mphrys; Arnold Schwarzenegger; Chris Evans; Ricky Gervais.Jeremy Paxman; Barack Obama; John Hu
Away with politics! Back to real life. Today, I spent the day with Maisie (as I do every Wednesday). She took me swimming and then to the park, where I was particularly pleased to find my good friends Candy the chocolate Labrador and Harvey the dark-tan Staffordshire Bull Terrier. For those who don't remember them, Candy is one of my principal girlfriends and is both a sensual and intellectual delight. Harvey was first introduced to me as a very young puppy. I helped him grow into the ways of a good Staffordshire, but quickly realised that he had all the brain capacity of a jacket-potato. He is not quite so empty-headed as Ewan (the dog at my partner's workplace) however, Ewan DID suffer from some kind of unspecified cerebral damage. Harvey has no such excuse. Nevertheless, like Ewan, Harvey is extremely affable, mostly chirpy, and good company for a limited period of time. Harvey is also utterly, completely and totally obsessed with his football. Playing and watching, it matters not. Harvey loves football.
My tail wagging with increasing vigour, I ran up to Harvey and we made the customary sniff-overs, Candy being on the other side of the park retrieving the football after Harvey had butted it to her with too much force.
"Jas-per!!!" squealed Harvey in delight. "Fantastic to see you, mate! Stay and play football with us!" I noted that Maisie had already stopped to chat with Candy's and Harvey's partners, so I was overjoyed to be able to comply. Harvey, with eyes shining, continued yipping. "Have you got yours up yet?!"
"Excuse me?!?" I barked, unsure if I'd heard him properly.
"Have you got yours up yet?" repeated Harvey, earnestly. "I put mine up two days ago! Don't tell me you haven't had yours up yet?!"
"Erm..." I muttered. I began to wonder if, perhaps, my absence from the park had led to the psychological ruin of the small Staffordshire. At that point, Candy trotted up, batting Harvey's football in front of her.
"Alright Jazz?" she smiled (I often see Candy at weekends in the woods with my partner, which is why our meeting was less excitable than my reunion with young Harvey).
"Candy!" barked Harvey. "Jasper hasn't got his up yet! Can you believe that?!"
"HARVEY!" I barked sharply, appalled that he would introduce such a topic before a lady. Candy rolled her eyes heaven-wards.
"Oh lord." she sighed. "Jasper, Harvey is referring to his Football World Cup 2010 Wallchart."
"My Master got it free in his newspaper and put it up on the wall for me." added Harvey, nodding proudly. "It's ONLY a month away! We've already written 'England' in as one of the finalists."
Sighing heavily, with a sideways glance and a wink at Candy, I nodded back at Harvey. I suddenly began to recall why I now preferred accompanying my partner to work most days...
The rescue centre was a home for abandoned or abused dogs and not a boarding kennels. However, VERY occasionally, if there was space, a temporary resident was put up for a while – usually a dog belonging to someone who’d had to go into hospital and had no immediate acquaintance who could take on the mutt for a brief spell. In return for a donation, the dog would be given food and shelter until the human returned from hospital or whatever had indisposed them. On the rare occasion that one of these canines sojourned with us ‘lifers’, all proceeded quietly without significant disruption. However, there was one notable exception.
A very large, hairy, dark-furred mongrel arrived one day, his owner being obliged to undergo a minor operation and having no other recourse than emergency boarding. Dave agreed to take the beast and he was allocated to my corridor and into the vacant pen between Pebble and Rats the Jack Russell. From the very start we all despised him. The brute was haughty, unsociable, and clearly believed himself to be better then the rest of us. He regarded each one of us – including Kipper – as if we were something unpleasant that he’d found adhering to the base of his paw. We were all happy to ignore him. Unfortunately, after the first day or two, he decided to amuse himself by tormenting Pebble.
The interloper had very quickly registered that Pebble was traumatised following his abandonment by his former human family. He ear-wigged on Pebble’s private conversations with Kipper and, as we all did, heard Pebble’s nightly querying of Kipper as to whether or not his family were coming to collect him on the morrow. The despicable newcomer decided that he had found a hitherto-untapped source of amusement. The following day, a vehicle could be heard, pulling into the driveway – most likely Dave, or one of the kennel-maids, returning from somewhere.
“Hey! Pebble!” barked the dark-furred mongrel, leaping up and sniffing the air. “I think this is them! Yes! It’s your family! Coming back for you! Here’s their car!”
Pebble leapt up immediately, yipping excitedly and sniffing the air.
