Life in the old dog yet
Exploits of an ageing Portuguese Waterdog
It’s rare to walk Pogo in Notting Hill, where I live, without getting stopped by someone who wants to stroke him. I get my fair share of other dog owners who ask what happened but more likely it will be a woman, often on her own, who finds him irresistible. I need to be careful what I say, but evidence would suggest that Pogo has become an impressive ‘babe magnet’ in his senior years.
It’s uncanny how often they stop to fuss over him. I sometimes get a chance to briefly explain what happened usually as they realise the time and need to go. Some stroke him, ignore me and finish with a short statement of fact as they up and leave. "Your dog is too cute, so lovely, adorable," the extolled virtues vary depending on where they're from.
He’s made them late and I know my place. I’m the sidekick, the straight guy. I answer any questions when asked, but only if there’s time.
We’ve been in London for a couple of years now. Before that, Wokingham, which is when Pogo came to us as a 2 months old puppy. He’s a Portuguese Waterdog and regularly gets mistaken for a Labradoodle. The cheek of it!
You’d expect a water dog to love water. After all, they once lived along the coast of Portugal helping fishermen to drive fish into their nets. Despite having webbed toes, it took Pogo over a year before he finally swam in the local lake. He took more of an interest when we introduced a tennis ball. Even then he pawed the water for a while expecting one of us to brave it instead of him. Since then, I’ve seen him stick his whole head under water, suggesting he might have fishing genes deep in there somewhere.
We wanted a hypoallergenic dog because Donna suffers with some allergies. While the science may not be proven on whether it’s even possible to avoid such allergies, he doesn’t drop hair and Donna has never had a problem in the 10 years we’ve had him.
He has one of the softest coats I’ve ever stroked. What they don’t tell you in the manual is they pick-up dirt like a stickle brick sticks, mud is magically magnetised to them. It’s only when you wash his legs and undercarriage after a walk that you see the tell-tale streams of muddy brown gravy running down the plughole. Once he’s out of the way, it’s impressive to see how much beach remains washed-up.
Our old house in Wokingham backs on to Leslie Sears playing fields, 7 acres of grassland, perfect for a dog. Although the children decided to call him Pogo, he’s well suited to it, bouncing in the long grass during the summer to keep his bearings as he chased down balls thrown from a long range ‘chucker’.
I wasn’t even there when it happened.
Pogo had gone launching after a ball and flipped over in a small dip, unable to keep his balance. He’d done it hundreds of times before, always surfacing unscathed. This time, something had gone very wrong and he couldn’t get up. Wills, our son who was walking him, called Donna and between them they managed to get him back to the house in a blanket. The local vet said he needed specialist attention and Pogo was shipped off to the countryside where he stayed for 10 days.
Thank god the insurance was comprehensive and up to date. His back legs were paralysed and there wasn’t much they could do at first apart from put him on a catheter and give him a sedative to sleep.
The next day they took scans which revealed that he didn’t have a slipped disc. The paralysis had been caused by some of the nerve endings in his spine being damaged. An unfortunate accident. The good news was, given time and patience, Pogo would recover. To his former self they couldn’t say.
When we got him home ‘walking the dog’ took on a whole new meaning. At first we had to attach a sling under his back legs with two carrying handles. It was like walking with a 30 pound bag of spuds. His lifeless legs hung forlornly from the harness, dragging along behind him. We quickly added rubber shoes to protect his paws and then spent ages finding them in the wet grass where they’d flipped off. (We tried various types).
It started in his right leg first. Movement slowly returned and he started to take some weight. A couple of weeks later, his left leg joined in until we no longer needed the harness.
He now walks with a significant limp on his left side. More effort is involved as he throws his leg out in an ungainly fashion to keep up with his right one. The nerve damage includes loss of nerve connection to the leg muscle causing it to wither. More recently he’s had some pain, which we now control with a pill wrapped up in cheese.
That’s one of the common questions - is he in any pain? I’m happy to answer and much prefer it to the person who very occasionally walks past and shouts, always shouts, “‘Ere, ‘ere. D’you know there’s something wrong with your dog?”
Pogo flirts a lot. He’s always available and often makes a beeline for approaching strangers. We keep him off the lead a lot more these days, it means he can go at his own pace. With his perfected limp and cute face, even the coldest heart melts. The real truth is he’s also on the lookout for food. He’s happy to be stroked and loves the attention but part of him is always after a reward. A nice treat for being such a lovable hound.
He’s a thief and has got away with it on several occasions. To my horror he sneaked up behind a picnicker on a Holland Park bench and snaffled one of her falafel balls. She screamed in anger, quite rightly and I hung my head in shame. He on the other hand showed no remorse and would have been on to the next crowded bench if I hadn’t put him back on his lead. I’m really sorry, won’t happen again.