The schoolday I’ll never forget: ‘Our dog followed us to school - to be greeted by the dogcatcher’

Daphne was a starving stray who became a loving family pet. When the dogcatcher gave chase, I realised the entire school was rooting for my dog

The dog had followed us to school, a walk of about half a mile. This was not unusual – the dog followed us to school almost every day. Generally, she would sit in the playground for a while before going back home. Sometimes she stayed to interfere with games. On at least one occasion, she entered the building and wandered the halls until she found my brother’s classroom.

My father had picked up this dog as a starving stray outside his office a couple of years earlier. It was black with orange marks where eyebrows would be; skinny, highly strung, loyal and ungovernable. My father named her Daphne.

In those days, lots of people’s dogs wandered the neighbourhood at will. I knew many local dogs by name without having any idea who their owners were, because I only ever met them unaccompanied. Daphne was like that; she would head off in the morning and come back in the late afternoon dragging some horrible piece of roadkill, which she would eat under a tree. If you ever needed her, you just opened the front door and shouted her name; she’d arrive about 10 minutes later.

But dogs were not allowed on school property. I’m pretty sure were warned about Daphne following us to school, but it wasn’t the sort of warning you passed on to your mother. When we arrived at school on this particular day, the dogcatcher was waiting for us, in full dogcatcher’s uniform.

Tim Dowling’s dog, Daphne
‘Highly strung, loyal and ungovernable’ … Tim Dowling’s dog, Daphne. Photograph: Courtesy of Tim Dowling

I realise this sounds like a story from the 1930s but my best guess is that it was 1973, when my siblings and I were the right ages to be walking to school together: we were nine, eight, seven and six. I was the oldest.

At first, I couldn’t believe what was happening: dogcatchers were supposed to round up dangerous strays; our dog was a family pet, with a collar and a tag that said My Name Is Daphne on it. But here he was, trying to tempt my dog into range with a piece of meat. In his other hand he had a long wooden pole with a retractable rope loop at one end, like a dogcatcher from a cartoon.

I was enraged, but I felt powerless to intervene and afraid to accept any responsibility that might get me into trouble. It was immensely frustrating. Tears sprang into my eyes, and we started shouting, not at the dogcatcher, but at the dog: “Go home!”

But Daphne loved this sort of thing. She ignored the meat, dodged the hoop, ran round the dogcatcher in circles and then up and down a hill, while he gave chase. The dogcatcher started to perspire. His hat fell off. As it progressed, the scene began to attract wider attention. Everybody was arriving for the start of the school day, and kids from every year joined a tightening circle of spectators. When the dogcatcher lunged with his pole, Daphne grabbed it in her teeth and ran off with it. Everyone cheered.

My brother was lagging behind us that day and he arrived to see a battle of wits playing out between Daphne and a dogcatcher, with the entire school rooting for the dog.

I got a glimpse of how thankless it must be to be a dogcatcher. You’d think: I didn’t sign up to be the villain, jeered by schoolchildren in a parking lot.

Eventually Daphne quit the game, dropped the pole and sprinted off in the direction of home. I have no idea where she went while we were at school. I just know that some days – not every day – she came back at 3.10pm to pick us up.

Contributor

Tim Dowling

The GuardianTramp

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