10thNovember 2012. The noise hits me as soon as I enter the Earls Court Exhibition Centre; dogs barking, children laughing, and whistles shrieking. But outweighing the racket is the tremendously happy and warm atmosphere.
The Kennel Club is hosting an event with over 300 breeds to help people choose the right dog for them. My friend goes crazy at every type; she’s even delighted at the furry rat that urinates on her. My approach is more targeted. I’m looking for something big, affectionate, intelligent, loyal and well-behaved. I recognise the irony of these being the same qualities I look for in a man.
My laser eyes ignore the breeds around my ankles desperately yapping for attention. I ignore the show-ponies. I don’t want a dog that’ll jump through hoops, or with a glossy, high-maintenance coat. Though neither do I want a dog whose appearance and behaviour will cause me embarrassment.
I walk past countless hounds, occasionally pausing to consider one before moving on. Many are appealing in their own way: some are lusciously soft, others are disarmingly friendly, and a few are irresistibly playful. But none are quite right and I dismiss breed after breed.
To my right, I see a group of composed working dogs. They’re sitting perfectly still and unflustered. Yes, that’s what I’m looking for. Again, basically the same traits I seek in a man. Suddenly my heart skips a beat and I take a sharp intake of breath. There he is. Without hesitation I take an abrupt diagonal short-cut, carving my way against the flow of the crowd to get to him. I’m no longer looking at any other breeds and I’ve left my friend trailing behind me.
I approach and stand in front of him. We look at each other directly in the eyes, each making our own assessments. I sit down, cross-legged so our heads are at the same height, and hold out my hand. He calmly steps forward, sniffs my fingers and then places his head under my hand. I melt. I scratch his ears and he promptly rolls on to his back for me to rub his stomach. Suddenly he’s not so composed. The dignity he started with is gone, only increasing his massive appeal. “Leo the Leonberger” – I want you.
I rise to ask the owner if I can take a photo and my sudden movement prompts Leo to heave himself back to a standing position. With the camera poised, my friend instructs me to kneel so I’m in the frame. As I do, I feel something under my knee. With shock I realise I’m kneeling, with my full weight, on Leo’s paw! “Oh shit, I’m so sorry!” I blurt to him. He just looks at me with that kind expression in his eyes. I deserve to be bitten, or at the very least growled at, and I can hardly believe his response.
The photo is taken and a familiar sad ache fills me as I stand up. I can’t have him. Not now. My circumstances aren’t right. I don’t have a big backyard, I don’t have time to exercise and entertain him. I can’t give him what he needs. I stroke him once more and walk away without looking at him. Maybe one day I’ll be ready for Leo, but for now we’ll go our separate ways.