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Dog Walkers, by Carol Rowlands





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No bother at all


“Oh, poor you!” I say with genuine sympathy.

The harassed-looking woman is on the brink of tears. Her dog, a charmingly scruffy cream-and-tan mongrel, is gazing innocently up at her, head on one side. Long shaggy eyebrows flop rakishly over his eyes, and his tail is waving sweetly. His upstanding ears have ridiculous plumes sprouting from their tops, feather-like and irresistible.

Butter wouldn’t melt.

I have been watching his display of artful avoidance tactics for some minutes, as I came down the hill towards the car park. This fellow could hold master classes.

The dog’s modus operandi is to career around the owner in ever-diminishing circles, during the initial fraught yells of, “Come here!” Then, as if only just hearing the request (which by then has become a wild, screaming, “Vinney! Come! Here! Now!”), to slow down and saunter nonchalantly towards her, stopping here and there for a sniff at something, so as to allow her to edge closer.

For her part, the woman now assumes an uninterested demeanour, eyes wandering, apparently distractedly, in almost any direction but that of her errant mutt. Trying so very hard to be more canny than him. Indeed, during the past few minutes she has demonstrated two really first class examples of supreme indifference.

Her experience shines through.

Step two in the dog’s game plan is to allow her to come within, say, one foot of him. Sniff, sniff, at that special blade of grass – what a pleasant day it is today. You can almost feel his studied unconcern. Her hand starts to reach out very slowly. He doesn’t move. The hand is centimetres from the collar. She’s keeping her cool, not lunging at the last moment. Gently…

Off he goes!

I can’t help smiling at this familiar pattern, whilst heaving a grateful sigh that it isn’t me having to deal with it.

“I should have been on the road half an hour ago.” She is quivering with the tension and frustration of it all. Her cheeks are blotchy and her voice shaking.

“I do feel for you.” I say uselessly. I’m hoping my smile is combining empathy with warm encouragement. It’s not doing the trick, though.

“It’s the time factor that’s so upsetting. The sheer, unutterable waste of life!” Her words might seem a smidgen drastic to some, but experience tells me otherwise.

“Even if I wasn’t due to pick the kids up ten minutes ago, and even if I had remembered to bring my mobile with me to phone the school and let them know… oh, I’d still be teetering on the edge of doggycide by now!”

I chortle enthusiastically at her attempt to lighten the mood, but she’s already slipped back into the miseries.

“We finished the walk…” she glances forlornly at her watch, “thirty-five minutes ago.”

“Awwh,” I adroitly readjust my chuckling to petering out mode.

“I mean...” she attempts a brave smile, “it isn’t as though I dislike the dog. I absolutely adore him. He’s a joy! I’d do anything for him. He’s had a difficult life.”

Even as she says this her expression transforms before my eyes from pitying concern to venomous spite. But who can begrudge her her seething, inner Mr Hyde? Not me. I’ve been there.

“He’s no bother at all, indoors. No trouble what… so… ever.” She’s grappling with her despair. “Although – my husband doesn’t exactly help: so easy-going with him… it’s ridiculous!

“Perhaps when Vinney’s a bit older…” I begin.

“He’s nearly five!” I’m sure she doesn’t really mean to jump down my throat.

During our chat I have been side-stepping imperceptibly towards Vinney. I’m very close now. I slide my hand calmly down on to his collar.

He is on the lead, up the hill, inside her car and being driven away almost before I can warble, “Hope your kids are OK!”

Two days later I am in almost the same spot when a friendly-looking guy stops to stroke Rosie.

“My dog would like to have a run with you, I bet!” he says to Rosie. “Next time, eh? Where is he, now?…” He looks vaguely over the surrounding shrubs, completely unworried.

Vinney! Where are you?” he calls in a soft sing-song tone, much as you would use for a small child who you knew was hiding behind the sofa.

From a good eighty yards away the adorable Vinney bounds towards us, coming to a halt slap in front of my companion. Sitting neatly, he gazes upwards, ears pricked, their comical plumes wafting, frond-like.

On goes the lead.


© Carol Rowlands 2009





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