I took my dog for a walk this morning.
I snuck out the back way, through the bush and along the fire track. I was rather hoping to avoid Slater. Slater is the neighbourhood vagabond.
We live in a picturesque little enclave where most properties ramble into each other without the concern of fences. This is not sensible suburbia, neatly fenced and gated where the neighbourhood dogs are restricted to their allotted area.
In spite of the general lack of confines, however, most local dogs stay on their own turf and have no interest in roaming further than the postbox at the end of a rather long driveway. Slater has changed all that.
He has marked the entire neighbourhood as his own. Slater lifts his leg on everything within a ten mile radius of home. He has lifted his leg on my washing, on the barbeque and on my pot plants – even my husband’s undies on a drying rack out the back have been territorially marked.
He has chewed three pairs of children’s shoes and one of my own. He has been banished several times – his owners have tied him up and severely admonished him, replaced chewed shoes and tied him up for good measure. Slater, I’m afraid simply chomps through the rope and with an ‘up yours’ attitude continues his pursuits unabated.
This dog has no shame. He returns to the scene of past misdemeanours without a smidgen of guilt.
Slater, were he human, would hang his head in shame at the abuse that is hurled at him from far and wide. He would not dare show his face lest he be chased, ordered home again and told in no uncertain terms he was unwelcome.
But Slater is a loveable rogue. He appears to have decided that if looks alone are not going to get him places in life, character surely will.
Part wolf-hound, part bull terrier—he was blessed with the unfortunate albino genes of the bull-terrier rather than the more handsome characteristics of the wolfhound.
There is vague evidence of wolfhound in his lanky physique and the pronounced whiskers on his snout, but it ends there. His face has a permanent grin and he has one pink-rimmed eye on the albino side of his face.
There is one redeeming feature – a motley brown patch over one eye that while appealing in an Nguni cow sort of way, simply adds to the general feeling he’s up to no good.
He has no manners at all. When he drinks from my dog’s water bowl he puts his entire snout in, rather like a pig, splashing water all over my freshly mopped veranda.
While I know there is no good in him at all, I can’t help liking him. There’s something appealing—enviable even, in the way he gallops through life. He doesn’t just embrace it, he chews on it.
All this would be good and well if he stayed home. But, I fear he is leading my lady golden retriever Tarna astray.
In the early days, before Slater’s arrival, Tarna was beyond reproach.
Our property isn’t fenced but Tarna kept watch at the front door, occasionally wandering into the bush or up the drive way to bark, in a lady-like fashion, at the postman, plumber or whoever turned up in our cul-de-sac. I prided myself on the fact that my beloved pooch knew her place—home was where her heart was. She was so well behaved and mature.
We went for scenic little walks—just the two of us—me like a smug mother of one who scorns other wayward children.
And then along came Slater and with him, a whiff of scandal.
‘I saw your dog with Slater at the dam the other day,’ commented my neighbour one fine day.
I was aghast, surely not, must have been another dog.
‘No, it was definitely her—having a right old time, they were,’ she said.
Now the dam is not exactly around the corner, it is, quite literally, over the hill and far away. Far too far away for comfort.
I made excuses, as dog owners in denial sometimes do. I’d been away, the children were at school, she certainly wouldn’t do it again. It was so out of character.
And this is where the story took a dark turn. Other comments from other neighbours confirmed my worst fears. Tarna had been led astray by a mutt less than half her age. It was a disgrace and she seemed to be enjoying every deceitful moment.
She became like a puppy again – all panting and playful when he was around. And worse, she appeared to be chasing him!
Sometimes, she wasn’t even at home when I returned. She wasn’t faithfully waiting at the front door like the lady she once was. She was with him!
We have tried counselling. Just this week my daughter sat her down and had a frank discussion. ‘Tarna,’ she said, ‘this is not going to end well, ‘he really is far too young – no more cavorting near the dam with dogs less than half your age, Ok?’
It’s hard to know if she listened—she simply fixed her liquid brown eyes on my daughter’s face and lifted her paw. Was that ‘let’s shake on it’ or ‘I’m sorry, I just can’t give him up?’
I’m afraid I’m at my wit’s end. Where is it all heading? There is one small glimmer of hope: That Slater will grow tired of his blonde, adoring neighbour and seek greener pastures.
I’m hoping those greener pastures will lead to Rosie. Rosie is a friend’s fox terrier who is soon moving up the hill. Like all dogs of his ilk, perhaps Slater will charm some other sweet young thing. Until then, I have to attempt avoidance. I am a dismal failure at it.
I sneak through the long grass and Slater stalks after us. He endures my half-hearted attempt at throwing stones at him, ordering him home, all the while skulking closer until he knows all my resolve has gone and I’ve given up completely. Tarna doesn’t help; she’s all panting flirtatiousness—without an ounce of coyness, her blonde mane blowing in the breeze.
This morning, He came with us on our walk—again. Or should I say, we went with him. He led the way as though he’d lived on this earth all his life. He lifted his leg on every dirt bin, telephone pole and gate post he came across. He chased a brush turkey and sized up a horse, standing far too close to its back leg to have a good old sniff.
‘He’s not my dog,’ I explained to a disdainful passer-by.
She gave a tight little smile that said, ‘yeah right’ as the offender sidled up to me like a doting, well loved pet.
I fear our reputation is in tatters. Come soon, Rosie, come soon!
Copyright © Lois Nicholls