It's A Dog's Life

by John M. Joyce (March 2009)


Let me take you back in time to a very early and cold morning in late autumn eighteen years ago. In a filthy, aged, badly maintained barn deep in the English countryside a poodle bitch, old before her time, is stretched out on a disgustingly dirty heap of ancient straw. She is newly dead and surrounded by seven living puppies of about fourteen weeks. In life she had had no name for she had been a puppy-farm bitch – just like the nineteen other poodle bitches in that awful place. All she had ever known was that draughty and disgusting barn and the squalid cobbled exercise yard just outside.
 
Her pups were going to be taken from her that morning for they had been sold to a reputable, so-called, breeder who would pass them off as pups from her own pedigreed bitches. It was, and still is, a highly lucrative, and highly disreputable and dishonest, trade. It goes on all over the world and, despite the best efforts of the The Kennel Club, and other likeminded organisations in many other countries, this disgusting trade continues to this day and pollutes the bloodlines of many a noble breed of dog with puppies of questionable parentage which are often extremely inbred, with all the implications of that condition which you might expect being inadvertently visited upon the real reputable breeders and many caring owners – and their dogs.
 
However, I want to concentrate on the fate of just one of those puppies which worried at the corpse of that poor dead bitch on that chilly autumn morn. This little, silver-haired poodle was the last born of that litter and was smaller than his siblings – the runt of the litter, if you want to call him such. I shall call him Little Dog, for at this stage in my story he has no name though he will acquire a name, and a proper canine destiny, later on.
 
Little Dog was hungry, and disturbed by the wrongness around him. His brothers and sisters were nudging at the remains of their mother as her dead body cooled in the chill of that old barn. He didn’t like what he was experiencing and he was upset by it. He needed to relieve himself and unlike his littermates he was instinctively fastidious in his toilet habits and wanted to do so away from the sleeping area, so he took himself over to the crack in the wall which he could still just squeeze through. This crack led into the dirty exercise yard and Little Dog forced his way through it and out into the bleak, cold, early dawn. On three sides the oblong yard was lined by buildings but on the fourth side there was a high wire fence with a gate in it. The gate let out onto a muddy lane, which in one direction led to open fields and in the other to the house of the couple who ran this vile and appalling business, and it was open!
 
Little Dog had never been out of the barn and exercise yard in his short life and the lure of that open gate was irresistible. He made water against a rusty heap of old metal and then wandered through the open gate. He turned to the left towards the fields and went exploring down that rutted, slimy lane with a vague hope lurking at the back of his mind that he might find some food.
 
The smells of the lane were different and strange and exciting for the puppy. They led him on and on, past the point where the lane petered out into meadowland: through the meadows into ploughed fields: over the ploughed land into scrub and through the scrub into the coppiced trees beyond. The sun was well up by the time he reached the woodland and Little Dog was very hungry – and very lost, as well!
 
There was, by this time, no chance that Little Dog would have been able to find his own way back to that horrid barn, even if he had wanted to do so. He wandered on into the woodland enjoying the scents and hoping that he would soon find something to eat and something to drink. Well, Little Dog was lucky. He found the crusts of a ham sandwich which had been discarded by Fred Jones, the charcoal maker, beside one of Fred’s gently smoking pyres. There was also a discarded apple core and a sliver of chocolate, all of which he wolfed down whilst, at the same time, enjoying the delicious and strange tastes. If only he had not been so thirsty and had curled up there and then and given in to his tiredness then Little Dog’s problems would have been all over because Fred was a kind man and a dog lover who would have cared for him and loved him and looked after him. That was not to be, however, because Little Dog’s thirst drove him on to a gurgling drainage ditch where he drank his fill, and he never thought about returning to the warmth of the charcoal heap because he was a puppy and always just followed his nose – and the exciting scent of warm rabbit cannot be denied by any dog, especially by a puppy having his first, long overdue, adventure.
 
