It’s funny. I remember all those telly adverts when I was a kid. The Keep Britain Tidy stuff. It certainly stayed with me. I don’t chuck stuff our of my car window, I don’t drop stuff in the street and I would never let my children do it either. Lois is six and already knows exactly what bio-degradable means. So why is it then that every time I walk our little puppy – morning and night – I have to run a gauntlet of grime? Fag packets, half-eaten pastries and sandwiches, chewing gum, plastic pop bottles, crisp packets, dirty tissues and much, much worse. All of which Starbuck thinks is his to play with/eat. (He’s only four months, after all). I spend half the walk fishing stuff out of his mouth and dragging him away from the grass verges. I only walk him round the streets on week days. I don’t live in a particularly grotty area. My house is, however, close to a high school and the simple fact is that there are a minority of pupils who simply don’t give a monkey’s about other people or the environment. It’s not a new problem, I know, but it makes my blood boil. If I had my way I’d collect it all up in a bag and take it to the homes of these selfish oiks and tip it on their bedroom floor to see how they like it.
It’s been more than 12 months since our dog Jester died and, to be honest, the house hasn’t felt the same since.
At the time I thought “never again”. This was partly because of the hurt and partly because we all thought our furry little pal was irreplaceable – which, of course, he is.
But time is a great healer and my little girls now talk openly about Jester being taken for walks in heaven with his pal Bruno the Labrador.
We can now smile at the memory of him terrorising next door’s horrible cats, forgive him for ripping up newspapers as they popped through the letterbox and fondly recall him snoozing on the sofa with his head on our laps.
When my tribute to Jester was printed in The Sentinel to my surprise I received literally dozens of letters and emails – as well as a couple of phone calls – from dog-lovers who could empathise with me.
There was also one letter from a couple who couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about.
Unless you’ve owned a dog, however, I guess you will never understand.
Cats, fish, hamsters, gerbils and the like are all well and good, but everyone knows that dogs are a bit special because they give you unconditional love and affection.
When you arrive home, no matter what kind of day you’ve had, they are always there to greet you – tail wagging and with what has to be a doggy version of a smile.
Not for nothing are they considered to be man’s best friend.
Indeed, we could learn a lot from them.
They become such an integral part of the family unit that losing them is a genuine bereavement.
Finally, at the weekend, we decided the time was right to get another dog and so I surprised my daughters by taking them to choose a puppy.
We were shown a litter of nine cockerpoos (a cross between a cocker spaniel and a poodle) and, because choosing was so hard, we let my youngest select the new family pet.
“I like the black one,” Mina said, when presented with the two boys of the litter. (The other pup had tiny white patches under his chin and on his paws).
Thus the black one won. Harsh, but fair. If truth be told, I’d have taken both of the boys, but in our house space is at a premium and common sense prevailed.
“I think we should call him Fluffy Star Heart,” said little ’un.
Bear in mind, Mina is four.
However, the thought of me or my dad taking aforementioned pup for a walk and shouting: “Come on, Fluffy Star Heart” soon put paid to that notion.
Decision made, I picked the pup up for a closer look and his little body shivered.
I could feel his tiny heart beating in my hand.
Then I looked into his big blue eyes and told him he was going to have a really good life and that he’d be home with us in time for Christmas.
We’ve called him Starbuck – an homage to one of my favourite sci-fi characters – and we’re picking him up on Saturday morning.
To say that we’re all excited is an understatement.
The pup will find a brand new bed, toys and bowl waiting for him at chez Tideswell and he’ll get two trips out every day – come rain or shine.
Your truly has even bought him a Christmas stocking.
Of course, it’s won’t be all walkies and treats.
Starbuck’s got big boots to fill – Yorkshire Terrier-sized – and a job that goes with the territory.
Will he be able to fend off intrusions by the local cat mafia?
Will he be able to hear the paper boy coming from down the street?
Will he howl when he hears the Eastenders tune on the television?
Can he do the Wile E Coyote thing where, in a heightened state of excitement, his paws move so fast on the wood floor of our living room that he doesn’t actually go anywhere?
All these questions, and more, will be answered in the coming months as we overcome the little ‘accidents’ and deal with the little ‘presents’ Starbuck will, no doubt, leave lying around.
How nice it will be, though, to hear the pitter patter of little paws in the kitchen again as I’m preparing meals and the excited yapping of my new best friend when I put the key in the lock of our front door.
Local moggies had better watch out. The boy is back in town…