The other kind of dog days: the COLD dog days, where you lie around in a stupor of semi-congealed blood and frost-bitten brain cells rather than crushed to your hammock by sultriness and the weight of your chiffon Mother Hubbard. It was seriously below zero last night, but the temperature creaked up enough* this afternoon for it to start raining, and the hellcritters and I were at the mews and all our rain kit was at the cottage arrrrrgh. And the temperature is re-plunging even now, and at about the time hellcritters and I want to go home all horizontal surfaces between there and here will be sporting a jazzy veneer of smooth tranquil ice. Maybe I’ll try to go home early tonight. . . .
But dog days should concern dogs. Hellhounds and I had three classic encounters today. The first was with the little old lady with the King Charles spaniel, who screams if it gets too close to the hellhounds. The little old lady screams, that is. First time this happened it totally freaked me out but we’ve got mostly used to each other and it hasn’t been bad in a while. She even smiles (the little old lady, not the spaniel). From a safe distance. But I’m pretty sure I can guess what’s going on: she’s lived in her house and walked her dog all her life and she’s not going to give it up without a struggle, even if she’s getting tottery and one good yank from an excited King Charles spaniel could have her over. My original thought was that if she can’t keep her blasted dog under control she shouldn’t be out there with it . . . but as my sixtieth birthday recedes on the horizon behind me my view of the infirmities of age is evolving. When I’m 103 I’ll be out there with leads looped around my Zimmer frame. I may have moved on to Yorkies and Italian greyhounds by then.
Second encounter**. You know you get tired of knowing what’s going to happen. We came around a curve in the path and there, still at a little distance, was one of the big black thug-type Labradors, the kind with a head like a Volkswagen camper van or a small lorry, and it was in classic dog-thug stance. I promptly got hellhounds on short leads and dragged them onto an alternate path that there happened to be one of at that point—this bloody dog was emerging from the end of a long narrow fenced piece of footpath . . . and do I have to bother telling you it was off lead? Hellhounds and I were moving briskly (but not too briskly) at an angle away from where dog-thug was trying out its range of Mean SOB postures . . . and eventually—EVENTUALLY—some irresponsible twit of a woman strolled into view, casually took in the scene and called her dog. Who ignored her. Of course. It made to turn off the path it was on and come after us. The twit grew loud and angry. The dog continued to ignore her.*** At which point the twit’s voice changed and she shouted gaily at us, Oh he’s friendly! One of these days I’m to shout back, Oh I’m not!
We got away—because we had that alternative path to walk down as if we’d meant to all along and couldn’t care less that Conan the Labrador was flexing his muscles from the other side of the hedgerow. I was still shaking with fury and adrenaline when we SAW ANOTHER DOG . . . also off lead, and we were by now onto that narrow fenced stretch, with nowhere to get away. But while this is not something I’d ever rely on, I also knew at first glance—as I’d known that the Lab was trouble—that this dog was not. It saw us, but it wasn’t fussed, and it also kept checking back with its person—which is something I always look for† but hadn’t identified as such till Southdowner pointed it out—it’s one of the ways you know instantly if a dog’s under any kind of control or not. If it’s obviously in a relationship with its person, you’re probably not about to die. If it obviously isn’t. . . .
This one actually went on heel—still off lead—when we got closer. I hoicked my sagging jaw back where it belonged to enable me to exchange pleasantries about the blasted weather with the bloke. I wish well-trained dogs weren’t the exception rather than the rule. SIIIIIIGH. In another couple of months Pavlova will be old enough to do the short form of the river walk—which means starting to meet up with the local canine thug population. She’ll probably still be small enough for me to pick up†† at that point. But she won’t stay that small. And mutant or no, she is a bull terrier. And my hellhounds, nonconfrontational non-hierarchical friendly sighthounds that they are, apparently permanently hate the half-dozen or so dogs that finally pushed them too far.
* * *
* I can’t quite bring myself to say ‘warmed’
** After I had to carry Chaos across the minor lake caused by the riverbank breaking at one of the low places in the path. Darkness waded stoically through. Not Chaos. Chaos is delicate. Darkness leaps twenty feet in the air straight up, shrieking, if the puppy gets anywhere near him, but he can cope with hostile terrain.
*** Of course.
† I have a gigantic advantage as a dilatory dog trainer—that I work from home, and hellcritters are under my feet all the time. I met another woman who wanted to talk to me about whippets and whippet crosses because she’s looking for a puppy and as I know there aren’t a lot of sighthounds in this area, barring adopted ex-racing greyhounds. She wanted to know where I let them run, and I told her, and she said, Do they catch rabbits? And I said yes. And she said, And do they come back to you? Sighthounds being a trifle notorious for not. And I said . . . yes. Well, they do. But it’s not because I’m such a fabulous trainer: it’s because they’re used to having me as a fixed and constant reference point. When they’re off lead, they check to see where I am—and I don’t push this. Mostly they’re on lead, which is safer all round.
We’ll see if this system works with hellterrors. I’m not counting on it.
†† I can carry Chaos across a lake, after all.
††† The rest of the day mostly sucked pond scum too. And I went off to choir practise tonight hysterically convinced that there would be crap in Pav’s crate by the time I got back, since she had declined to have her late afternoon/early evening crap before I went.
There was no crap in the crate. And my high A was still there. So I guess it hasn’t been that awful a day.
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