Can’t Explain

We ended up dogsitting for an older friend of ours that had to go medical, off island. A long-ish treatment. She’s a widow, and the dog is her husband’s old hunting dog. When we arrived I thought it was a death watch. Not that his mistress is unkind or mistreats him in any way – she had gone to the trouble of getting us in dog-sit, and provides for him in every way… but, well dogs are not politically correct. And no one had told Bert he wasn’t allowed to be a man’s dog. He spent our entire time there basically on my feet. I pampered him, and fussed him a lot. He put on a bit of condition, and when his mistress came home… (and he was pleased to see her) I was left at the gate saying ‘see you in heaven, someday, Bert.’ It nearly broke my heart. Because you can’t explain.

Well, as medical things go, we got asked to come back. Now, we’d increased his food, added breakfast, added soft food, and his mistress had gone on with that, and while he was still on God’s doorstep, he was one step further down – and pleased to see me. After we’d been there a while, a couple of days before we were due to leave again, I decided his condition was good enough for a short walk. I don’t know, I thought he might enjoy it, and I desperately wanted to do something nice for the old boy. The lead was next to the door, and bit rusty. His mistress certainly hadn’t been up to walking him for quite some time.

His… unbelief, when took down the lead was palpable. But he was very old, skinny and fragile, and I decided what the hell, he might as well have a last walk. I wasn’t expecting to walk very far. He’d seemed pleased to have lead put on. It was a very gentle walk, on a lead, but you could see getting out was life and breath to the old boy. He irrigated the fences and posts as good boy-dog needs to. We walked a little further than I planned, maybe 500 yards, because he literally seemed to revive at the sight of the beach. He seemed… well, almost unbelieving.

We went for a number of walks, after that. You could see his mind-set change from ‘I can’t believe this’ to ‘Oh this is the bestest!’ It broke my heart even more to take him for that last walk. The squalls of rain on my face were a good thing. Because you can’t explain.

Anyway, I asked his mistress if I could… borrow him for an occasional walk. I could not just walk away. She was more than happy with that idea. So: when I went into town, a few days later I went around. He was very pleased to see me, and when I went got his lead – well, he was like a squeaky toy. Big old dog squeaking with excitement. Hard to get the lead on because he was unable to stay still. He’s a very good boy. Doesn’t jump up, well-mannered etc. Well…

We got out the gate, and a little down the path, and it just got too much for him. He leaned against me, and then jumped up. He desperately wanted to lick my face… and then realized what a bad boy he was being, but, but, but he had MISSED me. I gave him a big cuddle ,silly old boy and we walked on. The beach was empty, and honestly he’d lifted me, but I was battling. Council had set a deadline to demolish our home, if we didn’t comply with a load of paperwork (long story, I believe we’re in the right, but… I am just a poor little battler, and they have the entire state machinery, and the taxpayers to fund them. I wasn’t in a hell of a good position to fight – they offered me this alternative… and then kept moving the goalposts. They’d take 6 months to do something… and it would be my fault. And then they set a deadline, which post-covid was near impossible to get the ‘credentialled’ experts to do. Well, we’d sort of managed… except for two documents. Both of which THEY needed to process. Both of which they have time-frames in which they have to do them… But rules are for little people. I’d done everything I could, friends had stepped in to do yet more… and they were simply going to not do their bit so the deadline would elapse.

Standing on the beach… well, I took a deep breath of salt air, and thought well, he might not come back, something might go wrong… but I might not be here, and well, he IS old. He might not either. So, I took his lead off… it was a bit like that first walk… “I am free?’ REALLY? And then he actually managed a little run and smell and check back on me, and run… and just shake himself with delight. He came back often and I didn’t let it go too long.

