Note to dog: Frailty, thy name is Walter!
We need to talk about Walter. Walter is my third and youngest dog. Although he is now six years old - which makes him 42 in dog years - he still looks and behaves just like a puppy.
He's a teeny-tiny tornado; an action-packed blizzard of white fluff who scampers everywhere, wagging his swishy tail and panting excitedly as though he's run on perpetual Duracell batteries.
Like his namesake in Beano comic, Walter the Softy, he is also a proper mummy's boy. He follows me everywhere I go and cannot bear to let me out of his sight. When I sit on the sofa he's already got there one split-second ahead of me, perfectly poised and prepared for a face-licky, head-strokey, tummy-tickly, full-on love in. Of course I usually do oblige, because he is just so flipping cute. Who wouldn't?
A single "Who's a good boy then?" doesn't cut it for our Walter. He wants to be told a thousand times. One pat on the tummy won't do either. If I stop and try to push him away, he simply rolls over commando-style and manoeuvres himself back into optimum point-blank stroking position. When he wants a cuddle he squirms and squeezes and squishes his little choochy-face into the crook of my arm and looks up at me pleading with those big, puppy-dog eyes until I drop everything else and concentrate on him again. The boys both blame me for this behaviour. They say that I've made him needy and weedy by my constant molly-coddling.
But as much as I love these unadulterated fluffy flurries of affection, I have recently started to worry about this miniature monster I've created. For example, since Bailey (RIP) died in September, Walter has become even more clingy than before. Now he follows me everywhere and squeals and scratches when I leave the room. And heck, when I'm in the car reversing out of the driveway he's always there at the living room window, howling high into the air like a lone wolf communicating with his ancestors.
"She's gooooooooing awayyyyyyyyy!! Noooooooooooo!!! Nooooooooooo! Howwwwwww could she leeeeeeeeave me?! Hoooooow? Hoooooooooowwww???!!" For God's sake Walter, I want to say. I'm only popping out to the corner shop for some milk!
So of course I was worried sick when I had to leave them last Saturday for a week away. In the past, if I had to travel anywhere I'd either take the dogs with me or leave them at home with the boys. But neither option was available and so I had to make a tough decision. Kennels or a dog-sitter. Kennels were a definite consideration until I saw the cost - three hundred quid (what are they feeding them? Fillet steak and truffle oil washed down with a bowl of Dom Perignon?) So I arranged for them to go and stay with Jonny from Pet Chek in Bangor. They know him, he's walked them for me on several occasions and he's always been very reliable and trustworthy; so that was clearly the best option. As I was packing my case and getting ready, Walter watched me suspiciously. He might not know what "fetch" or "stay" means but he certainly knows what a suitcase is for. He whimpered and mithered me for a whole day and I was almost reconsidering the trip when the doorbell rang and it was Jonny. "Off you go doggies! Be good for Uncle Jonny," I said. "I'll see you in a week!" Heidi happily jumped into his van but Walter acted like he was being abducted by a kidnapper, squealing and squirming and causing such a scene. I felt so guilty. How will my wee baby manage without me?
The next day after I'd arrived at my destination, I sent Jonny a text to see how they were doing. I was worried sick that Walter might be wasting away with a broken heart, unable to bear life without his beloved mummy.
Jonny replied with a photo message. It was Walter, snuggled up on his wife's knee, licking her face and luxuriating in the attention. The little traitor. "Frailty? Thy name is Walter!"