“Stop it.” growled Kipper, darkly, to the big dog.
“They’re coming! They’re coming for me!” squealed Pebble, almost beside himself. “I told you they wouldn’t forget me! I told you Kipper! They’ve come back for me!”
No-one barked anything as, inevitably, the driver of the vehicle locked the door and walked away out of earshot. Poor Pebble wagged his tail, standing with hopeful joy, for at least twenty minutes after silence had fallen. No-one could bear to look as the happiness finally faded from his face and he sloped dejectedly back to his basket.
“You sick b*st*rd.” hissed Rex, in his pen opposite the new dog.
This incident was bad enough – but the sadistic and depraved cruelty was repeated on poor, unsuspecting, Pebble every time there was the sound of a car engine or the click of a gate that afternoon. With each episode, more dissenting and angry voices were added to those of Kipper’s, Rex’s and mine. On Kipper’s advice, Pebble did TRY not to be goaded by the bully but, because his young mind had been in desperate torment for so long, Pebble just couldn’t help himself but fall for the cruel boarder’s assurances that, this time, it really was his family coming to fetch him home.
The explosion of anger that ensued came as a surprise to no-one. Kipper – for the first and only time, to the best of my knowledge – completely and utterly lost his rag. He barked at the top of his voice employing profanities, some of which were new even to me, telling our temporary guest exactly what he thought of him. Towards the end of his tirade, Kipper’s voice began to fail him and crack, so we all chimed in with hearty “hear, hear”s, to support our leader. Everyone, even the interloper for a moment, was stunned into silence by Kipper’s outburst. And then came the worst of it.
“Oh, shut up, you filthy, stinking tramp.” sneered the new dog. “No wonder no-one wants any of you. Dirty, worthless scum, the lot of you.”
The entire block erupted with enraged indignation. Insult our pack leader = insult us all.
Rex’s voice rose above us all, after a discreet (and never-seen-before, at least by me) signal from Kipper.
“Show some respect!” he hollered, throwing himself repeatedly against his pen door, trying to shove it open, “You WILL respect our pack leader, or I’ll tear your f***ing Jacobs off! Apologise! NOW!!!”
“Oh, s*d off.” snarled the newcomer.
Rex (not to mention the rest of us) was rendered utterly barkless by the shocking audacity and lack of respect from this new dog. Unseen by most, but witnessed by me, was another discreet signal from Kipper to Rex. Rex nodded grimly and retired, without another bark, to his basket. It was unbarked but inevitable. There was going to be trouble. BIG trouble.
The next day, things began normally. There was an uneasy silence as everyone ate their breakfasts. The usual routine of walks and kennel-cleanings began. Kipper and I were, as normal, walked together. Pebble and Rats went out together, all was well. And then the new, nasty dog’s pen was unlocked. He was due to be walked alone.
All of a sudden, Rex began to whimper pitifully. He then collapsed to the floor, pawing frantically at his belly, and rolled around with agonised howls. I suddenly grasped what was a-paw. Dave and the kennel-maids were still on nervous tenterhooks after the recent infectious diarrhoea epidemic in the bitches’ block, and were on the alert for any initial symptoms! Rex was acting!
It worked. The (relatively new) kennel maid took Rex from his pen and decided to walk him alongside the boarding dog, in case Rex was about to expel a vast, infectious, diarrhetic torrent. As they sped past my pen, Rex shot me a wink, and I marvelled (not for the first time) at his theatrical skills. Some five minutes later, the sounds of a vicious fight and satisfying yelps drifted towards us from the exercise field. Kipper smiled grimly.
“What’s happening?” asked Pebble, innocently.
“Our guest is learning an important lesson in fealty amongst dogs.” replied Kipper. Pebble didn’t understand, but a few of us older dogs did and we chuckled to ourselves.
It goes without saying that Rex and the miscreant dog were swiftly separated. Rex, for his troubles, was immediately hauled off to the vet to be checked for signs of a hidden illness, which might have prompted his sudden, unprovoked, attack. He was found to be in perfect health – and with no sign of the bitches’ tummy bug. When Rex was brought back, with a butterfly-clip holding together the sides of a nasty bite on his cheek, we all cheered him heartily and he grinned widely back at us, acknowledging our praise.
