I am drawn to a playground kerfuffle like your average person is drawn to the dentist: reluctantly. Gathering children like a trawler gathers seabirds, I proceed towards the crisis zone. After forcing my way through ranks of onlookers, I find Addison threatening to beat up anyone within beating-up distance. At my intervention, he crumples into a heap of misery.
Because experience tells me the situation remains volatile, I proceed with caution. There are two Addisons: the one who makes Oliver Twist look cared for and the one who makes your average wasp look harmless. The urge to comfort and the urge to avoid a flailing boot circle each other warily until he stops issuing random death threats.
When he’s comparatively calm, I enquire about the cause of his distress. The reason he’s upset is because during the previous evening, his dog died.
Never again will little Scruff (that’s the dog, not Addison) roam the estate happily soiling pavements. No more will he hump items of soft furnishing or passing strangers’ legs. The days of licking Addison’s face with a tongue that previously licked his own testicles are over.
I tell him all about the time our Rover got knocked down by a Morris Minor and died in my mother’s arms. “There’s nothing worse than the death of a favourite dog,” I say, but my empathy is wasted. It seems that Scruff was only Addison’s second favourite dog.
Fang (who terrorised our playground last September) is his current favourite. His third favourite is Slaverer and his fourth favourite is Psycho. His all-time favourite was Rabid, who snuffled off this mortal coil several years previously.
A more detailed examination reveals that it is the brutal nature of Scruff’s demise that has made Addison especially angry.
“He was murdered!” he snaps. My sense of shock eases a little when I learn that this heinous crime was committed by a vet.
It seems Scruff had been suffering from a serious illness that, according to Addison, made his “belly blow up” and his breath “stink like shit”.
Dog lovers often forget that deep in the soul of their family pooch there lurks a wolf. A beast that longs to slip its chain and follow its ancient instincts. You can stroke it and care for it and treat it like man’s best friend. But you’ll never know when it might turn and bite your hand off. Teachers similarly forget how certain children will ever be wild at heart.
I ruffle Addison’s hair and soothe him by telling him how Scruff was probably in a lot of pain, and that the vet did the kindest thing possible by putting him to sleep. But the violence of his reaction takes me by surprise. “He didn’t put him to sleep,” he snarls. “He’s not going to wake up, is he? He stuck a big needle in him to kill him. And that’s murder!”
Thankfully, Addison’s angry outbursts, in time, turn to smiles. The next morning he bounds in as happy as a Jack Russell chasing a stick across the playground. “Guess what, Mr Eddison,” he yaps, jumping up and down in front of me. “We’ve got a new dog – called Killer.”
Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield