East End Memories

MY DOGS

During one shopping expedition to the Club Row Market, my mother suggested something different. She told my father that since I was the child and not him, perhaps it might be nice if I were allowed to choose our latest dog. She reasoned that since I was now getting older, it would not hurt me to start to take some responsibility and start to learn how to take care of a dog. Although my father agreed, I could tell that he was not totally agreeable to the suggestion. He still retained many youthful characteristics and wanting his dog was one of them. However, since I showed excitement, and clearly wanted a dog of my own and would have promised anything to get one, he could do nothing else but agree. Anyway, my mother had made up her mind and was determined about whose dog it was going to be. It must have been a disappointment to him not to choose the dog, but when my mother stood a stand, one just had to accept it. I think that he did sulk a little for the rest of the day. My father was apt to sulk when he did not get his own way and I am sure that my mother paid for this insult at a later time!

   

I remember going from stall to stall that day looking for the dog. My father’s mood did not allow him to enjoy meeting the dogs as it normally did. However, in spite of his mood, he still managed to become the centre of attention of all dogs once he came to their stall. Somewhat tragically, no dog seemed interested in me. Eventually we came to a stall and there in a corner sat the tiniest black puppy with the saddest eyes. The dog had a melancholy look about it. I liked the dog instantly despite his lack of interest in me, my father or his surroundings. I am sure that my attraction to this puppy was solidified since he was not bowled over by my father’s apparent animal magnetism, which was so potent to other dogs. Obviously the puppy’s demeanour must have told both my mother and father something that I was too young to appreciate, since they immediately tried to persuade me away from this poor creature. However, the more I stroked the puppy, I more I liked him. Once he looked at me with those sad exhausted eyes and I was lost. I begged my mother to buy the puppy for me. Even the vendor tried to persuade me away from the puppy, which again should have told me something. But instead, I pleaded and I begged for that dog and made wild and outrageous promises if they would agree.

In desperation, I looked to my father to be an ally in my quest to be allowed to take the puppy home. I turned to him and pleaded with him to say that he liked my dog and that he thought that he was alright. Normally, one could count on my father to misrepresent the truth, however, now he went against type and chose to tell the truth! He said that he liked all dogs, even this one. My mother was angry at his answer as this was like giving the puppy the good seal of housekeeping guarantee. Although I loved my mother, she was no expert on dogs and so her opinion on the puppy mattered little. My father was the one that dogs loved and so his opinion was all important. Tragically, he ought to have said no, he did not think the poor puppy would be a suitable pet for me and then explained why. Had he done this, he would have saved us all much pain. But since he liked dogs – all dogs – for once in his life he decided to tell the truth and not think of the consequences!

My mother tried another approach to get me to turn away from that puppy. She told me that he would need a lot of care and it would be down to me to give it. If I were allowed to have the puppy, then I would be responsible for walking him every day and twice at weekends – naturally, I was too young to go alone, but she did not say that. I would also be responsible for filling his bowls with food and water each day and for seeing that they were kept clean. I was not to chase him since he was smaller than me or play rough as he might get hurt. Finally, she said that if the puppy messed where he should not mess, I was to clean it up – she actually did not mean this, but said it obviously in a final attempt to persuade me away from the poor creature. Her ploy did not work. I eagerly gave her yes’s to all of her questions. By then, I would have said yes to anything.

I wanted that puppy. He was the one – no other. At last my mother realized that nothing was going to change my mind. And so she opened her purse and took out the dollar and handed it to the vendor, but strangely enough, he did not take the money. Again, this should have told me that something was not quite right with my dog. The vendor said that if I wanted the dog, then I could have him gratis. At that, he grabbed at the poor creature and pulled it by the front paws out of his corner. The puppy now looked even more unhappy and helpless, as he slide across the straw and out into the world. The vendor now picked up that tried pathetic little puppy by the scruff of his neck and swung him into my waiting arms. I was amused when I saw the tiny little tail of my dog curled firmly between his hind legs. As you can tell, this was my first dog!

I received the poor puppy in my arms and held it close to me. I remember feeling his amazingly rapid heat beat through his thin body. One could almost see his ribs sticking through the thin skin and fur. Still, at that time, nothing bothered me about my dog. He was going to be safe with me or so I thought. I imagined myself running through a field of tall grass with my dog close by. Yes, we were going to be a happy pair!

The puppy lay motionless in my arms. Now that I had found him, I was ready to go home. However, my father wanted to have a drink and so we went to a nearby pub. My mother remembered this area from when she was a child. In those days, this area of Bethnal Green was a lot rougher than it was when I was a child. Sadly, her memories were still fresh in her mind and she was none too pleased to be required to go into one of those horrible places, as she called the public houses at the north end of Bethnal Green Road.

