I cannot remember a time as a child when I was not involved with a dog of some description. If our family didn’t own a dog, I quite literally collected other people’s dogs. That is how I found Nuki, a liver and white Springer spaniel who belonged to a neighbour down the street from our house. From the age of 6 to 12, Nuki and I would go off on ‘adventures’ as often as permitted at the end of which he was always faithfully returned to his rightful owner, if a little dirtier than he had originally been at the start. Sometimes we just hung out together at home.
Just before we moved away from the area, I used to dream up plots on how Nuki would accidently move with us or how we would run away together. None of those plans happened and I got on with life.
I was a stroppy and self-involved 16 year old when we next visited some of my parents’ friends in that old neighbourhood. I was sitting outside when who do you think I saw come walking along, heading directly for me? Nuki. He was greyer, he was going blind and his back legs didn’t work very well. But his memory still worked. How did he know I was there? Had he been coming to my old house that whole time? It didn’t matter that it had been four years since I had seen him. It didn’t matter that I had been busy growing up and forgetting about him. He still remembered me.
Dogs are like that, aren’t they? Dogs become part of the story of our lives. Dogs teach us things that make us better humans. Like unconditional love, loyalty, joy, forgiveness and trust. And when the time comes, they teach us how to grieve their loss.
This is where this exhibition started....with a present dog, Cooper, and with a past dog, Floyd. Both are/were big personalities. Both are/were owned by two beautiful people who recognised what treasures they had in the form of a four-legged best-friend. Because one dog is no longer physically here, does not make that dog less real to its owner or to the people who knew him. By placing the past and present dog along-side each other, I wanted to pursue the notion that memory supersedes death and through our memories, the people, the dogs who we loved are still very much alive in our thoughts and hearts.
Do we only ever get one good dog in a lifetime? Do certain dogs sometimes find us? Do we get certain dogs for a reason?
Our current dog, Morgan, came to us as an Australian Grand Champion with a very prestigious pedigree. He is now happily an ordinary slob of a dog, the show ring a distant memory.
Morgan’s original owner had sold her house because her husband was very ill and had advertised her furniture for sale. My friends Elle and Ann went to look at the lounge, but found it wasn’t the right colour. In conversation, Morgan’s original owner explained to my friends her predicament regarding Morgan. She had advertised for someone to take Morgan but no-one had responded and she didn’t know what to do because he was such a ‘special’ dog. She didn’t want to send him back to the breeder.
Elle rang me and told me she had a dog for me. I already had a Labrador and my daughter had Floyd. I didn’t really want another dog, but Elle insisted. I rang Morgan’s owner anyway and we arranged to meet. My daughter came with me to see Morgan. We had strategized that we would sensibly wait 24 hours before deciding whether we would take him or not. That was the first of our goals that Morgan broke.
There would be more. Previously, Morgan had always been an inside dog. It was our goal to make him an outside dog. Then it was our goal to make him a dog that did not sit on furniture. Next it was our goal not to have him sleep on our beds. Currently it is our goal to have him sleep just on the bottom of the bed.
My daughter jokes that Morgan’s main role in life is to look pretty. I know that is only partially true. He is also here to teach me things. Things like post-men must me barked at, visitor must be greeted, smells must be smelt, friends must be loved, dinner time must be non-negotiable, puddles must be splashed in, birds must be chased, and fresh poo or dead creatures must be rolled in. Moreover, Morgan teaches me to be in the moment, to greet the new day with enthusiasm and to see the world as an exciting and intriguing place, needing to be explored. Most importantly, Morgan teaches me that one good dog is one too few.
When I first showed my mother a picture of Morgan, she declared that it was like looking at Nuki, the Springer spaniel from my childhood. And she is right. Morgan is the splitting image of Nuki and is exactly the same in personality and temperament. It is as if time is no longer linear but has concertinaed in for me to have the same dog. I am no longer a child, but that doesn’t matter. Now Morgan and I go off on ‘adventures’ as often as permitted at the end of which he is always faithfully returned to his rightful owner, me. And sometimes we just hang out together at home. Our home ... where he has his own couch and tries to remember to sleep just at the bottom of my bed.