“Have you noticed Ben scratching more often at the moment?”
Came my daughter Holly’s query over the phone.
She had taken Ben the family dog to stay with her for a couple of days. My wife was working nights so it meant Ben wasn’t going to get a decent walk until she finished this three night shift. Ben is a rescue dog who we have had for six years.
We picked him at the dogs home after some serious manipulation on Holly’s part. She forced me to drink beer until I said – nay – promised she could have a dog.
Holly has always wanted animals in her life. She is a fourth year Veterinary student and she lives and breaths it. Ben was the culmination of a lot of determined effort on her part, which I had withstood for a number of years. But, six to twelve bottles of Peroni – I have to admit I have little recollection on the correct number – just tipped the balance. And she made me promise. Bugger. I was out-maneuvered by a fifteen year old.
And I wouldn’t mind but I was paying for the beer.
Anyway, off to the dogs home we went, and I was determined to pick a dog I wanted.
I had a number of stipulations I managed to insert during the foggy negotiations prior to promising.
The dog had to be a reasonable size. It had to be a quiet dog. it couldn’t be a hairy dog that malted all its body fur in one go. We would take our time choosing it, until we (I) found the one that fit us (me).
And he was going to be called Steve.
As I figured it, I might hate the dog but every time I shouted at it the comedic value of its name would entertain me..
I think I gradually warmed to the idea of having a Lassie-come-old yellow-come-Timmy relationship with our (my) new companion
Anyway. Over the next few weeks we made repeated trips to the dogs home. Most of my stipulations seemed unobtainable. Each time we walked in we were met by a wall of sound. The quiet dog scenario seemed unobtainable. Each compound had a number of neurotic dogs in it either barking dementedly or bouncing or tearing around with the same unerring vigor they put into barking.
And as each week arrived I went to view these animals with trepidation knowing I had made a promise I had to keep, but couldn’t seem to find an acceptable middle ground.
There were a lot of large dogs. I mean BIG bastards. No way was I having one of those sitting in the passenger seat next to me. These things could have car jacked me at will. The majority of the other dogs were Staffies. You know? Little barrel chested, bow-legged, squared headed little things, like a poor mans pit bull. You usually see them being strutted around by some chavvy scroat and the poor animal has a piece of chain link for a collar. Quite unfairly portrayed actually. They tend to sleep most of the time.
But they didn’t fit with my ideal vision of a new furry companion either. I think Holly was beginning to despair. She would have taken the biggest, loudest donkey she could have got her hands on and been happy calling it Spot. But there were just no smallish dogs to be had.
Then, we found out that all the small dogs were snatched up early on. We had to get there at opening time.
Sure enough, the following week we were there twenty minutes early and first in the queue. As soon as the door opened and the queue surged, I was off and running, elbows going to create space, galloping along past each compound quickly scanning what was inside and as quickly dismissing them as – Too big – Too loud – Too hairy – too small – Too – wtf is that?
I was almost at the end of the corridor looking behind me to where my family were at the first compound, oohing at what i had already ruled out, when I turned and my eye fell on a small, miserable looking terrier, sat hunched at the back of the compound alone, with a cone round his neck after having his balls chopped off and an under-bite that made his bottom jaw stick out beyond his top.
I had a “That’s the one” moment. Then I was frantically trying to get somebody’s attention so I could claim that dog before some other calculating bastard robbed him. They finally took him out for us to meet and greet, and I have to say he was a bony little thing, undernourished and very, very sad looking.
We (I) chose Ben. We took him through to sign the paperwork and pay his fee, and as we were stood there with him on the lead, a lady came in and did a double take and turned to her companion with obvious excitement and said,
“Here he is! This is him! This is the dog we saw yesterday!” Then turned to me and continued, “Who do I speak to about him?”
I was caught between two reactions. First of all I actually took a sly look at what I was wearing thinking cheeky bastard thinks I work here, and then my mind quite uncharitably thought Ha. Too late. It’s mine. Ha. Haha. Hahahahahahaha
So the poor woman missed out. ( Hahahahahahahahahaha)
But I have to admit, Ben was the right choice. Well, I say right choice. He was the only choice really.
It was Ben or something that could have killed me. Everything else had looked likely to rip my throat out.
“I’m not sure whether he has some irritating mites.”
Came Holly’s voice again.
“What? Really? Really?? What sort of mites? That little bastards been on the bed!”
“Well you might want to think about washing the bedding. They can be transferable to humans.” said Holly. “But I’ll take some samples and have them checked and let you know tomorrow.”
