The Love of an Older Dog – Stephen Dobson

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Life has ways of categorising us all; we are put into boxes and branded with labels. Some fit, while others … well, they just hang around, being annoying.


There is one division which seems to divide us all: it seems that you are either a cat lover or a dog lover. Now, while I have nothing against cats in general, this article is in praise of dogs. Perhaps I should qualify that – it is especially in praise of old dogs. You know … the incontinent, cataract-ridden, rub their butt on the carpet kind.

I have always had dogs around me; my life has been defined by the dogs who have cohabited with me. Yet, I never tire of their company, and I think it all boils down to how the dog sees us, their human companions.

When a dog observes us feeding, grooming and taking care of them, they think that we are good, we care for them, so therefore we must be gods. A cat, on the other hand, thinks that we feed, groom and take care of them, therefore they must be gods! It is self evident when one compares the feckless, exaggerated and wild enthusiasm a dog explodes with, upon seeing its master return home, to the cruel disdain a cat exhibits when it thinks you might want to sit on the lounge it has occupied solely all afternoon.

My life is littered with beautiful memories of time shared with wonderful dogs – each a story worth the telling. Perhaps the fondest memories are of Marlowe, a West Highland White Terrier, who was my close companion for 18 long and happy years. She was a rare beauty, a show dog with papers, but never shown. Instead, she found fame and fortune through film and television. I was working at the time as a cinematographer and had been given the job of shooting some dog food commercials. As we always did, we screen tested a number of dogs for the starring role, and having found our dog, set a shoot date. The shoot day soon rolled around, the lights were set up, the make up completed and director ready to roll. The script was a simple one requiring the lady of the house to come home to her adoring dog, who would proceed to hound her until she gave the little pup her gourmet dinner. At first, all went to plan – until the dog started eating the food. It chomped it down like a champion, but immediately went into convulsions, regurgitating the whole lot back up before we could get the requisite 4 second shot.

“Cut, cut, cut!” yelled the director. Our animal trainer ran in and rescued the dog. It seems that no one had ever given the dog the actual food we were shooting. It was then that the owner confessed that the dog went into anaphylactic shock if fed cereals of any sort. This particular canned food was about 80% cereal, dressed as meat!

The director and producer went into a shock of their own – considering the consequences of cancelling the shoot at a cost of more than $40,000.

While I wryly observed this disaster unfolding, I couldn’t help but think that it could never happen if my dog Marlowe, then a beautiful two-year-old, was there. She was the ultimate eating machine, and if my lawn was to be believed, she gave as good as she got from the other end too.

Then the director looked at me and asked if I had any suggestions as to how we might get around this little problem. I hesitated … then said in a meek, trembling voice, that I might have a dog that would fit the bill, only five minutes away from the location.

Being a desperate situation, I was sent on my way, while the producer organised a mobile dog wash to meet Marlowe and me back at the location. I have to admit that washing dogs has never been one of my favourite things, and when I returned with a flea bitten, burr ridden, floor mop head in my arms, the producer and director sank in their set chairs.

But only an hour later, they were bowled over as my little white princess sauntered onto set. She glowed, and didn’t she know it. She was the centre of attention, and what happened was nothing less than a transformation. She knew she was pretty and loved the adoration. Sure enough, when the time came to act, a couple of liver treats hidden in the pocket of the actress, a few more hidden on the bench, then one hidden in the bowl of food – and we had the shot in one take.

With hallelujahs all round, we completed the commercial without a hiccup and finished under the allotted ten hours. And guess what … a star was born!

I thought little about it in the subsequent weeks, until one day a cheque turned up addressed to me for six hundred dollars. I was flabbergasted, as the paperwork with it was addressed to Marlowe Dobson. Along with the cheque was a management proposal and an offer to have her trained by one of the best trainers in the country. Needless to say, she got double rations that night.

She eventually went on to have an 8 year career as a film dog, starring in My Dog, Exelpet, Foxtel commercials etc, but despite all the training, there was still only one way to get her to do anything – good old liver treats.

Perhaps my best memory was when she was picked up to do a personal appearance at a Westfield shopping mall. I had her all washed and blown dry, she was getting on a bit and becoming a bit crotchety with age, but even she knew something special was happening when instead of the trainer’s old panel van with the cage in the back, a long white stretched limousine pulled up in front of our house and a chauffeur opened the door to reveal her trainer. It seems that there was to be a red carpet welcome for her at the mall.

I watched her drive away, yet it seemed right in some way that she receive that treatment. She had seen me through a divorce, career crises and the ups and downs of life. She had asked little and always just wanted to please; her love was unconditional and given freely. If there was a weak link in our relationship, it was me. But she never once showed in any way that she was less than one hundred percent with me.

I remember her last days, which were spent here in Kentucky in the beautiful New England. She dottered around taking simple pleasure in the sun’s warming rays – and to the end loving her food. I had to take her to the vet ever more frequently, as she aged, and more than once the vet asked if I wanted to put her down. She still enjoyed her simple life, so I simply took some more money from the account named Marlowe and said whatever it costs give her a quality life. After all … she’s earned it.

As she got closer to her 18th birthday, I found myself waking many times a night to look down at her bed beside mine, to be reassured to see her ribs rise and fall rhythmically, only then finding rest myself.

As was inevitable, one day I woke to find her no longer breathing. The weight, which left my heart leaden, still comes to me at times. I treasure the memories and friendship shared and know a life much enriched by a little pup called Marlowe.

On the other hand, I will relate a cat story, just to add some balance. I have a good friend named David who saved to buy a prized Persian show cat. So happy was he, that he threw a party for the naming of the cat. A few close friends appeared at his flat, having a few nibbles and wine. David was sitting on the lounge, stroking said kitten, when he was asked what he had decided to name the cat … upon which, he lifted the animal up in one hand, looked down at the urine stain on his new white trousers and screamed, “You little bugger!” Needless to say, the name stuck, and it is known as you little bugger to this day! … would never happen with a dog … I rest my case!

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