I’ve always been a cat person as anyone who remembers the irreplaceable Mr Fing (I still dream about that cat and I’m always so happy to see him when he turns up in my sleep) will know. Cats are easy. You can go away for a weekend and not worry about a cat. They sleep A LOT. They’re there when you need them and fuck off when you don’t. They are independent. They are emotionally self-contained. They’ll love you for just as long as everything is fine and if they feel things aren’t working out then they’re off before you know it, sitting on someone else’s lap. I have cat running through me like a seaside town through rock.
Six months ago today I got a dog. ( I know, I’ve barely mentioned it right?). I figured it was time to try a pet that required more commitment, that would get me out of the house a few times a day, make me grow up, that kind of thing. My aim was to get a very small dog, a cross-breed puppy that I could take everywhere with me, including tubes and trains, and he would be my buddy. A dog that came with a clean slate. Easy.
But then I saw Ted on a rescue website and that was that. He was my dog.
I’ve never been a ‘share your weaknesses’ person (ten years of boarding school will do that to you;-)) and I afford Ted the same respect, and therefore the Internet only sees the comedy highlights of Ted-life. Don’t get me wrong, he is to all intents and purposes a cheeky, brilliant little chap. But man, he had problems when he arrived. He didn’t leave the house. He would panic at the sight of a car. He was not happy at all about other people and would snap and snarl and skitter away if anyone tried to to touch him. He hid from towels. The sound of traffic outside would distress him. He didn’t like men walking behind him. He was full of fear and anxiety. Having googled ‘street dogs in Romania’ I can see why.
Have all those problems gone away? Hell no. I don’t think Ted will ever jump off a train into Euston unphased by noise and people. The tube will most likely never happen. (I’m totally going to have to buy a car, aren’t I?). He still won’t let most of the other dog-walkers in the park pet him. My dad – who Ted has decided he adores – waved a jacket at him the other day like a bull fighter and Ted ran and hid behind my legs. So yes, he’s a happy chap but under the surface it’s all still there.
Who knows what happened to him on his time on the streets before someone stitched him up and sent him to England? I don’t. I never will. But I know he’s a gentle soul and those things that terrified him will stay with him. Dogs and people may not be so different in that respect. We hold onto our baggage. If someone hurts us we remember it. But maybe how we deal with that is different. Maybe that’s where Ted is teaching me what ‘Be More Dog’ really means. It’s not as far as I can see, as the adverts would have us believe, about bouncing around with the sheer joy of the world as if you’re on two love doves in some early-90s rave. I think it’s something better than that.
You can treat a dog like absolute shit and they will still have hope in the good. They may be wary, but they are determined to love someone new. A simple act of kindness and they will give it all another go. We could be more dog like that. We could have that hope.
Bad shit happens and we carry that with us forever. It happens on small levels and big. Someone breaks your heart, someone steals from you, or hits you. Someone blows up a plane, a building. Someone drives a car onto a pavement to kill people. Someone chooses to hurt and kill teenage girls to make a fucked up point. Bad shit changes us. It makes us afraid. That fear maybe makes us have unkind and unpleasant thoughts about different people, different religions, different places. It maybe makes us into people we don’t want to be.
The shit that happened to Ted? That could have made him a bad dog. But he’s not. As a man in the park said to me a while back, as he raced around playing, ‘He’s just a bloody good dog. That’s all there is to it.’ As the dog trainer said, ‘He wants to like people and have them like him. He’s just not sure how to go about it. But it’s clear he’s really trying.’
Ted’s always going to have baggage. He’s always going to have a slightly blighted view of the world from the bad things that happened. But he is a little dog with a lot of hope. He’s always looking for the good. Being more dog is about that. You’re allowed be hurt, afraid, damaged. We all are. But look for the good and believe in it. Have absolute hope that other people are better.
Be more dog.