-12 When I was 10 years old, I pestered my dad into letting me have a dog. I researched breeds in the library and decided on a yellow Labrador. I was in boy heaven when we brought home my new puppy, whom I named Duke.
However, by my teenage years, the responsibilities of dog ownership — walks, training, brushing, feeding, washing etc. — had become chores that I increasingly skipped. Duke soon settled into the typical family dog role of hairy “furniture”.
A litter of orphans
Around this time, my brother's cat had a litter of kittens. But before they were weaned, sadly, the mother cat was run over. We raised the orphans and kept a black and white one, named Tom, who adopted Duke as his surrogate mother.
At first, Duke complained about the kitten that followed him around, nestled into him when he lay on his mat and used his body as a scratching pole.
Duke would look at us imploringly, growl at the kitten and occasionally bark when its sharp nails dug too deeply. But he never snapped at Tom nor chased him away, and over time Duke came to accept the cat's attention.
An odd couple
Duke and Tom became an odd couple and kept each the company.
I grew up and left home, as did my brother. Duke and Tom lived on together with my parents until Duke reached the grand old age of 16.
My dad buried him in the back garden. And when Tom died a short while later, my dad buried him on top of Duke.
The family joke is that when my dad buried Tom, he heard a dog growl, “Not that cat again!”
Duke was a good dog, and the photo of him with Tom brings back fond memories.
But it’s also a reminder that children are fickle in their affection and commitment to pets — as I was!
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If you buy a dog or a cat for your child or as a family pet, then it’s likely that you, the parent, will need to take responsibility for it in the short and long term.
© 2008, 2021 Robert Fairhead
This article appeared in the Village Voice Eastern-Harbourside in May 2008. I wrote it for my father, who celebrated his 70th birthday in May 2008 and with whom Duke lived all of his life.
A middle-aged dad and dog owner, Robert is a writer and editor at Tall And True and blogs on his eponymous website, RobertFairhead.com. He also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads podcast, featuring his short stories, blog posts and other writing from Tall And True.
Robert's book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media. In 2020, he published his début collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story, and in 2021 Twelve Furious Months, twelve short stories written for the Furious Fiction writing competition.
Outside of writing, Robert's favourite pastimes include reading, walking his dog, and watching Aussie Rules Football with his son.
He has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.