Roslyn Dee: Meet my lovely little rescue dog who saved me from loneliness
I was widowed young, fell into a deep despair and my life seemed without hope. Then along came Dudley, who dragged me out of the darkness and taught me how to live again
The last photograph I took of my mother is saved to ‘Favourites’ on my iPhone. Dated March, 2, 2019, I can see that it was taken at 13.44pm that day, on what I recall was a bright and spring-like Saturday afternoon. Sitting upright in her armchair and dressed in a pink and grey top, she is smiling directly at me, both her appearance and her demeanour totally belying the fact that she was just weeks short of her 99th birthday. Less than 72 hours later, however, and completely out of the blue, my mother was gone.
I have looked at that photograph many times in the intervening years because there is a strange connection at the heart of it, a juxtaposition of sorts that somehow comforts me. Marion, my mother, is not alone in the picture; sitting on her knee, and with her hands lovingly holding him on either side of his body, is Dudley, my dog.
It was the only time she met him, that day being my first visit to Northern Ireland to see her since Dudley had come into my life, aged 10 months, just a couple of weeks earlier.
There they are, the two of them — the woman who had always adored dogs and who, despite the ups and downs of our mother-daughter relationship, had steadfastly championed me down the years and had loved me all my life. And there too is the little dog who, although I didn’t yet know it on that Saturday afternoon, would become my new champion. More than that if truth be told, as Dudley, this ebullient little wire-haired dachshund, was on the road that day to becoming my saviour.
Marion in Departures, Dudley in Arrivals. Was she waiting for him, I still sometimes wonder? On meeting Dudley that day, did she sense that her youngest child — me — would be safe now, would be rescued from loneliness, and that I was now on my way to some kind of recovery after almost four years of living a joyless and seemingly meaningless life following the death of my husband? I like to think that she did, that Marion knew Dudley would take up the baton. That he would save me.
And so it was.
Dudley turned five just a few weeks ago and I find myself already anxious. Five. That’s still a young dog, friends assure me. Maybe, but it’s still halfway to 10. Will he live to see that age? Will he be even luckier and maybe make it to 12, or beyond? Such are the thoughts that occupy me. If longevity was commensurate with love given and received, however, then Dudley would surely live to be a Guinness World Records dog.
Could he really be halfway through his life, though? It’s a thought I keep coming back to and a prospect that I simply can’t countenance.
When he almost died after a freak accident early last year, I was beside myself with anguish. On the evening when the vet told me that it was touch and go, I can remember sobbing down the phone to my sister and actually saying the following words: “If Dudley dies, my life is over.”
That’s not true, she gently told me but, yes, she acknowledged, it would be the worst possible thing that could happen to me at that point. A big statement, some would say, but my sister has witnessed — and understands — how much Dudley has brought to my life and the way in which he has utterly transformed it. Transformed me.
Yet that’s the way it is with dogs, other people tell me; they come and they go. You don’t understand, I want to explain to them; this is Dudley, the dog that saved me, this is the smart, funny, lovable, stubborn and loyal little dog who dragged me out of a deep, dark chasm of grief and showed me how to live again.
I feel a gratitude towards him that is at times overwhelming because, in all honesty, this dog that I believed I had rescued has actually rescued me. From inertia. And loneliness. And despair. In my companionship with Dudley, I have discovered that the world does indeed still hold so many bountiful gifts, so many joys that I thought I would never experience again.
Most important, however, is the fact that Dudley has given me one of the most precious gifts of all — hope. And I am totally humbled by what I owe him.
In the wonderful book The Dogs Who Came To Stay, written some years ago by the American academic George Pitcher, the focus is on two dogs — mother-dog Lupa and her pup, Remus, who take over the hearts and the lives of Pitcher and his fellow academic, Ed, with whom he lives. Once again, it’s the transformation word that stands out here, and in the end, after 17 years with the dogs, Pitcher explains how, through them, he learned to open himself up and to both give and accept true love. Something that he had been incapable of before. He owed Lupa and Remus so much more than they could ever owe him.
Sounds bonkers? Well, it isn’t.
Dogs teach us so much about life: to appreciate the simple things, to love unconditionally, to always be yourself, to live in the moment. And their capacity for loyalty is simply immeasurable.
Wherever I go, Dudley goes. His zest for life is infectious and I love to just watch him, whether charging through the park or along the beach, or chasing birds and still believing, five years on, that one of these days he is going to catch one of them.
I love his confidence and yet I appreciate too the complexities of his character. He’s a dog who will happily run way ahead or drop back some distance to investigate something on the street. Don’t be fussing after me, he seems to be » » telling me — I’m grand. And then, time and again, I see a particular moment when anxiety strikes — when he can’t see me through a crowd on the street, for example — and his eyes dart from left to right, backwards and forwards in search of me. And then comes the joyful scamper in my direction when he finally spots me. There you are, he’s saying, didn’t I tell you to stay within sight? Thank goodness you’re all right!
At home, meanwhile, when I move from one room to another, he generally moves with me. He lies at my feet while I write, curls up beside me on the sofa in the evenings, and, when my bedtime comes, Dudley comes too.
In his Dog Days book of drawings, the artist David Hockney brilliantly captures his love for Stanley and Boodgie, his two dachshunds. It was a project he undertook while searching for some kind of solace in the wake of the deaths of a few of his friends which all came in a rush, one after the other, and threatened to overwhelm him.
“These two dear little creatures are my friends,” Hockney wrote about his dogs. “They are intelligent, loving, comical... They watch me work; I notice the warm shapes they make together, their sadness and their delights.”
I see Dudley’s sadness and delights. There’s no side to dogs; what you see is always what you get. And what I see in my precious Dudley is love, understanding, loyalty. There’s also, of course, his exuberance for life and his extraordinary dog-given ability to live in the moment, an ability that my frozen-in-grief years had completely closed off to me. Constantly looking back with longing or casting my mind forward into a lonely and desolate future, I had lost the capacity not only to live for the day, but simply to live.
With Dudley’s arrival came the thaw and, slowly but surely, I found myself again and unearthed, with his help, and from somewhere deep down in the depths of my soul, the woman I used to be.
He exudes happiness, my little dog. To the extent that Filippo who works in a wine bar in Venice, a city where I spend a lot of time — with Dudley, of course — has christened him “the happiest dog in the world”. And as we traverse that wonderful Italian city together, up and down bridges, strolling alongside canals, and clambering on and off waterbuses, I hear the same words over and over again from passers-by as they spy Dudley trotting along beside me, head in the air and tail wagging for no other reason than that’s what he considers his tail is there for, so why would he not wag it? Like, all the time.
And the words I hear from those Venetians as they smile fondly at Dudley as they walk by? “Molto felice, molto felice!” And yes, they are right; Dudley is very happy. It’s his superpower, being perpetually joyful, and it’s a power that I now find is back in my own arsenal of emotions once more.
Every day I am grateful for the gift of this little dog who saved me. Who dug deep and dragged into the light the woman I used to be. And then taught me how to live again.
And now, with five candles on his cake, Dudley and I are truly bound together. For better and for worse. In sickness and in health. Until death do us part.