So Little Dog wandered on into the trees following the scent of Br’er Rabbit, and other exciting smells as well, until the light began to fade and he felt hungry again. Just as the daylight tumbled out of the sky in its autumnal hurry to be gone, in that haste which so worried our ancestors, Little Dog found himself at the very edge of the forest and facing monochrome open farmland in the rapidly failing light. A tiny, but very chill, breeze commanded that brief evening. The first stars were beginning to appear and the faint hints of the lights of Orion’s top two stars were peeping above the Eastern horizon. Skathi was kind to Little Dog that night; she did not vent the full force of her eternal anger at being denied Thrymheim by calling down all of Winter (for she’s a goddess of the hunt, too, and dogs are close to huntsmen and women so, perhaps, that is why she was kind), and she stayed the hand of Ullr, as well, and Nyx co-operated with her by allowing just a light frost into her realm of darkness so, as the puppy found himself a heap of leaves and followed his instincts and burrowed into them in order to pass the night he was, all unbeknownst to him, favoured by the goddesses and the gods that night. But he was, as he fell asleep, very hungry!
 
Eos woke Little Dog. Her rosy fingers luxuriously reaching through his thick and gentle covering of sere, fallen leaves, and a fine dawn it was, too. Broad ribbands of gilded pink engorged the Eastern sky and creamy blue streamers of fantastic light provided an unsubtle background to them. Little Dog awoke warm and comfortable beneath his natural blanket. He was extremely loathe to move but he was very hungry and very thirsty. A mere crust of bread, an apple core and a crumb of chocolate was really not enough to sustain the life of a fourteen weeks old puppy and it had become imperative that Little Dog soon find some proper food in proper quantities. It takes just seventy-two hours without good feeding to severely endanger the life of puppies as young as he, and it had already been thirty-six hours since Little Dog had last eaten a real meal.
 
Our tiny puppy scrambled his way from beneath the warm covering of leaves into that glorious dawn and shook one or two of the more friendly of them out of his coat. He set off in no particular direction but with hope in his little heart. He had traversed but an acre’s breadth when he got the scent of water in his nostrils. His gangly, juvenile legs flailing he rushed along that scent line as fast as he could go. In his haste he failed to notice the discarded off cut of rusty barbed wire which lay athwart his path. One of his front paws came down heavily on one end of that wire, narrowly missing a barb, and that delivered enough force to cause the rest of the coil to rear up like a serpent. In one swift strike a rusty but still sharp barb tore a deep gash through his skin all along his left side. The pain must have been intense for Little Dog howled and rolled over and howled again and again. He was bleeding copiously and he really didn’t know what had happened to him. He was shocked and confused and in the most pain that he had ever felt in his short and meagre life so far.
 
After a few minutes the pain began to abate and he stopped howling and just lay amongst the dull brown, dead autumn bracken and whimpered quietly. Eventually the bleeding slowed to an oozing and then finally stopped. Little Dog had lost rather a lot of blood – probably more than a puppy can safely lose – and his body knew it. He fell asleep amidst the bracken. Fortunately for Little Dog, Anchiale, she who had once embraced Earth and all its creatures, spoke to Helios and a warm autumn sun shone down upon him all through the hours during which his minute body raided its reserves and healed itself as best it could.
 
Little Dog woke up from his enforced sleep an hour or so after mid-day. He didn’t feel well and, as he staggered to his feet, he retched a dry heave. He was unbearably thirsty and absolutely ravenous. The need for water dominated all else in his young brain. He could smell water – he could even hear the plashing of it in a chiming stream nearby, but he was still a little dazed and couldn’t quite focus his nose upon the elusive scent. The old gods do not interfere in the affairs of man – they’re not allowed to – but nothing in the rules states that Enki should not waggle his full and long beard to cool his body and thereby, quite by accident you understand, waft the scent of sweet water more plainly towards an innocent, minute poodle puppy in deep trouble. God, and His Spirit and The Christ, pretended, I’m sure, to be busy elsewhere as Enki fanned himself whilst sitting in a favourite haunt by one of his English streams that warm autumn afternoon.
 
Well, Little Dog, unsteady on his pins as he was by now, successfully followed that mysteriously increased scent to its source and drank his fill, and then he lay down upon the soft, iris encrusted bank of Enki’s stream and let the curative waters wreak their magic inside him. After an hour or so he felt well enough to set out on his travels again. Food was uppermost in his mind as he staggered onwards. He was enfeebled by blood loss and sick with hunger, and his wound hurt like blazes, but something drove Little Dog on towards his destiny. It was more than the mere need to survive – he was, had he but known it, looking, as all dogs do, for his place in the world or, perhaps, for his Nemesis amongst those who had brought him into being in the cruel and unfeeling existence in which he found himself. Who knows? I don’t, for, after all, he was just a little dog, a mere puppy, small and unimportant in the grand scheme of things. But this is Little Dog’s story so let me tell you what happened to him next – let me tell you how his life unfolds to its end, and do let me attribute to the devious, kind (sometimes and when they want to be), old gods their part in his story, also: as I have endeavoured to do throughout this brief history of one small and unimportant hound.
 
