I picked him because he was the only one at the Dog’s Trust that didn’t bark.
He shared the kennel with a forward Jack Russell called Billy. But wee Baxter shook with fear, his stub of a tail shaking. His fur was matted, and they could only give me an estimate of his age. But all it seemed to me was that wee Baxter needed a good wash and a lot of love. Something I felt capable of.
It had been a New Year’s resolution to get more fit. Walk more. The Helix Park had been on my doorstep for a few years now, but I’d never been near it. And by getting a dog, I was doing him a favour and he would help me.
I got to take him home a week later in exchange for £100. A bargain, really. I bought him a sparkly lead, dog bowls, stuffed toys and plenty of treats. The day after I got him home, I booked him into the groomers. He came out looking younger, all his grey hair shorn off.
Then the world collapsed and for four months I was glad of the company. I took him on short walks to be begin with, to get us used to each other. Being a terrier, he liked to walk on in front. Sometimes, it felt like he was the one walking me, especially when he got the smell of something nearby. A squirrel. A rabbit.
We settled into our routine. A walk round the cul-de-sac first thing in the morning, a longer walk midday and round the Kelpies at night. It was braw, all lit up.
Wee Baxter was weary of bikes and would dive out of the way if one got too close. He liked being a good boy and I liked to treat him for it. But something still felt like it was missing. Our walks round the Kelpies lengthened in the summer months, when fleetingly things looked like they were returning to normal.
The weans were allowed out to play again. Their laughter calmed me. Baxter tugged on his lead. I looked up and there he was, sniffing the hind of a chocolate lab.
‘Oh sorry,’ I called out. ‘I wasn’t paying attention there.’
‘It’s ok,’ the owner replied. ‘They’re fine, just having a wee sniff. Saying hello.’
‘Baxter’s not the greatest with other dogs. I only rescued him from the shelter a few weeks ago.’
‘Maybe they recognise each other? I got Murphy there too.’
‘Murphy’s a lovely name. He suits it.’
‘Thanks. What’s your wee fella’s name?
‘What a coincidence, I nearly chose that name myself.’
I smiled at the handsome stranger. He smiled back.
‘Oh well, I suppose we better get going,’ I said.
‘It would be a shame to separate this pair. They seem to have struck up a friendship… Maybe I could buy you a coffee? I’m Stuart, by the way.’
Yes, I was going to enjoy being a dog owner.