I’ve had my dog Betty for seven years this week. She is a cross between a Jack Russell and a Staffordshire bull terrier with all the tenacity of the former breed and much of the aggression towards other dogs of the latter. She has been a royal pain in the backside, a beloved and loyal friend, a neurotic and nervous nutter and a quiet, sleepy presence curled up on her favourite blanket that hangs over the back of an armchair.
When I first chose Betty from amongst the selection of random mongrels and aggressive fighting breeds that filled the council dog pound in Sheffield, she was a cowering creature who shook like jelly in the corner of her kennel. The lady who worked there told me she was ‘a little sweetie’ and that she was mine as of the next day should no one come forward in the interim hours to claim her. Needless to say, she remained abandoned and I returned the next day to bundle her into the boot of my car for the princely sum of £50.
My new dog’s reputation as ‘a little sweetie’ did not last long. On her first walk, a washout in the floods of 2007, she chased a bird across a river – only the bird flew and Betty discovered she could not, landing with a splash in the raging torrents beneath her over-optimistic jump. My mum dragged her out by the scruff of her neck, saving her from drowning, and her dew claw was ripped from her leg in the process. Blood poured dramatically from the wound as she was pulled to safety.
She quickly revealed a penchant for running at other dogs at top speed, yapping and snarling as she continued past, leaving them looking startled and their owners jumping out of their skins. Betty is now kept on a lead unless we are in an environment free from people, animals, or any other living creatures.
We bonded nevertheless. I intuitively understood her motives for the snappy, aggressive behaviour and attacks of neuroses. She had been dumped on the roughest housing estate of Sheffield as a puppy and had been left to fend for herself for an unknown period of time prior to the council scooping her up. She has a morbid fear of fireworks which I suspect is due to being subjected to them in close proximity prior to her living with me. The vet prescribes her diazepam every year in November in the run up to Bonfire Night.
On the last night I drank alcohol I took Betty up the road so that I could have a cigarette and she could have a wee. I was so drunk that I fell over unconscious, letting go of her lead and leaving her to loiter around by my side for a while, confused, before my friend discovered the two of us and returned her safely to my flat. I felt so terrible about that for months afterwards. When I returned from the hospital the following day as the sun was rising, all she could do was jump up and lick my hand, trotting around after me wherever I went. She was delighted to have me back, the owner who had so irresponsibly left her roaming next to a main road on which double decker buses hurtle past twice every hour.
I’ve been a much better owner to Betty since I quit drinking. She drives me mad at least once a day, and come November I know I’ll have to endure the week from hell as she paces about, tongue hanging out, weeing on the carpet and shaking like a leaf as bangers and rockets are fired upwards into the night sky outside our house. But I really love her and I’m so glad that she came into my life seven years ago; she was right for me, and I for her.
I’m so lucky that she survived my drinking; I just wish she understood the concept of ‘sorry’.