“Come along Simon.” This is Leila Mum, she’s a girl dog. “Hello Simon. You’re lovely aren’t you?” Leila, Mum, her name’s Leila. Mum and Leila (Simon) are now super buddies. The intuition thing in dogs is astounding isn’t it? When I took Leila to meet Mum she instinctively went right up to her wheelchair and sat by her side looking up. Bearing in mind that she was on the end of a long lead, she could have approached any of the dozen residents, but no, she made a beeline for Mum who was completely enchanted by this golden little animal staring up at her. Mum was a little confused to see me on the other end of the lead though. “Oh Sonia darling, have you seen this gorgeous little dog?” Yes, Mum she’s my dog and I wanted you to meet her. “But you don’t have a dog”. I do now, Mum. This is Leila. “Did you borrow her from someone?” No, Mum she’s mine and she lives with us in London. “Ah – hello Simon” – and so it went on. They’re both totally besotted with each other, but I think some of it was down to Mum giving her all the cheese sandwiches on her own plate and borrowing sandwiches from some of the other residents – some happy to relinquish them and some definitely not. It was a little, well … let’s say, “fragrant” on the car journey home as Leila probably had one cheddar cheesie too many, but she was a happy little soul with her paws on the window frame staring out at all the passing traffic on the M25 home, farting like a trouper every time we hit a bump.

This first meeting with Mum and Leila made me think back to all the times I’ve walked dogs in the past. We never officially owned one before and I can remember being told that Nan and Pop’s dog jumped on a bus in Gray’s Inn Road never to be seen until weeks later when he appeared on their doorstep. Amazing thing, dog instinct, isn’t it? Mum used to run up to owners in parks, grab their dogs’ leads and run back to me with the dog to walk. She’d call them by any name she fancied back then too, despite the owners correcting her and looking a bit scared by this crazy lady who’d hijacked their prize pooch. I can remember always handing the lead back to grateful owners and mumbling things about Mum not meaning to upset them and how lovely their dog was. She always gave them sweets too, which I’m sure wasn’t good for them. One tiny dog got all stuck up with sticky toffee, dribbling profusely and whimpering with a muffled bark as his little jaws couldn’t dislodge the stuff. The owner said something about it rotting her dog’s teeth, but Mum told her to shut up and buy him some false dogteeth or put a muzzle on him. I can remember thinking that was a bit unfair as the dog was happily going along with his owner until Mum turned up and changed everything.

I think this little picture says it all – after the cheese sandwiches, a walk on the beach and half an hour away from the care home, Leila made a bee-line again for Mum when we got back and jumped up onto the chair beside her. Mum leant over to pet her and Leila rested her furry little face in Mum’s palm for well over a minute. Both calm. Both peaceful. Both connected. Bearing in mind that Mum’s attention span is limited and she doesn’t really hold a conversation for longer than a minute or so, she told Leila all about the recent bus trip she’d made (she told me they haven’t been out on a bus for months), recalled her breakfast (as far as I knew, she’d not had anything) and told Leila all about the time when I was about five and I got my fingers nibbled by a horse who lived in the fields that are now Brent Cross Shopping Centre. “Yes, Simon, Sonia howled the house down and I felt awful because I’d told her to hold some grass out for the horsey and he bit her fingers when getting the grass. Yes, he did. And she’s always been scared of horses ever since. She’s a scardie cat isn’t she? Do you like cats?” I was amazed as this story suddenly brought back a distant memory that I’ve completely forgotten about. Mum – that’s amazing, I’ve completely forgotten that story. “What story?” The story about the horse and me getting my fingers nibbled. “Sonia darling, I think you’re losing your marbles – what horse?”

I’m pretty sure that Leila will now be my conduit to other stories. Leila will just sit there and listen, whilst Mum’s memory unlocks stories that only a dog can understand.

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