Last Saturday marked two years since Porridge the lurcher came to live at Sunnyside Cottage.
By now he has become part of the furniture (often, in fact, quite difficult to prise off it), and we’ve got fairly well used to each other’s traits. A sensitive soul, in his way, easily bruised by a hard word; well-mannered with other people but fundamentally a one-man dog. Imperfect as his master.
Before GRACE Greyhound Rescue fished him out of a back yard in Teesside – and a kind foster family then spent months building up his weight and confidence – Porridge was a hare courser and career poacher. I have learned that, while you can teach an old dog new tricks, you can’t un-teach him old tricks. He has an internal murder switch that has occasionally got us both into trouble, but far be it from me to criticize an all-or-nothing approach to life and death. Like many rescue dogs (though not my last one), his past was rough and hungry, and his relish in his present is infectious.
One of the best things about dogs is that they live completely in the moment, and they invite you to do the same. If dogs had phones, they would never check them, never be half elsewhere as we so often are. In the early morning dark, when I pad downstairs and sit on the sofa with a book and a pot of coffee, Porridge curls into the hollow under my arm, long neck and frosty muzzle flopped across me like a dead goose, luxuriating in the simple but profound happiness of having a friend.
It reminds me of little Charlie, my old poodle, snoozing on the windowsill, occasionally getting up to drag his cushion back into the moving patch of sunshine then collapsing onto it again as if all his bones had turned to string. No past or future, just a deep, warm pool of present pleasure.
I read a post recently from vet Danny Chambers, who once did a bit of locum work at our local clinic. He’d asked a load of other vets for tips on how you could try and make your dog live as long as Bobi, the world’s oldest dog (allegedly at least – there has been some scepticism about a conveniently unproven lifespan of around 200 dog years). Worth a read, if you haven’t seen it. Lots of good advice, like never naming your dog Lucky and paying attention to weight, diet, teeth etc. But my favourite point was the last one: ‘it’s hugely important to remember that dogs don’t have any ambition to live a long life – they just want to be happy day by day.’
I never know how long Porridge and I will have together. His sleek condition and long-limbed athleticism conceal a ropey heart for which he takes pills twice a day, and his irises are awash with dark little globes, benign cysts that are beginning to interfere with his vision (not the worst news for the local cat population). Last Christmas, during a small operation to remove some lumps and a broken tooth, he gave everyone a fright by attempting to peg out under general anaesthetic. There is the possibility that he may not make old bones – but then again, since no-one really knows how old he is, perhaps he already has.
Whatever the case, for now his strength and stamina are still keen. He still bounces up out of his daydreams at the jingle of his collar and lead, even if I have to stand by the back door and shout ‘breakfast!’ to get him to go out for a slash before bed.
Like most hunters, his favourite terrain is where one kind of landscape becomes another – the field boundaries, hedgerows and wood edges where barn owls skim the fence posts and shell casings lie in the brambles. Disloyal friend that I am, I try not to let him kill things anymore, but murder remains eternally in his murmuring heart. His ears – several sizes too big for the rest of him – prick up, his shoulders square, his haunches drop and I wind the lead around my hand in preparation for the 18-kilo death rocket that is about to go off when a deer or squirrel breaks cover.
With all dogs, but particularly older ones, what you have is now. You can plan for the future but there’s no point dwelling on it, and there’s something quite freeing about that – in wider life too. I am not a worrier, but I am a little bit of a Gatsby, often tacking upwind in pursuit of some unreachable dream or other, too fixated on whatever comes next. My long-nosed mate tethers me to the ticking seconds, at least for a while. Looking down into the valley as dusk and fog close in, Porridge leaning into my knee in that way sighthounds do, the rest of the world recedes and I’m nowhere else but there.