Aw crap. I thought.I had noticed him scratching and trying to reach his underside and had even given him a good scratch at this unreachable point myself, thinking I was doing him a favour, the little riddled bastard! My finger nails could be rife with unseen bugs!
I almost gnawed a knuckle then remembered who I had been scratching. I had arrived home from work the other day and Ben had been on his own for a number of hours with free access round the house. He normally stretches out on the end of the bed but when he’s on his own and sure enough, when I had walked into my room I discovered he had actually dragged my pillow onto the duvet and used that to create a kind of nest.
Oh bollocks! I could be walking round with a plague of parasites!
I had this conversation with Holly in the evening and hadn’t even had time to tell Jane as she had already gone to work.
The first thing I did that night was sleep on Jane’s side of the bed then swap her pillow with mine the following morning. If I was going to be infested I might as well make sure we shared it…
When we finally took Ben home from the dog sanctuary, it was with mixed feelings on my part, mainly because no one would call him Steve, but this turned into serious reservations when he immediately developed kennel cough and was firing out dog sputum every third step. It was a hygienic nightmare for me. He was like a pneumatic gobbing machine.
But I have to admit he was miserable and I was torn between pity and disgust. And really, he must have felt absolutely lousy. There followed a couple of weeks of antibiotics which turned him round and he gradually gained weight.
Then there was a long period when we would walk him in the park and he would see another dog in the distance and tear off to play with it. While I would be gradually frothing at the mouth shouting “Ben! Ben! Ben! BEN! BENNNNNN! BENBENBENBENBEN!!!!” then finally have to run after him like something demented. (If only we had called him Steve, I’d have laughed about him running away.)
So that took a bit of sorting out. I tended to let him off the lead with a bit of trepidation and try and put him back on if I saw another dog before he did, otherwise the little bastard was off and you had to walk 400 yards back the way you had just come. Ben was definitely not one of those dog’s that was going to come to you at a sharp command and stand awaiting his next order quivering like an arrow.
But, he finally found his feet in our home and has become very firmly established.
I have to say he is an unusual dog. He is very quiet. He very rarely whines or barks. If he wants to go in the garden he just stands and eyeballs the door with a megawatt stare until someone notices and lets him out. And you have to be careful you don’t forget about him (Jane) because he’ll be on the other side of the door staring at it until someone remembers he’s not around inside. He’s doesn’t like fuss, he rarely stands still for someone to stroke him unless you’ve just arrived home and it’s very rewarding to have that exuberant welcome to be honest. If he wants attention he’ll sit at your feet and rest one paw on your foot until you stroke him. Then when he’s had enough he buggers off and stretches out.
He has a blanket on the sofa next to my wife which he occupies most evenings while I’m on the PC and Jane is watching TV. The sofa has an L-shaped recliner that Jane normally claims of an evening and lets just say she’s not one for sharing. I tend to sit down with her later on and stretch across the angle and attempt to purchase a foothold.
It’s usually at this point that Ben – until then comatose – lifts his head from the new position at the end of the sofa that I’d just slid him to, while I strained to gain a toenail-hold on the recliner point of the settee, and he looks at me with, I have no doubt whatsoever, complete disgust.
Within moments he slides off his blanket to the floor and disappears behind the sofa. As we hear him slump to the floor this noise is actually followed by him grumbling..
I’d just pulled up in Tesco’s car park when the phone went again the following day.
“Hi dad. I’ve taken Ben into the Vets to have him checked for mites today.”
I was immediately all ears. I hadn’t yet told Jane she had my pillow.
“And? Whats he riddled with?”
“The good news is he’s not. He’s all clear!”
“Well thank Christ for that. I was on the verge of burning the bed! So what was he scratching at”
“Well, he has an absolutely huge anal gland!”
Momentarily, and it was a confused moment I admit, I swelled with pride.
Our dog has a HUGE anal gland.
“Is that….good? ” I was thinking Guiness Book of Records you see. ” What is an anal gland by the way?” I queried slowly.
“Well, all dogs have them but your’e probably better off not knowing to be honest.”
Good girl. She obviously remembered my reaction to Ben coughing spit all over the shop.
“But seriously dad, it was huge. Huge. No wonder he was scratching away. He probably couldn’t get any relief. It would have been causing him a lot of discomfort. ” continued Holly. “And, I have to say,”
I heard the frown in her voice,
” – and it was very out of character – but he really snarled at me when I cleaned him out.”
Well I’m not one to judge, but i think I’d snarl a bit if I’d had to have someone two knuckles deep in me.