West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
William - A Short Story




William a black labrador puppy

The gift which I am sending you is called a dog,
and is in fact the most precious and valuable possession of mankind.
Theodorus Gaza

If I had known who his father was, I might never have had William in the first place, so I’m eternally grateful that, to begin with, I was totally in the dark as to the nature of his paternal origins, otherwise I would have denied myself the opportunity of spending fourteen of the richest years of my life with him.

His father, coincidentally, was named Prince; so I guess William, either intentionally or unintentionally kept the “Royal” connection going. Prince was a dog who was allowed to roam freely wherever he wanted to, from morning to night.  He stayed outside guarding his patch and seeing off all intruders until he was called in at bedtime. He was the most unattractive, mangy looking mutt you could ever wish to meet, yet somehow there was something in his character and the quizzical way he looked at you, that tugged at your heartstrings and endeared you to him. He would fight any other dog he met, no matter how big or how small, and he bore the scars to prove it. The mere sight of another dog was enough to set his hackles rising and any canine that dared encroach on his territory was speedily dealt with! If ever there were a bitch on heat, Prince would quickly see off the opposition and be first in line to offer his services. If I had been told that one day I would actually own one of his offspring, I would have said “Never in a million years!”

William came into the world on 31st December 1990, so I never had a problem remembering his birthday. His previous owner told me that he arrived just before he and his wife went out to celebrate on New Years Eve, and I remember thinking “What a lovely time to be born!”

For me however, William didn’t enter my life until some weeks later, on the day I looked after a friend’s dog. Eighteen months earlier, my own dog Susie had been put to sleep and I vowed that I would never have another one.

I can’t recall a time when there wasn’t a dog in my life. Right from childhood I have always loved animals, especially dogs, and they have always been part of the family. Losing Susie had been so painful, I was determined that I would never risk going through such heartache again.

As I walked past William’s (then) home with my friends’ dog, the man who lived there came out to me as I passed. “Got yourself another dog then?” he asked.

“No, I’m just looking after him for a friend” I replied.

“Well I’ve got a ten-week-old puppy if you want him”, he said, “come and take a look.”

“No” I said, shaking my head, “I’m not having another one.” But I went with him anyway, after all, there was no harm in just looking at the pup was there?

“His father is a black Labrador from over there,” he said, indicating the housing estate across the road. It wasn’t until some weeks later that I discovered exactly which black Labrador! By then of course, it was too late.

I had encountered William’s mother several times previously whilst out walking Susie, and I knew that she was a quiet well-behaved dog.

The man went indoors and returned with a black bundle of fur in his arms. “We call him William”, he said, “and he’s just starting to respond to his name, but you can change it to something else if you decide to have him.”

He was absolutely beautiful! I reached out my hand to stroke him and he immediately locked his sharp little teeth around my fingers, refusing to let go. I shook my head resolutely and said, “No, I’m not having another dog!”

Although I still missed Susie dreadfully, I was just beginning to appreciate the freedom I now had to do exactly what I wanted to do with my days instead of being tied by the limitations and demands of owning a dog, which are many when you live alone. For three or four days I agonised as I tried to push the image of that lovely bundle of black fur out of my head and my heart, but I couldn’t. Finally, I picked up the phone.

“Have you still got the puppy?” I asked, half expecting my hopes to be dashed. I almost shouted for joy when the man said “He’s still here, and he’s yours if you want him.”

“I’ll be there in fifteen minutes!” I said.

I remember the man’s wife thrusting William into my arms and saying shakily “Here, he’s yours now.” As I hugged him for the very first time I realised that after months of heartache and lonely “freedom” my life was now once more inextricably linked with that most beautiful of creatures, a dog.  My life was no longer my own - it was his.

An hour or so later when puppy and his possessions had been deposited at my home, I was left alone with him. He came with a knitted rag doll and a ball along with his bed, which was simply a cardboard box with a couple of old jumpers in the bottom. Up until then, this little pup had shared his life with his mother, and half a dozen children, the owner’s grandchildren, who visited regularly. Consequently, he was a puppy who was used not only to the presence of his mother, but the undivided attention of a group of adoring kids, who like him were always eager to play.

At that time I lived in a flat with a shared garden, and he must have come down to earth with a huge bump when he moved in with me. At first he found it hard to adjust to the quiet of the flat, and the sudden curtailment of his freedom. Previously, he had had a large garden where he was allowed to run free. Now, unless I went outside with him, he was confined within the flat.

Wherever I went, he followed me, constantly hankering for my attention and wanting to play and biting me whenever he got the chance! I saw a different side to his character though on the very first night he spent with me. I placed his “bed”, now with a soft woolly blanket inside, next to mine, and I slept the whole night through with my hand inside the box, comforting him as he whimpered and whined for his mother and the familiarity of his old home. There was no biting now; he was just grateful for contact with me. If I took away my hand, he cried again so what could I do? I remember the feeling of stroking thick soft fur and the sweetness of feeling whole again in the company of a dog, albeit at that moment a very small one! It didn’t matter. He was mine and I felt that warm sense of completeness that only a dog can bring.

I had told his ex-owner that I had no intention of changing his name. He responded to William and it suited him. He was black and beautiful, and if I had gone through a list of a hundred doggie-names I couldn’t have come up with anything more perfect for him.



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