An attempt was made to return the now meek and subdued big mongrel dog to his pen whilst Rex was at the vet (Rex had bitten firm and hard, but carefully, so as not to cause lasting damage. He was no fool, after all.), but the rest of us set up such a menacing growling that he was instantly removed. Rats later heard one of the kennel-maids telling Dave that the united growling had sounded as though she’d just walked into the world’s biggest hornets’ nest. Dave prudently decided to relocate the despised boarder to the Isolation Block for the rest of his temporary stay at Stokenchurch. Wise man.
“Kipper?” Pebble piped up, all of a sudden. “What just happened? Rex was right to bite that other dog, wasn’t he? That big dog was very rude to you. He shouldn’t have been rude to you, should he?”
“No, Pebble.” replied Kipper, in a serious tone. “He should not have been rude to me. But that is not why I asked Rex to discipline him.” Kipper paused for effect. “He was picking on you, Pebble. And that was cruel and wrong. He can say what he wants about me, I don’t care. But I will not have cruelty or bullying of weaker members of my pack. His problem WAS a lack of respect – but to you, Pebble, not me.”
"Oh." said Pebble quietly, sounding humbled and honoured at the same time. "Thank you, Rex."
"That's OK, Peb." replied Rex. "Believe me, it was a real pleasure."
“Kipper is right!” I barked, sharply, leaping up. “And any one of you –“ here, I was addressing the whole block. “- who thinks that Kipper’s departure to join his new family will usher in a new era of bully-boy tactics, mob-rule and anarchy can think again. Just as Kipper has done, I WILL have order in this house!” Kipper smiled and nodded at me. “I may as well tell you all now,” I continued, “that if anyone – ANYONE – decides to pick on a weaker or submissive member of this pack, they will be taking on myself and Rex united, and they will be shown no mercy. Is that clear?”
“Is that clear?!” I repeated.
“Yes, Captain.” came the chorused reply, followed by a few anonymous “Hear hear”s and “Well barked”s.
Kipper nodded approvingly once more.
“Now then.” I continued, in a lighter tone of bark, “I trust that that is the last we will have to bark on such an unpleasant topic. Archie?!” I hailed one of the dogs a few corridors across.
“Yes, Cap.?” came the reply.
“Why don’t you tell us all that joke you heard about the two bitches and the firework?”
As the unseen Archie related the latest naughty joke to the rest of the block, and the pack erupted with laughter at the punchline, I settled back into my basket with quiet satisfaction. I had, for the first time, asserted my authority as pack leader-elect and it had gone unchallenged – even by the usual mischief-makers. Kipper had approved. I was going to be the new pack leader – and I was going to be good.
My dearest friend Kipper now had only a short time as part of the rescue-home dogs’-block pack remaining. I was determined to make these days as jolly as possible. We all laughed, joked and sang to the best of our abilities and I was honoured to feel that I was supplying Kip. with the happiest of memories. A couple of nights after the events described above, one of the younger dogs asked for a funny story – the general favourite, in fact. The tale of the Night of the Isolated Bitches.
Kipper, Rex and I laughed as we related once again the night of our notorious and popular adventure. It was one of those stories that just got better the more times it was told. I noticed that a new development seemed to have crept in – Rex claimed that he had, in fact, impregnated three nubile bitches and fathered some eleven pups, instead of the factually-correct one bitch and two pups. But neither Kipper nor I had the heart to contradict him. We enjoyed the pack’s laughter too much.
Before that night’s festivities were completely over, I felt suddenly tired and, yawning, clambered into my basket. I fell asleep with the last echoes of happy conversation floating in my ears.
The following morning I woke up abruptly, my eyes almost snapping open. It was earlier than usual. I was about to turn over and go back to sleep, when I suddenly realised that something was terribly, terribly wrong.
I couldn’t place it. There was an eerie, unnatural, silence. I sat up in my bed. My neighbour to the right, Jake, was wide awake and sitting bolt-upright, quietly trembling. Opposite, only Rats was awake. He, too, was clearly unsettled.
I sniffed the air nervously. There was no trace of fire, pestilence or war. But, clearly, something was different. Something had happened.
I turned, my eyes meeting Jake’s, and I instantly recoiled in horror. His face bore an unearthly expression of utter desolation.
“What on Earth’s the matter?!” I cried. “What’s wrong?!”
“It’s Kipper.” replied Jake, quietly. Relieved, I sighed, and grinned at him, rolling my eyes upwards.
“Oh dear G*d,” I replied, with a fond grin, “What’s the daft s*d been up to now?!”
“Oh, Captain,” said Jake, fixing his hollow, almost-unseeing, sad, eyes on mine. “Kipper is – he…” Jake began to cry.