We're delighted to present an extract from To Love a Dog, the new memoir by Tom Inglis, published by Sandycove Press.
To Love a Dog tells the story of Tom's life with his Wheaten Terrier, Pepe, and looks at the ancient connection between humans and dogs. It is a moving and engaging exploration of life alongside man’s best friend.
We did not get out much yesterday, so in the evening, although it was pitch dark, I suggested a walk down to the lake. It was a bit stupid, as the path had become very overgrown and, in the darkness, could be found only through memory. The thick grass was wet and slippery. I could see the edge of the lake in the distance. It was just a case of getting there through the array of holes, hidden stones and clumps of weeds. It didn’t help that I had had a couple of glasses of wine. In the past, I could have relied on her. But now: she was far too old and far too deaf and blind.
As we stumbled along the little headland that juts out into the lake, the madness of the excursion became more apparent. If I fell in, I would probably drown trying to save her.
The lake was still; the wind had died. There was a sense of us being at the edge of space and time. We stood silently. I had no idea what she was thinking. Was she resentful that, yet again, it was I who had suggested the walk? Did she feel some obligation? She has learned that I am the source of all that is good in her life. In her magical world, I am the light. I am God. So wherever I go she must try to follow. In her world, she can never be sure what will happen next. There could be food. There could be something to chase. There could be excitement.
As we turned away from the dark beauty of the lake and started back to the lights of the house on the hill above us, she suddenly lunged to the left and was inches from falling into the lake. I screamed at her and immediately felt remorseful.
When we got back to the house, she ignored me as I sat down to watch television. But then, many minutes later, she came over and looked at me. It was a warm look of wonderment, as if she understood that we were both helpless creatures caught in time. We were both a collection of atoms flying through time and space that had become attached to each other.
And then she came closer and slowly put her head on my lap. I stroked her and we stayed like that for some minutes, and then she upped and walked away back to her bed, where she sat and watched me. I wondered what was going through her mind.
When it was time for me to go to bed, I left the door to the bedroom upstairs open. It was invitation for her to come upstairs to the other bed she has there. The bedroom is her daytime refuge. As I sat in bed reading, I kept listening out for
sounds of her coming up. But there was nothing. I turned out the lights and then, in the dark silence, I heard her coming. I lay still and she came into the room. She stopped for a while and then turned around and walked out back downstairs. Was she being deliberately cold? Maybe I had let her down. Maybe I was selfish. Maybe I had pushed her too far.
But there was another deeper, darker thought. Mixed with feelings of sympathy and concern there was a growing realisation that, someday soon, I was going to have to arrange her death.
Pepe and I have been together for seventeen years. Despite the male name, which I will explain later, she is female. We have walked many roads together, explored paths through woods and trekked across mountains.
Last night’s escapade seems to have has no effect on her. This morning she bounced up the stairs into the bedroom full of joy, alert, ready for action, tail erect and quivering. She came to the bed and all I could do was put out my hands and hold her head and stroke her. I told her that I would be lost without her. She made no response, but I think she understood the tone of my voice.
Pepe doesn’t do moods, doesn’t bear grudges. She has a memory, of course, but it is not like my memory. It is as if she only has good memories. I like it that when she sees me, she cannot help but be happy. Wouldn’t it be great if humans could be like that? Imagine not playing the game of hurt and resentment. Imagine meeting those we love, those to who we are attached, and feeling helplessly happy, wagging our bums from side to side.
About The Author: Tom Inglis is a sociologist and a life-long dog lover. Born and raised in Dublin, he now lives in a former schoolhouse (the school was once attended by John McGahern) in County Roscommon. For eighteen years he lived alongside Pepe, his beloved Wheaten terrier bitch. He is the author of several books, including Making Love: A Memoir and Moral Monopoly: The Rise and Fall of the Catholic Church in Modern Ireland.
To Love A Dog by Tom Inglis, published by Sandycove, is out now.