Fernando my neighbour, Fernando his cousin, and Antonio his cousin say that a house is not a home without chickens. But after five years of fantasising and one hour of arm-twisting and emotional blackmail at a dog refuge, I have a puppy instead. A Spanish mastin puppy now so big at 5 months I can barely lift it off the lounger or settee, or get it in my car, particularly as it – she – does not like the car, or anywhere that cars go. As she likes me, and I – occasionally – go in cars, she has arrived at a compromise which involves running behind it ignoring all expletives, something which adds a couple of hours to any journey time.
Her name is Bloody Dog. No, her name is Belle, although she doesn’t respond to it, and it doesn’t suit her. She’s more a big mucker of a dog, a sloppy mud-roller and fly-snapper, partial to digging holes with her shovel paws, high-speed lolloping rabbit-style, the licking and scratching of hindquarters, breaking into bins and dragging stuff out of the house. She is an Outside Dog. However as a refuge dog – found abandoned on a road with her tail hacked off – she has endearing foibles (she barked and bared her teeth at Dave for two weeks) and insecurities. If she were more introspective, manipulative, and if she could talk, she would ascribe the total destruction of the house to stuff she went through in her first 9 weeks, but actually the sight of her gentle sad face through the window on that first night as I sat inside eating sausages was sufficient for her to be promoted (perhaps unwisely) to Indoor Dog. She is always by my side, and sleeps, whether I like it or not, beside the bed, furtively gnawing shoes and licking the cow skin rug.
The cat Joan who had been picky about her food and wallowing in inert self-pity following a hot summer, has been given a new raison d’etre: loathing. Regardless of what heinous things she’s been doing all night, she finds the energy to fall in behind me for the dawn fruit tree watering, effectively taking the dog role. When I walk Belle at night, she follows for miles mewling and acting pitiful. When the dog indulges in an unhinged, jubilant, pre-dinner bound around the yard (‘hunt the sausage’ is her favourite game, in which she sets off after Dave), Joan hops down softly from the freezer, comes outside and proceeds to stroll and stretch nonchalantly or roll provocatively in her path, doing whatever is necessary to provoke a chase which will end with the dog being told off.
Yet there’s a mutual fascination there. The cat watches Belle’s attempts to chase a ball with scathing interest, and trails her, spying from behind furniture. The dog is full of panting admiration for Joan’s ability to leap from branch to branch, get food on demand, sit on laps, catch mice. Sometimes she cautiously approaches, tail wagging, and attempts to lick her. The cat will take just about so much before batting her a good swipe.
But I think everyone’s sort of getting along. I still might get chickens.