Thursday, June 09, 2016

The good, the bad and the ugly; living in a boarding kennel

That's my excuse for my dilatoriness around here. When we saw, fell in love with, and took home Elfie, it completely slipped my mind that I had already agreed to look after Bunty and Pepette. I had never been exactly overwhelmed with enthusiasm for the idea, but their owners, neighbours two fields away and nice enough people, whom I've known as nodding and dog-conversational acquaintances for ever, had been offered the gift of a trip to Corsica, and we being dogless thought, 'why not?' when they asked us the favour.

So now we find ourselves stranded in a boarding kennel with the good:

the bad:

and the ugly:

Pèpette, the miniature Yorkie weighs in at just over a kilo, with an ego the size of a city-state, and never bloody keeps still.

She can't see a human, any human, without jumping up its legs like a demented hairy shrimp on speed. She needs to be combed fairly frequently - her fur reminds me of my grandmother's hair

which rather creeps me out - and her top-knot re-fastened. When she came it had a little pink bow hair-slide in it, but that soon came off. I pretended to put it on Elfie's head and she tried to eat it.

So far she hasn't tried to eat Pèpette.

Indeed, she is patience and saintliness itself with her, rolling over placidly and allowing her to molest her, and generally accepting the invasion of her personal space and appropriation of her own humans with perfect grace, but the little monster really does provoke her sometimes, and I take nothing for granted. Apart from the difference between Elfie's 18 kilos and Pèpette's 1200 grammes, which causes me to fear that a well-meant play-bow or enthusiastic bound might end in injury, Elfie still has her wild-child, once-a-hunting-dog-always-a-hunting-dog tendencies (the vole she pulled out of a tuft of grass, its little pink legs sticking quaintly out of each corner of her mouth, was finished stone dead in an instant, then deposited meekly at my feet), and what I like to think of as her St Julian the Hospitaller moments (never without a twinge of missing Joe for a shared allusion). A little learning of dog behaviourism has made me (perhaps) dangerously fearful of the phenomenon of predatory drift, and Elfie can be a bit mouthy when she's excited.

The ugly one is Bunty. He's a boy. His owner told us he was often surnommé Boubou, but we feel even sillier calling him that, and as he really doesn't seem to respond to any call or command anyway it doesn't much matter, so we just call him Fatty (Pèpette being Ratty), or the Ewok.

((Now don't give me that po-faced, genre-snobbery, 'of course I've never seen it' stuff, I'm a post-modern gal and it's not all about the lesser known fiction of Flaubert you know.)

The good thing about saying horrible things to dogs is as long as you do so nicely they won't grow up psychologically damaged, bitter and twisted by it. Unless that's what's happened to Bunty already; he's about twelve and decidedly eccentric, but in fact he's not really much trouble; 

Elfie accepts him with what I anthropomorphically interpret as amused tolerance,

and he is polite enough to her, and apart from sometimes barking at passing cars and other noises and guarding his food (there's quite a bit of disordered controlling behaviour around food that goes on with both of them, and I won't be having it), deformed jaw, bad breath and noisy panting, he's not a bad chap.

The owners are giving us some money for it but however much it is it's not enough, or so we keep saying, firm in our resolve to be clear that we will not do it again other than in the direst of emergencies. In truth though, we are rather enjoying ourselves; it's helped that Jantien, who is endlessly cheerful and energetic and often up for an evening walk or an occasional dog-sit, has been staying again.

It's a bind, it's true, we can't really go out much or think of having people around, Elfie's training is going rather by the board (we were mightily relieved when her trainer cancelled because the training room was flooded after the recent  storm, despite being sorry for her misfortune, since we really hadn't done enough homework) and the round of walks, feeds, separating, supervision, socialising and cleaning up seems to take a huge amount of time and leave little for much else, for we are exceptionally conscientious and hard-working dog-minders, I think. It's certainly clarified for us that we only intend to ever be a one-dog household.

However, we really are laughing a lot, at the sheer ridiculousness of the two visitors and at the humour we can find in the situations arising: Tom in a state of hilarity at the window the first time watching me go out with the three of them ('You looked like Ben Hur'),

or the improvised play-pen in the living room which he had quickly and deftly set up with garden fencing to keep the Yorkie out of Elfie's face, and ours.

And while I still think it's very wrong to breed dogs to physical extremes of size, skull deformity etc for human vanity and whimsy, so a dog like Pèpette really can't live safely and comfortably with the doggy impulses and behaviours she retains, and others like Bunty are rendered brain-damaged and breathless, we do, in spite of ourselves, find we're enjoying their characters, admiring her pluck and amused by his quaintness. We end up picking her up and keeping her on her laps to keep tabs on her and settle her down, since it seems hard to pen her up all the time, and I frequently hear indulgent noises and spluttering laughter coming from Tom's end of the room as she makes much of him. She is bright and attentive, and can walk tirelessly, still racing around the place after a long walk which leaves the others stretched-out and panting.

They are also also making us very appreciative of Elfie, of her beauty and naturalness, her good character and quietness, even her moments of wild and dangerous grace, and we very much look forward to being back to just the three of us again and the things we can do together. Although, Jantien having driven off for Cherbourg and England this morning we feel strangely bereft, we've grown very used to having her around, few visitors fit in with so little effort on all sides. She assures us she will be back, which will be nice.

