My first ever pet, a dog named Butch, was put to sleep twenty five years ago, and I still miss him. He was two weeks older than me, and we grew up together. He was my best friend, my protector, and my baby. His mother was half Cocker Spaniel, his dad was a Heinz 57. Butch was a medium sized stocky black dog, with a white blaze on his chest, a spaniel plume of a tail, and long spaniel ears. He was so cute when he was a puppy, my mother named him Butch as a joke.
Back in the sixties and early seventies, kids, cats and dogs ran wild on the council estates where I grew up. Butch was no exception. He lived his own life, with a fairly flexible round of people to visit, dogs to play with, and meals to eat. Entire and strong, sometimes he would stay away for days, courting one of the local (or not so local) bitches. He would come home hungry and tired, and we knew that another litter of spaniel eared black puppies was brewing somewhere.
Looking back on those days, I can't believe that so many people didn't neuter their dogs, and let them run wild. I certainly wouldn't encourage it now. Butch had a 'pack' of friends, including Carlo, a big retriever who lived next door, and who was his best buddy. If they had been human, they would have gone to the pub together and gone to the football match every Saturday. Timmy lived around the corner, he was mostly terrier, with a bit of squirrel thrown in for good measure. Timmy was crazy, (whenever I read The Plague Dogs I think of him). The other dogs and the local kids knew that he was mad, and avoided him. Carlo and Butch wouldn't let Timmy onto the playground, because he was a biter. The other dog in the pack was Jenson, a beautiful pedigree black Lab who lived on the other side of the park, and would come around to call for Butch and Carlo. The dogs and kids all played together, except when the dogs had urgent business to attend to.
Whenever we visited my grandma's, we would take Butch with us. Taking Butch to grandma's was a ritual, and involved putting him on his lead. Why we bothered I don't know, because he spent the rest of his time wandering around town by himself, and was clearly humouring us when we all went on our weekly trips together. Usually we would walk to grandma's across the fields, but occasionally, in bad weather, we would take the bus for three or four stops. Butch loved to vist my grandma's, as we'd lived with her at one point, and he considered it a home from home, with better food. My grandparents lived next door to my grandad's sister, and only a few houses away from my grandma's sister. They both had dogs (Sandy and Lassie), and Butch would take himself off to visit them as soon as he had finished making a fuss of my grandparents.
We didn't see anything unusual about Butch going to visit my grandparents by himself, it was about twenty minutes walk, and he knew the way. He'd often turn up in their kitchen, begging for a bowl of water, or a bit of rabbit, before wandering over to see Lassie or Sandy. However, we were surprised one wet and rainy day when we all got on the bus, with Butch on his lead behind us, to hear the conductor say "So, he's YOUR dog is he? He's been hitching a lift for four stops for the last month. He jumps on the platform when the bus stops at the top of your road, and jumps off again at the top of Lucas Road." (where my grandparents lived).
Fortunately, the conductor knew my family, and wasn't about to throw Butch off the bus, or charge us for his journeys. He thought it was funny that the dog was so lazy that he would catch the bus rather than walk. He did warn us though, that if he thought for one minute that Butch was using public transport to visit his 'girlfriends', he would make him get off and walk.
Growing up with Butch spoiled me for any other dog. We treated him like a human being, and he responded by being a loyal friend and a great protector. I loved him to bits, and still remember the day that he was finally put to sleep, aged thirteen. I said "If dogs don't go to Heaven, then I don't want to go there either." If there is a Rainbow Bridge, he will be puzzled by all the cats waiting there with him, but if he knows they are family, he'll protect them forever.