THE animal welfare organisations are indubitably correct, for the most part, when issue their warnings, at this time of the year, that a dog is not just for Christmas.
This is something of a universal truth, allowing the right-thinking who make up the overwhelming majority of the readers of this paper to join together in one of those self-righteous collective agreements currently so fashionable and say it’s just a disgrace, so it is, the way some parents give in to their children’s canine demands at this time of the year when they have neither the space nor the time to adequately take care of a dog given as a Christmas present.
The warning from the DSPCA also causes the righteous to join together to point out the obvious, which is that charming tiny puppies turn into something closer to Shetland ponies, given a little time, and eat you out of house and home.
Acknowledging that, in the main, dogs are not just for Christmas, I have to stand up and claim to have temporary custody of the exception.
Its name is Jack. It is not called Jack, despite the prevalence of this idiotic usage. You cannot have failed to notice news reports about a missing person, or an accused person, “called Joe Bloggs”.
No. He may be called a fool or a knave, but he is named Joe Bloggs, and in similar vein, this seven stone golden retriever of whom I have custody is named Jack.
A good, solid, manly name for a good, solid, manly dog.
Now, I would not make excessive claims on Jack’s behalf. I would not, for example, boast of his brain power.
I could be persuaded to admit that he is maybe not that clever a dog. He is certainly not the rocket scientist of dogs.
His intelligence quotient is small, but he is incomparable when it comes to emotional intelligence.
Once he knows you and has worked out that you are not that incarnation of evil, that embodiment of nastiness; the An Post delivery person, he loves you unconditionally and wants to make your day, every day.
He aches to high-five you, to bring you a cardigan, to lie down close to you. He thinks you are clever, kind, and the best ball thrower in the world, even if you can’t do even the weakest lob.
His IQ and EQ collide when it comes to learning about cats, of which we have two. Ninety percent of the time, Jack thinks cats are the coolest things around. He wants a meaningful relationship with them.
He wants to bond and play with them. He does a weird bounce in front of them, like the dislikeable kid in school, begging for them to be pals.
In response, they arch their backs and hiss. If he bounces too close to them, they swipe at him with open claws, which is about as effective as telling Donald Trump he’s a bit naughty, really.
The cats watch his overtures with Trump’s smirking arrogance and then swan out the cat flap, confident that if he follows them, as he once tried to, he will get stuck and that dogs cannot reverse.
Jack belongs to a relative who has gone away for Christmas and so I’m the rare person who gets to have a dog just for Christmas.
The short spell of engagement is probably good for the two of us, since my anxiety levels are so raised by the responsibility, I might take to the drink were he to be around for even a few weeks longer.
I wouldn’t want to admit anything but it’s our similarities that are the biggest problem. Jack and I love food.
We love nearly all food, with the exception of curry for me (I find I prefer to have conversations without tears rolling down my cheeks) and lemons for Jack (he thinks they’re deformed tennis balls lacking bounce.)
Other than lemons, though, if it’s not nailed to the ceiling, and if it’s edible, as far as he’s concerned, it demands eating right there and then.
So far his score is a bowl of porridge, a Rich Tea cemented with butter to another Rich Tea, a raw chicken breast, a mince pie, a sock and an After Eight, wrapper included.
The ingestion of the sock doesn’t worry me that much because he’s done it before and anyway people always give my husband socks for Christmas.
We’ll be fine.
There have been worrying times, though, unrelated to ingestion.
The first of the truly terrifying moments was when I put his food out and the cats’ food out, all in the kitchen because only one room in a house needs the stench of pet food, and Jack went for the cat food, in a mad impelling roaring rush like a Sherman tank crossed with the Garda band.
Never did two cats scale two spiral staircases faster, even though, in a failed attempt to control Jack, I managed to step on Specs’ paw, eliciting a scream that could be heard even over the bellowing barks.
Nothing I could do would stop Jack laying waste to two envelopes-worth of Whiskas, so then I had to feed the cats in a full gale on the roof of my car with Specs limping ostentatiously in order to make me feel worse than I already felt.
I also had to google to see if cat food would make Jack sick unto death.
While I was googling, he came over, lay down and put his paw on my foot. I didn’t move for hours, lest he get offended.
The major problem, thus far, was at the beginning of Christmas week, the night of the big wind.
When Jack indicated a need to undertake his ablutions, I was afraid that between the wind and him, I would end up face-planted on the driveway.
So I decided to take the advice I had been given, to the effect that I did not have to walk him, restrained on a leash.
I could, instead, release him into the dark, confident that he would return, business completed. He didn’t.
It wasn’t my past life that flashed before me as I drove our neighbours nuts by yelling his name with increasing volume.
It was my future life, as I imagined myself explaining to the dog’s owners how he had met his demise in my care.
I imagined the autopsy, which would certainly reveal the sock, but also, maybe, the After Eight wrapper, so that his owners would know I had been cat melodeon at minding him even before the final tragedy.
After a half an hour of concentrated misery, I spotted a vast white shape bouncing around the back of the house, went out and retrieved him.
I debated giving him a treat from the meagre stash with which I had been supplied, but was afraid he would misinterpret it and think I approved of him letting on to be Dog Whittington.
Being lent a dog for Christmas is an honour, a pleasure and a period of pure terror.