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Harry

A visit to a dog communicator helps author Louise Bruton better understand her relationship with her dog Harry

Harry didn’t bark because he was anxious, as I previously thought, but because he is afraid that if he stays quiet, he’ll disappear. As the dog communicator does Harry’s reading, I feel like she is reading me, too.

Bought with a hangover, I picked this white-and-brown pup from a litter of five because the first time I saw him, he was propped up against a doorframe like a chancer in a pub telling his life story. Even at eight weeks old, he was an old soul.

“When we welcome a dog into our home, we have to remember that they’re not a piece of furniture but a little life that wants to become attuned to ours.”

– Louise Bruton

Immediately, he was the focus of my days and the constant companion by my side. When I browse the supermarket aisles in my wheelchair, he sits on my knee, getting pats on the heads from every neighbor, customer and staff member we meet. For very special occasions, I bring him to the cinema. Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs and Blackfish, the 2013 documentary about captive killer whales, are firm favorites.

His barking wasn’t always an issue. Something changed in him overnight when he hit the terrible teens in canine years and the barking became incessant. And when I say he barked, he screamed.

He screamed when I moved out of my wheelchair. When the doorbell went off. When a seagull had the audacity to fly over our garden - our garden! - uninvited. When anyone hugged me. When he could sense I was leaving the house without him, his eyes filling with fear when the tell-tale signs of perfume and a nice outfit emerge.

“Do you tell him that you love him?” Ailbhe, the dog communicator, asks.

“I’m sure he knows.”

“You need to tell him directly. Sometimes the things most evident to you aren’t clear to the ones we love the most.”

Oof. A rascal at heart but a bag of nervous bones underneath a smiley exterior, Harry and I are kindred spirits.

All he wants is assurance, he tells Ailbhe. Assurance that I won’t abandon him. Assurance that I will come back. Assurance that the people hugging me aren’t attacking me.

Away from Harry’s folded-down ears, Ailbhe explains his concerns. “He feels that it’s his duty to mind you,” she says. “He just keeps asking if anything were to happen to you, if you had to go to hospital for any reason, where would he go?’”

“Where would he be without you?”

In all his confidence, I forget that Harry couldn’t know everything. He couldn’t know that I wonder the same thing about him.

Without the distraction of company to wear perfume for during lockdown, I had the chance to learn exactly what makes him uneasy. To read his movements, I have to alert him to mine: if I leave the house, I will be back and, even though hugging is forbidden in the times of Covid-19, if anyone acknowledges me, they must acknowledge him, too. We are a package after all.

When we welcome a dog into our home, we have to remember that they’re not a piece of furniture but a little life that wants to become attuned to ours. So, when Harry says that he doesn’t want to disappear, he means that he doesn’t want to be invisible. None of us do.

I never thought that I’d be the kind of person to hire a dog communicator - I’m modern to a point. I read my horoscope, but I don’t plan my life around it, you know? - but things became so loud, nobody could be heard.

Now that we know how to talk, my darling dog - my protector, my pal - only has to scream if the seagulls overstep their mark.

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