Fernando, Fernando his cousin and Antonio his cousin, say a house is not a home without chickens. After five years of fantasising and one hour at a dog refuge feeling cornered and obliged to leave with something, I have a puppy instead. A mastín which will grow to be big enough to defend sheep from wolves and bears – and which, at 5 months, is too big to lift off the lounger or settee or get in the car boot (it’s a hatchback not saloon), particularly as she does not like cars.
Her name is Bloody Dog. No, her name is Belle, although she doesn’t respond to it, and it doesn’t suit her. Beautiful inside and out of course, she’s also a big mucker of a dog, a sloppy mud-roller, a fly-snapper, digging holes with long-clawed shovel paws. She likes high-speed lolloping rabbit-style, the licking and scratching of hindquarters, dragging things from the house to a specific place and destroying them. She is an Outside Dog. But also a refuge dog who, found in a box on a road with her tail cut off, did not have the courage to look a human in the eye until just a few days ago and is a pandora’s box of endearing foibles and insecurities. Her insufferable past and the sight of her gentle sad face through the window on her first night here as I sat inside eating sausages were enough for me to instantly promote her to Indoor Dog. She is always by my side, and sleeps dusty and smelling of dog beside the bed, furtively licking the cow skin rug.
The cat Joan who had been picky about her food and listless following a hot summer, has a new raison d’etre: she lives to loathe. Whatever her nocturnal adventures she finds the energy to get up at dawn and fall in behind me for the daily fruit tree watering, a role that really should be the dog’s. When I set off with Belle for an evening walk she follows mewling and pitiful and trails behind picking her way down the track for miles. When the dog indulges in unhinged, jubilant garden play, Joan hops down softly from the top of the freezer in order to stroll and stretch or roll in her path, doing whatever is necessary to impede a run and provoke a chase that ends 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, demand food, sit on my lap, bat and catch mice. Often Belle will cautiously approach the cat and attempt to lick her. Just as often the cat swipes the dog, claws extended.
But I think everyone’s sort of getting along. I still might get chickens.