For many, too many people in my life, the importance dogs had in mine is of no interest. My lust for life (and boys) is far more interesting.
However, dogs and other animals have played as significant a role in my life as any man… or woman.
They are the closest part of me, interacting with them is where I am most truthful, to myself as well as, obviously, to them. Interactions weren’t always great! But then again, neither were they with people, so.
In these next couple/few posts I will speak about the animals in my life. This is all conducive to being placed inside my second book (new working title: windruffle), because as it is a book of my life, it definitely cannot be without my dogs and other animals.
The earliest animal interaction I remember was with a horse, or even various horses. The most dramatic one, the memory that would remain forever, was of course the time while we lived in New Zealand and the horse I was riding on, alone, with my dad holding a rope that was tied to him, decided to gallop at full speed down a hill, on a track on the edge of the hill, on the edge of a cliff, to chase after the other horses that were thrilled to go back home. I mentioned this experience in another post, but I don’t think I brought home just how I felt. And I was tiny, but I do remember it well.
The horse ran, I was terrified by the sheer speed and the bumping up and down, and the sense of complete inability to hold on, of complete tumbling wildly without anything to hold on. I thought rope but my tiny hands were completely inadequate to hold on to that rope. Eventually I just flew off, and I still remember the wind whooshing as I flew, in an arc, it seemed to me, first up, then down and then hitting the ground, hard, the earth was hard and not as soft as I remembered it being when I played within it. I was aware of the cliff, my eyes must have been open because I saw it going down a long way, and I saw the track I had fallen off a way up, and I have a memory of large spaces and mountains around me.
I also remember then everything turning, spinning, and I felt that was it. I remember feeling his is it, and not feeling a bit sad about it, it just was. Then all of a sudden my dad was there, and he picked me up, he dusted me off, and I was back on the horse, this time with him on it too, and we made our way down.
I never felt any resentment, any fear for the horse. It certainly wasn’t his fault I had fallen off, and to be honest, I don’t even remember being particularly traumatised, or scared about the experience. It just happened.
The next animals after that that I remember were mostly cats.
We had them in New Zealand, we didn’t have them in Venezuela, where we had a couple of parakeets, though. (I’ve ran out of photos, they’re all still in albums at my sister’s house). And when my dad would take to Cumanà, to a beach villa there, I would spend many, hours playing with lizards.
Near Cumanà, there was another important animal encounter. We went at this wonderful beach, with lazy palm trees, a big ocean ahead of us and Technicolor underwater life and scenery. There were waves and on these waves a strange fish would constantly swim in and risk ending up dead on the beach. So I, somewhere between 7 and 10 years old, kept picking it up and throwing it back in. My dad passed by and looked at it and said it looked like a baby shark. So I grabbed it and decided to swim out to sea. I swam and swam and swam and then got confused because I couldn’t remember whether sharks needed to come up for air, like dolphins, or not, so I would make its head bob in and out of the water. When I thought I was far enough to release it I turned around to check and the beach I’d come from had become a thin line in the horizon.
I let it go and swam back. My dad was mad with worry and very shouty, saying what if its mother had come to find you!! But it didn’t, all had gone well. I felt like I had saved that pup.
We moved to Peru when I was ten. Our house in Arequipa was big and the garden went all around it, it had a lawn part on top right, then there was the driveway and then a slope down into a field, and in the back there was a vegetable garden which tumbled down, terraced. The vegetable garden was great for my earthworm races, the field and hill perfect for two llamas, a white one and a brown one, but the white one was poorly when it arrived and died soon after (Biba), wheres the brown one thrived (Bibo). When Churro arrived soon after, he would hassle the llama, and Bibo would spit at him, rendering him quite green. Also, where Bibo pooped the grass shot high and lush and bright green, where Churro pooped the grass was burnt and dead. It was funny. I went for long walks with Churro, down to the International Club at the bottom of our road, into town, around the block, or far into the fields around Arequipa. Nobody ever asked me where I’d been or where I was going or how long I’d be gone for, because it wasn’t Gladys our maid’s job to do so, and everybody else was usually out of the house. So we roamed free. Now that I’m adult of think of many things:
I was between 10 and 12 in a huge city, that might have been a little risky to let a kid go round by herself? But it never felt risky at all, I felt perfectly safe.
Now that I have dogs, and I don’t remember Churro being on a leash, I wonder: did I walk around all these places with Churro off the leash? Was he THAT good?
If we went into the fields, we always brought back heaps of alfalfa, Bibo’s favourite chomp.
In the International club, I often visited and was bitten by some semi-wild ponies that roamed freely in its terrain. Once again, I never developed any fear for them, I knew that I was bothering them and they were telling me to go away, that’s all.
I felt safe with Churro, I realise, though at the time not being safe wasn’t even a small thought in my mind. He wasn’t allowed in the house, so I went and stayed out with him as long as I could.
When we left for Italy, it was a surprise, sure. I had registered my mum was in Italy with my sister, because she sent boxes containing Nutella and pretty Italian dresses. I never really missed her though. Peru was so rich, my life there was perfect. I didn’t like the school so much, as there were other kids there, people, and these weren’t always easy to get on with. But back at home, alone save for Gladys if I needed her, or outside the house with my animals, I was just dandy. But it was when I understood that Churro wasn’t coming with us, that I started bawling. My father said he’d given him, along with Bibo, to a teacher of mine (which is presumably why I believed him), who, of course, had a large house with lots of countryside where they’d be happy and, of course, her husband was a butcher so he’d bring home huge bones for Churro to chomp on.
But to this day, if I dwell on it long enough, I still feel crying. I could bear to be in this new place, with a mother I knew barely how to talk to, a brother and sister whom I barely knew, and without my father, who I was used to seeing coming and going. But not have Churro? I still remember all our walks, all our exploring, as if they were yesterday and I missed him and our Arequipa and cried for him and for Arequipa endlessly.
Those were my animals before Italy. The others were the ones I met on my walks: cows, birds, any little critter I could find was my friend, whether they liked me back or not.
Because of my animals, and my unquestioning connection to nature (which may be why Venezuela created less of a bond within me than Peru, despite having lived there longer) I feel, I KNOW, that my childhood was a happy one. A free one.
As an adult and a parent I would now look back in horror at the way us kids were neglected and left alone. But I can tell you: give your lonely child some nature, and an animal to relate to (nothing really beats a dog) and that may well be all they need.