It was my mother’s birthday at the weekend and a formal family gathering had been declared. So Molly (my older Labrador) and I headed down to her house on Saturday afternoon, to join my mother and siblings for the celebrations that evening and the next day. Natalie and Ozzy (our five-month-old puppy) stayed at home, the latter not yet ready to face the full force of my family.
With my three sisters and their assorted hangers-on also in residence, space was at a premium. And so Molly and I found ourselves assigned to the living room floor. Not a problem, though, as I’d taken the precaution of bringing my sleeping bag and inflatable mattress (for me) along with one of Molly’s larger cushions (for her).
After an evening of catching up with my extended family, during which Molly interacted so very gently with my young nieces and nephews, she and I took a brief walk around the garden and headed off for bed. She curled up on her cushion and I zipped myself into my sleeping bag.
At some point in the early morning, some noise or other woke me. As my eyes gradually started to make out the familiar shapes of the furniture, I peered across to check that Molly was OK. In the light filtering in through the curtains, I could make out her reassuring bulk just a couple of feet away from me.
She’d clearly heard the same noise as me, as her ears were cocked and I could see the light reflecting off her eyes as she glanced around. “It’s OK,” I said. And with a thump of her tail, she closed her eyes and drifted back off to sleep.
Having had Molly since she was a puppy, she and I have developed quite a bond over the last nine years. She tags along with me most of the time and she loves to come hiking, running, canoeing and paddleboarding. But she seems happiest when I’m curled up on the settee with a book (or playing the banjo) and she can settle down next to me in the knowledge that we’re going to be there for a while.
People who don’t have dogs don’t always understand the bond that can grow between a dog and its human. But in that fleeting moment in the half-light of the early morning, I recognised that what we have is a real gift. And something that man and canine have enjoyed for thousands of years. Not just a friend. Not just a running buddy. But someone who has my back. Someone to watch over me.