I keep coming back and taking him to the beach. He’s got that now. I don’t have to explain. I am, I think, by one old dog, a very loved man. He can’t explain either, but he gets quite overwhelmed by seeing me. He desperately wants to lick me (which he has plainly taught not to do, because he looks so guilty it makes me laugh) and will come and nibble at my hand (also plainly not allowed) … and squeak. And if I should meet anyone on the way, he’s not interested. Will I please get on. We need to get to the beach. This last time… well the dog from death’s door was chasing seagulls, and running further than his first walk… and went swimming twice. The first time was very like the first time off the lead or first walk ‘I used to this…’ The second… I’ve run, I am hot I am swimming, yay. Watch it seagull. don’t cheek me.

We’re old. There are probably not many more runs in Bert. I’ve got not a reprieve (heaven forbid they admit it was their fault -no, it must be me being evil, wicked and despicable) but a stay of execution for three months. They still haven’t done their bit, but I can chase the other goal-post moves (All of which are pointless paper-pushing of no relevance to the situation, really. But hard and expensive) and fight on. I can’t explain to Bert, but I can make his day, and his delight in it, make mine. His life has meaning again, he’s not just waiting for dinner and the rainbow-bridge.

Tolkien was right: the war is fought and won, one strand of darkness at a time, not by great people but by little deeds. When I go to help someone at midnight because someone needs to take on volunteering for the ambulance service or we don’t have one. When I write: I can’t always explain what I mean in my books and stories. But I can let readers slip the leash for a little while.

35 thoughts on “Can’t Explain

  1. Almost made me cry. Humans and dogs have been shaping each other’s evolution for thousands of years.

  2. At some, hopefully far future, time when you and Bert have shuffled off that mortal coil, I hope our Good Lord sees fit to assign the two of youse to set to rights those miserable council critters who He has turned into seagulls. Dirty, fish guts eating seagulls with wings that barely keep them out of Bert’s reach.

  3. When we do good for others, it helps us too. And you are right, little deeds count a lot. Give Bert a pet for me, and I’m praying for you to succeed in this ongoing struggle.

  4. Never. Stop. Fighting. You may go down, but you would have gone down anyway, and maybe, just maybe, you either win, or you take a few more of the bastages with you and the next guy wins.

    1. Yeah co-operating in the first place was a mistake. They got me in the midst of B’s bowel cancer issue so I was not at my strongest. But really if they set out to prove themselves untrustworthy, well, I think they have succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations.

  5. Dang, Dave, the dust wasn’t due in until Wednesday.
    One battle at a time, one book at a time, one walk at a time, so the dark is held back for a day, a week, a month, a lifetime.

  6. You’ve been very good for (and to) Bert, and I think he’s been good for you. There’s nothing like love to remind us of what’s truly important, and the love of a dog is about as pure as it gets. Giving pleasure to an old dog is never a waste of time.

  7. Bravo, I do look forward to your Bert posts. Never give up fighting those folks, you can win.

  8. Bravo, Dave! The boys at the Alamo didn’t win either…but their fight saved Texas. You don’t know what good you may be doing by fighting these people. If nothing else, you made it harder for them to continue their evil. PLEASE scratch Bert behind the ears for me!

