A fortnight or so ago a New Friend sidled up to me at St Margaret’s and said that she’d bought a ticket for a charity concert—so she wouldn’t chicken out of going at the last minute, I know that one, on the day you’re too comfortable on the sofa with hellhounds or similar—but she wondered if she could bamboozle me into buying a ticket and coming too? It was a worthy cause and we could hang out. We’ve made half-hearted attempts to hang out previously but they’ve never come off because we never nail one down by saying THIS place and THIS time and putting it in the diary, you know? Modern life. Who has time for spontaneity?*
So despite a qualm or two about the concert itself I said yes. You can put up with a lot in congenial company. And she and I were finally getting somewhere, you know?
And then last week at St Margaret’s when I told her I’d got one of the few remaining tickets** she looked all doleful and woebegone and said she hadn’t rung me because it hadn’t been confirmed yet but for Inarguable Personal Reasons it looked like she wasn’t going to be able to go after all. . . .
Oh. Feh. So I’m now stuck with a ticket to a concert I was only looking forward to because I was going to see her.
But I had the frelling reservation and, at this point, a close personal relationship with the venue’s box office, who had hired a uniformed guard with two Alsatians and a Darth Vader clone to protect my investment till I arrived IN PERSON and offered my palm print as proof I was the correct individual to cede the ticket to, so I’d better go. I went.
Fortunately I took my knitting.
IT WAS UNBELIEVABLY DIRE. UNBELIEVABLY. DIRE. The concert. It was. AAAAAAAAUGH. Words fail. Words need to fail or I will be banned from WordPress for the rest of my life.*** The one minor stroke of good fortune was that I’d arrived early enough it was worth getting my knitting out immediately so it was already on my lap when these jokers got up on stage and started prancing about doing whatever the frell they thought they were doing ARRRRRRRRRRRGH. After the first . . . incident . . . I firmly picked my knitting up again and got QUITE A FEW ROWS done by the time it was over. I swear I would have run away screaming† if I hadn’t had my knitting. . . .
Which leads me to the next thing. I’ve been torturing myself, and some harmless hanks of yarn, trying to make another gift. Me and my frelling Secret Projects. GIVE IT UP, MCKINLEY. I’ve already frogged this one once. This second time it looks a lot better than it did the first time but it’s still what you might call . . . clearly hand made. Does anyone out there have any useful guidelines for when you cut your losses and frog again and when you soldier on on the grounds that your friend will appreciate the effort you’ve gone to even if SHE BURIES THE FINAL OBJECT IN THE BACK GARDEN IN CASE IT’S CONTAGIOUS?
Siiiiiiiigh. . . .
I also got distracted on Etsy the Evil†† from my (relatively) honest quest for a needle roll††† into yarn bowls. And I made the perilous decision to ask Twitter if any of the twitterverse’s knitters use yarn bowls. Am I just being flimflammed by a pretty face? Hand-thrown pottery bowls are very pretty. Or do they help with what I have dubbed the invisible-kitten problem with your wodge of working yarn? In the rush of helpful answers—including plastic bags, yarn cozies [sic], and teapots—I suddenly had a FABULOUS IDEA.
Was this totally sitting on a shelf waiting to be a yarn bowl through the long years of no longer being required for blanc-mange or what? Stay tuned.
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* Hey, I finished the day’s stint early/it’s raining and I don’t feel like gardening/if I hear my neighbour’s extra-loud telephone bell go one more time^ I shall run mad with an axe, want to grab a cup of tea somewhere? No, sorry, I can’t, I’m working a double shift today/it’s raining so I’m sorting out the garage^^/I have to sort out the garage because I need to hide a body fast.^^^
^ They need fewer friends
^^ No friend of mine would ever use that excuse
^^^ Ah. Okay. Need help?+
+ I found a drowned mouse in a bucket today. Ewwwwwwww. I have no truck with the ‘mice are cute’ brigade and am perfectly happy to trap the suckers, using the fastest, lethalest traps available, but drowning in a bucket is a slow, crummy way to die and made me sad.
** And my email, possessed by demons as it is, failed to accept the confirmatory email from the venue so I’m all AM I GOING OR NOT. WHAT DO I HAVE TO DO HERE, CONSULT AN ASTROLOGER?
