Opinion

Beach life not all it’s barked up to be

By John Lewis

You do your best, you give them every opportunity, you send them to the best schools, teach them respect, offer them the most enriching experiences and they gawp at you and say "can we go home now?”

We took our dog — His Royal Highness Prince Finski — to the beach for the first time because he is now in his 11th year, which means in human terms he is in his late 70s and I am of the firm belief that every dog should experience the pounding of the waves, the painful slippery surprise of rock-pooling, the deafening scream of the gulls and the smell of rotting seaweed at least once in their short lives.

Dogs are like teenagers without Instagram — they want excitement, pals, ice cream and cool collars, but they want the real thing. Real trees, real grass, real food, real smells. However, sometimes reality is just not all it's cracked up to be.

Things did not look good from the start.

Finski refused to sit down for the first 200 km of our car journey to the south coast. When he finally did lie down in his dog-barred space at the rear of the station wagon it was from sheer exhaustion, not relaxation.

Because he comes from a long line of royalty, with connections to the Belgian monarchy and the Tsar of Russia, Finski has fragile genes. He hides from people wearing big coats, he skitters across floors at the drop of a fork, he quivers and creeps around like a burglar 12 hours before a thunderstorm, and he refuses to lie down in moving cars.

We should have known that driving him 400 km away from his comfort zone to a little hillside cottage with terrifying steps and a weird polished floor would prove traumatising.

We should have realised that. But the magnet of a wild, windy beach and the chance to give an old dog a new experience was just too exciting to miss.

Of course, it was all forged in nostalgia. I spent my childhood and teenage years walking dogs on wild, windy beaches and they just seemed to go together like sand and castles.

But it was all too unfamiliar for Finksi. The sky was too big, the foamy waves too unpredictable, the wind too relentless, the world too wide. He spent the first half hour drinking salt water from pools before vomiting with a surprised look on his face.

Instead of romping wild and free, chasing gulls and sea spray, he stuck to my leg like a limpet and walked nervously at my side as if the sand was molten lava. He wandered the cottage at night, stopped eating, and took on the vacant stare of a prisoner of war.

When we got home, he had lost two kilograms and spent a day sleeping on the verandah. But he did bring home a few reminders of his holiday — grass seeds.

After five stitches and 10 days of antibiotics, he's beginning to look happy.

All this has made me realise that the best things in life are often right in front of you. A verandah, a bowl and some cool, fresh water.