Little Dog wandered on and on across seemingly endless fields in his desperate quest for succour. Sometimes he had to force his way through thick hedges and sometimes he had to scale, with difficulty and with his gashed side aching and throbbing abominably, low, drystone walls encrusted with lichens. In some open field or other, where the earth had been newly turned ready to receive its winter barley seed, Little Dog painfully encountered an ancistroid, aerugised blade, probably, indeed, the remains of a discarded old sickle, which penetrated his front left paw-pad. Once again he cried out in tiny howls of pain as the wound bled his life copiously onto the half-frozen earth; and once again it took some little time for the bleeding to stop and for our small and brave puppy to realise that he had no choice but to carry on. He had to limp now for he could not put much of his weight upon that injured and well-licked pad. He was very weak and he felt very cold but some hope in him drove him on.
 
Dogs don’t cry in any way that you or I can see, but they do cry. They cry on the inside; they cry, they weep in their hearts, in their brains, as the realisation of their own hopeless situations slowly engulfs them. Little Dog was crying like that – crying in his head – as he hauled himself painfully through one last hedge and onto a smooth grassed field. He was very, very hungry and he was becoming thirsty again. The threat of night was slowly creeping in from the edges of daylight’s sky, and the afternoon’s warmth was sidling from the air as he limped determinedly across the soft open space of the children’s play area – for such was the grassy space which he had all by accident encountered.
 
Just for a moment the giant hero Chrysaor left the forever tender, soft and tremulous arms of Callirrhoe and helped himself to a meat pie from the eternal buffet prior to quickly trailing his falchion, brightly, o’er the soft and distant ocean. He happened to glance down as he bit the pie in half and his sight was caught at once by the plight of our waif puppy. He glanced around in furtive manner, for he knew that he was forbidden from interfering, as he slyly dropped the uneaten portion of his pie just in front of Little Dog’s nose and immediately underneath the children’s swings on that green meadow.
 
‘After all,’ he thought, ‘anyone could drop a half-eaten meat pie! I can’t be blamed for my bad table manners, can I?’
 
Such, as I told you, are the old gods!
 
Just by happenstance, it seemed, our God of all, fortuitously one might say, was deep in conversation with His accountant – believe me, they get everywhere – as, lonely and lovely, Chrysaor’s singular star lit the evening air with its dusky glimmer of rare Charity. Little Dog swallowed that piece of pie practically whole and as fast as he could. Water, water and sleep were what he needed now and his tiny, frail-puppy, young and injured body knew that for a fact. He needed to drink and then to sleep.
 
Across the sward, beyond the children’s fixed toys and the lingering scent of meat pie, scattered lights glittered in the brief, still, frost-threatening dusk. The lights of humankind burned bright and beckoning in that cold and icy evening and, for Little Dog, such light represented food and drink and safety and normality and a draughty, cold, but normal for him, barn – in short, everything that he was used to and everything that he knew of. Naturally, he hurpled over the carefully maintained parkland towards the lights.
 
He came across his first pavement, sidewalk, a few minutes after setting out from beneath the swings. He followed its rough smoothness for some tens of yards before encountering the first human whom he had ever met, apart from the man who had brought the limited rations to the barn. He had no reason to distrust. The only human whom he had ever known before had provided food and water. Why should this one not do the same thing?
 
The full-bearded man, standing at the bottom of some steps leading up to a porch on which sat a few other men, was dressed in the strange long shirt and baggy trousers which characterised him as being of middle-eastern extraction. He let the obviously helpless, wounded, injured and crippled puppy get quite near to him before he uttered an imprecation in Arabic and kicked out at it. The man’s steel-toe-capped boot connected with Little Dog’s body quite violently and brutally. The force of the impact broke two of our petit puppy’s ribs and sent him flying some twenty feet into a puddle of muddy wastewater further up the street. Little Dog’s pain was indescribable. He lay in the freezing cold water of that filthy little pool, gasping for breath, for several minutes, listening to the raucous laughter of the other bearded men on the stoop as they applauded the faithful action of their comrade.
 