*** Banned—? From WordPress? Um . . . actually . . .
† Most of the people who preach at St Margaret’s I like and find not merely worth listening to but interesting. But there is one . . . I have been trying to decide if it is worth establishing a habit of knitting during the sermons so that the next time this joker stands up I won’t have to gnaw my knuckles till they bleed so as not to run away screaming.^
^ I realise that a Supreme Being needs a sense of humour, but I feel perhaps we might review some of said humour’s minor manifestations? People who have been at this Christian thing a long time keep telling me that God likes engaging with his mortal children on their level. Okay. So let’s discuss the practical jokes.
†† You know I have been complaining about the mess and confusion of Etsy’s so-called search function and have finally realised . . . it’s all a careful plan to entice you in deeper and deeper.
††† The design I like best is only in a bunch of dumb fabrics. ARRRRRGH. Also I object to spending more than £11,872.33 (most of this is the overseas shipping cost from America) for a needle roll. So this is still an open question.
Southdowner was here yesterday. I got an email from her Saturday afternoon saying, YEEEEE-HA. BANK HOLIDAY MONDAY. I could come down tomorrow? —I looked nervously at Pav. You’re not perfect! I said. And it’s all my fault because I’m a BAD OWNER! She wagged her tail. All stimuli lead to tail-wagging in a hellterror.* Also, I added, you’re still TOO THIN according to breed fashion!** She wagged her tail harder. You could see the thought balloon though: FEEEEEEED MEEEEEEEEEE.
Still. It would be nice to see Southdowner. Especially because—hee hee hee hee hee—have I told you she’s ended up with TWO of Pav’s siblings? Hee hee hee hee hee hee hee. Nothing on earth, of course, was going to persuade her to have even ONE because she already has ninety-seven dogs and a small house. But first there was Fruitcake, who has turned out to be rather a stunner***, and Olivia was dithering about him, she’d actually turned down two buyers because she is derang—I mean, because she felt they were going to treat him as an artefact or a Breed Standard Winning Machine instead of a dog. So she still had him, but she didn’t really want to keep an entire dog with an entire bitch . . . at which point Southdowner said she’d have him. I wasn’t there, so I can’t categorically state there was a gleam in her eye, but I bet there was. Southdowner herself has said that the family she’s bred for three generations, and of which Lavvy, Olivia’s bitch, is one, has mostly produced gorgeous girls and reasonably nice boys. There’s been at least one world-beater boy, but most of the world-beaters have been girls. I suspect Southdowner has had her eye on Fruitcake for a long time and Olivia has been pretending she didn’t know it.
So far so . . . almost reasonable. Hey, Southdowner is a bullie breeder, of course she’s going to be interested in a gorgeous scion of her own family. But then Scone, who was recognised as The Handful and Too Clever By Half when the final cut was made and Pav came to me, and who had gone to experienced bullie owners, nonetheless proved to be too much for them. Whereupon poor Olivia teetered on the brink of meltdown because one of HER PRECIOUS PUPPIES was not having the happy life she deserved—but Olivia herself has a full time job and is not a dog behaviourist and . . .
. . . Southdowner said she’d have her.
And Scone is darling. Of course. I’ve seen her twice since Southdowner took her and I can’t see anything wrong with her. She’s just your average mad frantic bullie. But from where I’m standing I’m delighted Southdowner has half of Pav’s litter—and there are plans afoot† for all of us to meet up with Croissant in London. . . .
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* Some stimuli, especially those including fooooooood, lead to other predictable behaviours, screaming, hanging from the rafters, etc, but the beginning of all hellterror activity is tail wagging.
** And slightly under what even I prefer thanks to what I assume was an unobserved snack of something noxious on our FOUR WAY HURTLE at Warm Upford on Saturday afternoon. Well, I needed petrol^ and it was a BEAUTIFUL DAY and . . . who was I going to leave behind? So we all went. And we all lived and I don’t even have rope/lead burns. But it would have been more fun if I hadn’t spent all of it scanning the horizon for other people’s loose dogs. Anyway. Pav was on short rations for about a day and a half after something disagreed with her^^ and was therefore a trifle tucked up even by my standards.^^^ All that tail-wagging takes a lot of energy.
