My relations are all slightly dotty about dogs. I wrote Dog Crazy 1, so boringly, I fell asleep myself. This made me think about pets, and dogs especially. If you look at Crufts’ on TV, do you ever wonder how people could possibly love some of those ugly crossbreeds, and even more, stress that some of the uglier features are essential to win the class? I used to fancy Red Setters; a vet told me they were very stupid and had the tiniest brains of all – who cares! They are not going to be much help with the Times crossword anyway.
When we had dogs, they were allowed to walk off the lead, and if trained to be obedient, and obey the Kerb Code, a walk was a pleasure. Today I am not sure why people still own dogs; walking on a lead is traumatic enough for man and beast, and picking up the droppings, while being hygienic and logical, must put many off. Our dogs would walk sedately, acknowledged the territory markings and contributed a vast number themselves, but they didn’t try to trip you up, or look up ladies skirts, like those in the arena at Crufts – their performance is bizarre, to say the least and totally unnatural.
Dogs are a lot brighter, and obsequious, than we give them credit for, and can call us to heel if the mood takes them. My daughter is a camper and if the trip is protracted puts her dog in kennels. While packing is going on, the dog lies right across the front door as a barrier, and on return sulks for days – guess who has a fit of conscience. Generations of pets now have guile in their make-up. That slightly soppy grin, the tongue nearly lolling, the moist, large and appealing eyes, and the head cocked, – you are hooked, if generations of dog lovers have put the response in your genes also.
In the Navy, teaching, I found the most beautiful hound, tied to a door handle. The Wren said the dog was to be shot for sheep worrying. It looked at me, I patted – I lost! That night ‘Josie’ was on the train to my recalcitrant mother in London. She was a one off, – the dog, not my mother, – on second thoughts – mother too! The dog could scale a seven to eight foot, creeper covered wall, walk along the top, and along tree branches, and turn – chasing very surprised cats. She was never happier than when riding pick-a-back with her face looking over the besotted human’s shoulder – control? They have us licked!
The Fleas Josie was inquisitive. At Christmas ’44 my new wife Sophie, came over from Belfast to stay with me on leave, at the Dutch Resistance School my mother managed. Our temporary bed was a mattress on a floor. Josie, on a walk, in the moonlight, saw a hedgehog.. The little animal rolled into a ball as the dog barked fruitlessly. I picked it up with my Naval cap and took it to show Soph. She was in bed, on the floor, reading. I set the hedgehog down and immediately the floor, the sheet and part of Soph were all infested in fleas. We used a Hoover and DDT, but Sophie never really got over it. The following morning, when I woke, there in the middle of Soph’s forehead was a single flea – I didn’t tell her, it went. We let the hedgehog free in the garden.
In the 30’s young women were called ‘Flappers’ and had fads like all crazies. My Aunt wore a bangle on her upper arm, held in place by a handkerchief. She lost it, sent a Black Labrador to find it by scent , The dog was jumping on thorns to reach the handkerchief on a wild rose. Another time a replacement bread delivery man, the dog didn’t recognise, was held captive by the same dog in the garden until someone returned to release him – at some cost.
Spicer our Golden Retriever I have been subjected to ridicule, considered totally besotted, but I do believe that dog had a sense of fun. The children liked to play ‘Lost’. We would go to woods, I would wander off through the trees, and the children would pretend to be distraught. In due course the dog found me, with great praise and much tail wagging. Daft as it may seem, I proved to my own satisfaction she could make up practical jokes. At night we took the dog for a walk so she wouldn’t bark through the night. Often she would walk quietly up the drive, and then, in sight of the front door, suddenly shoot off, out through the hedge and away up the road. She was undoubtedly aware she had to be in at night and would therefore have to be collected. After about three of these occurrences over a period of a month I discovered I could predict when she had it in mind. About a hundred yards from the house she started to oscillate her back hips in a strange manner while similarly shaking her head – I was convinced she was rehearsing in her mind. Once near the house she was nearly off – but I had been warned.