A tale of a naughty dog.
I was suspicious even as I unlocked the door. I couldn’t hear him panting at the other side, waiting to assault me with affection when I tried to walk in. Knowing there was trouble of some sort, I stepped inside.
Billy was a large blackish mongrel dog—probably a cross between Rottweiler and Labrador. I was never sure, because I bought him from the dog pound, and the people who ran it weren’t sure about him either. He’d been left there by his previous owners, who couldn’t handle his incessant digging. I was told he did so much digging, he had a huge blister on his nose when he arrived at the pound. I chose him from the other dogs on the basis of his bark, which was deep and throaty, and matched his size.
I walked a few steps further into the house, gave another call.
Nothing. No scrabbling of paws, or a tail bashing enthusiastically against a wall. After resting the dozen cans of beer on the table, I wandered into the bedroom, which was illuminated only by the dull glow from the lounge.
“Billy, are you in here?”
A faint rustle teased from under the bed—a claw catching on carpet pile.
“Why are you under there, Billy?”, I inquired, grunting into a kneeling position and lifting the quilt aside for a view under the bed. In the gloom I could see the whites of two eyes. The dog was slumped into a characteristically mournful position, jowls on the carpet between his front paws. He wasn’t moving out at any price.
“What have you been doing?” I mused. Standing up, I noticed a small, ragged shred of polythene film resting forlornly by the bed. After turning on the bedside lamp I picked the film up and examined it. The number ‘17’ glared accusingly back at me.
“You arseholel!” I yelled, rushing into the kitchen to confirm my fears. The floor was scattered with the pieces of a large dinner plate. When I’d gone out fifteen minutes earlier to buy my beer, the plate had been perched on the roof of a large refrigerator, and a number 17 chicken had been defrosting on it. Knowing Billy’s deep interest in chickens, I figured the top of the fridge was a good safe place to thaw one out. I was wrong.
Since I didn’t see him do it, I assume he stood on his hind legs and pushed at the refrigerator until the chicken fell off. It must’ve been quite a surprise when the plate hit the floor tiles. But Billy being the dog he was, he recovered from his fright and ate the whole chicken before I made it home again—except for the bit of polythene with ‘17’ printed on it. And, as usual, he hadn’t been caught in the act, and therefore he couldn't be punished.
Billy was an animal possessed of extreme cunning, a thing I’ve noted in mongrel dogs over the years. He was my first dog, and I confess to not training him in social skills. Either to other dogs or to humans. Even so, it doesn’t explain his adeptness in finding things with which to fill his belly. The strangest of circumstances would arise, always resulting in food sliding down his gullet.
He had another adventure with a refrigerator, during which he managed to open its door. Then he turned his head on one side, slid it between two shelves and ate as much of a large cheese-cake as he could reach. This resulted in a delicate, perfect half-moon of the cake remaining on the dish. He didn’t bother to close the door when he’d finished.
As black mongrel dogs go, in appearance and demeanor he was unremarkable—a leg at each corner, noisy, friendly. He caught my attention one morning by repeatedly trotting past the lounge window, first in one direction and then, a few minutes later, in the other. I watched for a while. A small, brightly-coloured package proudly held in his jaws, he strutted past the window into a far corner of the garden. The package was thrust under a pile of leaves and carefully covered. Then he was off again, soon returning with another. And then again. Consumed with curiosity, I quietly followed him down the road and along two streets into the next suburb. And there, lying at the side of the road was the answer to the riddle. A cardboard carton spilling packets of Birds-Eye frozen fish cakes. It had fallen from a truck. How could he have known?
Billy’s insistence on laying up stores for some sort of doggy winter created difficulties at one stage for the couple who lived next door. The man of the house was a chocolate salesman cursed with the name Richard Head. One day he asked if I’d mind if he had a brick wall built between our houses. I replied that I wouldn’t mind so long as he didn’t expect me to pay anything, as there was already a high wooden fence there. He responded by saying he’d pay for everything. But the wooden fence would have to go. Naturally, this meant that Billy could walk into Richard’s garden, and I reminded the poor chap of this.
“Oh, don't you worry about that, it’s only for a few days.”
The fence duly came down.
About a week later, I walked into the house and discovered that Billy had thrown up on the hallway carpet. And on the kitchen floor. And the lounge carpet. In the centre of each pile of vomit was the wrapper from a nougat bar. This was odd, as such sweetmeats were not eaten in the house.
I cleaned the mess up—always a pleasure—and took a turn around the garden to get some fresh air. Billy, who appeared disgustingly healthy as usual, was frisking around me. The chocolate salesman’s wife, a fleshy woman who, oddly enough, worked in a parachute factory, accosted me through the hole left by the demolition of the fence.
“Has your dog not been well?” A strange question, I thought.
“As a matter of fact he has been sick today,” I replied.
“I’m not surprised”, she rejoined nastily, “my husband had some chocolate and stuff delivered here today and the man left it on the step. Your dog’s been into it.”
Mustn’t let the neighbours have a win here.
“When do you expect the wall to be finished?”
She eyed me lividly, then bustled off indoors, not uttering another word.
The house I lived in was new, and the garden was emerging from bare earth. For months after, digging in certain areas would invoke paroxysms of barking and growling from Billy. This added interest to the task, because it was possible to make bets on the chance of there being a fish-cake or a nougat bar buried in the spot. Or perhaps one of each.
The parachute lady was only one of many poor souls aggravated by Billy. He was at his most tiresome on public beaches—in fact sometimes he was so embarrassing I had to pretend he wasn’t my dog, which was rather antisocial.
One glorious summer’s day, we were trotting along when he angled sharply off to a boat drawn up on the sand just beyond the water’s edge. A middle-aged lady with iron-grey hair was sorting out fishing tackle in the boat, and she didn’t notice Billy until he’d stolen her bait and run off to eat lt. By this time I was being invisible. Well, it was too late to help, wasn’t it?
I timorously watched her trudge off up the beach to buy more bait, then called the offending canine and turned for home. A few seconds later I heard a series of the most blood-curdling oaths. I turned to see the lady charging down the beach to her boat, screaming her head off. On his return trip past the boat, Blily had stolen her lunch. He was bolting towards me with the package in his mouth. I bolted too.
I’ll never forget the last thing I heard as I ran from the beach
“I hope it fuckin’ chokes him!”
A most undignified response from a lady.