Robert the retriever

Last Sunday, a man came over to pet Storm, our golden retriever. It’s not unusual. I?m pretty used to the ?oh what a beautiful dog? comments and while I dare myself to say she gets her looks from my husband, I don’t. I just say thank you.

Storm seemed to be getting more than her usual pat on the head, in fact the man was now crouched down at her level and they seemed quite enthralled with each other. Without looking up at me, the man said that he?d just lost his golden two weeks ago.


I know how awful that must be and said I was sorry to hear it. I waited a moment, expecting him to go into the coffee shop that we were sitting outside of, but instead he was getting Storm to give him ‘paw’, although he used the command ‘shake’. It rather annoyed me that she responded to that just as well as she did to ‘paw’ but that’s a non-essential story detail. Anyway, he didn?t get up or feel any apparent need to elaborate on the story of his dog and frankly it felt a bit weird. I hate conversation gaps and always feel under pressure to fill the silence, but with what? My brain whirred around trying to come up with a response that would be sympathetic but not too personal. What about asking how old the dog was? No, that only works if the dog was older than about 10 so you could say ?well at least he/she had a good innings?. But what if the dog had died young in some horrible accident or a sudden illness which no-one had been able to predict. And of course you should never ask what the dog died of or if he/she is buried in the back yard.

In the end, I settled for asking the dog?s name. Robert, he said, named after his father. He didn?t wink or smile as he said it, or show any other hint that he was joking so I can only assume that he wasn’t. Perhaps he doesn?t have any children whom he could name after his father. Even so, I can’t help thinking it would have been a touch less embarrassing to Robert senior to just give the dog a more traditional name like Snoopy or Roxie or Rex. Assuming he doesn’t have an aunt or uncle by the same name. Another period of silence. What was I supposed to say? Oh that must have made your father so proud.

At this point I could have just said goodbye, nice talking to you, etc, and moved us along. Storm is always quite useful when I need to extricate myself from a situation as I can claim that she needs to eat or needs to get into the cool, or was looking a bit peaky earlier. But I hesitated because I wasn?t quite sure if the man and I were done and I didn’t want to break the sentimental moment. However, he clearly was done because he stood up and quite cheerfully said ?bye bye Storm’ at least 3 times and sort of waved at me as he started to walk off. Unfortunately, this was at the very same moment that I said, in a slightly pitying tone, ?you must miss Robert a lot?.

Why, why, why did I have to say that. Where did the breakdown occur in communication between my brain and my mouth? The conversation was finished. We should have been on our way. If this were a fictional piece, I?d swear that I looked into the poor man’s eyes and saw Robert the retriever reflected in them, as loose tears spilled out. As it was, we looked awkwardly at each other and replied at the precise same time. Me – ‘yes, goodbye, nice to meet you’ and him – ‘yes, but it should get easier.’

Another successful social interaction concluded and we were on our way.

Finally, here?s a fascinating fact from todays page of my dog-a-day calendar:
?The handsomest male in a litter of St Bernards is traditionally called Barry?.

Just another of beauty’s pitfalls.