Here’s a story about a little dog named Pippa. Pippa is a Miniature Pinscher, a breed originally designed for rat catching. Although she is very small – 2.8 kilos or around 6 pounds – she has the temperament of a mighty hunter. Or maybe Queen of the Universe might be more appropriate. (And yes, this will eventually come around to writers and writing.)
As a small puppy, Pip was given to a gentleman named Leonard as an 80th birthday gift. The giver was his friend Reg, who knew Leonard was lonely living on his own. Leonard named his puppy Pipsqueak after a character from an English cartoon he’d enjoyed in his youth. For the first four years of her life, Pip was a beloved companion to Leonard, who hand-sewed a wardrobe of little coats for her, fed her copious amounts of treats, and took her by car to the riverside park every morning for a little stroll. I got to know these two during those outings, as that was my local park and I also had a Min Pin.
Pip was not a sociable creature, but because my dog was of her own kind she accepted us. While Leonard chatted to me and his friend Reg, who had his own car and tiny dog, Pip would guard her man and his vehicle, seeing off both humans and canines with her mighty yap.
Then one morning, down by the river, Leonard and Pip were not there. Reg and I wondered about his absence, then went our ways. The next morning, still no Leonard. Reg had a key to his friend’s house and said he would check on him.
It was several days before I saw Reg again. He had both his own dog and Pip with him, and I learned a sad story. Leonard had collapsed on the floor of his home after a heart attack. For more than 24 hours he’d lain there semi-conscious, while Pip kept watch over him. After Reg found him Leonard was rushed to hospital, but he died a few days later. And while Reg took Pip home with him, he could not keep her as he was already breaking a ‘no dogs’ rule at his accommodation by keeping one. Two would be impossible.
Nobody in Leonard’s family was prepared to take Pip. Of course, I said she could come to me. I lived close to the familiar meeting place, I had a little dog she liked, and it seemed a kinder prospect than surrendering her to a rescue for rehoming. So Pip came to live with us, bringing her collection of cute coats and her imperious temperament. Her life had been turned upside down.
Fast forward eleven years, and Pippa (this became her official name when I adopted her) is an old lady of fifteen. She’s been with me nearly three times as long as she was with Leonard, but I have absolutely no doubt that in the afterlife she will leap straight into his arms with never a backward glance. She had to adapt to many changes when she came to my household. Treats on demand were no longer a thing. Guarding the car did not count as exercise. And she had to live with a changing crew of adoptive and foster siblings over the years, because I provide a home for old and frail rescue dogs. Pip has always been the smallest and always the boss. I’m not sure she ever really learned acceptance, but she coped. Among her health challenges, as she grew older, was spinal surgery at the age of 10. She bounced back in record time, though she didn’t think much of the mandatory six weeks of crate confinement.
What lessons are to be learned from this story? Older people should not take on puppies? And what has all this to do with writing?