Patch Part 1
When I was twenty-one, my divorced uncle remarried, at which point I gained a new aunt and two instant young (female) cousins, all of whom had been brought up around dogs. Boxer dogs to be precise.
A few months after the wedding, my youngest cousin persuaded my uncle to let her have a dog.
The Kennel Club, for reasons that make absolutely no sense to me, didn’t allow white Boxer dogs to be used for show purposes, and many were killed as pups in an attempt to wipe the white genes out of the breed.
A few breeders sold them off cheap as long as the buyer agreed in writing not to breed from them. As a result, my uncle bought a white male Boxer pup with a brown patch over half of his face for his youngest daughter, for fifteen quid. The dog was of course named Patch.
When he arrived, Patch was a white ball of fluff. To be fair to my cousin, she did all the things she promised she would do, including pooper scooping, house training, cleaning up “accidents”, feeding him, taking him for walks, and administering medications as required.
When he was about one, Patch developed wet eczema and needed ointment to be applied to his affected areas. As soon as the tube and plastic gloves appeared, he would bolt and hide. I occasionally had the privilege of watching my cousin chase after him as he raced around the living room until cornered, at which point a gloved finger would be used to rub the medication into his skin.
On one of these occasions, and to my eternal shame, I committed an unforgivable sin. I broke the unwritten law and betrayed the close, nay, the sacred bond that exists between cousins.
… I laughed.
I was punished for this act of betrayal. I was punished severely. Oh, how my cousin extracted her revenge, and I unreservedly deserved it.
One of the places she had to apply this gel was around Patch’s scrotum. I think she had been learning about the human body and procreation in Biology lessons at school. First of all, she asked me about a male dog’s anatomy, then went on to the subject of human male anatomy. Without mentioning the words “penis” or “erection”, but using hand gestures, she asked how “it” got from here (hand pointing down at an angle) to here, (hand pointing up at an angle).
I was a shy, immature, twenty-two-year-old bloke, inexperienced in the ways of the world, and completely ill-equipped to deal with such questions from a precocious, pubescent, twelve-year old girl who, as I had recently been informed, had developed an inexplicable crush on me from the day we first met a year before.
If you were to describe the colour of my cheeks, it would have been somewhere between crimson and scarlet.
Nobody would ever describe my cousin as being petite, but when Patch grew up, he was huge, and rapidly became far too big and strong for this young girl to handle on a lead.
She took him to doggy obedience training classes, but he was expelled for bad behaviour. To him, it was playtime with a dozen other dogs in a field.
It quickly got to the point that apart from the odd occasion when I was visiting, my uncle was the only one capable of taking Patch for a walk.
When he was two, Patch had a heart attack and had to be carried back to my uncle’s car then rushed to a vet. He spent the rest of his life on digitalis heart tablets.
He would eat anything if tossed towards him (Patch that is, not my uncle). Although he would take his tablets like this, sometimes the small pill got lost in the folds of his massive chops, so instead the tablets were rolled up in a ball of cheese and then tossed to him like that. One gulp and they were gone.
Once whilst on holiday, the family visited Bala Lake in Wales. My uncle threw a stone into the water, and Patch decided to play fetch. He paddled out some distance then disappeared from view beneath the surface. He stayed under for so long that everyone was convinced he had had a heart attack in the cold water and was drowning. My uncle was in the process of stripping off as my cousin screamed at him to go and get her dog, when Patch resurfaced, pleased as punch to be holding the very same stone in his mouth that my uncle had thrown.
I regularly visited the family, and on one summer Saturday morning I was seated on the sofa chatting to the girls whilst sipping a lovely mug of hot chocolate my aunt had made for me.
I made the mistake of resting the mug on the arm of the sofa, only to have it tipped into my lap by Patch’s huge snout as he investigated this interesting aroma.
Did I say hot chocolate? It was very hot, and I was lucky not to have been scalded. Only quick action from my aunt who passed me a water-soaked towel prevented lasting damage to my family jewels.
That wasn’t the worst of it though. My best, white corduroy flared trouserings were ruined!
My uncle lent me a pair of his trollies so I had something dry to wear, but he is a big bloke, and I ended up looking like Charlie Chaplin with his baggy trousers.
Now it was my young cousin’s turn to laugh.
My aunt and her mum, (my new great aunt), had problems with money, but not the usual sort of thing. If one of them bought something for the other, then there would be an argument over repayment.
One would try to give the money to the one who had done the buying, but invariably it would be refused, and on this would go, back and forth for several minutes. It could be over something as ordinary as a bag of spuds or a round of ice creams on a day out.
One day this happened at my uncle’s place. A fiver had been produced by my great aunt and thrust at my aunt in payment for something or other. My aunt refused to take it, and her mum refused to take it back, so in the end it was a case of, “Well I’m leaving it here then”, and so it was, on the arm of the sofa with neither woman touching it.
Then Patch saw it. He sauntered by, eyeing up the bank-note as he went. Then he came back for another reconnoitre. On his third pass, he grabbed it and ran off. Cue a hue and cry, with much wailing and gnashing of teeth as Patch hurtled round the house, loving the game of chase he had instigated, followed by all the family, but it was far too late. One gulp and it was gone, never to be recovered.
On another occasion, Patch stole a pair of tights from the laundry basket and ran off with them. Cue another great game of chase around the house and out into the garden. Luckily, he didn’t eat them, but the tights were destroyed in the process.
It was never a good idea to leave food unattended anywhere, not even on the dining room table. While still a puppy, he grew big enough to stand on his hind legs and steal anything close to the edge.
It soon got to the point where it was unwise to leave food near the edge of the table even when everyone was seated.
Patch would wander by, eying up his target, then would do a U-turn and wander by again, and then on his third pass, he would strike, and that was that. Another item of people’s food, gone in one gulp. A slice of bread, a piece of cake, a hunk of beef, all fell prey to Patch’s huge maw.
There used to be a rubber factory near where my uncle and his family lived. He was walking Patch round the recreation ground next to it one day when he found a large, hard rubber skittle ball abandoned amongst the long grass and weeds. It wasn’t as big as a bowling ball, but with my short fingers, it was big enough that I could barely pick it up in one hand.
It was heavy, and if dropped on a foot it would probably break a toe-bone or two. Patch loved his new toy and would pick it up in his huge jaws before tossing it into the air and catching it again.