It’s a dog’s life – but not for our Walter

Column: Human visitors are one thing, but canine intruders are quite another


Last Sunday, my wife decided to pack me, Liam and Walter into the car and head to the beach. Summer was making one of its occasional, fleeting passes through Ireland, and she thought we should take advantage of the sunshine while we could.

“Have you your seat belt on, Granda?” Liam called over his shoulder from the front, as the final check was being made to ensure that he himself was safely strapped in. He relayed my positive answer to his grandmother, who asked if I would “just double-check Walter’s seat belt as well, Granda”.

Upon hearing her voice, Walter looked up from his position beside me on the back seat. First in the direction of my wife, who he adores, and then at me, who he merely loves (albeit a little bit less than he loves Liam and his mother). His look said it all. Walter is accustomed to travelling in the front of the car, and wasn’t too happy about being relegated to the back with me. As he settled down on his blanket, with an air of resignation, I thought of the little strop he had thrown the previous week.

Friends had called to see us with their six-month-old pup, and, to put it at its mildest, Walter did not take kindly to this at all. Human visitors are one thing – he normally loves it when people call – but, as we soon discovered, canine intruders are quite another.

As we watched our visitors alight from their car, my wife and I naively thought that Walter would be delighted to have another pup to play with for a while. After all, he has a friendly greeting for every dog he meets on his daily walks, and here was one being delivered to his door. No such luck. He sulked from when Henry (the pup) arrived until he left.

In fairness, he showed the little creature no aggression, just complete disdain. Every time Henry came near him, Walter would walk off with his head in the air. Eventually tiring of these unrequited approaches, Henry decided to make his own amusement – with Walter’s toys. Occasionally he would stop playing, and help himself to a drink from Walter’s bowl, or to a morsel of his food. If looks could have killed, Henry’s life would have ended that day.

I suppose it didn’t help that we made so much of Henry (he is a beautiful little chap) but we were always careful to ensure that our own pet didn’t feel left out. But that’s not how Walter saw it. Usually so lively and loving, he barely acknowledged the attention we paid him, deigning only to give his tail the smallest, solitary wag in response to our pats and soothing words.

We expected him to revert to his usual self as soon as the visitors left, but that turned out to be wishful thinking. Walter was determined to have his revenge.

I travelled back to Dún Laoghaire on the afternoon of Henry’s visit, so only heard the full story the following evening. To understand the scale of Walter’s retribution, one must appreciate how devoted he is to my wife. She can move nowhere about the house without Walter trooping along behind her, with his little name-tag jangling against his collar signalling their location.

She called his name
When she goes to the bathroom, he sits outside until she reappears. When she goes to the shop, he sits complaining at the front door until she comes back.

Walter always sleeps in a basket in our ground-floor bedroom (where else?). But on the night of Henry’s visit he didn’t. My wife only noticed he was missing when she decided to go to bed, and he didn’t appear beside her as soon as she made the first move to get out of her chair.

She called his name, but no response. After looking around the house for him, she shouted from the bottom of the stairs, and finally heard the familiar jangle of his name tag as he moved across the landing. But he had no intention of coming down. He stopped at the head of the stairs, and looked down at my wife for a few seconds, before tossing his head back and returning to where he had decided to spend the night, curled up outside my son’s bedroom door.

It might just have been coincidence that my son was the only member of the family who wasn’t at home during Henry’s visit. Whatever the reason, Walter didn’t resume normal relations with anyone else in the house until late the next evening.

My reflections on Walter’s tantrum were interrupted by Liam indulging in his latest pastime. He used to look out from the car for cattle, sheep and horses. Nowadays it’s tractors. He can identify them by sight, and not just by colour either, I’ve tested him.

“Everything all right in the back, Granda?” my wife called out. “Everything all right in the back, Granda?” echoed Liam. Walter licked my hand. “All’s good in here,” I answered. “Was that a New Holland that just went past?”

“No, it was a Ford, Granda.”

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