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Fighting over toy

And no, I’m certainly not referring to CAT tools or even the feline species itself, although I know from previous surveys on ProZ, and from Laura Bennett’s fascinating article in the ITI Bulletin a year or so ago, that cats are often cited as the most common pet owned by translators. For me, it has to be dogs, all the way.

Don’t get me wrong: I like cats; we even had a cat when I was first married and was working as an in-house translator (albeit only a 5-minute walk from home!). It didn’t seem fair to have a dog and leave it on its own all day, so we acquired a tabby kitten, Sophie, but I’m convinced she was really a small dog in cat’s clothing! She even used to come on walks with us, but you had to make sure you returned the same way as she always stopped at a certain field and would wait for us to return and pick her up. She took the arrival of the children in her stride and was always up for sitting on knees and being stroked, especially when I was trying to knit or work. Yet there’s no denying that cats are their own creatures and do precisely what suits them, not you.

Dogs, on the other hand, are desperate to please, loyal to a T and always attuned to their owner’s moods. Yes, you have to train them (often no mean feat!) and yes, they are a huge tie, but for me, a house without a dog just doesn’t feel like home.

As an isolated freelancer, having dogs in the house means someone to talk to (and they never answer back!), plus they provide a structure for the day. Come rain or shine, they need two walks a day, which in turn gets me off the computer and out into the fresh air for some much-needed exercise. Ours is such a sedentary profession, but how many of us make the effort to get up and go out for a walk if we don’t have dogs nudging us at the allotted time? Even if it’s tipping it down with rain, or worse, you have to make the effort if you’ve a dog to walk – and actually, once you’re out, it often isn’t as bad as you’d feared! Plus there’s that well-deserved cup of coffee to look forward to when you get back into the dry….

On a sunny day, dog-walking provides the perfect opportunity to stretch your legs and clear your brain. No matter how stressed you may be, whether with awkward clients, a tricky translation or colleagues driving you mad, downing tools and going for a walk in the fresh air seems to magically put everything in perspective. I suppose it’s a form of mindfulness and certainly a treat for all the senses, especially in the spring and summer months. Recently I’ve been enjoying the heady scent and fabulous colour of the glades of bluebells in our beautiful Sussex woods, but there’s always a delicious herbaceous aroma as you walk through the undergrowth, birdsong in the air, butterflies flitting here and there, the feel of the warm rays of sunshine on your face … but the less said about the squeals of the rabbits cornered by my naughty hunting dogs, the better…..

Leo in bluebells May 2015

Dog-walking is also a surprisingly sociable activity; I often arrange to walk with friends, but even if you don’t, dog-walkers tend to be chatty souls and when you’ve had your head down, beavering away on a dry-as-dust translation project, it’s lovely to have some human contact for a change! The fact that we tend to know the dogs’ names, but not their human owners’ is neither here nor there…

Dogs are excellent company too and definitely sense your mood and adapt accordingly; my first dog as a grown-up, Sally, was a crazy lab/collie/bearded collie cross with a penchant for escaping over the 6ft tall drystone garden wall when we lived up on the West Coast of Scotland. She was a real character, adored people and was obsessed with catching pebbles thrown into the sea and stealing fish from unsuspecting fishermen on the beach (well, she was born on a fish farm….). Yet, when my marriage broke up, she was my constant shadow, very much as though she was protecting me against all-comers. She had so many tears cried into her shaggy coat and was there for me, no matter what. Strangely enough, for a truly sociable dog, she demonstrated her displeasure with my ex-husband too, turning tail when he came to collect the boys and refusing to have anything to do with him. He did ask about custody for dogs at one point, but there didn’t seem much point in answering when the dog herself had made her feelings crystal-clear!

sallySadly, we had to have her put to sleep 5 years ago, at the grand old age of 16. She’d grown up with my boys and it hit us all really hard. They become so much a part of your family, especially when you’ve been through traumatic times together. My younger dog, Poppy, a Springer spaniel, acquired after the divorce and subsequent house move to give us all something new to focus on and cheer us all up, was equally devastated by losing her big companion, and couldn’t be left in the house on her ow.! I suppose she’d never been used to being alone, having always had Sally, by then a calming and steadying influence for a flighty and rather hysterical spaniel pup. I was rarely out for long, but even a trip to the shops or the cinema would have her howling in my absence – not an ideal scenario when you live in a semi-detached house! Anyway, to cut a long story short, we eventually decided that the only answer was another dog: hence Leo’s arrival nearly 4 years ago – and she’s never looked back since!

Having two dogs is definitely the perfect solution: they keep each other company when you’re not there – and even freelancers need to go out from time to time! They’re also great fun and so comical together; I really can’t imagine not having them around. They also act as a magnet to bring my boys, now long since flown the nest, back home at relatively frequent intervals to get their dog fix – method in my madness!

Leo at the gate June 2014Crazy Poppy