Meanwhile, just ten more days of pack life to go; I think they're having rather a good holiday, at the end of it we'll need one.


the polish chick said...

an enjoyable charming post, lucy. i have long ago decided that i don't want to be a dog (or cat) owner, just like i don't want to be a mother, but i'm more than happy to be an aunt or an occasional dog-walker or cat-feeder. they are fascinating creatures, and have much to teach us about ourselves.

i agree with you wholeheartedly about the nastiness and vanity of breeding dogs for silly traits. they are the ones who usually end up suffering in the end, just so we can have something that fulfills random rules of pure breeding.

i agree with you that your elfie is the loveliest of the bunch!

Catalyst said...

The pictures of the dog-walking brought to mind a sight I beheld one night. There is a young-ish blonde lady who comes by every night with two huge dogs on leashes. One night she had three but the third was a tiny chihuahua. Frankly, I had to laugh, though quietly so they couldn't hear me.

Avus said...

An hilarious and enjoyable post, Lucy.
You and Tom are saints!

Nimble said...

What a work-out! There is nothing so compassionate as taking care of someone's pets. You will feel like life's a bowl of cherries when you're down to just the one again.

Rouchswalwe said...

Uproarious! My dear Lucy, you must put a disclaimer on such a post as this. I had just sat down with a pint of ale to catch up on my blog buddies and couldn't swallow as I scrolled down, pausing slightly before I met 'ugly' ... now the theme song of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is an earworm. There are tears in my eyes. Perhaps it was partly because I once had to dogsit a Yorki (Charlie, who smelled like a soggy cigarette and had many of the characteristics of Ratty). All I can say is preserve me from small dogs (except for rough-haired Dachshunds, who are awesome).

Prost! And to Tom, who was spot on with the Ben-Hur reference!

Roderick Robinson said...

I have many failings but one of them seems appropriate as an addendum to this post. You know those pickled herring fillets (rollmops, I believe) that come in jars: perhaps the most intense flavour known to man. I love just one, become dubious about the second, and come close to vomiting if I try a third. I wonder if there's an equally steep curve of alienation with you when it comes to dogs. Obviously not. Or if there is it can only be the result of genuine excess: half a dozen hounds, say, with two of them unreconstructed man-killing rottweilers. I have re-read this post a couple of times and find myself dwelling on certain locutions: a string of bad canine points followed by something like "but there's no real harm in him". A sort of democracy of criticism, a long confession followed by a swift absolution. As to Tom's brilliant phrase, better to be Ben Hur than the guy he was competing with (The name escapes me) who got mangled beneath the chariot wheels.

Ah, I've just resolved a verbal earworm. Elfie's name has a literary or perhaps a historical precedent which I've only just recalled. During one of those terrible disasters that occurred when Brits thought they were in charge of things in India, there was a long, long retreat where the commanding officer was (I think) Lord Elphie, referred to by his subjects as Elphie-bey. This is of absolutely no consequence whatsoever other than to draw attention to the subtle differences between "ph" and "f" as a way of achieving the f-sound. I think you're backing the right horse (Dog, surely. - Ed.). The ph has effete undertones. Might this qualify as a feuilleton?

Lucy said...

Thank you my dears.

In fact, one week and a bit in, we are really quite attached to the little tinkers, who have become known rather more affectionately as Tiddler and Toddler rather than Ratty and Fatty. I am currently typing with damp Tiddler swaddled in a towel rather like the pig baby in Alice in Wonderland snuggled on my lap and draped over my forearm. Elfie has assumed a rather endearing big sisterly role with them, though we still prefer to keep play very low-key, and yesterday she had one of her regressive wild and fugitive days and I had to run her down in Victor's old hen run.

Robbie - I am feeling a bit dogged-out, so to speak (except that sounds obscurely obscene, best not go there...). I think once you take on more than one dog, they become 'the dogs', and adapting your life round them becomes more taxing, so you really have to exclude them more. Though Elfie's presence has inevitably had an effect on our life and what we are able to do, we're looking forward to the things we can do with her: her training days are a lovely excuse for a day out, with a loose leash walk and lunch in Dinan to follow, and finding dog friendly locations and accommodation for holidays is a pleasant project. Though I have seen multi-dog families doing quite well out and about - some an English family with three fabulous Briards elegantly walking round Bruges, a couple with a border collie and a Jack Russell in our hotel in Pontorson, who had just walked 10k on the sands at Mt St Michel - I think more than one and you need to start getting them used to staying home when you go out and looking for kennels when you travel.

I'm not in fact sure I've ever seen Ben Hur all the way through; I tend to get all those Roman epics like that and Spartacus and Quo Vadis and that one with Alec Guinness as Marcus Aurelius all muddled up. I just looked up Lord Elphie, not much info at all except he was in fact Lord Elphinstone, and the Elphie-bey moniker was from a Flashman book! It was a retreat of British commanded but mainly Indian troops out of Afghanistan in the Anglo-Afghan war in the c19, it seems.

Alison said...

This made me laugh so hard. Those dogs are lucky to have you watching over them!

Crafty Green Poet said...

very amusing, such varied canine companionship must be entertaining