‘John. John, I’ve found one. Come here, quick.’ Shelly was excited. ‘Look, I’ve found an advert. She began reading as her husband looked at the screen over her shoulder.
For Sale: 4, six week old, German shepherd X puppies, Dogs and bitches, both parents can be seen. £80.00 ono.
'And look at them, aren’t they gorgeous?’ She enlarged a photo of the pups to fill the screen. Look at that little black one, there. He’d be perfect. Oh please, John, let’s at least ring up and see if there’s any left.
‘Hell, eighty quid’s a lot for a mongrel, isn’t it?’
‘I’d pay ten times that if it makes Sammy smile.’
‘What, and I wouldn’t?’ He looked at his wife with a hurt expression.
‘You know I didn’t mean that. And anyway, it’s not all about Sammy. I think it would be good for us to have a dog, too. Remember before we were married, we always said that we’d have two children, one of each flavour and a Labrador?’
John laughed but the sound had a bitter ring to it, ‘And then along came Sammy and all our dreams had to change overnight.'
‘Look Doctor Rose thinks it’s a good idea, and I’m ready to go along with anything that he suggests.’
‘But honey, do we have to go for a German shepherd? What’s wrong with a little tiny dog that will be less bother? Puppies are a nightmare so surely it makes sense that the less puppy you have the less trouble they can be.’
Shelly laughed, ‘Oh, stop grumbling, you know you want this as much as I do and we’re both only using Sammy as an excuse. I’m going to make the phone call.’ As she picked up the phone, she noticed that John had the fingers on his left hand crossed.
‘Yes,phones tend to do that.’
When Shelly ended the conversation, she told John that the advert had only been listed that morning, and that all of the puppies were still available. The woman had said that as long as they had the money, they could have the pick of the litter. Shelly established that they hadn’t been wormed or flea’d. ‘She sounded a bit rough, love,’ said Shelly, biting on her bottom lip.
‘Well it’s a good job we’re hoping to buy the puppy and not the owner, then, isn’t it. John said with a grin. He already had his coat on and was putting his wallet in his pocket. ‘Come on then. What are you waiting for? Let’s go and get our boy before Sammy gets in from school.’
‘Girl,’ argued Shelly, smiling.
‘Boy, definitely a boy.’
They got out of the car and John pulled a face. The gate was hanging open by one creaking hinge. The garden was filled with cigarette butts, dog dirt and rubbish. An old telly lay in one corner with its screen smashed. The weeds grew high and pushed between the mossy paving stones thrown over what had, at one time, been a lawn. ‘Nice,’ commented John, dryly.
‘Oi, don’t you be a snob, we’re only here to buy a dog, remember. We’re not here to judge their lifestyle. Be nice you.’
‘Are we sure that Sammy’s ready for this? It’s a big step.’
‘John, we’ve been preparing him for weeks. He knows the puppy’s coming.’
‘Yes, but he doesn’t know when. Are we sure? That’s all I’m asking.’
‘Only one way to find out,’ said Shelly, worried herself now.
Before they got to the door they heard furious barking from at least two dogs inside the house. A skinny ginger cat jumped down from the large bay window presumably to investigate the visitors. John knocked on the door.
‘That’ll be them,’ yelled a voice from inside. ‘Go on then open the fucking door. And don’t you say nothing to embarrass me. They sounded posh on the phone. No swearing, you hear.’
The door opened and a belligerent teenager stood on the doorstep. His nose was running and he wiped at it with the back of his sleeve.
‘You come about the dog?’ he said, before John had the chance to introduce himself.
‘Er yes, we rang a little while ago.’
‘Come in then.’
He opened the door a little wider and then walked ahead of them, leaving Shelly, who was the last one in, to close the front door. The boy went into a front room and threw himself, full length, on to a filthy brown sofa. A large flat screen telly was blaring and he turned his attention to Top Gear.
Shelly gagged on the smell of cat pee and discretely covered her mouth.
A woman stood in the middle of the room with a tabby cat in her arms. The ginger cat that they’d seen from the window was under the dining room table scratching at the floor. Another cat was lying along the back of an armchair. There were no dogs to be seen, but they could certainly be heard. The living room smelled of cat pee, but thankfully, it wasn’t as bad as it had been in the hall.
John and Shelly smiled politely and tried not to let their disgust show. From the moment they had walked through the door, neither of them had any intention of buying one of the puppies. Their only thought was getting the hell out of there as quickly as possible, and hopefully before they became contaminated with anything. They weren’t posh, as the woman had suggested, they considered themselves averagely normal, but neither of them had been in a home like this in their lives.
A child, naked except from a laden nappy that was heavy enough to hang almost to its knees, tottered in from what must have been the kitchen. It was holding a blackened blanket to its face. The blanket was stamped with the crest of Furness General Hospital.
