Here you see the love between two very different creatures: it’s the kind of snuggling that goes on every day in our house where dog and cat share time together, the one patiently absorbing the absolute devotion of the other. Jeoffry adores Barnaby and always has; he took to him immediately when, aged then eight, Barnaby was only seven weeks old himself and a little tiny soul. He wraps himself around Barnaby, paddling away with alternate feet as he once did his mother, drooling with pleasure which turns the end of his nose dark. When Jeoffry came to us as a litle lad, just six weeks old, two cats embraced him: Meryl, the ginger tabby, used to part Jeoffry’s hair and flatten it for him, as he relaxed next to her on the back of the sofa; grey and white Rosie, who generally disliked innovation, accepted him as an addition to the family and looked on proudly as he ranged wider then she ever would have either wanted or indeed dared. Though we’ve lately wondered whether we would like the sweet, chubby labrador I wrote about recently to join our gang, we’ve discounted the idea as he’s not at all good with cats. A widely promulgated stereotype, none of us has any experience of it: obviously a manifestation of contempt for the particular if ever there was one!
All of which makes me ponder on the ways in which families of dogs, cats and humans come and stay together, building a loving bastion which holds and protects us all in mutual joy, without a hint of malice anywhere to be found. As a young, small spaniel I am more likely to be pressed to the ground than my bigger brethren and more than usually aware of how to offer a playful greeting to an as yet unknown friend. Shapes and sizes vary, but we get to recognise them, anticipate their anger and avoid rubbing them up the wrong way, though sometimes it’s impossible, as trouble is simply what some aggressive things want – just like fighters on a Saturday night in the centre of Newcastle! As gundogs, all of us love our humans even more than we love each other; our own kind of humanity and companionship gives us a head start in the family stakes. It doesn’t guarantee an easy ride, though, as is reflected in the story of a rather neglected and irritable golden retriever called Sebastian with whom Uncle Jonny once holidayed and whose unyielding jaws once sank into Uncle Tommy in a terrifying and wholly unprovoked attack. Whenever we hear, as recently happened again, of some brute of a dog savaging someone we know there’s sadness and cruelty in the air, hovering like a miasma over the events, and usually not that far in the past, either. Uncertainties are always a worry. Every Dickens Dog has been true blue, one hundred per cent reliable. Our breeding but more than anything else our puppyhoods and unbringing have been monitored and moulded with care; our humans know us through and through. Until I have known a dog for a very very long time under all kinds of circumstances I would always remain cautious as a little fellow and I’d advise any others thinking of getting a big beast, particularly a guarding type, to be very very careful indeed. When it all goes wrong, it’s ghastly, just ghastly: the wrong dog is brought into the wrong home, with inexperienced and vulnerable people, for all the wrong reasons – if there are reasons at all. I feel so ashamed that dogs and humans can betray both each other and their own kind in such a frightening way.