Thursday, 17 April 2008

Taming the beast: adventures with Max

My friend T has gone away on a roadtrip and left her 8-month-old golden retriever, Max (those of you who read this blog often will know him) with me.

Max is, and please try and imagine this, BIG. At all of eight months, he’s not so much tall as … well, just really, really large. All round. He has a head like a lion’s, paws like a bear’s, and poos like a cow’s. This last I know because Max scored a Personal Best last night: six – yes, SIX – gigantic deposits in the seaside-flat garden (which, retchingly, require immediate removal, by order of the body-bloody-corporate) and a further two on the beach (washed away on the next wave, and I knelt down and kissed gratitude into the sand). I just have to wonder, where does it all come from? He doesn’t eat enough to produce this much crap – is his body making the stuff? How? From what?

Max also has an enormous personality, and he’s extremely generous with it. Sara, my own dear wobbly dog, has no option but to play second fiddle when he’s around. I give her a little cuddle, and the next thing we’re all scattered across the living-room floor, trying to locate our limbs, because Max wanted in on the group hug. (Listen: when a 40kg dog wants to nuzzle you, just let him, okay?)

Max, an only child, is also not used to sharing his space with other sentient beings – not something I’d given much thought to prior to Max’s arrival, but soon after it, when I was galvanised from my bath by frantic squawks, rudely realised. I rush down the garden naked (not a sight for the faint-hearted) to find Max with his jaws firmly clamped around Maggie, our only remaining chook. I grabbed him by the collar and shook him, but no way was he letting go. Desperate, I took hold of the nearest stick and hit him with it, really hard. He dropped the chicken.

So that you know how awful this was, I need to explain that I’ve NEVER hit an animal – certainly not with a stick. (I smacked Sara once, with my hand, for some nefarious infraction; her cowed reaction so shamed me that I had nightmares about it for weeks afterwards.)

Also, drenched as I was in adrenaline, I didn’t notice that my bare feet were studded with dubbletjies – vicious little three-sided thorns that stick in you no matter which way up they are, and hurt like buggery.

It was only once I’d dragged Max back to the house that the after-shocks set in. First (hanging onto Max with one hand – he was still hankering after that damned chicken), I removed about 30 thorns from my feet. Then I put Max inside and went to find Maggie.

She was, poor brainless thing, sitting exactly where Max had left her, rolling her silly little hen-eyes at me and saying Crrr-crrr in a pitiful voice. I checked her carefully for damage – she was liberally covered in dog saliva, but otherwise seemed unharmed – then took her to the henhouse, where I installed her with a big pile of food and a bowl of water.

Then back to Max – who, appallingly, actually cringed as I approached him. I mean, for goodness’ sake! I have teenage children, I expect trauma on a grand scale – but from my animals?!

Anyway, after a little overnight breather at the seaside flat (where, at least, the chicken population is nil; but where, let me say for the record, Max managed to run away THREE TIMES while on beach walks, and every time I had to run after him like a person possessed, screaming his name; and all he did in reaction to this was look back at me with friendly disinterest, then carry on lolloping off into the sunset), I decided that Something Had To Be Done.

So on the way home from the flat, I bought a length of rope. Ten metres. It’s enough to allow Max to wander into the herb patch, down to the pool, across to the gate, up onto the verandah and a little way into the kitchen – but it stops him tearing after the livestock (including the four cats, by the way, which have moved into the attic, and to which tricky place I am now compelled to ferry food and water by way of a rickety ladder at great risk to life and sanity).

Max seems totally fine with his tethering. It’s not ideal, obviously – once or twice he’s spied Maggie (entirely at ease, apparently, after her near-death experience) pecking about down on the bottom plot, and has lunged furiously towards her, only to be abruptly stopped by the rope. After having recovered from the ricochet, he’s sat down, shaken his humungous head, and adopted a kind of ‘oh well’ expression. (Although it’s fair to say this is his expression at all times, so it’s hard to know if it’s intended.)

He’s also galloped freely about the garden, winding himself around trees, bushes, the braai and other objects, then waited patiently until I’ve come out to untangle him. He seems, on these occasions, to think that I’m taking him for a walk, and bounces about with great delight – a bonus.

As I write, Sara and Max (freed overnight from his tether) are bundled up together on the kitchen floor, sleeping like babies. Three cats are curled up comfortably in the attic opening above my study. And Maggie is peacefully ensconced in her house. Hey, maybe this will work…?

Stumble Upon Toolbar

1 comment:

Muriel said...

For those who've responded offline to my use of 'hurt like buggery' in this post - particularly the person who said 'Not if you do it right', and you know who you are. It's an expression my father used to use and (although as a writer I should know better) I didn't think about its literal meaning for one minute. I intended it as an alternative to 'hurt like fuck'. I think 'fuck' is a great word, and use it often as noun, adjective, conjunction, preposition, adverb, etc, but it would be nice to find another word that's as useful, wouldn't it? But perhaps 'buggery' isn't the one. (My father also used to say 'buggeration!' when he was annoyed - I like that one too.)