The child, Shelly couldn’t determine whether it was male or female, stood in front of them and stared up with huge brown, appraising eyes. Having made up its mind about them, it raised its arms to Shelly to be picked up. It was filthy, and probably crawling with lice. She turned her face to John in a silent plea to rescue her and when he looked helpless, she turned to the corner of the room where a previously unseen squalling mass of puppies writhed in a matted and filthy playpen. She ignored the infant that wanted to be picked up and felt horrible for snubbing the child while at the same time, unrepentant. She, Shelly thought it might be female, seemed unperturbed and wandered off clutching the dirty blanket to its chest.
The woman began lifting pups out of the playpen and throwing them onto the floor in front of them. The pups, bleary with sleep, took a moment to wake up. A couple of them shook themselves. One sat on its haunches and began to scratch; two more became a two-headed puppy ball, and rolled around the room. One sat on John’s shoe and looked up at him.
Despite himself, John bent and picked the animal up. Shelly thumped him hard in the ribs, the punch clearly saying far more effectively than words, ‘Put that filthy animal down or you are never setting foot in our house again, and as to sex, well you can forget it, mate.’ They had internal conversation down to a T. John ignored her and stroked the bundle of fawn and grey puppy. Shelly watched as dog and man fell hopelessly and ridiculously in love. In that second she knew that that flea-ridden thing was coming home with them, and there wasn’t a thing that she could do to stop it happening.
They went through the motions. John asked to see the puppy’s parents and Shelly soon wished, with all of her heart, that he hadn’t. They were taken from the living room, where the cat under the table had now finished doing its business on the floor, the stench was overpowering. Because her eyes were drawn in that direction by the smell, Shelly noticed that there were already several dried out turds there; one of them had grown a white mold.
The kitchen was like nothing she had ever seen, never mind walked through. The floor was littered with shit, canine, feline and human in origin. The animals of the house were clearly allowed to do their business anywhere they chose. The kitchen bin had been overturned and the rubbish, mainly nappies and take away debris, had been scattered over the filthy kitchen floor. Several of the nappies had been ripped open and their contents flung across the room.
A festering pile of washing, with a sleeping cat on top of it, spread from one corner right up the wall and into the centre of the room. It had over spilled a broom cupboard, and had carried on growing. The sink and every worktop were stacked with filthy crockery, and a cat lapped from the dishwater, while another one ate the remains from one of the family’s plates. John still had the puppy in his arms; he hadn’t even given the others a second glance, and nothing on this earth could have persuaded him to put the pup back down on the floor. They navigated their way through the landmines of turd and crud into the back yard. When the door was opened, it became clear why the two, disgustingly kept, dogs and bevy of cats used the house as a toilet. It was because the yard was too full to contain any more excrement. Every inch of space was soiled and the dogs walked amongst it, squishing it between their toes. One of the dogs was predominantly Alsatian in his heritage, the other was smaller and mainly collie based. They were thin, their long coats matted and dirty. The bitch had trails of hardened puss in the corners of her eyes, which made her look as though she was crying.
The moment the door was opened the dogs stopped mooching, and flung themselves at the people coming out. The woman, who was ahead of them, put out her foot and kicked viciously at the big dog, he yelped in pain and retreated to the far end of the yard, where he sat in a corner and watched. The bitch launched herself at Shelly and put her filthy front paws on Shelly’s new River Island jeans. They weren’t cheap.
She pushed the dog down but, not to be daunted, it just leapt straight back up to her again, wagging its tail and begging attention. She pushed it down and feeling terribly sorry for it, held it down with one hand while she stooped to pet it with the other. The dog was in rapture. Shelly looked towards the back door and relative safety. She couldn’t stand to see the neglect and abuse any longer. All this little dog wanted was to be loved. ‘I think we’ve seen enough to make a decision now, haven’t we John,’ she said, almost begging him to get her the hell out of there before she burst into tears.
Getting back into the house was a lot harder than getting out had been. They fought the two dogs to get in. On seeing the door opening, the male, flew across the yard, not even attempting to avoid all the excrement on the floor and wrestled his way into the kitchen. The woman blocked him with her leg, and while she was holding him back, the bitch slipped through on her other side and went in. John and Shelly had to squeeze in around the fat woman’s sweating body.
On seeing their mother, the five remaining pups ran to her and instantly attached themselves to her under-hanging teats. The bitch was emaciated and clearly had no milk to give. She tried to shake them off but they stuck to her as she walked, bow-legged, to the corner. She was the picture of abject misery, slumping to the floor as she resigned herself to the mauling. The woman came into the room and yelled at her, but then flopped onto a sofa and lit a cigarette.
‘Giz one then,’ said the boy, who hadn’t moved from the other sofa. She threw him a cigarette.
‘That’s three you owe me now and I’d better get them back before you go to school tomorra.’ The baby, whose name it turned out was Tammy, had taken hold of the ginger cat by its tail and was dragging it out from behind an armchair. John and Shelly paid their money. They didn’t even bother trying to knock the woman down in price, as they had agreed to do. They couldn’t get out of that house fast enough. John clutched the puppy in his arms and demanded that Shelly drive.