And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13
I have unashamedly stolen the title of this piece from one of my writing heroes, E.B. White. In his essay of the same name, he describes his attempts to train up his dachshund, Fred. He writes:
Of all the dogs whom I have ever served I’ve never known one who understood so much of what I say or held it in such deep contempt. When I address Fred I never have to raise either my voice or my hopes. He even disobeys me when I instruct him in something he wants to do. And when I answer his peremptory scratch at the door and hold the door open for him to walk through, he stops in the middle and lights a cigarette, just to hold me up.*
The image of Fred, wholly indifferent to White’s instructions and even disobedient in things he wants to do, never ceases to make me smile. There’s also something wryly familiar about it for anyone who has ever had the joy of working in a classroom.
We had an equally untrainable dog when I was growing up. A black, border-collie/sheep-dog mix, she was my brother’s much longed for, surprise eighth birthday present from our Grandparents. There’s a well-worn family photo of my brother asleep on their living room floor the day he got her, the dog resting her nose protectively over his shoulder.
We called her Candy Floss because that’s what my Nana said her tail was like. She was Candy for short and we quickly discovered that she would respond to any word that rhymed with her name. So we’d wonder round the local parks yelling ‘brandy,’ or ‘shandy,’ giggling in delight when she came running. Of course, she never actually stopped when she got to us but bowled past, barking and yelping all the way to her next adventure.
Candy never learned to walk at heel either. Other dogs would be obediently trotting at their master’s feet but not ours. While on the lead, she’d be straining forward, excitedly dragging us along towards whatever she wanted to sniff out next. Once unshackled from the lead, she was off like a shot. She mostly ended up jumping into lakes, only returning to shake her water-logged fur all over us and stink out the car with wet dog smell on the way home.
My Mum always said Candy thought she was one of the many kids in our family. She was the eternal, attention-seeking optimist, forever putting her chin on your knee in hopes of a scratch behind the ears, or bringing you a slobber-soaked ball to play with. She was also a kind dog who never once bit anyone. Infinitely patient, she never snapped or growled at the little ones who pulled her tail or got younger siblings to ride on her back or told her to go away when they’d had enough.
Maybe it was our fault that she wasn’t perfectly trained. Perhaps we should have been more consistent and expected her to conform more often. But we did our best. She had a good life, full of exploration and adventure. She was ours and we loved her.
*From ‘Dog Training,’ in One Man’s Meat by E. B. White.