What will you be when you grow up?

I am contemplating this. I am still finding my own path. It seems I want to be many things. Story-teller, for one. Of course there are some dreams that I must simply accept are out of my reach. I don’t pine for them any longer. Acceptance is a good thing too. I will never be a dancer, a zoo vet or a stage actress. I no longer contemplate my curtain call bow or my darting of an elephant.

When I was six there was no bigger joy than the sight of a creature. Any creature, save a rodent. I was in love with my chocolate Dachshund. It started out skinny, smooth and wriggly. Sam was lithe and athletic. When he grew old he had foul teeth and dreadful skin. I now know it was probably Idiopathic Seborrhoea, for which there is no cure, but back then, as a teenager, I researched what I could, to find a remedy for the greasy flakiness that afflicted him, and which banned him from the good rooms of the house. “That dog smells,” and indeed he did. But somehow it did not bother me. I still hankered to have him sleep with me and play with him on my bed. Bathing was the only thing that worked, and so I did it religiously, fervently, determinedly. If I could have cured the dog through diligent shampooing I would have.

Despite his smelliness, which made most people push him away, I still wanted to be near him. I felt an incredible bond with this dog whom I’d been given as a six-year-old. He was mine. He was ill-behaved in so many ways. He was, to a right-minded dog owner, somewhat unlovable. He was ferocious, through his lack of socialisation with any other dogs. Walking him, I needed to be on my guard, because if he spotted another canine he went berserk, straining at the leash and threatening to attack. He once fought a Rough coated Collie; hidden beneath the flowing Lassie coat of the large dog he hung on, till they could be prised apart. This was to be one of his last casual saunters around the block.

My parents solution to the problem was that I shouldn’t walk him, and so he became a yard dog, confined to his quarter acre and the rear of the house. He noisily patrolled his fence line and it was a brave or careless intruder to venture beyond the side gate. He could bite. And still, I loved him.

My love for him was the seed. It morphed into veterinary science where the love of dogs becomes worn down and whittles away. For day in day out the love of dogs is tested by unruly, boisterous beings. They are deformed and inbred. They are badly trained or not at all. They are child substitutes or are, in fact, human. They are scared witless or fearful enough to bite. They are held down, and they piss and poop on you, petrified. They are noisy and smelly and, of course, sick, and sometimes dying. Sick dogs come with stressed owners. Owners who want answers, like people do when their cars have broken down. A new battery?

But despite all this, I cannot be without a dog. I need to commune with another species to be at peace. I need his soulful head to come to rest on my body. I need his eyes. What is it that being close to another species gives us as humans? It is, surely, incalculable, the way we are nourished by their presence. It is too magical to be able to be measured. Does it happen on a cellular level?

Because I am thinking of more study in veterinary science, it makes me question what my path is. I want to keep learning but am fearful of being mediocre, of just scraping through. Not trying might be the surest way not to fail. But still I have enrolled, because it is something I keep coming back to. The love. I am sure it is corny and inanely wet, to go on like this. I can feel the finger-in-the-mouth-nausea rising in the vets who will read this. Get over it. You are not six anymore. Still wanting to cuddle and hold?  That’s your motivation? Yes. I just like to be around animals. Especially ones not sick. I like to watch healthy dogs eat at the rate of knots. I like to watch fit dogs run and cavort. I like to watch tired dogs (and dogs not tired at all) sleep. I like to watch dogs dream of chasing cats or baling up the postman.

And then I want to write about what it is like to feel the dog’s coat beneath your fingertips. I want to write about watching the dog that’s been a companion for years die, as a viscous green liquid is injected into his vein. Nora Ephron, screen writer and director, said that every house where teenagers reside needs a dog, so at least there was one being pleased to see you when you came home. Greeting is what they have perfected. Joy too. Random silliness. We all need, yearn for that unrestrained love. Given so freely, truly with no strings attached (except, let’s be realistic; maybe feed me, walk me, pay my vet bills).

And then I think of Jasper and how his future might unfold. I keep a look out for him, at what he likes to do now, knowing that a seed might be trying to find its earth. His soil is teaming with life it seems. One day a soccer star, the next an AFL legend, a Wimbledon finalist. The next he is writing stories of an evil meat lover’s Pizza slice, AKA Mr. Pizza, and a humongous battle between chef and inanimate food. He is a master of the sound effects of explosions and gun-fire of all kinds. He is drawing cartoons of skate boarders taking to the skies. He hates dinner table talk of vomiting and diarrhoea, or any procedures of any kind on animals. He has an intense and burning love for his own dog, but he’s not moved to cuddle all things covered in fur. Rightly, he seems to know that loving his own dog does not necessarily destine him to veterinary science. He abides school, only just. If anything he appears to be a story-teller and so that could take many forms. But perhaps that’s what we all are, just trying to find the tale in which to tell our story…