  9. Thank you, Dave, for your poignant piece, and for nurturing sweet Bert. You Da Man and he Da Dog. Cheers.

  10. OLD DOG

    Bert was a dog. He was an old dog. For a long time, he had had only enough energy to lie in the sunshine, or take an occasional toddle around the yard.
    He could remember better days. Back when his man would tell him, “Come on, Bert. Time to go hunting.” Then the two of them would go out into the woods, where there would be smells, and noises, and he could run. So far, and so fast. He was a big help, while hunting, and he was proud of that.
    Now the man was gone. The man had been gone a long time, and Bert missed him.
    He still had his lady, who tried her best, but she was tired, too. She could not take him on long walks, and definitely could not take him hunting into the woods.
    She missed the man, too, and would often scratch Bert’s ears as they sat together in the evenings, and tell him What a Good Dog he was. She’d look up from her reading and chuckle a bit at his snoring, then give him a treat. Then she’d sit and talk about the man, and all the things they used to do.
    The dog would perk up his ears and listen. It was pleasant to hear her voice.
    He would go on sleeping in the sunshine. Somewhere in front of him, he sensed a bridge, a doorway in a wall, that he would have to go through someday. He was in no hurry to get to that doorway, but it wasn’t a bad thing, either. And the time would come soon when he had no choice.
    He sensed that the man would be waiting for him on the other side of that wall, and he was tired, so very tired. When the time came, he would welcome it.
    One day, his Lady left, and a new lady and man came to take care of him for a while. This was not his man, but he had similar outdoor smells, and Bert would sit at his feet, remembering the things he and his man used to do. He’d stare adoringly at the man, so glad to have a Man back again, even if it wasn’t the right man.
    In turn, the man scratched his ears, and talked to him, and rubbed him the way an old dog liked to be rubbed. And he started feeling better. The Wall and the Door were still there, but not as overwhelmingly close as they had been.
    There was more food, for one thing. And better food. Not that Bert had been going hungry. But he was a dog. You put food, or even some food-like substance in front of him, he’d eat. He wasn’t a puppy to go chewing on everything he could get his teeth into. Though he wouldn’t turn down a good chew now and then.
    One day, the new man pulled out the leash, and called to him. “Want to go for a walk, Buddy?”
    Bert stared at the leash. It had been so long, so long, since he’d been on the leash, and out of his yard. He scarcely remembered it.
    But that had been something he had once liked to do. Back when he had been younger and stronger. Back when his man was around to care for him. Back before his lady got so sick.
    He let the new man put the leash on his collar, and followed him down the path, and through the gate. It was like a whole new world out here. He lifted his head, and sniffed. So many smells! He started following the new man down the street, stopping at the mailboxes to sniff who had been there. He didn’t know most of the dogs he could smell, of course, but that didn’t matter.
    He left his own calling cards there, so that any future dogs pausing to sniff the mailboxes would know that he, Bert, had gotten out of his yard at last, and had been there.
    The man was slowing down, and talking about heading back home, when Bert caught whiff of the beach and the ocean, and started pulling on the leash. Good dogs didn’t pull on the leash, but he couldn’t help it. The beach called to him. The man relented, and took him to the beach. They both walked around it a bit, Bert stopping to sniff all the things. Then he was tired, and ready to go home.
    He slept very well that night.
    A few days later, the new man took Bert out again. He Was ready for it this time, and able to go faster, while still taking time to enjoy all the smells.
    Every few days the man took Bert out, a little further each time.
    And one day, when they reached the beach, the man snapped the leash off the collar, and said, “Hey, Bert! Go run!”
    Burt looked at him, and looked at the beach, and took a few tentative steps, then a few more, then started running. He ran away, then back, to the man, and did it again, always coming when the man whistled. Then he ran down to the edge of the water, and stopped, not sure what to do, until a wave hit him. Then he was in the water, out of the water, running back and forth, and swimming, until the man called him, and took him back home.
    He slept well that night, too.

    They kept going to the beach, and Bert kept feeling better. He would wiggle impatiently when the man pulled out the leash, until the man spoke sternly to him to stop, so he could get the leash on.
    Bert jumped on the man and tried licking his face, then remembered that Good Dogs don’t do that, so he leaned on him and wiggled instead. But the man wasn’t mad, he laughed and gave Bert a good rub and told him how good he was. Bert tended to forget he wasn’t a puppy, and tried eating the man’s fingers. He just loved him that much. The man rubbed Burt’s ears, and kept taking him for walks.
    One day, Bert’s own lady came back. He wiggled his excitement to see her again, but was sad that it meant his new man left with the new lady. Bert thought that this meant that the walks were over.
    But they weren’t. His lady wasn’t up to taking him, but the new man kept coming back and letting him run along the beach. Bert always wiggled with excitement when he saw him again.

    The wall and door were still there, but much farther away now, and if dogs could think such things, he’d think that the man, his own man, who he missed so much, was on the other side of the wall, smiling.
    One day he would have to cross that wall, and be with his own man forever. And he would be glad.
    But today, Bert was going to run along the beach, and bark at the seagulls.

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