Walkin' the dawg
My neighbour has a dog. A large, muscular labrador to be precise. She’s gone out today and has left me her key, dog lead, bag of doggie biscuits and general instructions on dog sitting – which is what I am to do.
At 12.15 on the dot (as said mutt, Bonnie apparently reads the time) I unlock my neighbour’s back door and am immediately pinned against the wall by an exuberant and apparently starving animal who, to judge by her limpid and desperate eyes, has seen no human, food or stimulation for, ooh, two hours at least. Mary’s left the radio on which is playing elevator piano music. I’m assuming it was Mary who turned it on but of course it could have been Bonnie trying to find The Archers. I read a printed list of instructions. Mary has taken no chances with me actually remembering her aural bullet points, wise woman. “Feed Bonnie half – that’s HALF – the container of biscuits mixed with WARM water.” That would be warm water as opposed to, well, cold, I surmise. I almost manage to place the dog’s bowl on the step. It’s about six inches away, just hovering below Bonnie’s nose. I see a blur of movement, a most indelicate snorting slobbering row, and am presented with a pristine bowl.
So far so good, and we’re both up for a walk. I can tell Bonnie’s keen as she’s wrapped herself round the lead and is dragging it out into the garden. I follow, attempting to re-lock the back door, wrap my inadequate coat against the biting wind and secrete the key somewhere safe. You get paranoid when it’s someone else’s house don’t you? Bonnie in the meantime had deposited a large pile of poo on the drive, glanced back at it with a look of mild curiosity, dropped her lead and has now clamped her teeth round a weird, bright yellow rubbery object that resembles the Olympic rings designed by a mad ex-Lego employee. I attach the lead to her collar, she clenches her jaw even more anxiously in case I should take a fancy to her objet d’art.
Now Mary is very fortunate in that her large house is next door to an acre of superb copse and grassland owned by – well, by a wealthy neighbour – and this is where she and Bonnie promenade when it’s too much bother to drive somewhere. This is where we go now, me in my too-large purple pom pom hat which slides over my eyes periodically and my black coat (black! With a Labrador! What was I thinking?) and Bonnie, who knows the way blindfolded and is determined not to let go of her Olympic nightmare. It’s a wonderful walk; there is a wooded area, a rough grassy space, finely manicured lawns and the sweetest little lake surrounded by wind lashed skeletons of birches that still have silvery frost clinging to them. Mary tells me that deer wander right up to the fences to be fed, and squirrels, foxes and rabbits all gambol around like Walt Disney extras. All I see today is a depressed looking sparrow or two and some rusting tools which have been abandoned in the compost heap. Bonnie isn’t bothered, she’s chuffed to bits just to have someone new she can drag along.
She seems to think I’ll also be fascinated by lumps of wood, mole hills and the remains of some dead rodent or other she steps in. I can’t think why. We wander twice round this idyll, me freezing my bits off, Bonnie still keeping a tight grip on whatever-the-hell-it-is until we make our way back through a gate in the wall to Mary’s not inconsiderable garden. I release the lead, which Bonnie seems to think signals the start of the let’s pull her arm off game. Labradors as you probably know are powerfully strong dogs, and Bonnie finds it inexplicably hilarious and exhilarating to play tug-of-war with yellow thing. I have her here though – I wait for her to adjust her grip and ha! It’s in my hand! She overbalances and falls over – I laugh, Bonnie looks embarrassed. I apologise (well, it’s only polite). I then spend 15 minutes throwing the carbuncle on the face of Britain back and forth, into the willow tree which entails me giving the tree a damn good shaking to extricate it, on top of a rubbish heap (Bonnie loved that one) and across the lawn, bumping and wobbling its way to a standstill pursued by an ear waving, tail swishing, dribbling dog. My God, the dribble! Picking this yellow thing up after she reluctantly returns it is like dipping into a bowl of cold sago. I know now how the Ghostbusters felt when their green ghost slimed them. It goes everywhere, on my Labrador coloured coat, up my arm, onto my watch. Every time I ready myself to throw it, Bonnie barks manically. Every time I throw it she looks round the garden, 360 degrees, head twizzling like that girl in the Exorcist, and I swear she frowns with concentration. I wouldn’t mind but how difficult can it be to find something a foot across, bright yellow - OK, muddied somewhat and alien shaped, in a landscape of grass?
Unkindly, I occasionally pretend to throw it and hide it behind my back. This is only fun for a couple of times though, as I can’t bear her look of panic and anxiety. Blimey, you’d think I’d buried Mary or something. Eventually I feel as though I’ve had a limb transplant which has been replaced by a lump of wood and I lure her back into the house with a promise – like she can understand me! – of further merriment later on.
I have to return in a couple of hours for brunch. That’s a Bonio, or as Mary puts it, A BONIO. Plus another walk if I’m up to it. And a further yellow slimy God what IS that thing hurling event. Wish me luck.