Excerpt from Somebody to Love - Chapter 10
Mark wasn't so sure Karl's efforts to relate to the dog by peeing on the lawn was such a good idea, but he'd work on that later, he decided, still not quite able to get his head around seeing Karl tucking the quilt around Starbuck when he'd woken in the night.
His son was obviously benefiting from the tactile stimulation offered by the dog, but that he seemed to respond to Starbuck, show him affection — that was almost incomprehensible.
'Whoa, slow down!' Mark span around, dropping dog-food onto his shoes as Karl came shaving past in pursuit of Starbuck, and judging by the dog's galloping gait and swishing tail he was thoroughly enjoying himself.
'My Sam, Starbuck. My Sam,' Karl said, trying to retrieve his favourite Fireman Sam soft-toy from the dog's mouth.
'Karl, slow down,' Mark repeated, as dog and boy went round in circles playing tug-of-war. On the other hand, don't. Mark's breath caught in his chest as he watched Karl chuckling softly to himself, which was an everyday occurrence for most parents, but music to Mark's ears.
Shaking his head in amazement, he continued to spoon dog-food into the bowl. He'd have to start Karl on the feeding and brushing Starbuck regime soon, hopefully teaching him that with dog ownership came responsibility. Introducing him to the idea of walking Starbuck was the first step though. He'd start him on that tomorrow when he wasn't on duty. Take a trip to the park, maybe, which would give them some space.
'Come on, guys, food,' he called over dog and boy still at noisy play. 'You know the routine, Karl. We have to clear our own breakfast things away, not leave them for Jody.'
Mark clanged the dog's bowl down on the floor, then winced as Karl bellowed behind him, 'Doooon't! Don't do that!'
Karl's voice was hoarse and agitated and Mark realised his mistake straightaway. The noise; a loud, different noise, could destabilise Karl in an instant. 'Karl, it's okay.' He went over to him, to try to reassure him, but Karl squirmed out of his grasp.
'Don't do that!' he grated, backing off with his hands clamped to his ears.
'Karl, stop. It's all right. It was just Starbuck's…' Hell, here we go. Mark's heart sank in anticipation of the inevitable tantrum.
'No!' Karl screamed, heading straight for the wall, to bang his head against it — repeatedly against the bloody wall.
'Karl, stop it!' Mark chased him, made a grab for him, wrapped his arms around him.
Fell to his knees, and then to the floor with him.
Tried to soothe him.
To hold him.
'It's all right, Karl. It's okay.' He locked his arms around his son, rocked with him, but still Karl writhed and kicked. 'Starbuck says it's all right, Karl,' Mark tried in desperation, glancing at the dog, and then again in disbelief as the dog came closer — and placed a paw on Karl's leg.
Mark simply could not believe what his eyes were telling him.
The tantrum stopped dead.
He sucked in a breath, waited a beat, then tentatively relaxed his grip.
Karl stood up. Mark gasped, truly incredulous now. He just stood up as in nothing was happening and walked calmly over to the dog.
'It's all right,' Karl said, patting Starbuck. 'It's just Starbuck's…' He repeated what Mark had said, including the trail off, then walked casually through to the lounge, Starbuck in tow.
Mark stayed where he was on the floor, blinking stupefied for a second, then looking up as Jody came down the hall, closely followed by Sally, who must have arrived with her. Had they seen?
'Did you?' He shook his head and stared at them, still in a state of utter amazement. Nothing, but nothing, had ever been able to dissuade Karl from a tantrum before.
Sally smiled. 'I did mention he was trained to respond to a child's repetitive behaviour.'
Mark raked his hand through his hair. 'Yes, but I thought that would be the rocking to and fro and hand-flapping stuff, not…'
'Banging his head? Stamping his feet?' Sally gave Mark a knowing look.
Mark nodded. Of course. 'Christ, that dog is working magic nothing short of miraculous.'
'He aims to please,' Sally assured him. 'And the spin-off is, in ceasing the repetitive behaviours, Karl might interact with Starbuck more, thus becoming more perceptive of the dog's needs and hopefully transferring those accomplishments to humans. There are no guarantees, of course,' she stressed, walking across to assist him from the floor, 'but…'
'… he's making progress.' Mark grabbed hold of her hand, and thanked God he hadn't been too proud to reach out.
'You've made an awful mess of your uniform.' Jody nodded at his dog-food-spattered trousers.
Glancing down, Mark laughed. 'You know, in the great scheme of things, I don't think I give a damn.'