^ Even the pet shop owner thinks I need a new car. Isn’t that moss growing on the roof? she said. WHAT DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH IT? WOLFGANG FRELLING LIVES OUT. HE FRELLING LIVES OUT, UNDER A TREE. OF COURSE HE’S GOT MOSS GROWING ON HIS ROOF, BECAUSE I DON’T WASH IT OFF.+ What is the matter with people? He RUNS. The bottom line is that he RUNS. We’ve had two bad, expensive moments with Wolfgang, one several years ago when we put eight hundred frelling quid into the steering at which point the end had better not have been nigh and, fortunately, wasn’t, and then a year or so ago when they finally figured out what was causing the extremely unnerving and demoralising not-starting thing, which was after all the drama relatively cheap to put right. The expensive part was the effect on my peace of mind and stomach lining. Not that I would know peace of mind if it bit me ++ but there are better seasons and worse seasons for not sleeping or for waking up and going AAAAAAUGH.
+ And at this point can’t. Who knew that moss could get its roots through hard-finish automobile paint? Feh. Bad design somewhere.
++ This is another reason my road to Damascus moment last 12 September was so indisputable. I don’t do the peace that passeth all understanding, even in fiction. If someone was standing there shining with it . . . it wasn’t anything I was making up.
^^ MINOR SQUICK WARNING. Well, I think minor. But then I’m a critter owner and we have to be tough. So READ ON AT YOUR OWN RISK. I keep telling you that Pav isn’t a bull terrier really, she just looks like one. One of the tricks both Olivia and Southdowner warned me about is the extra-dimensional pouches bullies have in their cheeks, to hide things you’re trying to take away from them. Even if you have a bullie that lets you open its mouth it’s not guaranteed you’re going to find what you’re looking for. Now, very often what you’re looking for is not something you want to fish around for with your bare hands.+ I discovered, quite by accident, and as part of the whole astonishing another-poor-sad-deluded-creature-accepts-me-as-hellgoddess business++, that if I hold Pav’s head nose down while keeping her jaws well open and give it a shake, the offending object/substance may fly out. In fact surprisingly often does. Even when it’s . . . you know, squishy. Sometimes it helps to clamp the entire hellterror vertically upside down between my legs and then shaking the open-jawed head. . . . Yes, she puts up with this. I’m convinced however that this has very little to do with my status as Alpha+++ and everything to do with the well-developed and one might even say notorious bullie sense of humour.
+ Some of you will remember South Desuetude Cemetery Adventure. Ewwwwwwwww.
++ BUT THIS ONE EATS.#
# I mean wow, does she ever eat. Still.
+++ We all know that the whole Alpha business is pretty much bogus, right? It has limited usefulness—yes you are the boss, or you’d better be—but Alpha? Nah.
^^^ I think it is my destiny to be awarded digestively-challenged critters. I can’t starve the hellhounds when they have the rivers because empty stomachs make them worse. I can’t starve the hellterror when she has the purees because she eats her bedding.
*** Not of course as stunning as Pavlova.
† Or apaw, if you prefer.
In my attempt to fatten the hellterror up so the Bull Terrier Secret Police don’t come after me, coupled with cutting back on what I give the hellhounds both in the hope of stimulating some APPETITE but also having less leftover dog food*, Pav is presently getting more food than the hellhounds.
Including, after lunch a piece of Fish Jerky, which is pressed and petrified fish skin. I had tried it on the hellhounds ages ago and they were Not. Amused. But Southdowner brought me a pack last week. Hellterror will eat anything, of course, so I wasn’t surprised she liked it. I didn’t bother to offer it to the hellhounds, they weren’t eating anyway. But hellhounds are very interested in everything that happens to the hellterror differently than it happens to hellhounds. This even includes food.** So after getting a lot of outrage guff from hellhounds while Pav happily ate her fish brick, I gave them one each. THEY ATE THEM. Oh. Well, that was unexpected. That was yesterday. Today I was still reeling from the equally unexpected joy of lunch-eating hellhounds when I gave Pav her brick. I thought, why wreck it? They’ll have gone off fish bricks by now.
