Ode to a Dog (or two)

The wind dances and spins around the house. Inside it is still. Man, boy, dog – all breathing deeply, fast asleep.

Nala snuffles, her back paws twitch slightly and a heavy sigh ripples over her fur. It fills me with deep contentment.

She’s our only dog. She was like my first child and I poured my love all over her soft puppy fur.

She was there on my first date with my husband Joel. We’d met on Dating Buzz and after some chatty emails, which were expressive and most importantly, correctly spelled, (much to my relief after fielding others that were monosyllabic and barely literate) Joel asked if I knew of a dog park.

So we agreed to meet at Emmarentia Dam. One autumn morning at the entrance to the park, I walked towards a stocky, slightly scruffy man and a furry black, tan and white puppy. She bounded over to me and jumped up, her muddy paws on my carefully put together outfit. I wasn’t very impressed. I’ve always been more of a cat person.

Joel and I chatted shyly while Nala bounded ahead, brimming with excitement. Then she disappeared into the bulrushes. We spent ages bundu-bashing through the reeds, calling ‘Nala! Nala!’ But she ignored us. Joel later told me these had been very anxious moments for him. He was sure I’d think she wasn’t even his dog and that he’d borrowed her for the cuteness factor, which might still be true. Finally, she came pushing through the stalks, a happy grin on her pointy face, tongue lolling.

As I fell more in love with Joel (& Nala) I started spending weekends at his place. At night Nala would sleep curled up on the stoep, in a chair right outside our bedroom window. In the mornings Joel would make bacon and eggs and she’d come padding to my side of the bed to greet me excitedly, as though we’d been separated for years.

She was there when we moved to Gardens in Cape Town. Every morning I’d walk her to De Waal Park. She discovered squirrels.

Nala was there when we bought our house in the deep South. She was there when I held the secret possibility of a little life growing inside me. And she was there when we brought Jack home after an emergency run to the hospital following a tricky home birth. (He had a big head.)

Joel carried newborn Jack, fast asleep in the baby seat, out of the car, put him down on the floor and introduced Nala to him. She came tentatively up and sniffed Jack’s little head delicately.

She was there when a marquee was installed in our garden, and friends and family spent days getting the house ready for our wedding day. (But we put her in a doggy hotel for the actual wedding day, as crowds and noise made her nervous.)

She is still here, ten years later. A year ago I noticed a milky white film over her pupils. Two months later, she was blind in both eyes. This was an upsetting time for us. A cataract operation of R 20 000 was not an option. But, being a dog without any drama, she didn’t seem the least bit distressed.

For a while she’d bang into furniture in the house and into obstacles when we went for walks. But now she knows her way around by feel and smell. She still hurtles down the driveway to bark at pedestrians, using the row of lavender bushes to guide her. She follows the sound of my clicking fingers when we walk. And she stops dead in her tracks when I say ‘Careful!’ This gives me time to guide her around whichever obstacle is in her path.

Lately we’ve been talking about getting a second dog for security. Joel said he wouldn’t mind another Border Collie, like Ned, his first dog in Australia. I thought we should support Tears and get a stray. But we hadn’t taken any concrete action until two weeks ago.

A post by a stranger in one of my FB groups caught my eye. She’d gone to the SPCA and had been won over by a stray there who was half Border Collie and half street. His name: Ned.

So we went to visit Ned at the swanky new SPCA building in Grassy Park. He was friendly but not desperate (unlike some of the men on the dating site). He gave us a few polite licks on the hand and then turned his attention to foraging for something delicious in the grass.

We put in our application, waited for the very efficient SPCA wheels to turn and then took Nala to meet Ned. While we waited for him, we asked a bit more about Ned’s provenance (makes him sound like an art work). He was found with another dog. It was assumed that they were from the same home as they both had stitches from a recent sterilization. Guess what names they were given? Ned and Nala.

And now, they are both stretched out on the floor behind the couch where I sit, snuffling and farting (the dogs, not me), like matching black, tan and white jigsaw puzzle pieces. And it feels like Ned has always been here.