After arriving home last night from a highly successful surprise party for my mother’s 50th birthday, I got into an argument with my sister about our dog. “He would be a fantastic dog,” I drunkenly declared, “except he’s getting so many mixed messages about what he’s allowed and not allowed to do.”
“And who’s fault is that?” she responded.
“Not mine, anyway. I’m the only one who takes care of him.”
“You fucking spoil him,” she shot back, “he’s only trouble when you’re home.”

I had no response to this. I’m sure the dog is still a handful when I’m not around, but how can I prove it. As for the charge of spoiling him, perhaps I do, but in my opinion Labradors demand/deserve a high level of attention. I see it as my role to supply this attention.

Every time I’m home it seems that, with the occasional exception of my mother, I’m the only one who takes him for a walk every day. The siblings claim to do this when I’m not around, but I flat out don’t believe them. My suspicions were confirmed last night when talking with a neighbour (a fellow Lab owner) who told me he’s only ever seen me take the dog out. “I’ve seen him more in the last two weeks than I have in months,” he said.

As Labradors go, Frank is pretty dim and of limited use. And his position in the family has at least once been questioned. When he was leaving the puppy stage my mother wondered if we should give him away. “He’d make a good guard dog for a site or something,” she argued. It wasn’t an unreasonable proposition. After all, ours had always been a feline household, and we really couldn’t be sure we would be able to care for a small dog, never mind a Lab. However, the idea was quickly shot down and never broached again when I shot a quick, expressionless response: “You’re not getting rid of our dog.”

There are a few reasons why I’m so unwilling to let him go. For one, he is, indeed, an excellent guard dog. This is quite convenient for us as we live in a fairly industrialised area, occasionally frequented by individuals who might see an open shed door and help themselves to a few supplies. Of course the problem with this is that people who are perfectly authorised to be on our property have often been hounded. In his younger days, visitors would have to phone in advance to let us know they’re coming so we’d know not to let Frank bark them out the gate again. He’s a lot calmer now, but he has an incredible ability to remind strangers who come to our door, “I’m watching you, buddy.”

Frank is also remarkable for his gentle nature with weaker creatures. We did once have a cat that was forced to live in my father’s vegetable garden (out of bounds to Frank) until it unsurprisingly ran away. The two just couldn’t get on. This, however, is the one exception as Frank is very calm, even nurturing, with our cats. At one time one of the cats was having a litter, and sensing she was in trouble Frank worked himself into a tizzy trying to help her. Unfortunately helping to him meant pulling her around the back yard by her head, but at least he was trying (mother and kittens were fine, by the way). We currently two cats, one of whom displays bizarre behavioural characteristics for a cat. Unlike most cats, he’s friendly, affectionate, highly energetic and loyal (he has his favourites within the household). He’s playful in the way kittens are playful but usually grow out of. I can’t sit down without him jumping onto my lap. And when I take Frank for a walk he insists coming with us. He’s more of a dog than many dogs I know, and I suspect it was Frank who trained him to be like this.

All of this, however, is irrelevant, as I don’t need a reason to defend his presence. Frank is part of the family just because he’s Frank. I don’t expect him to proof his worth anymore than I expect him to decide for himself he doesn’t want to be part of the family anymore.

Anyway, I’d like to retract an earlier statement on the book Marley and Me, now that I’ve nearly finished it. I’m not saying it’s not light and easily marketable, because it is. But it’s also very well written, on occasionally brutally honest, and of course essential reading for anyone who’s ever loved a dog.

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