But Chaos got out of the hellhound bed to follow me back to the extra-extra-large canister where I keep an increasing assortment of canine comestibles, and did a very clear Want That mime. So I offered him one. He took it in his mouth, stood there a moment looking bemused, dropped it . . . and turned to look at the hellterror, gnawing away happily in her crate. I could see the thought-bubble forming over his head: I want what she’s having such a good time with. This is it, I said, picking up the rejected fish brick. But at this point Darkness expressed interest—and Darkness is both very slightly less totally bonkers than Chaos and is also significantly less interested in what is happening with the hellterror^^, or anyway is more particular about what he objects to. So I gave him a brick. Oh yes, he said, I remember, I quite enjoyed the last one. And he ate it. Whereupon Chaos looked at me like we were all in league against him and he was a poor lone friendless thing in a hostile universe. I offered him another brick.
He ate it this time.
PS: Pavlova weighs twenty four pounds. And while I haven’t taught her to stand still to be measured from where she slams into my legs when she’s hucklebutting without looking where she’s going I’d say she’s between 13 and 14 inches at the shoulder. Which is about as big as she’s supposed to get. The growth spurt is chiefly length. I have to kind of fold her up to get her in her travelling crate any more, sigh, I really have to do something about this before the next time she has to spend more than the two minutes to get to the mews in it. . . .
* * *
* They will face what they have seen before only to a limited extent, especially when they’re already being grumpy about food, AND AT THESE PRICES I CAN’T BEAR TO THROW IT OUT.
** The standard form, when all three of my furry live entertainment cast are loose together at the mews, is for them to go tearing up and down the long(ish) sitting room^, Darkness barking like a klaxon: IT’S HERE! IT’S ALIVE! IT’S LOOSE! and Chaos doing his fake snarly bark that says, Do that again and I’ll paste you one, whereupon of course she does it again^^, and he goes ROWRROWRROWR and looks very cross and supercilious like someone’s spinster uncle at an infant school outing, but he somehow goes on being in precisely the right/wrong place for caroming hellterrors. This continues till either I or Peter can’t stand it any more, and then I nail the little one and stuff her back in her crate.^^^ To soften this barbaric act, and because when a critter is so easily assuaged why not, I toss half a handful of kibble over the floor of her crate, which usually means she goes STRAIGHT in with no stuffing necessary. She will come looking for this if essential hunger overcomes the delight of torturing hellhounds, but last night I misjudged and she was cornering the appalled Darkness after I’d already thrown the kibble in her crate. I FOUND CHAOS HAVING JAMMED HIS TOO-TALL SELF IN HER CRATE HOOVERING IT UP. CHAOS WHO WON’T EAT HIS FOOD IS SUCKING UP PUPPY KIBBLE BECAUSE THE PUPPY GETS IT. Not to mention the fact that he’s ALLERGIC to it because it has cereal grain in it ARRRRRRRRGH. I told myself he hadn’t got much . . . I prayed that he hadn’t got much, and apparently my prayer was answered, since there were no hellhound digestive dramas today. YOU BIG STUPID SCHMUCK. Arrrrrrrgh. I can’t wait to get her off puppy food and onto the no-grain stuff the hellhounds eat.
^ All the World’s a Stage
And hellhounds and hellterrors merely players:
They have their exits (YAAAAAAH) and their entrances (AAAAAAUGH);
One critter in its time plays many parts,
These acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the besotted future owner’s arms.
And then the whining puppy, tail between legs
And shining morning face, little legs braced
Unwillingly propelled into a crate with a door . . .
Hmm. I seem to have gone off the track somewhere. I don’t remember any crates in the original. The shining morning face is dead on though. I could do with it shining a little less when I’m stumbling around trying to make tea. I’LL TAKE YOU OUT AND FEED YOU BREAKFAST. IN A MINUTE, OKAY? There ought to be a law against anything being as relentlessly cheerful and enthusiastic in the morning as your average puppy.
^^ This involves a sort of reverse dive-bombing. There are a lot of frantic little legs involved.
^^^ The truth about life with a tricolour: You get white hairs on your black clothes. You get black hairs on your white clothes. You get rusty auburn+ hairs on everything. It’s somehow a whole extra magnitude of critter hair than the pale fawn and steel-mahogany-grey I’ve been living with for the last six and a half years, possibly something to do with hellhound hair being fine and silky and hellterror hair being coarse and rough. It’s so dense it’s almost plushy in a bristly sort of way. Although the little almost-bare fuzzy tummy is divine.
