When I was about six years old, my parents arrived home with a mysterious package that wriggled and made unaccountable noises and snuffled and was warm and (very shortly thereafter) unconditionally friendly.
The package was a Dandie Dinmont Terrier whom we named (imaginatively) Dandy. Dandy was possessed of a long, tubular body, enormous brown eyes, long floppy ears and four short, stubby legs that only barely managed to transport the construction above them. In time, Dandy became a friend, confidant and personal assistant – the delight of my childhood, the toy of my dreams come to life.
I soon realised that Dandy was capable of feeling, and expressing, every emotion known to man. Embarrassment, for instance – that most prevalent of states, at least for us British: once I was taking Dandy for a walk (or rather, he was taking me). Suddenly, dramatically, he espied a cat at the other end of the street. Off he set at a furious pace, dragging me along at the other end of his lead; no way was he going to put up with a feline being anywhere in is line of vision. As we drew dangerously close, however, he realised that it wasn’t a cat at all, but a very small dog. Dandy slowed down immediately, wagged his tail airily, looked upwards as if to remark on how much weather we’d been having recently, and nonchalantly sprinkled a nearby lamppost. It was the nearest thing to a canine blush that I have ever seen.
In later years – after the sad departure (at a distinguished age, at least) of Dandy for the great lamppost in the sky – my deep affection for him spilled over into a general pleasure in dogs as a species. Of course, I am aware that dogs are not all loveable; one reads all too often of dogs bred to violence, or suddenly succumbing to vicious madness. But I am talking about your average domesticated dog – one who might bark at a stranger for a respectable amount of time, for the sake of appearances; but will then, duty done, settle down for a friendly chat about the world in general, preferably accompanied by a good pat or – better still – a gentle rub of the stomach. I love to see dogs walking along the street: how do they manage to convey such pleasure through the sheer shininess of their noses? Who gave them such wide-stretching mouths, which put our human smiles to shame? How do they manage to display such a huge range of feelings through the wagging of their tails? And what in life could be more delightful than a dog who, in order to ask a question, will put his or her head to one side; or, to make a conversational point, will stretch out a paw and lay it firmly on one’s leg or in one’s hand? Creation has come up with nothing more winning.
(Literary delight: ‘The Land of Green Ginger’ by Noel Langley. This book was a constant companion – almost like Dandy – during my childhood. Alas, the recently re-published edition cuts out many of the best bits. Worth seeking out the 1966 edition, which features the full adventures of the noble Prince Abu Ali, the Wicked Princes Tintac Ping-Foo and Rubdub Ben-Thud, the wise fortune-teller Nosi Parka and the spectacularly unsuccessful genie Boomalakka Wee.)