Thursday, May 31, 2012

Pet Penance

lady and  tramp

The last few mornings, I've woken up at 5am (or thereabouts), startled from sleep by dreams of a dog we had when I was growing up.  His name was Tramp and he was a border collie.  We bought him and his sister Lady (of course) when they were both puppies.  When they were still young pups, we gave Lady to some family friends and kept Tramp to be our newest pack member.  He took the job very seriously as I recall, not really liking the company of strangers - or anyone really - who came to visit us.

But the dreams I keep having revolve around the fact that I don't think I was very good to Tramp.  He was always an outside dog (only coming inside during thunderstorms or nasty rain), but to be honest I don't really remember spending a lot of time outdoors with him.  Did I play with him a lot, or even just hang out with him while he sat out there all alone?  I couldn't say.  When he was a puppy, I know I spent lots time with him - we cuddled, we played, we fought, and we play-fought a lot.  I remember baby sister picking up Tramp's puppy needle teeth when he started to lose them and the big-dog chompers started to grow in.  And I clearly remember when Dad took Tramp to the dog parlour to have his hair cut prior to the start of the hot Aussie summer.  His long hair had been cut so short he looked like a punk rocker!  When he bounded up to greet me after school (he was always so happy to see us), I remember being so shocked at his drastic new hairdo that I burst out laughing.  Just as suddenly, poor Tramp put his tail between his legs and shuffled away - his feelings were so obviously hurt.  We made up of course and I gave him lots of hugs and reassurance but years later, I still feel bad about upsetting him in the first place.  Why would I even remember that?!

When Tramp got older still, hip dysplasia set in and as medications got less effective and therapy options more remote, my parents had to make the tough decision to put him to sleep.  I am so glad that me and baby sister were not consulted about this beforehand, nor did we have to go to the vets with Dad.  It was certainly my first conscious memory of losing someone close to me, and even today I don't tink I was ready to deal with it.  Death wasn't something I was ever very good at.  I just remember Mum telling us in the lounge room that Tramp wouldn't be coming home and that putting him to sleep had been the best thing for him because he was in such pain.  And I do remember the tears.  Oh man, the tears.  I'm so lucky that I've never had to make such a heart-breaking decision.

When I think back on Tramp, I recall a lovely dog who cared about his family.  He wasn't so well-regarded by our friends because let's face it, he was a grouchy dog who didn't like new people.  But that was our fault too, because we didn't socialise him.  I guess we didn't see it as important at the time - as long as Tramp loved us, and was good with us, that's all that mattered.  But I have to say that ever since, and maybe it's because of Tramp, my family has done a 180-degree flip on dog ownership.  Our dogs since Tramp - both Barkley and Anniebot (and even baby sister's lunatic pooch, Jax) - have been supremely social, lovely-natured dogs who spend most of their time inside with us.  They are humans in fluffy coats, really - an extension of our nuclear family.  Whether we knew it consciously or not, I think we've all made a concerted effort to make our dogs a big part of our lives - and not leave them outdoors, looking in.

So I'm not really sure why Tramp has been on my mind these last three days, and so early in the morning too.  I certainly remember him fondly, yet I do not remember my treatment of him that way.  As a consequence, I've woken up every morning feeling kinda miserable about myself.  If this were a 12-step program, I'd call Tramp and apologise for all the crummy things I believe I did, or the good things I should have done to make him happy.  But you can't do that to a dog, and certainly not one who has been gone for over 12 years.  So I suppose all you can do is write about it, and just hope that it helps.

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