Dora is a Jack Russell Terrier, and belongs to Ellie and Jess. Stevie came home after work one day, soaking wet, absolutely shattered, covered in soot, and said, ‘Oh yeah, by the way. We’re getting a puppy.’
‘Oh,’ I said. ‘When?’
‘Just been born.’
I boggled. It was Octoberish, which meant we’d have the puppy for mid-December. Nightmare. Especially as Stevie added it could be the children’s dog. Exactly what no child should ever have for Christmas.
Worse was to come. ‘What is it?’ I asked.
God. I had immediate images of bristly malevolence and snapping teeth and peeing up trouser legs. By now, Stevie had stripped his clothes off in the kitchen. It’s hard to get cross with a tired man in underpants.
The children were ecstatic, and only Archie (our German Shepherd) and I were grumpy.
But when Dora came to live with us, we all fell head-over-heels, probably Archie and I the hardest. She was about the size of a guinea-pig, and was so sweet and merry she enslaved all of us. Her legs were tiny, and on walks Stevie would put her in the pocket of his wax jacket, or she’d demand I carry her under my arm. She once spent the day at a CLA Game Fair carried around in a hessian shopper, and earned the nick-name ‘The Dor-Bag’.
Archie was given new life. He was six when Dora came, but already showing signs of suffering from an illness he was diagnosed with at two. We’re completely convinced that it was Dora that helped Archie on and reach nearly nine.
As I type this, Dora is curled up on my chair behind my back. She’s still quite tiny (about the size of a rabbit), and the new puppy, Arfa, keeps trying to pull her down. She rumbles with continuous growls, like an old kettle coming up to the boil.
She doesn’t really behave like a Terrier, and we think it might be because she considers herself a German Shepherd. She’s not at all interested in going down rabbit holes, although she will chase rabbits. Considering she’s of working stock (hence her docked tail), she’s completely rubbish at ratting. We have the odd rat sneak over into our chickarockers, and Dora will just watch from the French windows, with a sort of detached fascination.
Her favourite thing is to be babied by the daughters. When Dora was a puppy and the children younger, they would put her in a tutu and wrap her in a blanket, wheel her around in a pram. Now, aged 9 and 7, if the children are tired or angry or tearful, Dora is the first one there, burrowing into their raised knees, licking their hidden faces until they smile and cuddle her.
Dora has a terribly cavalier attitude towards traffic. She recently shot out of the cricket field and cavorted up the Banbury Lane. Ellie and I froze in horror, as three cars beeped and screeched behind the hedge. We stood open-mouthed, terrified, me thinking desperately how to stop El seeing Dora’s poor squashed body.
But then a horn beeped again, and Dora nipped through the hedge, unharmed, full of perky jack-ratty insouciance. Ellie burst into tears and I shouted ‘Come ‘ere you f*ing dog’.
I’d make a crackingly fine fish-wife. Two of the cars had stopped and I could hear the whine of gears meshing to reverse. Please God let none of them be in the ditch.
I jumped the hedge into the next field down, where I could get to the lane, and floundered through the deepest plough ruts known to man. I had to grab Dora before she made a second pass. She ran out of reach, laughing, and I swore again, red in the face, spitting with embarrassment; rage and fear making me shrill. Ellie was sobbing by now, and I shouted to pack it in, it’s not bloody helping.
The next moment I heard a voice. ‘Carlie? Carlie, hullo? Is that you? Is everything all right?’
Shame, shame. One of the cars was a little Audi TT, belonging to Dr. Nicely-Tightly, an attractive local GP. He had his window down and his daughter in the seat next to him, and must have heard everything. He reversed until we faced each other over an open gateway, and I waved weakly. He seemed to double-take, as if stunned by the sight of a mad scarlet-faced woman screeching (and now slightly snivelling) in a field. He always looks so very neatly pressed. He blinks.
I blush. There’s mud up my legs and hawthorn twigs in my hair.
‘Sorry,’ I manage. ‘I’m so…sorry.’
‘As long as you’re okay-‘
Dora, little rat, wriggles back through the hedge and trots briskly home. Ellie and I wave the doctor off, calling thank you, thank you for not squashing her, sorry, so sorry for you all being nearly ditched.
‘That bloody dog,’ Ellie says, as we trail up the field. ‘But, Mummy. It’s true. That you only realise how much you love someone.’
‘When?’ I snarl.
She puts her hand in mine. ‘When they’re very nearly properly dead.’
I scoop her up and give her a kiss.
‘You’re right,’ I say. ‘I do love her. And you. Sorry I shouted at you for crying.’
‘That’s okay, Mummy. Anyway. You were crying too.’
I’ve written this for all those people who keep asking me to write more about Dora – my constant walking, writing and driving companion. She’s bugging me for a walk RIGHT NOW!