For our pets, we are their entire life. This heartfelt story is told from the viewpoint of one family’s beloved pets. It will pull on your heartstrings, you may shed a tear but in the main, you will feel the love pouring out of every page.
“Here boy!”. Skipper heard his human’s command but was not ready to obey just yet for he was far too busy investigating the many intoxicating scents of the woodland. At present he was hot on the trail of a squirrel, but his senses told him there were also foxes and badgers around as well as countless other little creatures. “Skipper. Come here!” This time he heard the note of irritation in his human’s voice and with a sigh he gave up his search and bounded over to receive a treat in the shape of a doggy biscuit. Come to think of it, he was quite tired and it would be good to curl up in his basket and doze for the next few hours, dreaming of the rabbits he could chase tomorrow.
Skipper was proud to be a Jack Russell terrier, but because of his small size he often found it necessary to confront bigger dogs in order to show he wasn’t afraid of them. Sometimes the dogs backed away and on other occasions they entered into a game with him which was great fun. Today, however, he had suffered a nasty experience. The Alsatian he had accosted had turned on him, snarling and snapping, and he had been forced to leave the scene in a state of embarrassment and hurt pride. “Best forget that episode” he thought as he climbed thankfully into his basket. “There’s always tomorrow, or maybe I’ll slip through the hole in the fence later on and have a run round on my own”. When Skipper managed to escape he often delighted in rolling in something “disgusting” as his humans called it, and could never understand why, on returning home with a satisfied grin on his face, he was immediately subjected to a freezing cold hose down in the garden, accompanied by much scolding. Humans! He would never understand them, but on the whole they were good to him and he was very fond of them.
Back home, Marie, Skipper’s human, slipped off her Wellington boots and thankfully slid her feet into a comfy old pair of slippers. “That’s better” she thought, “I could do with a nice hot cup of tea. No doubt the others will want one too so I’ll make a pot” As she filled the kettle she called upstairs. “I’m making tea. Anyone want a cuppa and a biscuit?” “Yes please” replied her husband, Peter, “I’ll be down in a minute”. There was no sign of Marie’s two children, although she could hear the strident and somewhat discordant sounds of some pop group whom the teenagers adored. “I do hope they’re not playing on their computers” she thought, “They should be getting on with their schoolwork”. Without much hope of being heard she called again “Sally, do you want a cup of tea?” and “Richard, how about you?” Again there was no response so Marie shrugged her shoulders and decided to let it go. She certainly wasn’t going to all the trouble of heading up to their rooms to ask. This was her precious day off work and she was going to make the most of it.
Marie’s job was described as part time which was a laugh because for the other four days of the week she worked from nine to five as a ward clerk in the local hospital, more often than not exceeding the time limit by an hour or so. She did not really need to work because Peter had a very lucrative position in “something to do with stocks and shares”, but truly she loved the job and especially the people she met. It was good, too, to have her own money to buy treats for the family and clothes for herself without having to ask Peter for every penny, although he was always generous.
She mused on the extraordinary circumstances in which they found themselves. Earlier in the year a deadly virus called Covid-19 had spread rapidly right across the world, killing thousands of people and infecting millions more. The authorities had decided that one of the best ways to combat it would be to stay at home, away from contact with other people as much as possible. Schools, pubs, restaurants, theatres, non-essential shops and even places of worship were shut and where possible, everyone had to adjust to working from home. Face masks had to be worn at all times when travelling or doing the necessary shopping, the public were exhorted to wash their hands for as long as it took to sing the verses of “Happy Birthday To You” twice over, and to keep a distance of two metres between one another. A new mantra sprang up “Face, Hands, Space”, which was repeated endlessly on the radio and the television. Sales of hand sanitisers went through the roof whilst some selfish people began to stockpile goods resulting in such essentials as toilet rolls and flour becoming unavailable for some weeks.
Marie found that working in the hospital for the last four months had been hard and extremely upsetting when so many victims lost their lives to the virus. She was continually amazed by the way the medical staff coped with all the tragedy around them and how they managed to keep smiling when they were sad and exhausted. Of course, a good many patients survived and left to go home with the staff cheering them on, and that always raised everyone’s spirits.
