‘What are you doing with that?’ My husband asked in the supermarket on Saturday.
‘Oh this?’ I said, ‘I am just buying it.’
‘It is a cat litter tray,’ he said. ‘We don’t have a cat.’
‘Well I was thinking of making a tiny pond,’ I explained, ‘for Mr Paterson.’
‘It is a cat litter tray,’ he repeated, pointing at the label, presumably in case I had gone deaf. ‘You know what will happen if you put water in it, don’t you?’
‘Mr Paterson will have a nice pond to splash about in at night?’ I tried.
‘No. The dogs will think it it is yet another water bowl and drink the water, just before they eat the frog.’
He was probably right. The dogs have a total of four water bowls scattered about the house, which was a bit of a legacy from when Moody, my previous dog, was old and unwell and used to drink small amounts frequently and was often too tired to move. Nevertheless, that did not stop Lucy, after a recent downpour which filled a huge bucket in our garden, from standing on her hind legs and lapping water from the surface that she could barely reach.
I had planned an ambitious aquatic playground for the frog that entered our lives a few weeks ago. There is one area of the backyard (which is a small backyard anyway) where we never go. It is at the end of the fence line and neglected. I imagined building a small pond there with some shrubs to provide shade and hide the awful grey cement sheeting wall.
But I am not Capability Brown and I know my limitations, so instead decided to start small with a micro pond, and maybe build from there. As far as I know the frog is still there, lurking behind the pot plants – he came out the other day when it was pouring with rain – but as frogs are nocturnal and I am not, it is not always easy to tell in dry weather.
I set off to walk the dogs with the idea of keeping my eyes peeled for bits and pieces I could add to the tray to make it more of a home for Mr P. In Australia, some species of tree shed their bark in hot weather and it lies like giant cinnamon sticks where it falls. I picked a couple of these up and also spotted some small rocks that I could gather on the way back.
Cutting through an alley on the way to the park, I saw a couple approaching from the opposite direction, walking a small dog on a lead. If the dog is big, I tend to shorten Archie’s lead as he is always up for a rumble, but smaller dogs present no challenge so he normally does not bother. Lucy always likes to say hello and only tends to bark and pull at the lead when she is not allowed to.
This dog was a little Daschund, or sausage dog, so I left the dogs’ leads on slack and prepared to say hi and let the dogs sniff each other in passing. The sausage dog had other ideas. It started barking from some distance and then – I am not sure how – slipped its collar and belted up the hill towards us, ready to tear my dogs limb from limb, if it could reach. Sausage dogs are pretty low to the ground as it is, but this one was quite fat too – almost as wide as it was short.
Head down, it made repeated attempts to sink its teeth into Lucy, and seemed blissfully unaware that it was outnumbered. Although she was on a lead, Lucy seemed to be able to skip about and avoid the teeth without too much difficulty, while Archie tried and failed to get in on the fight.
I was busy trying to keep my dogs out of harm, while both on leads. The woman finally caught up with her dog and grabbed it. She was apologising profusely and obviously distressed. Dogs having even the most perfunctory of set-tos make a noise that suggests multiple murders are taking place. Shaking, she explained that it was her neighbour’s dog and they were looking after it while she was in hospital. They had decided to take the dog for a walk as it never normally gets out – no guesses why now, I suppose.
‘No harm done, ‘ I reassured her, ‘both my dogs are fine. You need to make sure you can get two fingers under her collar, though,’ I advised, as she pulled it alarming tightly around the dog’s neck.
‘I can’t think how she managed to do that,’ she said.
‘Possibly by having a neck far fatter than her head,’ I thought, but said nothing. The lady was distressed enough and it was not her fault. She was just trying to do a good turn.
We finished our own walk an hour later and I took the dogs home. I placed the two rocks I had picked up in the tray and scattered the bark on the water’s surface: a perfect little love nest for Mr P.
Walking inside, I was halted in my tracks by the sound of lapping. Turning around, it appeared that Archie had found a new, somewhat exotic looking water bowl and was cheerfully drinking Mr P’s bedroom.
‘Told you,’ my husband said.