That was Little Dog’s first, and last, encounter with the big, brave Muslims who live in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and who think, believe, that they ought to rule the world even though everything in their heads is back to front!
 
After many minutes Little Dog hauled himself out of the mud onto the flagstones. His suppurating side hurt like hell, his wounded paw-pad stung to such an extent that he could scarce think of anything else, his broken ribs shot daggers of pain into his tiny little body every time that he drew breath. He was cold, very cold, he was hungry and he was very, very thirsty. He turned, every step an agony, and he lapped at the stinking water of his recent torture pool. He could do nothing other than that to assuage his thirst, whilst the unfeeling laughter of evil, believing men echoed from that nearby stoop.
 
Scarce able to walk Little Dog dragged himself away from the noise of that devil inspired glee. He pulled himself round the nearest corner. Along the deserted residential streets of that town paw-step by paw-step – every step, every gasping, pain-filled step, a condemnation of mankind: a damning indictment of cruelty and indifference and wilful ignorance – that little dog dragged his poor abused body until he could go no further. Eventually, all energy, all will, gone from him, he crawled, exhausted but still trusting and hopeful, through an open gate towards a light in some strange backyard.
 
Little Dog had reached his end. He could not go on for another step. He could do nothing more for himself. At the foot of the steps leading up to the backdoor of the house in that backyard Little Dog gave up: he keeled over and prepared to die in the manner of all animals, everywhere.
 
The Grey Man stood in front of him.
 
“It’s not your time,” the Grey Scythe-man said, gently and in a in a matter of fact tone, to our little dog, “I can’t take you yet, for your job is not done, little one, precious one, and your course is not run. You are still needed here! And you are where you have to be! Be all that you can be!”
 
Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos smiled kindly, but Little Dog understood only one thing: that even Death did not want him. The torture of his excruciating and pain-filled existence was going to continue. He cried inside his head most bitterly and in utter despair – far deeper even than Nabokov’s slight Otchayanie.
 
With that the Grey Man vanished from Little Dog’s sight – just as the backdoor to that house opened and light flooded out from its portal and illuminated the yard and its lines of stiff, frosted, drying washing.
 
An old, large, heavy, loud, tall and badly put together man gangled down the steps. He narrowly missed stepping, fatally, on Little Dog’s tiny head. But Turms, that great Etruscan god, the bringer of dreams amongst other mercurial things, caused Henry Livingston Cholmondeley to look down at the last possible moment, and caused him to avoid crushing our little puppy to death. Henry saw Little Dog and Little Dog saw Henry!
 
And in that instant of seeing love was born.
 
Henry reached down and very, very gently lifted Little Dog into his arms and retraced his steps into the warm and comfortable house, all thoughts of rescuing his rimed washing driven from his head by the desperate condition of the filthy little scrap of life he held against his body – something, in Henry’s opinion, in far more need of being rescued than mere frozen washing.
 
Little Dog was home.
 
***
 
Little Dog and Henry lived on for eighteen years together in great happiness, and the guessed at events in Little Dog’s early life slowly faded from his memory – though he never quite lost his fear of men with long, full beards. He and Henry died together in their sleep in the wee, small hours of the same night on the same warm, large, comfortable bed which they had shared for all of their eighteen years together. Henry called Little Dog ‘Sam-Sam’. I have no idea what Little Dog called Henry – probably he called Henry ‘My Best Friend’ or ‘My Love’, he may, though I hesitate lest I blaspheme, have called him ‘god’ or ‘my saviour’. I don’t know. I do know, however, that I buried them both, beside Henry’s late wife, in the same casket in our English village churchyard – God’s Good Acre – on Friday the thirtieth of January in the year of our Lord 2009, and that they had both lived long and happy lives – hound and master now called home and together for all eternity.
 
In life Little Dog, Sam-Sam I should say, and Henry were inseparable. Henry took care of Sam-Sam in every possible way. I think that our Little Dog found his canine destiny for he always seemed to me to be a happy little dog, and I know that he made the lonely old widower Henry very, very happy. Let us pray for them both!
 
May they both, Sam-Sam and Henry, Rest In Peace and repose in God’s eternal love forever.
 
Oh, and I can tell you that there were many odd looking beings at the funeral, including one, strangely, I thought, who wore sandals – in winter – with what looked liked wings attached to them. But that’s another Sam-Sam story and it’s for another time!
 


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