In the last year, Liadan Hynes’ marriage fell apart. She is now working on adjusting to the new reality. In her weekly column, Things Fall Apart she is exploring the myriad ways a person can find their way back to themselves.
When I was pregnant with Herself, a kind (and, as it transpired, gifted with foresight) relative, offered to take our cat off our hands. At the time I was most offended. Pre-child, the Kitty, as she was named, was the most beloved of pets, receiver of ridiculous amounts of affection.
Having crept upstairs on her first night, a six-week-old kitten, and mewled pitifully outside our bedroom to be allowed in, she was, to all intents and purposes, given the status of a human family member.
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with my daughter
I waged a one-woman war against the rough neighbourhood cats, engaging in fierce staring battles from the kitchen window with tomcats perched on the garden wall, throwing pints of water at them when I could. I still remember my mother-in-law failing to conceal her laughter as I sobbed hysterically when The Kitty arrived home with the tiniest of cuts. Obviously, the cat took such slavish devotion as her due, tolerating it more than reciprocating.
A cat and a baby
Three days into bringing Herself home, an actual human child as opposed to a feline one, we looked at each other and wondered if it was too late to take the aforementioned-relative up on her kind and percipient offer. It was; she now had cats.
“This is too much,” my ex announced. The Kitty was the most high maintenance of pets. There was the standard awkward cat behaviour. Incessant meowing to be let out, followed almost instantly by incessant meowing to be allowed back in. You can’t leave a baby alone with a cat for one second, especially one given to fiercely guarding her territory. An ex-boyfriend visited for dinner one night and she spent the night harassing him with her claws, pretending it was play.
But there was worse. Much worse. A malfunctioning anal gland situation I won’t go into; Google it if you want to truly horrify yourself.
None of this left me with a huge desire for another pet. A small toddler was enough.
When things fall apart
Last year, the suggestion of taking on anything as in need of looking-after as an animal would have seemed unthinkable. When you are in a life crisis, you expend much of your time and all of your energy in the effort of just keeping the show on the road. The show being working, parenting, seeing good friends. The bare minimum necessities and the stuff that keeps you going. There is no room for extras.
In the last few months though, the idea had started to percolate. I am a cat person through and through. But maybe… a dog?
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I realised that pretending to like friends’ dogs had led to me actually liking dogs.
We holidayed with cousins, and their dog, Buster, a champion amongst dogs, won all our hearts. I interviewed a couple whose daughter is not well, and at the heart of the family was their dog, who sat by my side for the entire evening as we talked, almost purring with pleasure at his head being stroked. Very calming.
Adopting a dog
And so we go to the Dog’s Trust, and sit and listen as the nice man explains the process. Tells us about dogs. “So they’re needy, essentially?” I say, and he looks both hurt and horrified. I instantly backpedal. “As in they need you. In a way cats don’t.” Aldi has dog beds at the moment I point out, as he lists off the basics we will need. I presume they’re all much the same? The nice man from the Trust looks at me sternly, and I can see him reconsidering whether to allow one of their charges to go to such dog novices.
And for the first time, I think, maybe I might be a dog person? Which is a roundabout way of saying you never know the unimaginable ways in which life will change you, and that while it may not feel like it in the middle of it, afterwards there might be some, several even, benefits.
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And so begins several weeks of checking the Dogs Trust website for new arrivals, reading the letter attached to each dog, a sort of canine dating service. It quickly begins to feel more like embarking on a toxic relationship with someone not even bothering to conceal their own behavioural flaws. Buddy prefers quiet homes with no visitors. Chase likes lots of cuddles, but no loud noises. Dolly needs the company of other dogs, prefers only adult company.
And people say cats are high maintenance, I wonder.
“I think what you need is a pup,” my new friend Sinead from the Trust tells me. “I have the very thing.” They’ve had a batch of Saluki Terriers, I tell the Work Wife, suddenly an expert on this brand. Breed. “You mean litter,” she says, with an eye roll whose subtext is “what are you doing?”
And so we go to meet her. Roxy.
Herself originally wanted to call our dog Gabrielle, from her child’s Coco Chanel book. Until I was dissuaded otherwise, The Kitty was to be Miu Miu. I can relate. And then we meet her, and she is very much a Roxy. Shy, but quickly very curious.
“Do you want to pick her up?”, the woman says. I’ve never held a dog before but Herself is watching so I give it a go.
“She’s the size of a cat”, I say, forcing things into to the feline familiar. “We’ve no idea what size she’ll get to; Saluki, or Terrier size,” they say. It’s all completely unfamiliar, and hugely exiting.
Herself is thrilled. They’re lazy dogs, they tell us. They like to cuddle and be cosy. That seals it. Herself is a cosy girl. Ours is a cosy home.
We’ll take her, we say.