He was the runt of the litter. His mother was a beauty queen with many prizes to her credit.
She had not been an enthusiastic participant in her mating with a much older dog at a distant kennel. Her resentment had grown during her pregnancy and her owners had watched her very carefully during the whelping. It was feared that she might decide to devour her puppies.
The thought might have crossed her mind, but she chose to just glare balefully at any human who came into sight. Humans had betrayed her. She, a prizewinning pedigree Pekinese bitch, who could trace her ancestors back to intimate companions to emperors, some of whom had even been suckled by the aristocratic ladies of the Court, had been humiliated.
She had been taken away from her territory, dumped unceremoniously into a strange room, and before she had had time to adjust to her new surroundings, That Dog had invaded her space. And her person. She had tried to refuse, both haughtily and very firmly, but it was his territory, so she had had to submit. She could have fought him, but she was too frightened. And bewildered. Why had her humans done this to her?
The smell of him had lingered, even after her next shampoo. It came back in waves. Even now, after the birth of her puppies, she could still smell him. Then there was The Runt.
He was much smaller than the others and she just knew that there was something wrong with him. It wasn’t his size, nor the fact that his nose jutted out slightly – a hideous fault, which certainly didn’t come from her side. (There was obviously bad blood in That Dog.) It was something more subtle. She couldn’t quite put her paw on it, but she knew that he shouldn’t be encouraged to live.
She tried to prevent him suckling. Somehow, he managed to sneak to a teat while, exhausted, she was taking a well-earned nap.
After the puppies’ eyes had opened, humans started to visit the new mother. They ooh-ed and ah-ed over the puppies – and ignored her completely.
Before her maternity, she had been the kennel’s star attraction. Torn between indignation at being ignored and maternal pride, she decided that it was time to examine The Runt’s case more closely.
Apart from The Nose, everything about him was perfect show material. His legs were beautifully bowed, his eyes bulged as they should, his socks were just the right height, his rusty markings were beautiful, his tail curled as it ought. He was small of course, but the unavoidable defect was indubitably those few millimetres of Nose. The perfect Pekinese nose is flat against the face, and this one wasn’t.
However, it wasn’t his physical appearance that repelled her. It was something else. A feeling. He had to go.
She tried suffocation. Pekinese jaws open to a surprising (and often very frightening) size. She wrapped them around the runt’s neck and held her mouth shut. She didn’t try to bite. She just waited. A kennel maid saw her and, with much shrieking, alerted the owners. The Runt was removed from her jaws and she was accused of trying to bite off his head. Which was quite untrue. The time for eating him would have been at his birth. It was much too late now.
She made a second attempt at suffocation a few days later, but was again thwarted. After that, she was constantly watched, so she gave up trying to rid the world of her defective offspring.
My parents visited the kennel and were introduced to the now weaned Runt. He had a very aristocratic pedigree name, but Daddy christened him Cheng with an acute accent on the “e”. I don’t know why. Was he trying to make the name sound French? If so, why? I don’t even know why he chose a Pekinese. The only possible reason which comes to mind is that our next-door neighbours had a Pekinese. An affable gentleman whose bulging eyes became completely blind and were further damaged by the poor old thing constantly running into things while roaring around the yard. He was eventually helped to a merciful end. However, when Cheng arrived home, our canine neighbour could still see and was very interested in the puppy next-door.
Cheng had been in our home for a few days and was poking his head into every cupboard he could reach, as soon as it was opened. Mummy was kneeling in front of the open saucepan cupboard and Cheng’s head was inside. Mummy sneezed. The sound echoed through the cupboard and Cheng screeched, shot across the room, and cowered up against the wall, near the back door. He was in the corner sitting on his backside with his front paws pawing the air. Later, Mummy taught him to “clap hands” while in this position – a variation on this first pawing of the air. However, he avoided going near the open saucepan cupboard again.
Cheng once appeared in a play. I don’t remember the name of it, but the lady who carried him onstage (he was playing her lap-dog) was Miss Lorna Taylor. I called her Auntie Lorna because, in our family, children did not address adults by their first names. It was disrespectful. Close family friends were given the honorary title of “aunt” or “uncle”. Everyone else was Mr, Mrs or Miss. We didn’t know any Lords, Ladies or knights at the time.
Cheng was usually taken home after his last scene in the play. However, on the last night, he was allowed to take his curtain call with the rest of the cast. Auntie Lorna carried him onstage and the audience applauded – and so did Cheng. He sat up in Auntie Lorna’s arms and “clapped hands” with all his might. The audience went wild. It was his greatest moment. He quite stole the curtain call from the other actors.
Cheng was my first dog and I loved him. After a few years, he started biting anyone who entered his yard, including me. He would come roaring down from the other end and fasten his teeth onto my calf. I would drag him along with me as I walked. Mummy was worried about it but, after he bit my face, his days with us were numbered.
For some time, he had been refusing to allow anyone to groom him and his long fur was matted. We had bite marks on our hands from our attempts to even cut out some of the knots.
One day, I came home from school to find my mother in tears. She had called the R.S.P.C.A. to take him away. I thought that I would never forgive her.
She told me that, when the people had come for him, he had sat up and “clapped hands” for them. The lady had said to Mummy, “How can you bear to part with him?” Mummy had explained about the biting and refusal of grooming and recommended that they find a home for him without children.
It has been suggested that he might have suffered brain damage when his mother was trying to destroy him. I now think that he could have been missing performing and was depressive.
I don’t know where he went. I never saw him again.
I remember there being a photo of him onstage during his curtain call. The photo was taken from the wings. However, I haven’t been able to find it, and I don’t remember any other photos of him.