Friday, July 25, 2008
In the village where I used to live there also lived a dog. The dog was small and white, and it sat all day behind a white-painted cottage window in which hung a pair of white net curtains. It was a dog well camouflaged.
Whenever I walked past the window the dog barked at me. That was its trick - to wait until the last second, and then hurl itself at the pane, yapping furiously, claws scrabbling at the glass, its mouth at just about ear level. I would leap off the pavement in fright, cursing the thing, and then forget all about it until the next time. The dog never tired of the joke, and I never remembered the punchline until it was too late.
One weekend my next door neighbour, a Navy man, phoned to ask a favour of me. He was unexpectedly detained on duty for another twenty-four hours. Would I feed his dog and take it for a walk? No big deal, except that the dog in question was a Staffordshire bull terrier. These creatures get a bad press - highly territorial, apt to take offence at any chance remark, and not inclined to let go of you once they've decided to grab a hold. A gin-trap, basically, with a leg at each corner. I gather that there may be a release mechanism of sorts located beneath the tail, but I wouldn't care to tinker with it.
So my neighbour's assurance that I should just let myself into his house, act confident, and put a choke chain on the beast was a bit worrying. It was a mystery to me as to why anyone should want to own such a dog. Still, I could hardly refuse to help, and so I said OK. I quickly wrote out a will, left it on our kitchen table, and went next door.
The Staffie was as good as gold. It seemed pleased to meet me, allowed me to feed it a few of the local toddlers, and made no objection when I put the heavy steel chain around its neck to go walkies.
It's a curious thing to be strolling down the street with fifty pounds of fighting dog on the end of a leash. I felt as though I should roll up the sleeve of my T shirt and stick a pack of Marlboros in there, or something. Chew a bit of gum. Learn to spit properly.
As we passed the white cottage window, I remembered too late about its yappy occupant. But you know what? A very noticeable change had come over that little dog. It didn't seem at all keen to perform its trick, but instead sat there like a china statuette of itself, mute and motionless, its mouth firmly shut, eyes apparently fixed upon some interesting aspect of the pub sign opposite.
The little white dog was still sitting there on the return journey, still gazing innocently into space, still no word to say for itself as I walked past with my new best friend. In fact that dog never gave me any of its lip from that day on. So this is power, I thought. This is respect, as accorded to the mighty. Now I get it.