A couple of miles away the old Alsatian was settling down on her blanket by the radiator and looking forward to a long satisfying sleep before her lunch. She was regretting her show of bad temper towards that feisty little Jack Russell and decided that if she saw him again she would try to tell him that she was sorry. She would tell him about her painful back and legs and say that she was usually quite an affable old girl, but today had just been a bad day.
Her humans, Sheila and Robert, were both retired and the family had grown up and left home so Sasha was very pampered. When she was younger she had loved romping with the children, tearing round the big garden and joining in their games, but she had to admit she was not up to it nowadays, and just enjoyed pottering around the house and garden and eating the lavish meals which Sheila prepared for her. No tinned dog food for her. Oh no! Her meals consisted of chicken or rabbit, sometimes venison or fish, accompanied by asparagus or other freshly cooked vegetables. Sheila had even bought a special toothpaste for dogs and Sasha loved the clean fresh taste when her teeth were brushed.
Robert’s garden was his pride and joy now that he had the time to tend to all the plants and seedlings, and particularly the lawn. Sasha had been shown the small patch behind the shed where she could attend to her daily needs, and had thought “Fair enough. It’s best to keep in his good books, and it’s tucked away enough to give me some privacy”. To tell the truth she rather enjoyed sauntering around the garden, sniffing out the squirrels which leapt from tree to tree at the far end and discovering that mice and hedgehogs had been around during the night.
Sheila had returned home from their walk almost as tired as Sasha. Taking off her coat and hanging it up in the small space by the back door she remarked to her canine friend “You were in a bad mood today old girl. Is your back playing up again?” Sasha sighed to show she understood and then relaxed as Sheila’s comforting hands began to rub her back and neck. “Ooh, that really hits the spot” she thought “Perhaps if I give her my best soulful look she will give me a biscuit”. Of course, Sheila complied; she could never resist Sasha when she looked at her like that.
Before he retired, Robert worked as the manager of a big supermarket which was a demanding job. However, there were plenty of compensations; one of which was that the premises were in the next town a mere three miles away so that he often walked or cycled when the weather was good. At other times the bus stop was just around the corner, which left the family car available for Sheila to ferry the children to and from school and to various activities. She was proud to be “just” a housewife, and never felt that she was missing out on a wider, perhaps more interesting life. Instead, she had some good friends and many interests and she loved the sheer domesticity of her life, the cooking and the cleaning, the sewing and the ironing, and all the other household tasks. She would say she really didn’t know how she could have coped with a job as well. She did admit that since the girls had left home her life was less busy, but now she had time to read and get to grips with all the new technology, even learning how to FaceTime her family on her mobile phone. It was a small sadness that both their daughters had moved such a long way from their childhood home, but at least they had not emigrated to a far country and, as she and Robert agreed, they were still capable of driving the couple of hundred miles to meet up with their girls.
“The girls”, as Sheila and Robert still referred to them, were twins called Helen and Patricia, who had both graduated from Durham University and had met their future husbands whilst still at college. Now they lived within a few miles of one another in South Yorkshire. Helen and her husband Steven lived in an old stone cottage in the beautiful village of Pickering, whilst Patricia and William had a modern flat in the heart of the seaside town of Scarborough. Both the young women had satisfying careers which they juggled around bringing up their children.
Helen worked for an insurance company as a “scrum master”, this rather odd term meaning that she was the leader of a team, responsible for championing a project and providing guidance to that team. She loved her job, but the present Covid restrictions meant that she had to work from home and she felt she was endlessly on the telephone dealing with her clients when she would rather have been meeting them face to face. Steven was a technical adviser with a large communications company and he also was able to work from home as his job entailed using his computer a great deal of the time. Between them they managed a shift system to look after their two-year-old twin girls whom they had named, somewhat whimsically, Maisie and Daisy. Helen and Steven promised that one day they would find a dog to join their little family, but they agreed that this was not the time as their hands were full. They looked forward to the day, however, when they and the twins and the dog (of indeterminate breed, but already named Mr. Woof) would be able to tramp across the beautiful York Moors for hours on end.
