Sunday, April 17, 2011

On Making Dogs and Small Boys Happy

Another Facebook-inspired note today...

A friend posted the other day something like 'forget the gym, get a dog', and that caused me to reflect on our current situation.

We have been dogless since late last summer when our dear stray, Lizzie, who had found a home with us but a few brief months, ate poison probably spread on our land by a hunter jealous of another hunter's dogs. But Mili has a dog... Her pet Lucky died after a twelve-year innings, and was replaced in short order by a spirited puppy late last October. I had my doubts about this Lucky. I knew that it would grow into a big dog – she has, and she's still growing. I feel that it's desperately unfair to fit a big dog into a small pen. And, Mili is no spring chicken (she'll be seventy next month) and is neither as spry nor as strong as she used to be. The combination was not promising.

Sure enough, Milli tries to take Lucky II for walks twice a day, but they are pitifully short for an energetic, long-legged youngster. And seeing Lucky shut up, hour after hour, day after day does my heart and my temper no good at all.

So I take Lucky for walks. Not every day, but at least five times a week I take her out for an hour or so over the dam, down to the – thankfullly defunct – motorcycle piste, along the valley, or through the fields. Usually I can get one of the boys to come with me: Leo came the other day, and we walked the edge of the plateau – Lucky porpoising through the weeds, wheat, barley and flowers in the fallow pastureland, only the points of her ears and the tips of her waving tail visible above the green, yellow, purple and scarlet all around. Even Leo found some of the greenery head-high, and plunged with small-boy abandon after the dog and the ball that she was alternately clutching and tossing into the air.

Today was Zenon's eleventh birthday and his gift from his father and me was a bike. This is a honey of a bike – his first with gears – and he was desperate to try it. So this evening, with all other chores and driving jobs dispensed with, I suggested that he come with me and Lucky down to the dam. “We'll go along the wall this time, not over the tracks and the fields, and you can try the new bike properly.”

His face lit immediately, and he hurried to find his shoes, collect the dog from her pen, and help me get the bike into the Landrover. It's so big that we had to take the wheel off, and we fussed and pushed, and all the while Lucky II panted her excited doggy breath into the back of the car. Job done, Zenon climbed into the back beside the dog and we set off on the short journey.

By the time we got to our usual parking place, the light was golden and the shadows long. We unloaded bike and dog and set off. There and back, I walked a mile, the silver and light blue water, it's level almost to full (I remember so well two years ago when the high-water mark showed livid, way above the stagnant ooze that lapped the hillsides and damwall) meeting the green and dappled hillsides; EasyJet landing from Gatwick; the windmills turning against the sky. Boy and dog must have covered five miles: I was only a quarter of the way across when they reached the end and started back towards me. Then circling me, they headed back the way they had come – Zenon feeling his way up and down the gears and bouncing over the speed bumps and Lucky running alongside, tongue hanging, eyes laughing, tail wagging 'This-beats-those-sedate-promenades-with Mili-hands-down!' written all over her face. Mutt that she is, her chassis is a little crooked and she can't run a straight line to save her life.

By the time we returned, dusk had fallen and Zenon took Lucky back to her cage for her dinner.

Best Beloved turned our spare room into a gym last month, with the purchase of a treadmill, an elliptical machine, a rower, and a set of weights. Most weekday mornings, I do 15 minutes on the elliptical (it tells me that I have covered something over a mile with a resistance of 9 – whatever that means), and about 50 sit-ups. I simply do not have time to take Lucky out, so I resort to the gym.

But evenings are a different matter. Evenings now, for a while I forget the chores, forget the hassle, just get a boy, get the dog, and get outside.

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