Freddie my love, a new romance

SPRING: Freddie amongst the daffodils.
SPRING: Freddie amongst the daffodils.

Fifty Shades of Summer is a series of essays on the many variations of love and romance.  Yvonne Martin is a Christchurch writer and editor of Avenues magazine.

''No more dogs,'' he said after our old girl was put down five years ago.

''No more dogs,'' I said, recalling the painful sight of Chilli's shrouded body being lowered into a grave.

No more dogs was a mutual decision by two consenting adults. We said it aloud, solemnly and with conviction, as if exchanging vows, and we meant every word. It was a promise we had made for keeps.

Chilli had been less than the perfect dog. A rescued SPCA dog, she should have come with a security warning.

Fiercely protective of her property, there were a dozen or so ''incidents'' involving her teeth. Two drew blood and one required a tetanus shot. But Neill, my partner, loved her to pieces and so, time and time again, she won a reprieve.

In 2007, when age finally caught up with her, I wrote a story for The Press about this extraordinary man-beast bond and how it relegated me to being the ''other'' woman. Chilli had completed three Coast to Coast buildups, ran a Christchurch marathon and was a well-known weekend warrior on the Port Hills.

Despite multiple brushes with death, and a lobotomy after chasing low-flying ducks into the path of an oncoming car, Chilli somehow made old bones. The story of her demise, and my surprise grief despite years of lobbying for her dispatch, got the biggest reaction of any story I had written during my nine years at The Press.

I became the editor of Avenues magazine in 2008. We moved house (the idea of exhumation was raised, but shot down in flames) and deliberately didn't fence our quarter-acre hill section, to save us from temptation. ''No more dogs,'' we had said.

But it's surprising how dogs have a habit of finding us and ingratiating themselves into our lives, despite our vow. We often have fur lodgers stay over, and each Saturday morning we run up to four of our friends' dogs on tracks traversing the Port Hills, because that's how our weekends begin.

Lately, alarm bells have been jangling about one member of our pack, a border collie bitch that lives next door.

The apple of Neill's eye, Freddie peers from magnetic frames on our fridge and from his favourite mug. This black-and-white lass is both his mobile phone and computer wallpaper.

Log on, using cryptic variations of ''Freddie'', and our computer has multiple folders full of images of her in the hills, in the snow and in our flower garden.

Photos of Neill and Freddie cheek by jowl even managed not one but three appearances in the calendar he made for his parents this Christmas. She is Miss April, September and October. (I am also in three shots, by the way, but the fact I had to go and check is sad.)

It is love between those two, I'm sure of it, and let me count the ways.

When Neill gets home from work each night, his soulmate is waiting and - rain, hail or snow - the pair head off for a romp in a St Martins park. You might have picked by now that we are child-free, so this is the doggy equivalent of taking a daughter to piano, football or modern jazz.

On the odd occasion when I've ridden in Neill's van (not nearly as often as Freddie), I've felt something stick into my bum. To my horror, I have found a plastic ball thrower, complete with a drool-covered ball, used for doggy ''tennis''.

Always riding shotgun with us, balanced on the console and leaning towards Neill, Freddie is coiled for action. Many times I have turned and caught the love in Neill's eyes.

And I swear that more than once I've been about to reply to Neill's ''how was your day?'' and found him looking at her. It tickles me that a guy who might appear stern and no-nonsense by day can come home and baby-talk to a dog.

The adoration is mutual. I've seen Freddie keeping vigil all afternoon beside Neill's garage door, waiting for his return. She sits on the outdoor furniture on our balcony far more often than we do; the higher vantage point allowing her to spot Neill earlier.

On Saturdays, Freddie gazes from the kitchen window of her house, directly into ours. She barks the house down at the first glimpse of Neill or on hearing his special whistle until she's let out. Two bounds later, she's tapping at our ranchslider door.

Our neighbours must be happy with this crazy carry-on because they have installed a Hobbit-style gate in our communal hedge so Freddie can move between properties with ease. The neighbours on our other side have done the same for their wee terrier. We now live in a gated community.

After the big Saturday run, the weekend is punctuated by frequent drives to the park for quick bursts of activity and maybe a cooling swim. Despite her devotion, Freddie tolerates other dogs travelling in Neill's vehicle - well, sort of.

They have to sit behind her middle seat and they must NOT pass through ''her'' zone while she is in residence. This leads to complicated games of Twister, seating and settling the lower-ranked dogs before her highness's arrival.

Thankfully, she makes an exception for me, although she probably leaves the wet tennis ball on the front seat so I don't get too comfortable.

On Sundays, when we often go for a morning road bike, Neill frets about how we'll get past Freddie's pleading eyes.

''How are we going to break it to her?'' He has now bought a mountainbike, so there'll be fewer disappointments for Freddie, who is now able to come along for a hill ride.

One weekend, Neill and I were having coffee at the Scarborough Fare Cafe when he spotted Freddie in the park nearby. He did his special whistle and, like the final scene in War Horse, Freddie galloped across the park to greet him.

But it wasn't always like this. When we first moved into the hood, Freddie chased a visiting Neill down the front steps of her house. She would bail me up, barking maniacally, on our driveway. In the months our property had been empty, she had assumed it as her own.

The February 2011 earthquake forced us closer. Freddie was home alone, aside from her family's turtle, when the awful quake struck. It smashed Turtle's shell and scared Freddie out of her wits.

Feared missing, she was later found buried down the back of a sofa. For the longest time, she sought refuge at our house, believing it didn't shake like her own. The man-beast bond deepened.

What troubled me, though, was Neill's response when I questioned, while picking pieces of plaster impaled in my head from an office collapse, whether Christchurch was still the place to be. ''How long does a border collie live?'' he replied.

''No more dogs,'' I reminded him.

And so began another chapter of Neill, the dog and his ''other''.

The Press