By Oliver Ray
I’m looking after a dog at the moment. He’s a rather fine West Highland White called Woolly. Though I’m not sure he knows he is, since he doesn’t come when he’s called. He has an expressive, almost human face and big bushy white eyebrows. He is fed twice a day and walked twice a day. He also poos twice a day. Ideally the walk and poo are scheduled together. He has a fondness for Europop, with the bass turned up a little higher than usual.
Though quiet, he is a sociable creature and if there is only one person in the house he will seek them out, gesture with his eyebrows and curl up at their feet. If that person is on a different floor to himself, he will methodically check all the rooms on his own floor to make sure they are empty before having to tackle the stairs. He is better at going up stairs than down.
He renders the stoniest of hearts gooey and sentimental. I also like to think that he is trained to kill on command. I yell, “ROSEBUD!” when we have visitors just to make sure. So far, this has only been met with quizzical expressions by both dog and guests. I then have to take them on a tour of the flowerbeds to avoid questions.
The balance of power between us is not always clear. I’m bipedal, can use chopsticks, run a bath etc–by rights Woolly’s natural superior. But I think any creature that has you scrabbling around picking up their shit has the better of you.
Concerns of the canine bowel aside, I have noticed that when one walks a dog, one gets considerably more attention. Prima facie, you are immediately assumed to belong to the dog owning coterie, that exclusive group familiar with the warm sensation of faeces through polythene. This gives you license to exchange words as your hounds initiate mutual proctologic analysis. At first I thought this was friendly conversation, but now I realise it is also to diffuse something like voyeurism.
One also seems to get fonder looks from the opposite sex. I took Woolly for a walk down the King’s Road the other day. I forget why we were there. I think he wanted to pop into Anthropology. He looked very fine indeed and he damn well knew it. Some of his loveliness must have been projected onto me. Many admiring looks were cast in his direction, but also unaccountably in mine. I cannot fathom why this should have been. Could the presence of the pooch engender the assumption that I am a sensitive, caring man and enjoy stroking things? Perhaps, but no more so than that I am a man who keeps bags for poo, handles tins of jellified horse spine and has hair on my clothes. (Though for the record, Woolly doesn’t moult and has a preference for dry mix, but how would they know that?)
On another occasion, Woolly was walking me in the park. A woman came jogging across the grass toward us. She was one of those rare folk that glow when exercising instead of sweating in odd places and coughing up a lung like most of us. Bounding at her dainty heels was some glossy spaniel. Woolly—normally the first to say hello to a fellow quadruped—turned away and nosed vaguely at a pile of leaves. He has a sixth sense for these things. The woman stopped by me as her dog went over to Woolly and we began to talk. She was very lovely. At what one might have optimistically described as the critical moment, Woolly gave me a look that anyone else would have called adorable, but one that I knew better as downright sly. He feigned a polite sneeze and crapped all over the path. For timing, he really is without peer.
Do I control him, or am I his? Is he a furry producer of poop or a cuddly playmate? Is he an attracter of women or does he foil flirtation? How can he be a creature who can’t recognise his own name and yet play a devilish game of backgammon? Perhaps there is no definitive answer to these questions. He is, simply, Woolly.