke, but I remembered it being one of my favourites as well so I feigned ignorance.
Buster runs down the path towards me, drops the stick at my feet and backs off waiting for the next throw.
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