The excellent Kate Goodall has documented the “delights” of dog walking in Walsall on her beautifully observed blog, so there is no need to repeat lurid tales of picking up turds with plastic bags here. Her insight into the human and canine condition is a rich addition to the local blogging scene.
She, however, writes from the perspective of actually liking these vile, repellent animals and forgets that even the cutest descendants of vicious wolves still have the propensity to rip your lungs out given half a chance. Quite how I was lumbered into exercising the offspring of Cerberus is a sad story of misplaced obligation and a salutary lesson in never volunteering for anything.
Many months ago, on a glorious Spring morning, enjoying good conversation and even better coffee in a fecund back garden, a dear friend and neighbour was suddenly taken ill. It soon became clear that medical attention was required and an ambulance was summoned. Seeing the symptoms, I sniffed the coffee and thought of Agatha Christie.
After what seemed like a geological epoch of waiting, a paramedic arrived with all manner of equipment, including the one that goes “bing”, and first stabilised and then treated the dear friend. An admission to hospital was needed and as we loaded the invalid into the vehicle, the dear friend handed me the house keys with a request. “Will you walk and feed the dog? Just for a couple of days.”
The answer was, of course, yes. But again thinking of Miss Marple, the idea of giving the dog the coffee or finding the cellar and buying some stout engineering bricks, three parts sand, one part cement and a trowel became strangely attractive.
The efficient, professional and very charming paramedic asked for some paperwork to be signed before the patient was whisked away. He wanted confirmation of the time of the 999 call and the time he knocked on the door. The geological epoch lasted exactly three minutes and 49 seconds. Why any here-today, gone-tomorrow politician would want to destroy this free, superb and vital National Health Service is beyond the comprehension of this simple minded Shanghaied dog walker.
And so, the humiliation and embarrassment began. Having the great, stupid lump jumping up at you at the front door and lacking the basic comprehension that licking a face is not considered polite outside the sanctity of marriage, it was clear that our forced relationship was going to be strained. To be fair to the beast, he at least understood the basic commands of “sit” and “wait”, but when it came to the more important instructions such as “behave rationally” and “stop being stupid”, the idiot remained clueless.
Having a companion that sniffs every tree in the Arboretum before deciding which one to urinate on might be de rigueur for some citizens of Walsall, as might offering a probing nose into the nether regions of anything resembling a similar species, but the fact that dogs are different to people does not make it any less repulsive.
Fortunately, the dear friend and neighbour made a speedy and complete recovery and was again able to walk his own bloody dog. So what on earth made me knock on the door the day after his return from hospital and sheepishly ask if the dog needed walking?
The answer has nothing to do with any possibility that I have any affection for this stomach on legs with a breath reminiscent of the smell of Widnes. No, it is because the daily walks since the early Spring through the Arboretum and across what once was the municipal golf course are good for my health. The dog is incidental. Watching the seasons come and go, day by day has been an absolute joy. The Arbo is wonderful, and so are the people that care for it. Any pleasure gained from seeing a big dog off the lead running as fast as he can just for the sake of it is for sentimental fools. Nothing, however, concentrates the mind like six stones of bone headed enthusiasm coming at you at 30mph on the promise of a small doggy treat held aloft in a clenched fist.
The animal is so stupid that he ignores the clearly worded signs warning of the danger of deep mud in the brook that runs through the Arboretum and plunges in with blatant disregard for all that is holy in the world of health and safety. This Baskerville hound is so thick that he has yet to master the simple procedure of climbing onto the dog poo bin to deposit his breakfast. Instead, he stands next to the bin performing a ridiculous circular dance and then waits with big, pathetic doleful eyes until a plastic bag is placed on the ground beneath his foul bottom. Inconsiderate ingrate.
He is also a terrible conversationalist and stubbornly refuses to answer the questions I ask him. His implacable silence when under scrutiny has led me to suggest to his owner that the dog should stand as a councillor during the next local elections.
He does, however, serve some useful purpose. When passing by strangers, the default attitude is to avoid eye contact and keep walking. This is impossible for dog walkers. There always is, at the very least, a cheery exchange of good morning and often a conversation about dogs, weather or the beauty of the Arboretum. Sometimes, when meeting an acquaintance who expresses surprise at seeing me with a dog, I am allowed to adopt an outrageous accent in the style of Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther and say: “Eee`s not ma dorg”.
Only once have I come across an unpleasant dog walker. On an autumnal morning, an enormous, obese man waddled breathlessly after an equally enormous, obese dog. My good morning was ignored and when the genital sniffing started, he shouted at my stupid mutt, “f**k off!” and aimed a slow and futile kick. The effort of raising a leg left him close to death and the instinct that allows mothers to lift cars off trapped babies kicked in. My adopted dog might be stupid, but he’s my stupid, adopted dog. Some very nasty words were said of which, I am not proud. Realising that the fags, booze and pies would finish him off before my cruel sarcasm, I walked away. Mercifully, his sort keep themselves to the town centre and walk their attack dogs off the lead as a way of compensating for a lack of brain or penis.
There are, though, amazing benefits in walking a dog. Once, at the height of Summer, and in a remote copse out at was once the seventh green of the golf course, the world went suddenly into soft focus. Gentlemen, and indeed some ladies, of a certain age will remember the Cadbury`s Flake television adverts from the 70`s. Approaching through a meadow of wild flowers, a vision of loveliness in a cheesecloth dress and wide straw hat was walking her Dalmatian. Under normal circumstance, a middle-aged man alone in an isolated copse would have made this beautiful young woman run a mile. Instead, the presence of the dogs facilitated a good morning and a chat. It is heartening to know that having a big, stupid dog in tow renders you as being considered harmless. It also helps that the dog is considerably better looking than me.
So, after a Christmas lunch that could have fed the entire nation of Canada, instead of snoozing on the sofa listening to the creak of arteries hardening, I was out in the Arboretum walking this bloody stupid dog, even though I don’t actually need to. The saddest part is I bought him some doggy chews for Christmas. The ungrateful sod didn’t buy me a present.
I bet he loves the snow.