I have to admit I’m not a dog lover. When I’m out walking, I meet people with dogs, and I know those doting owners want me to admire their pooch and pet it. I just can’t.
It was during lockdown when I noticed, while eating breakfast in my kitchen, a woman walking by with a cute little dog. Don’t ask me the breed.
In the evening, when I was preparing dinner, she walked by again. She must be a new neighbour. I remembered a removal van passing by a few days ago so curiosity, or just plain nosiness, drove me to begin my daily walk via the house in the cul-de-sac that had been empty. The elderly gentleman, George, had died and his relatives had put the property on the market. The windows had peered blankly into the street for months. Today they were adorned with pretty curtains, and the For Sale board had SOLD diagonally across it. The mystery was solved.
I could tell the time from the woman’s to-ings and fro-ings. She never had anyone else with her. She was late forties, petite, with shoulder length brown hair. It worried me she might be lonely having moved into a new neighbourhood, knowing no-one. Tomorrow morning, I would go for an early morning walk and just happen to come out of my house as she approached. Then we would have to say hello.
‘Good morning,’ I said. ‘Isn’t it lovely to see the sun, even if it is chilly. I’m Jean.
‘Hello Jean. It’s good to meet a neighbour. I’m Pam, Pam Frobisher. I recently moved into number 25.’
It felt wonderful to be speaking to someone after so much isolation. Who was I kidding when I worried Pam might be lonely? I was lonely. I took a deep breath and said, ‘What’s your dog called?’ My eyes were on the dog who dutifully wagged its tail.
‘K-9, you know, like in that old film. It’s spelt with a K.’
I bent down and actually touched the fluffy head. ‘Well K-9 with a name like that I’d expect you to be baring huge fangs, but you seem very gentle.’ I’d done the right thing. Pam was smiling and we agreed to walk together.
After that morning we walked together every day and we became friends. When the lockdown eased, I invited her and K-9 into my house for coffee. (Me inviting a dog into my home!)
Pam reciprocated. Her home was ultra-feminine with frilly curtains, pink upholstery and lots of ornaments. It was a complete contrast to my eminently practical home. We discovered more about each other and enjoyed the fact we were different in age and life experiences.
One morning, a few months after our first encounter, Pam was not there when I left the house for our walk. I hesitated, not sure whether to ring her or go and knock on her door. I chose the former and the phone rang for a long time before it was answered.
‘I’m really sorry, Jean,’ said Pam. ‘I’ve got some sickness bug and don’t feel well enough to walk anywhere today. Would you take K-9 out for me?’
I was at her house in two minutes unable to believe what I had just agreed to do. What if it needed a poo? I’d have to clear it up with my hand in a plastic bag. My stomach turned over just thinking about it.
I collected K-9 and my worst fear was realised. When he had finished, he turned around and ineffectually attempted to cover it by scraping his back paws on the grass. He obviously felt greatly relieved, dancing around with delight while I stood looking at the warm, brown heap. I just had to do it. Thrusting my hand into a bag, I scraped the offensive pile into it and then carried it at arm’s length until I got to a bin. The rest of the walk was uneventful, but I noticed other dog walkers nodded at me as we circumvented each other. It seemed I had joined some kind of doggy walker club.
That evening I took K-9 out again, had nothing to clear up and went to return him. Pam opened the door looking very pale.
‘Oh dear,’ I said as I saw her holding onto the door jamb as if she might fall without it. ‘You don’t look well at all. Would you like me to look after him for a day or two?’
‘Would you? I’d be grateful. I’ll fetch his bowls and food. Come in a minute.’
I hovered in the hallway still holding K-9 on the lead. After a few minutes Pam came from the kitchen and gave me a bag. ‘Here’s some food and two bowls, one for water. He eats one meal a day when you eat yours, about six.’
I rang Pam every day to see how she was and offered to get any groceries she might need. In the evenings, when settling down to watch television, K-9 would snuggle onto my lap. I’d stroke his soft fur and even talk to him. His body was warm and comforting.
After a week Pam had completely recovered from her illness so I took K-9 to his own home. I walked back alone feeling something was missing. As I entered my house it felt empty, lifeless. I knew I’d really miss him.