+ Southdowner, when she was here, said thoughtfully, her markings are unusually orange. I don’t know that I’ve seen a tricolour who is quite so vividly orange before. —ORANGE? YOU’RE CALLING MY HEARTBREAKINGLY BEAUTIFUL HELLTERROR PUPPY ORANGE?
*** Unless this includes that she’s out of her crate and he is at RISK.
It’s been Christmas for several hours. HAPPY CHRISTMAS. But I haven’t got to bed yet so as far as I’m concerned it’s still Christmas Eve.*
Peter was doing extremely well. I’d only got it out of Third House’s attic and brought it down to the mews at about 3:30. And fed my assortment of creatures lunch [sic], bolted a few olives and yesterday’s brussels sprouts and hared off to ring bells at Forza for the crib service. I came home via Third House again to get the rest of the stuff to, you know, decorate the tree. There wasn’t room first run, with a car full of critters.
Okay. Tree’s up. Now I wrap the stem/trunk/knobbly plastic central column with tinsel. This hides the strange bare patches in real trees and the equally strange green tape used to hold fake trees together. Also, I like tinsel.
And yes, that’s dinner in a bowl on the right with chopsticks across it.
And the next course of dinner on the table on the right.
Between previous photo and this one there were three hurtles–one long hellhound and two short hellterror–plus midnight mass. With lots more carols. I’ve found that the answer to my ME-related inability to stand for very long is to sit in the back row and stand behind my chair and then lean on its back. This frees up all those tight little anxiety cells so you can SING LOUDER. During the passing-the-peace-around one of my neighbours said, I’m enjoying your singing. –I’m not sure if this might be Britspeak for shut up, okay? You’re bothering me.
The tree’s on a table this year in the fond belief that we can keep her off it. But for the early everything-all-over-the-floor stages a lack of hellterror is critical. That is in fact her crate on the left covered in an orange blanket (the green towel is covering the hole in the orange blanket).** When she barks she gets her curtains closed. She was barking at the thunder. We’ve been having thunder, lightning, hail, and torrential rain. Joy. I keep reminding myself I’d rather have rain than snow–in a country where no one knows how to deal with snow–but I think less rain might be, you know, possible. It would certainly be desirable.
Meanwhile I’m getting tired of climbing over the sofa.
What kind of a cheesy scuzzball do you think I am? I admit that if I didn’t have to have bells if there are bells to be had, I would bag the horrible little ropes of bells which TANGLE LIKE A !”£$%^&*(!!!!!!. Which is why we don’t have lights. Peter used to put the lights up and he hates lights . . . because of the whole untangling thing. And I’m not going there. I have enough things to melt down over. Including, once a year, my two ropes of decorative mini-bells.
I haven’t finished draping the rest of the sitting room in tinsel yet. TOMORROW. I CAN DO IT TOMORROW. I mean . . . later today.***
* * *
*All right, it’s Christmas and Christmas Eve. I went to Midnight Mass–which is at 11:30–but the vicar said, yo, let me be the first to wish you Happy Christmas, as the big hand rolled past the twelve. Which was still several hours ago.
** Behind the crate you can see a chair with presents on it. Yes. Other people get their presents wrapped before the last minute. Before after the last minute. Sigh.
*** It’s almost time for the monks’ morning prayer. Hmmmm. No, McKinley, get a grip, you have PRESENTS TO WRAP. And you’ll enjoy the duck and champagne and mince pies and brandy butter more if you’ve had some sleep. . . .
It has been Another One of Those Days, which I feel there have been far too many of lately and this run of blerg and arrrgh can stop any time thank you. There was one bright spot today: Fiona and her mum were coming to Mauncester for Christmas shopping and we arranged to meet up. Well. We arranged. And then we rearranged. I rearranged. And then we re-re-re-re-arranged. And then I was late. Later. Um. . . . As I said, blerg and arrrgh. What a good thing texting is. I’M ABT 15 MIN LATE. NO, 20. 25. LEAVING NOW. 30. SEE U SOON.* How did we all get along without it?
I brought Pav with me to Mauncester, of course. IT’S ALL SOCIALISATION. She’d managed to put a foot through several of my necklaces sequentially** which I’d taken into the jewellers’ for mending, tactlessly by myself a week or so ago and was more or less told that if I wanted to see any of my precious baubles and fripperies again I’d better bring the puppy next time. So I brought the puppy. Who was much admired. Who enjoyed being much admired.
