Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Leo, I said, I think this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship

Leopold looks like a short fox coming through the tall grass – the unseasonal rain (before summer finally arrived) has played havoc with the gardener's routine – and, though I know him barely a week, already I am smitten with this perfect pedigree of beating life.

The house I share with the woman I love is a house of animals; cats and dogs rescued by her, down the years, from the obscurity of the streets or the finality of the dog-house, an assortment of mongrel and pedigree, once a magnificent seven – one named Sandy Row – but now down to two dogs and two cats.

I swear sometimes this woman loves those animals more than she loves me, or could any man, for she has given The Gang of 4, now in their declining years, so much love and affection – they even have their own language if you don't mind – that a lot of the time I don't get to bed with just her on her own.

But I don't complain. I like the Gang of 4 and me and Old Bradley Pitt get on just dandy and I sure admire that, though 16, this wonderful long-haired Somali cat can still scale any garden wall and go off in the meadow chasing the hidden creatures of the field and return some time later with a satisfied grin on his kisser.

I guess I'm a bit of a cat fan, not surprising given I'm a Leo and travel often to Africa in pursuit of the big ones. I like their majesty, their independence and their fur coats. Dogs, meantime, are so much more dependent on you and you always need to walk them, unlike our feline friends.

Not everyone agrees. It was Alfred North Whitehead, the English mathematician and philosopher, who said if a dog jumps in your lap, it is because he is fond of you; but if a cat does the same, it is because your lap is warmer.

Man's best friend, they say, was the first domesticated animal and has been the most widely kept working, hunting and pet animal since dawn first dawned on itself. From the wolf's lineage, DNA evidence shows an evolutionary split about 100,000 years ago but, as of now, the oldest fossil specimens genetically linked to the modern dog's lineage date back just 33,000-36,000 years.

There have always been cats and dogs in my life and I can still recall the heartache of losing one when young. But when growing up and being a man running round the world picking up after three growing up children, I usually just managed to step over some mutt or topsy before I'd have tripped and broken my ankle. There was little time for polite doggie talk in my wild and exciting life.

Maisie is not long for this world, she said to me the other day, she's very sick.

I agreed.

Like Brad Pitt, Maisie is also 16, a cross between a border collie and that dog in the Dulux ad of yore. She's also blind and has kidney failure. She demands little of us now but comfort.

I just don't want Delphine to be on her own when Maisie goes, she said to me.

She's got Brad Pitt and MiniMa, I said.

They're cats, she needs a dog.

But, given hard times, can we afford another? I asked.

This is where Leopold, Leo for short, comes in. My Leo, the one looking like a fox through the tall grass, is in fact a miniature smooth-haired Chihuahua who will never grow much more than seven inches or so.

The woman I share my life with twisted the reticent me around her little finger by saying Leo was her present pour moi – even though she had known the six-month-old pup was seeking a good home for some time. (Her owners had split up and neither wanted the dog.)

Anyways, he's here now and it looks like it's to stay and as I ran my hands through his wonderful coat while we basked together in the glorious sunshine the other day, amid the tall grass, I said, Leo, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship (and I swear in the distance I could hear a small biplane turn its engines).

Maybe it's got something to do with age mellowing me, that I have more time on my hands to be, well, kind and considerate, and I am no longer running around the world picking up after kids, long since flown the nest

More likely, it's because Leo is just one cool dog – I even took him for a pint the other day and he won the punters over – and given that he'll never be bigger than those seven inches or so he'll be a cinch to run round after. I mean, how far does a seven-inch dog have to go walkies before he's ready to go back in my pocket?

I am even looking into a car-seat for him. A costly affair, given that just a recent 50 pence hike in pet food is almost £7.00 in hard canine currency.

Meanwhile, The Gang of 4, not sure of what to make of my new pedigree chum, are looking at me forlornly – like we've been sold a pup...

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