It was the first time and wouldn’t be the last. Let’s face it, Archie’s list of enemies is long and extensive. It is not so much a blacklist as a black brick road and somewhere close to the top was a St Bernard called Kirby. He hated him when they met and let him know that in no uncertain terms.
The St Bernard is a massive dog, and arguably not really the sort of breed to have in Australia. They are bred to cope in colder climates and Perth is cold for about ten minutes a year. For this reason you don’t see many, but one afternoon the large lumbering frame of one appeared in our local park.
His name was Kirby and his owner was an engineer. His car was not big so he had actually designed and built a bespoke trailer for his first dog, also a St Bernard, out of a couple of old fridges and because he had the infrastructure, stuck with the breed.
When I met Kirby, he was already very old. Twelve years old, which was pretty amazing, given their average life span of 8-10 years. He was deaf, possibly a little senile and huge. He was very gentle and liked nothing more than to spend half an hour or so lying on the grass in the park while his owner brushed his enormous coat and gathered into a bag enough fur to knit a jumper in the process.
It was clear that Kirby was at the end of his life. He was much loved and cared for until he died peacefully about a year later. I was only glad that his deafness meant that he never had to hear Archie carrying on like a maniac every time he saw him. Especially since, given his size, Archie saw him from a long way off and had plenty of time to work himself into a fury of excitement over this monster that would occasionally invade his park.
I tried to introduced Archie to him gradually but he would sit, groaning, as if suppressing the growl in his throat. Eventually it would erupt and he would hurl himself towards the beast’s neck, barking furiously while I reeled him back in on the lead. Kirby was an old dog and didn’t not need this kind of demonstration around him, so after a couple of abortive attempts, I steered clear of Kirby and his owner when I saw them.
The owner swore he would not get another dog after Kirby, but a couple of months after he lost him, he appeared in the park with a large playful dog. Except it was not a dog, it was another St Bernard and a puppy. In keeping with the theme of vacuum cleaners, he had named this one Dyson.
I wondered perhaps if we could start again with Archie. Perhaps if I got him introduced early enough to the puppy, big as he was, he would accept him before he got too big. I walked Archie towards the new arrival. At first he did nothing, but then, just like one of those fairground games where a penny rolls down a huge zigzagged ramp and then drops, he suddenly realised what he was looking at and lurched forward. The puppy looked up. It had traditional St Bernard markings but with almost black, panda like circles around his eyes. That was too much for Archie. Faced with this giant clown-freak of a dog, he tipped over into mad mode and I had to remove him before he pulled my arm out of its socket.
We have not seen Dyson for a few months now. The dark mornings and dark evenings scatter the regular dog walkers into different time slots, and whereas in the warmer months, they hang around the park and chat, in the evening the walk is more business-like: once around the park and home.
Three days ago, though we ran into Dyson again. He is now truly enormous, the size of a small pony and was being walked on a short lead because, I later learned, his owner had broken his ankle and has only just started being able to walk him. How had he broken his ankle? Who knows, maybe Dyson sat on it. He is an impressive size.
But would Archie remember? As he travelled up one side of the park, we made our way up the other until finally, we both rounded a corner and walked towards each other. I could feel the lead vibrate as Archie’s growl made its way up to my hand. Of course he remembered.
Dyson, blissfully unaware of this tension, and still with a good deal of puppy thinking, started bouncing up and down excitedly on his lead at the sight of a possible playmate, an event that measure around a 6 on the Richter scale. Archie momentarily fazed, regrouped and launched a counter offensive. I dragged him away. Looks like this is yet another St Bernard whose fur I will never get to feel as I pat him hello. Archie has made his position very clear and is certainly not going to allow any fraternising with the enemy.