A boy and his dog

I don’t recall what age I was exactly, and I’m not sure where the picture was taken (My Uncle Bill took it) but this picture of me and ‘my dog’ on the bridge on the approaches to Lindisfarne on the Holy Isle in Nothumberland is about so much more than the fleeting moment it captures.

My parents got our dog, my dog, shortly before I was born. Sintra, named after a district in Lisbon, Portugal, was my companion for 13 years. We played together, ran in parks, splashed and paddled in lochs, rivers and burns, and even survived the noisy, wailing, curious little thing my Mum brought home from the hospital one day.

It’s an odd thing, the bond between a dog and its owners, and especially between a dog and a boy. Difficult to explain to anyone who has never had a dog, but akin to a brotherhood (despite the fact Sintra was a lady) and made all the stronger because essentially we grew up together, sharing the trials and tribulations of childhood; The great lipstick cookie experiment, or the shared disgrace of traipsing mud through the house (again). When we were both young we shared many characteristics, curious to a fault, easily excitable and loved having our tummies tickled. Actually, come to think of it, not much has changed for me… I digress.

For us Sintra was part of the family, and so we accommodated and compromised where required, putting up with that wet dog smell when she’d gone for a swim, holidays confined to the UK, or taking her for a walk in the rain, none were a hardship as she was always bounding around like a puppy at the excitement of it all, especially the intoxicating mystery that was “going for a W-A-L-K”. She was someone to race round the garden, someone to play football with, and someone to hug and talk to when you’d been bad. She was a great listener and she didn’t even mind if you ate her dog biscuits.

Ahhh memories of autumn walks in the surrounding hills, the leaves clinging to branches, the wind refreshing never cold, and a golden coated retriever bounding ahead, disappearing round the corner of the path to a chorus of frantic cries “Get back here!”, then reappearing from behind us only to stop suddenly to check out something VERY interesting under that old rotting log.

She was no angel, frequently sneaking cakes and biscuits off the coffee table when she thought no-one was looking, and as she grew gracefully older lost her exuberance but gained so much character. She was a wise old lady who knew what she wanted out of life and it certainly wasn’t to hare off chasing a stick, no matter how much coaxing the person who threw it gave her. No, she liked a walk, a paddle, and a lie-down. A simple life. A dog’s life indeed. She always knew when to leave you alone, and when to wander over and bump her nose into your lap, looking up at you as if to say “it’s OK, we’ll get through it”.

She was part of the family, there is no doubt about that, and I probably see my relation with her through fairly thick rose coloured spectacles but she is remembered fondly and often missed.

So, to the person that said: “You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your relatives” I offer this:

“Acquiring a dog may be the only time a person gets to choose a relative.”