I remember that poor little puppy did not move once during our walk home. I would stop at times to stroke it, but the poor thing just slept and did not respond. When he was put on the ground, he just sat still with his head bowed and did not move. No amount of encouragement would induce him to stand and try walking. Once home, the puppy, like all our other dogs before him, was not allowed to come upstairs into our living area since he was to be a working dog and not some useless, spoilt house flannel of a dog, as my father put it. I took the little dog into the bake house where he was given some food and water. The poor thing had insufficient energy to lap the water or chew the food. It obviously took all of his energy to push himself up on all fours and take one lap of water. I remember him standing there as if frozen to the spot and then seeing his little legs collapse under him. I tried helping him by lifting him to his feet and bringing him closer to the bowls. Although he tried once more to lap some more water, he could not. I had no more success in getting him to attempt a mouthful of food. Obviously, even with my help, it must have taken a tremendous effort for him to stand as, each time he tried, he was rewarded by his legs collapsing under him.

My father said that the dog was a dud! My mother was annoyed with him for making such a cruel remark and said that the poor thing was ill. I was very concerned. My first dog – a dud! My first dog – ill! My mother saw my concern. She told my father to be quiet and gave him one of her looks, which told him to say no more in front of me. Somehow my mother managed to get the poor puppy to take a little more water and a few nibbles of food. She did this by putting some water on her finger and he licked it dry. She did the same with a morsel of food. I began to feel better. A little later, the puppy was lying down on his own little bed made from some old flour bags by my father. He had warmed up a bit by now to my dog and said that the flour bags should be kept on the ground since he was far too small to climb up to or get down from the throne at present. He did say that once the puppy was older then he would move his bed up into the throne area. I was beginning to feel very much better by now. Things were looking up for my dog and me.

 

I wanted to sleep in the bake house, as although I was feeling better, I was still very concerned about the puppy. Even I realized that despite my improved feelings, there was something wrong with my dog. Naturally my mother would not allow me to remain in the bake house overnight and said that dogs knew how to take care of themselves, and that he knew enough to know that what he needed most now was sleep – just as I did.

After a few days, the poor creature was able to take a few steps without support. However, although this should have brought me joy, it only brought another and more serious problem to the foreground. The dog was obviously still weak and was unable to play. It is most disconcerting for a boy to find that his dog will not play. Children can be forgiven for assuming that all dogs have an innate sense of fun and that play is encoded into their genes. Sadly, my poor dog seemed to have no sense of fun. Even my father could not induce him to play. Alas, my father’s efforts to coax the poor creature into mild play brought no response. However, what proved to be the final straw as far as my father was concerned regarding my dog was not this, but something far more serious.

Whenever the puppy managed to stand and move a few steps forward, the poor thing would quickly come to a stop, whereupon his hind area would shake for a few seconds and then an enormous amount of liquid mess would escape from his rear end with surprising force. In spite of myself, I could not help but find him amusing as he stood there with his poor little hind legs bowed so as not to get mess on them. Once the poor creature regained his composure, and some strength, he tried to walk a second time. Again, he came to a quick halt. Suddenly, his hind area began to shake and his hind legs bow once more, and whoosh – a second pile of mess escaped him. This happened a third and then a fourth time. My father was amazed that for such a small creature could hold so much mess. Following his fourth evacuation, the poor dog’s legs finally gave way and they collapsed under him. As a result, what the poor thing had wanted to avoid sadly happened – the puppy collapsed on top of his latest pile and covered his whole hind area in his mess. The poor puppy lay there exhausted and with his eyes closed. I went to help him up and felt his heart racing. My father told me to leave the puppy and said that he would take care of him. My mother had arrived by this time and took me away despite my entreaties to stay. I insisted that my dog needed me. My mother was having none of my entreaties and took me by the arm and moved me out of the bake house. As she did, I noticed that my mother gave my father a look and a nod, the meaning of which I did not understand at the time, but later I would. I presume, and still hope, that my father did clean up my dog.

Later that day, my father went out. This in itself was unusual since he did not usually run errands during a work day. I had no idea at the time where he had gone and since I was banned from going downstairs, I could not ask my mother. Once my father returned, my mother came upstairs and told me that the little puppy had gone to sleep. She said that he had been ill and in pain. I was very, very upset, but she told me that I would not want him to suffer, would I? Of course I did not want this, but I had become very fond of that poor little thing. It seems that the look and the nod of my mother had been her command for my father to take the poor little puppy to the vet. I learned years later that the poor dog suffered with some congenital disorder of his intestine and most likely would, no doubt, not have lived long.

 

The vendor had obviously not charged my mother for the puppy since everyone, but me, realized that he was not long for this world. Since I had taken a fancy to him, it was thought best that I be allowed to take him home and make his last days comfortable. I doubt if anyone realized that his demise would be so swift. Still, this was probably was for the best since my fondness of him would have grown and my memories of him increased in number and I would have been even more upset for a longer period of time. Still, I did miss that poor puppy and still think of him from time to time. Life can be so cruel at times.

Since that encounter with my dog, dogs have never really taken to me. They tolerate me. They allow me to stroke them and even to walk them and some even allow me to play with them. But no dog has even loved me or made me feel special. I see others with their dogs and I can see the affection that exists between master and dog and I envy them. Sometimes I wonder if dogs somehow sense what befell that little puppy all those years ago and perhaps also sense that choosing me would not be a wise choice. As I said, life can be so cruel at times.

 


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Copyrightę 2010 - : Charles S. P. Jenkins