Inspired by a chance visit to http://mylifewithwieners.wordpress.com/ which cast some very interesting light upon the political philosophy of Dachshunds.
Anyway, there’s this dog.
Let me state clearly at the start I did not want another dog. I was dead-set against pet ownership. I wanted a peaceful, tranquil old age.
I blame my son.
Of all people, he should know I am a soft target where animals in distress are concerned. So if he knew of a young Golden Labrador that was being neglected, kept in an open concrete yard and irregularly fed, he should have kept the tale to himself. He should not have told me. Above all, he should not have asked my wife and I if we could take the dog.
Well, perhaps ‘enter’ is the wrong word. I tend to prefer alternatives, like ‘invade’ or ‘irrupt’. Rather less of an êpêe, much more like a broadsword.
We have always had rescue dogs, so problems, usually baggage from cruel memories, are not new to us. When Honey leapt from the back of my son’s car that morning our arms and our hearts were open. By sunset we had begun to wonder whether it was Honey we were rescuing, or her former owners.
I don’t even like the name. I told her that – just after she ate a hole in the full-length curtains and before, if I recall correctly, she destroyed my first pair of slippers. But when a dog has issues, you shouldn’t change her given name because it may upset her. And you wouldn’t like Honey when she gets upset.
I believed myself to be an experienced dog owner (I will avoid the term dog lover because it raises certain unsavory connotations) so in my first encounter with Honey a short, awkward period of familiarization between canine and master, then some moderate training to produce a devoted servant, was what I had come to expect. This did not entirely match Honey’s expectations of our relationship.
Alpha male? You?
Throughout an intense series of back garden sessions Honey instructed me in her own higher values. Commands were not unwelcome, but neither were they for slavish obedience. They were open to question, subject to negotiation. For instance, she would not come to me just because I called her. There had to be a reason, and if she had a better one she would pursue that and come later, when she had finished. Food tips, clickers, tins with pebbles were to no avail. She was always ready to accept food, but only on her terms. Any sharp rattling noise was sort of scary, but also kind of amusing. She would be happy to play with such devices, of course, but not reward them with a conditioned response. I came to understand quite quickly that she had never heard of Pavlov.
Now, some four years later Honey has a brilliant understanding of the English language. Her vocabulary of at least two hundred words includes such direct terms as ‘walk’, the more subtle W-A-L-K, or the downright obscure ‘perambulate’. She knows words such as ‘post’ or its derivative ‘postman’, ‘letter’, ‘dinner’, ‘dish’, ‘liver’, ‘biscuit’ – the list is endless. Notable exclusions are: ‘sit’, ‘wait’, ‘come’, and that keystone of the dog training world ‘heel’.
There are people, most of whom are our relatives, Honey does not like; and although more an expression of reserve than overtly aggressive, her continuous low growling can disrupt the natural flow of conversation. She harbors a special loathing for my sons, whom she probably blames for bringing her here. Total strangers she takes to her heart readily. She has never actually offered violence to anyone, notwithstanding the list of dogs she would cheerfully disembowel: even the elderly lady she knocked over recognized her innocence, once the blood had been mopped up, on the basis of a rather over-enthusiastic attempt to be friends.
After four years we have learned, my wife and I. We are really quite obedient, all things considered. As long as the food rules are observed, the walk routines kept, all is well. Honey is fiercely protective of us, would never willingly leave our side no matter what the provocation (In making this statement I except cats, which she hates). She will guard our house, bring us the post in the morning (and sometimes the postman if we leave the door open) whilst looking after us in a hundred other ways as our kind, understanding friend. In exchange, we accept her occupation of the most comfortable chairs in the house, as well as her comprehensive facial washes every time we stoop low enough for our reward.
She understands everything. Everything.
She is watching me now. Just sitting, watching.
All things considered, I’m glad we offered Honey a home: thankful, too, she allows us to stay here with her. I will be sure to get this post up this evening, but I know she will insist upon reading it first. And even as I close, she is reaching for the blue pencil…….