What moment of madness brought this manic womble into our lives?
My moment, as it happened, my protracted moment.
I have heard many people talk of waiting a while after the loss of a beloved pet before considering whether to get another one. The grief is so hard, that no matter how much you try to comfort yourself that at least the the pet is now out of pain/at peace, it does not make the absence any easier to bear.
In our case, Moody, the dog we never asked for but got anyway, had died in July and in doing so had left us grief stricken but also with Lucy, the young, hypersocial companion we had brought home to keep him company, all alone.
Fortunately for her, Lucy did not share our grief. She did not understand what had happened and seemed to want to just get on with things being normal: walks every morning, cuddles at night, maybe a few more cuddles than normal. I was worried about her during the day, though, because she had never been left on her own since arriving with us. She is not a dog who enjoys solitude.
So it was not long before I found myself looking at rescue dog sites again. Just looking, I had no intention of getting another dog.
I had found Lucy after a few weeks of visiting a local shelter, but there did not seem to be any dog who was suitable there. Before I had thought about it, I was on another website looking at dogs for adoption. These were all out in foster homes. One caught my eye. He was a labelled as a Maltese Shitshu cross and had a grey and white coat, like Moody. He was a non shedder, like Moody. Unlike Moody, he looked like he might be a bit of a rascal.
He had been in foster care for over a year. One family had tried to adopt him without much success. He was a bolter, hated cats and had not been trained. His original family had not been able to cope with his naughty behaviour and had ended up keeping him outside in the garden in a dog run.
That dog was going to be a handful. That dog would be Trouble.
I filled out the online form.
Someone had to give him a break, right? That is what I told my husband and Lucy, and myself. The woman from the rescue organization came around to visit me and brought him too.
He bounced in through the front door and cocked his leg on the first chair he encountered. Then he spotted Lucy, who greeted him politely. He hurled himself upon her growling like a menacing teddy bear and for the next half hour they chased eachother around the house playing, while Archie emitted the kind of noise that would suggest to a neighbour that a multiple murder was in progress.
Lucy, however, far from alarmed, was enjoying the fun. They ran all over the house, across sofas, onto and off beds. Well Lucy jumped on to the sofas, Archie leapt after her and generally face-planted himself into the cushions before sliding down. This did not deter him. Epic fail followed epic fail. It was clear his enthusiasm was not matched with any athletic ability. The two of them pushed themselves at speed through the gap in the door to the patio and appeared again, stopping briefly. A pause: one would shake, the other would shake, another pause, then it was on again.
Half an hour later, the game still going on, I agreed to take him on a two week trial. Lucy seemed to like him and we were getting him to keep Lucy company after all. Plus, they were both about the same age.
The first walk we took Archie for was memorable because the second my husband let him off the lead, he ran. He ran to the fence, out of the gate and across the main road that was mercifully clear of cars by some miracle, because that dog has no road sense. I caught up with him and got him back on the lead (my practice of always carrying treats paying off ) and we have never really been able to let him off lead since.
Archie is nothing if not unpredictable. He will chase anything moving at moderate to high speed: Joggers, especially men in black, bicycles moving or stationary. He takes offense at cars pulling trailers, but only some of them, is not a huge fan of rubbish trucks or people wearing Hi – Vis. He hates big dogs and like the Black Night in Monty Python’s Holy Grail, has little appreciation of his own vulnerability as he launches himself at their necks, or circles them, barking. He occasionally takes against someone or something in particular – there is a smallish white fluffy dog, who is walked by his elderly owner and is the most placid thing you will encounter; he hates it. He has a sort of rugby tackle approach and will hurl himself at speed sideways into a new dog that he meets by way of introduction.
It was clear he was not a dog to be trusted. A rag doll at home, he will lie for hours on his back while you tickle his tummy but outside, scans the fence line like a thing possessed, watching for bikes. A couple of weeks after I decided to keep him, I bought a lunge lead – normally used to train horses, but the only thing I can think of which allows him a bit of scope for exercise and play and no scope for running across a road and under a car.
He has learned a few tricks, slowly. Lucy can normally pick up a new trick in hours and have it bedded down in her repertoire in a couple of days. With Archie, it takes weeks – and is more difficult, because Lucy will be doing the trick beside him like a school kid with its hand straining to be called on the answer the question. Lucy loves tricks. Archie loves food.
If I was hoping that Lucy’s beautiful manners and behaviour would rub off on Archie I was kidding myself. Like a dreadful law of physics, it has gone the other way. Lucy has now taken an interest in cats and kids on scooters, and while I am not worried for the kids, I worry that Lucy’s Jack Russell heritage may one day kick in with the cats.
At the end of the fortnight, I almost made the phone call to get him picked up, but that was never really going to happen. If we don’t love Archie, who will? And bizarrely, after three years where he has largely ignored us, things have begun to change. He now walks up the bed to greet us in the morning. If I pick him up, he will lick my face. Slowly, slowly he is beginning to learn that if he leaves chasing the bike and comes to me instead, he will get a reward. He is very much a work in progress, but aren’t we all? He will get there – slightly later than Lucy and slightly out of breath, but he will get there.