But Mauncester was gruesomely, first-week-of-Decemberly*** mobbed. Mobbed. MOBBED. I was hyperventilating. Pavlova was a star.† I wouldn’t go so far as to say she has good lead manners but she has a clue that she’s supposed to be coming along with me, and she does. We wound our way through crowds of people of all shapes and sizes and smells†† and thunderousness of footgear, and including screaming toddlers and pushchairs and a few wheelchairs, and balloons, and other dogs, and street musicians, and hawkers hawking items of mostly dubious worth, these latter also including those creepy monster frame things that you can hang your wares from and then wear the whole business.††† Pavlova looked around with great interest and didn’t flinch at anything.‡
Of course she then ruined the effect by rushing up to Fiona and FLINGING herself up Fiona’s leg, leaving a generous swathe of muddy puppy prints. I used to be able to train my dogs not to jump on people. I’m getting old and soft.‡‡
* * *
* When I finally saw Fiona waving at me my greeting was Don’t tell me what time it is.
** I seem to be learning to get out of her way faster. I think. It’s like the permanent scars I have on the inside of both forearms, especially the right one, where she kicks while I rub her tummy and, I don’t know, tummy-rubbing must let off endorphins in the rubber because I don’t notice till I see my blood on the puppy and freak out because SHE’S injured. Yes, I could cut her toenails. NO. ACTUALLY. I COULDN’T CUT HER TOENAILS. TOENAIL CUTTING DOGS TERRIFIES ME. And yes, the vet will do it, but how pathetic is that? So . . . she has long sharp claws on her hind feet. And I have permanent scars on the insides of both forearms. But the hasty sweep across of the not-so-little forepaws aiming to take out another necklace is improving.
*** By next week Gandalf could be coming to Mauncester and inviting me to meet him for a cup of tea and three wishes^ and I’d be saying, sorry, not till January, mate.
^ 1. A singing voice more beautiful than Marilyn Horne, Janet Baker and Cecilia Bartolli all rolled together.
2. The ability to glance at a blue line and be INSTANTLY able to ring any method. With flawless striking.
3. An iron digestion which can not only deal with ANYTHING but, furthermore, makes all superfluous-to-requirements calories GO AWAY.
. . . You mean I was supposed to wish for sensible things? How would that be fun?
† Although if one more person blanches and backs away from my belly-down, butt-up, tail-wagging-furiously, flat-eared ADORABLE PUPPY, murmuring through palsied lips, But it’s a . . . bull terrier. . . . I’m going to tell Pavlova to EAT THEM.^ For pity’s sake guys. Does she LOOK dangerous?^^ I admit I’m a little worried about when the Notorious Bull Terrier Nature kicks in—I thought it had a week ago, when I spent nearly three hours that evening STANDING on her—but maybe she’s not only a mutant, but she’s going to stay a mutant. We live in hope.
^ FOOD? FOOOOOOOOOOOOD?
^^ Unless you have a face like a bowlful of kibble.
†† Not a fan of perfume. Not. And cigarettes. . . .
††† Ha. Ha. Want to hear a Really Bad Joke, compliments the gang at the South Desuetude tower? Usually I’ve managed to forget this week’s bad jokes by Tuesday.
I had a friend who drowned in a bowl of muesli. He was pulled down by a really strong currant.
‡ This is however the same puppy who, on walks in New Arcadia, regularly stops, turns around and stares, one forefoot delicately raised, at NOTHING, for however long it takes me to get bored or creeped out and chirp her into moving again. Maybe she’s just an urban girl.
‡‡ And she’s a BULL TERRIER. EVERYONE KNOWS BULL TERRIERS ARE IMPOSSIBLE TO TRAIN. Hunh. She sits, she downs (sometimes), she knows her name, she only gets under my feet when we’re out on lead when nothing else more interesting is happening, and the last time she peed on the floor was because I’d kind of forgotten to take her out for about six hours.^ We are having a little difficulty with the DON’T FRELLING PULL YOU FRELLING PUPPY when we’ve turned to go home and she knows there will be FOOOOOOOOOOOD there. But I figure it’s worth having this argument for the reinforcement of her WANTING to go home.
^ Of course that means I’ve ruined her forever. Ask the Evil Dog Training Man.