I did not have a car, so getting to the animals trust place was a bit of an adventure. Also, considering isolation was my goal, I failed categorically by having to get a train and walk from the nearest station all the way to the centre. Yet I did my best to keep my distance with every person in sight.
A guy, lanky with pink face and mousy brown hair, was waiting for me at the door of the centre. He looked at me a bit surprised:
No, I walk.
How are you going to get your dog away?
Now, that seemed to me a very stupid question.
Don’t dogs walk?
It was the same guy from the phone. I hoped that the fact we didn’t like each other would not interfere with my leaving that place with a new pet.
On the way to the cage where they had Sprite, I looked sideways at other dogs, trying not to stare or look too intently, with a secret fear I would like some other dog better. However, the moment my eyes met with Sprite’s, all other dogs vanished. I recognised her from the site’s photos labelled with her fizzy name. She was slightly bigger than I anticipated, but not too big, and her short sandy hair was as shinny and warm as a summer day. And those eyes, meek and shy at first, conveying uncertainty and hope at the same time… they completely got me.
I asked the guy if I could get closer to Sprite, make her acquaintance. I wanted her to smell me and to see how close she’d let me get. I even patted her a little bit on the top of her head!
Hello gorgeous, I said.
She kept my look and gave me a massive canine smile, you know the kind, when them dogs keep their mouths open and the shape of their jaw makes it look like a massive beam.
You want to come home with me? I asked with an exaggerated inflexion in my voice. She wagged her tail and moved around a little bit, to show she was ready to go, but not too eagerly.
If her dog brain worked anyhow similarly to a human one, it must have been going like: take it easy, take it easy, she might really take you away from here, but keep it cool!
I signed the papers to adopt her, I bought a lead that I happily placed on her collar when they brought her to me in the office, and gave a voluntary non-voluntary donation towards the cost of the running of the place. I happily paid it though, for I knew it was essential for dogs like Sprite to support the charity.
Shortly afterwards I left the centre, having Sprite walking closely to me on a short lead. She was interested in everything but I did not want to give her too much freedom so early, despite my inner voice saying: let her go! Let her run! Let her explore!!
But no exploring, no freedom yet.
We went straight to the train and then home. My flat has a long wide corridor, the entrance door facing the bathroom door and two more doors at each side, the kitchen, the living room and two bedrooms. I had decided, before going to pick Sprite up, that I would leave all doors closed and when she got home, I would show her, one by one, the different rooms.
I know it is important to set ground rules, even though I am not sure of how I know this. Maybe my gut simply told me or maybe it was my experience as a teacher of wild children. Anyway, I could only hope to be right.
First ones to show were the bathroom and the bedrooms. I wanted her to understand those were only-human areas, so I only let her look at them standing at the doorframe and firmly holding her collar and not letting her go in. The corridor and the living room could very well be her kingdom, whereas the kitchen stayed a neutral zone.
After standing by the the bedrooms and bathroom doors which I’d closed shortly afterwards without having let her enter, I finally let her collar go when I opened the living room door.
In you go, I added.
Since the very first moment I got Sprite I had decided, almost unconsciously, that I would speak to her in English. I suppose my reasoning went on the line of: the careers and volunteers in the dog centre, as well as the previous owner, if ever there was another, surely had been speaking to her in English her whole life.
She was native English listener.
I don’t know if dogs understand language per se or it is more a matter of how you modulate your tone or your voice or whatever. I suppose I could have spoken in Spanish to her and it would not have made a difference. But I spoke English to her nonetheless.
She went in the living room and started to sniff everything: the TV cabinet, the sofa table, the rugs under the sofa table, the sofa, the armchair, even the plants by the window. I smiled proud like one would smile about their child: she was curious, she was clever. At some point, by the plants, she seemed extremely interested in that corner and it seemed she was thinking of peeing there, to which I reprimanded immediately with a decisive and powerful “No, not in the house!”
Again, I don’t know if was my tone of voice raising ever so slightly or whether she genuinely understood – maybe she never actually intended on going and it was all my missunderstanding – but she moved on from the plants on to the bookshelves without releasing any bodily fluid.
After so many things to sniff in the living room, the kitchen must have been disappointing to her. Only cupboards all along and a bin at the end of the long kitchen. I then put one bowl of water for her and another one with a bit of dog food in one corner and she accepted the offer tucking straight in.
Now I’ll show you where you gonna sleep, I told Sprite, calling her to come back out to the hall, where I had laid down a mat by the radiator.
You should be warm in here, specially in winter.
But just as I had known to keep her on a close lead on our first walk together and to keep her out of the bedrooms and the bathroom, I was not quite sure of how to make her understand that was her bed.
I told her with words.
I told her with signs.
I told her again with words and with signs at the same time.
I prompted her down on the mat, by gently pushing her lower back down.
Eventually she did what I wanted, that is to sit on the mat, after which I profusely praised her and then I thought then that maybe next time I went to the shops, I could get some treats to bribe her into do stuff. Then I suddenly realised that I was tired.
A nap and then walk, ok?
Without waiting for a reply, I went to the sofa and I saw Sprite, who had followed me to the living room, was looking at the sofa with a questioning look.
No, I said firmly.
I did not want her to go on the sofa. Yet. Eventually she decided to roll down on the rug under the sofa table, just where I was sitting. First she had just rolled herself up, then she stood up again, started to turn around again, to find the desired position and when she lied back down, it happened to be leaning pert of her warm body over my feet!
My heart melted down.
It was a fact, there was no mistake: I was totally in love with her. I beamed and carefully took my feet away from her, to lie on the sofa, so that my left arm would hang down over Sprite. She looked at me without moving, probably waiting to see what I was going to do. I started to stroke her back quietly. She relaxed her head and closed her eyes allowing me to go on.
Good girl, I said starting to fall asleep.
And that praise could may as well be for Sprite as for myself, for I definitely felt like congratulating myself. I had always wanted a dog to whom give my unconditional love.