Patricia usually worked as a psychologist in the local general hospital, but she was still on maternity leave, having given birth to a little boy just two months before the outbreak of the Covid virus. He was a placid baby with his blue eyes which crinkled when he laughed, and at six months old he was a very happy little chap. Patricia delighted in tickling his tummy or blowing raspberries at him just to hear his enchanting chuckle. He had also learned to respond to his name, which was Barnaby, and for some reason he would always smile when thus addressed, especially when his Daddy spoke to him in his big booming voice.
Barnaby’s big sister, Jennifer, was nearly four years old, going on fourteen. She had just started going to nursery school three mornings a week when it had to be temporarily closed due to the pandemic. She had loved the time she spent there and had made friends with several other little girls so she was not at all happy that these activities had been suspended, however much her Mummy tried to explain that it would not be for long. Patricia admitted that Jennifer was a bit of a handful at present and she, almost more than Jennifer, looked forward to the nursery opening its doors again. “Having a talkative little girl around all day” she laughed, “is like having a mad parrot on your shoulder”. However, she couldn’t be irritated for long because Jennifer was a sweet child, who liked lots of cuddles and she adored her baby brother.
Of all the family, Patricia and William were not dog lovers, but they did think that one day they might get a cat, even though, as they lived in a flat, the arrangement would not be ideal. Anyway, they were not in a hurry and maybe they should first look for a house with a garden for the children to play in. Instead, when they could spare the time and always at weekends if the weather was fine they would take their little family to the beach where they all enjoyed making sand castles and “burying Daddy” until just his head and feet poked up from the sand.
Patricia worried about what effect the Covid virus would have on their future plans, and hoped with all her heart that the pandemic would soon fade away or that a reliable vaccine would be found. If this state of affairs continued after she was due to return to work in three months’ time she realised her clients would not be able to book face to face appointments with her and she would have to arrange consultations by telephone. She was trained to pick up hints about her clients’ welfare by observing them as they spoke to her, and the restrictions would inevitably make her findings and advice rather more difficult. “Still”, she thought, “I won’t worry about that for a little while. I’ll just enjoy being with my precious children for the next few weeks.”
The next time that Skipper and Sasha happened to meet in the woods the leaves were beginning to change colour and to fall in great heaps, blowing this way and that in the wind. Even though it was many weeks since their doggy disagreement Skipper still remembered the unfortunate incident and decided to keep a wide berth until he could discover the old girl’s mood. He was somewhat taken aback, therefore, when Sasha made her way slowly over to him. “Hello”, she barked “I’m glad you’re here again. I haven’t forgotten the last time we met and I wanted to say I’m very sorry that I snapped at you”. “That’s very good of you”, Skipper replied. He wanted to say “magnanimous”, but was afraid he might stumble over such a long word. “I shouldn’t have squared up to you like I did, but you are such a big dog and you look so regal and confident that I wanted to show you I wasn’t afraid of you”. “Let’s forget it” suggested Sasha, “My aches and pains are not so bad today, so shall we have a bit of a run around?” And so a rather unlikely friendship began, which led, of course, to Marie and Sheila enjoying a chat and promising to meet regularly whenever they could manage it to walk their dogs together.
“Do you have any plans for Christmas this year?” asked Marie on one such occasion. “Sadly not” replied Sheila. “Usually we drive up to Yorkshire and book into a hotel for the week from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Eve so that we can be with the girls and all our lovely grandchildren, but this wretched virus has wrecked our plans and for the first time we shall be on our own at home. How about you?” “We are going to be on our own too”, answered Marie. “Every year since we were married we have spent time with our parents, alternating between mine and Peter’s on Christmas Day or Boxing Day, but the government has imposed so many restrictions on people meeting up that we decided it might be better to give it a miss this year. Our parents are all in their seventies and have a few health problems so we don’t want to put them in any danger of becoming ill. We know in our hearts that this “lockdown” is essential to avoid getting infected but it’s hard, especially at Christmas, isn’t it? I don’t even know if we shall be able to go to the Midnight Service at Church. That’s been a family tradition ever since the children were small and they loved coming home late to hang up their stockings and leave a mince pie for Father Christmas.” “My girls always used to leave sherry for Santa and carrots for the reindeers” laughed Sheila. “Happy times!” The two women fell into silence as they walked along, occasionally looking around to make sure their dogs were still within earshot.