I’ve just spent a few days looking after a couple of friends’ dog during their trip abroad for a family celebration. This arrangement was borne of my querying the desirability of leaving a highly-strung (read ‘borderline psychotic’) beast in kennels. Having met Ayu (pronounced “Eiyoo”) on a number of trepidatious occasions, I offered my concerned opinion that he might neither enjoy, nor cope particularly well with, such an abrupt change of environment. And as their ready concurrence was evident suggestion that a potentially stressful experience was not the preferred option, I offered (nearer, I hasten to add, the commencement, not the end of an afternoon in the pub) to sit the grizzly fella.
Which was seized upon with relief and gratitude… accompanied with a degree of hesitant caution. Over the next week, during a couple of pre-familiarisation visits to my flat, I was repeatedly offered opportunity to back down. And the considered option of repeat daily attendance on Ayu in his own home was obviously impractical, and so we settled on the preferred arrangement, being that Ayu would stay at mine.
Let me explain; upon entering my friends’ house, one is invariably ‘greeted’ by Ayu like this:
accompanied by an unnerving, rib-collapsing growl. His actual nervousness is hypothesised as due to some traumatic event in his young life before lucky rescue into his now protective fold. Nevertheless, an unfamilar snarling dog should not be trifled with. (I retain a puncture wound scar in the palm of my right hand from when I once stupidly tried to out-speed a kleptomaniac Jack Russell, despite the very obvious warning being given to not even think about it.) Visitors are reassured with the advice to just ignore him. Which, though one remains mindful of distance and sudden movements, is all it takes. Just the way Ayu is with strangers on his own patch.
A couple of pre-familiarisation visits went okay, before he was left with me for five nights, along with victuals and timetabled instructions as to his routine and diet. A cross between Husky and Podenco, he’s getting on a bit now, so is a tad whiffy and arthritic and grumble-some. But we generally got on fine. He can, however, be unpredictable, in that he will start to growl for no apparent reason when you approach his vicinity. Which does take a bit of getting used to – particularly one occasion when I was temporarily barred entrance to my own kitchen, the sod. But when we got used to each other, I realised his grumbling usually does not signify hostility, and echoing him would turn into a ‘conversation’ of sorts. I imagined him grumpily hurling canine profanities at me and nicknamed him ‘Father Jack‘.
Like most, if not all dogs Ayu is chronometrically robotic: he knows when he’s to be walked, which he anticipates with friendly excitement, in the Pavlovian expectation that he will be fed upon return. When readying to venture out, he would excitedly circle behind me and thrust his head between my legs and look up – not a proximal his-teeth-my-groin arrangement I’d have dared contemplate only a week previous.
His rear-legged stiffness requires occasional encouragement and pulling to get him moving; however, once persuaded he trots along just fine, enjoying, when his obedience relaxed me enough to allow him off lead, wandering on ahead, which I’m told is a trait of his Podenco genes. For an ageing specimen, he has remarkable bladder control, able to turn on and off a seemingly inexhaustible urine supply at scent-marking will. I think I made him overdo it on his first long afternoon saunter: refusing the stairs on our return, he gratefully entered the lift, wherein he promptly threw up. But our last trek out brought evidence of remaining fire in parts other than his throat when he took disobedient fancy to, and attempted to mount, a rather voluptuous chocolate Labrador.
After walk and meal, he would unvaryingly take a long nap. Which, as the days passed, would get seemingly longer, such that he would often remain lateral decubitus until his next outing. This diurnal repose would be counterpointed by his oft nocturnal padding around, sometimes waking me up. And he would spend more and more of these periods near the front door, suggesting he was missing his owners and hoping they would show.
Which, to his delight, they duly did. When I saw them to their car I was gobshite-ing on how I felt I’d bonded with him a little. After he’d clambered awkwardly onto the back seat I leaned in to say “Bye Ayu” and pat him… and was instantly warned off with that growl. Back on his own territory. Grumpy bugger.