It’s a cliche that dogs look like their owners. But whilst I wouldn’t say it was true, even someone as cynical as me would have to admit that Ralph the Shih Tzu is a dead spit for his owner, Robert. They have the same overhanging mullet, the same bug-eyes, the same extravagantly friendly, panting smile – to the extent that if I picked up this squeaky banana toy and threw it across the room, I’m not sure which one of them would get there first.
‘So what happens now?’ says Robert, sitting on the edge of his chair, whilst Ralph plumps himself down at my feet so I can scraggle his ears.
Robert’s mum is entering the final stages of her illness. The district nurses are organising the End of Life nursing care, and they’ve referred to us for additional care support and any extra equipment that might need providing at short notice.
I explain exactly what it is we can offer, how the system works, what’s going to happen next. Robert writes notes on the front page of the folder I’ve given him. There’s a lot to process – mostly how the teams come together, who does what and so on. It’s taken me a few years to figure it out, so I’m not surprised Robert struggles to understand. I try to simplify it to the basics – what time the carers will come in, what they’ll do.
‘I’m grateful for anything,’ says Robert. Ralph swipes at my leg with a paw. I scraggle his ears some more. His back leg begins to twitch.
‘He’s lovely,’ I say.
‘I rescued him,’ says Robert.
‘From the pound?’
‘From the neighbours next door but one. I think the kids wanted a dog, but then went off the idea. Poor thing. He never got a walk. They used to go out all the time and leave him behind a baby gate in the kitchen. I went round one day to help them with their fridge, and I felt sorry for him. So I said do you want me to take him for a stretch round the block? And they said if you like. So I did, and it became a regular thing. We just kind of clicked. He came and stayed with me for a week when they went on holiday. I didn’t hear from them when they got back, and when I went round and said what about Ralph then? And they said you may as well keep him. So I did.’
‘He landed on his paws.’
‘I think so. We both did. Didn’t we, Ralph? Eh?’
Ralph gives him a glance, then puts a paw out, taps my leg, and bows his head ready.