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For as long as I can remember, I have been around dogs. My mother still tells me of her motley black and white English cocker spaniel, Pedro, that she had no choice but to put to sleep after he bit me in the head when I was a toddler. I never felt bad for Pedro, not even now, thirty-five years later, because when my mum told the story, she added that he was “going insane from syphilis” and that he had begun to frantically urinate in all her plant pots for weeks after my birth. So I may have developed a sense of superiority towards inferior mammals — something like, Hey, you better watch it, Scooter, or we’ll put you down. Anyway, I still have the bite mark on the scalp above my left ear and Mum was genuinely afraid for my life. Who could blame her? Have you ever seen what a spaniel’s jaw looks like?
Years later, I must have been around seven, we got a red dachshund, or a teckel as they are also called, a short-legged, pointy-nosed female we christened Julia. I spent a lot of time with Julia during my late childhood and my teenage years because my mother used to work all week, sometimes till late in the evening. Today I know that I learned as much about life with Julia, in those early years, as with anyone else. Julia’s right front leg was twisted from birth but she was as fierce as Fenrir, the demon wolf who devoured the sun and the moon in Norse mythology. She had taken a snap at every single one of my friends, as well as the postman and various neighbours and relatives. Sometimes I thought that had she been human, she would have been a great person. But dog lives are shorter than most human lives and the pain and sorrow that comes with the sickness and the passing away of a pet that has been part of the family for some twelve years was already for me equal to the loss of a dear human being.
My sense of superiority towards smaller, notoriously yapping mammals of limited intelligence returned when I moved in with my grandparents, my mum’s parents, in their house in southern France the year I started college. They also had dogs, but the smaller, more exotic and bourgeois breeds, like Shih Tzu and Lhasa Apso and Pugs.
During my second year at college I met Jono, a student born in Lithuania but living in France. His parents were separated and his French mother lived in Toulouse and for some reason he could not stay with his father. Jono had a dog, too. It was another one of those inferior, over-bred, completely pointless ones, a noisy nuisance Maltese with mucky eyes and a gullible attitude. It would have ended up in a cooking pot had there been a war.
But Jono and I had so much in common that his little mutt did not bother me that much in the end. He and I liked the same video games, and enjoyed complementary styles of music and the two of us were into football. Jono had an apartment some five kilometres from my grandparents’ place and we often spent time at his place after classes and at some point instead of going to classes. He was not in any rush to get his degree and I had become confident enough to tell myself I would manage without attending classes. Every day we spent hours watching movies, playing video games, or talking about girls. Sometimes we actually went to class for an hour or two, mostly to look up girls and flirt.
I used to cover most distances by bike back then, not having a driving licence and having an aversion to buses and trams that were usually too hot and crowded for my taste. I preferred the solitary progression of the bicycle. I still lived at my grandparents’ place and returned there for dinners and to sleep, often late at night. Occasionally, when the weather was bad or too cold, Jono invited me to sleep on his couch instead of letting me face the elements. But usually I rode back home, no matter the time of day.