Barking Mad

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Our first dog, Jane the Great Dane, had to be given away to someone with a bungalow. She kept jumping out of our first floor window onto the concrete yard or onto anyone who happened to be out there.

Our next dog Sam bit everyone including himself for no reason at all. Sam was an ugly dog by any standards but This was, I think, mainly a psychological disturbance brought on by my mother’s treatment of his exzema. It involved calomine cream and a pastel blue shower cap with a hole for Sam’s tail and back legs … you get the picture. He was asked to wear this in public places.This would have made me cross as well. only my father liked him, though this was not reciprocated in any tangible way.

The first dog I had on my own, Zuffa, was a pedigree Italian mountain dog, purchased for the same price as a one year old Clio, from Chester. We picked her up in a 3 day old Audi from the rental car business we were running. She sat in the passenger well, threw up just outside St Albans and again near Hendon. We had the car factory cleaned 6 times, had to refund almost every rental after 12 hours and sold the car after 4 months for a £3,000 loss.

Zuffa is etched forever on the minds, backsides, legs, arms of friends, colleagues, TV ariel repairmen and me. she was so fierce that when I came home dog tired [yep] from the studio at 3am I would turn the key, open the door a crack and wait for this screaming hyena to charge and hurl herself at the door. ‘it’s me’ in a whisper was drowned out, firstly by the hysterical barking, growling and sort of screeching of Zuffa, then by the wailing of my infant daughter, woken yet again, then by the police sirens alerted by our ever vigilant neighbourhood watch.

We spent thousands of pounds and thousands of miles in the car on cancer treatment. She still saw off a burglar when down to 3 legs and a stump.

The family missed her when she died. No-one else did.

Our next dog was a rescue dog. don’t get a rescue dog. not ever. Think … why does it need rescuing|? Because it’s been abandoned. Why has it been abandoned? Whatever the reason, it’s not the reason you’ll be given by the ‘reluctant owner moving away’ or the respected dog agency or thoughtful friend. It will almost certainly be because the dog is either deeply disturbed, savage, carrying an incipient incurable and possibly contagious disease, prone to moulting more than a four metre Christmas tree in January – or possibly all four - or it’s been nicked.

Asti was friendly clean and loving when we arrived at her temporary shelter.

By the time we completed the 70 mile trip home in the car, the seats were ruined with thick yellow gob, the dog and the car smelt like a tramp after a rainstorm in Brisbane and the car had three dents from minor colisions caused by this 25 kilo mutt insisting on taking over the driving.

She permanently destroyed any sort of entente with our only neighbours in rural Essex by disembowelling and dismembering little Chelsea’s collection of six imported oriental ducklings and leaving the remains for Chelsea to find when venturing down their garden after school with her ducklings’ afternoon Hovis.

Shortly after this – and I daresay connected – her stomach managed to rotate 360 degrees, which of course twisted the gut, which of course meant she swelled up like a balloon, smelt even worse, cost £3,000 in emergency vet treatment then died.

Our next dog Cailey was also a rescue dog – yep … I also dated 3 French women in a row … and stark raving mad. Irish setters are not known for being calm. Cailey would have made any normal Irish Setter shuffle to the left, bury it’s head in the newspaper with a ‘no idea who she is. Nothing to do with me’ expression.

We kept Cailey through 5 thunderstorms, after which the toll on the carpets, table legs, chairs, sofas, coats, shoes, gloves, dry goods, laundry, lawn, indoor and outdoor plants, car seats, car seat covers, covers for car seat covers, proved financially ruinous.

Cailey, however, vindicated my son’s persistent faith in her by waking him up at 2am by jumping on him in bed. the house was on fire. We escaped. The house was badly damaged. Well done Cailey.

Our last dog was Ret…short for Retreiver, appropriately, as Ret was a very short retriever. It was like the top part of his leg and the bottom part were ok but they had removed the section in the middle so he was only a short distance from the ground. A very nice dog. a water dog by habit. Well, a dirty water dog by preference, with a diviner’s instinct for finding mud, bringing it home and distributing it on anything vaguely oriental or valuable. We became such good friends with the specialist carpet and upholstery cleaning guy we invited him to our barbecues.

Sadly, Ret decided to recharge his batteries by eating the end of a phone charger which was still plugged in. his last moments on earth were and still are a source of angst for us all.

Cats – Kipper was frosty, Willum was idle, Fred thought he was living on the Serengetty and appeared seasonally, OJ was horrid and large, the rescue cat [I know, I know] was ferrul – our friend who worked at London zoo was appalled to hear I’d locked it in a spare room and fed it through a slit in the door, like an inmate at Broadmoor. ‘I can handle the poor thing, I’m used to the big cats’. Ten minutes later she reappeared in disarray ‘have the wretched thing put down Rob, for goodness sake’.

Portia was also called Porcellina by the Italian cleaner, Senorita La Chancha by the Ecuadorian cleaner, Kulabe [pron. Coolah-bay] - my favourite - from my Ghanaen cleaner. She was in fact a he. She was a rescue cat [viz] and I was told she was a she. Four years, four pigeons, three sparrows, a thrush and seventeen stiches in her head later the vet told me she was a he. I didn’t feel it was fair to put this gender crisis on the animal so she remained darling Portia – except that after the diagnosis, future kills were met by me with man on man violence rather than indulgence…so I am stereotypical it would seem.

Portia developed diabetes and survived it! The vet went on two Caribbean holidays and bought an apartment overlooking Clapham Common.

The goldfish died while we were on holiday and the neighbour charged with feeding it replaced it with a replica but with a black tail. The kids ran into the house saying ‘it’s amazing! Goldie’s tail has turned black while we were on holiday!’

The neighbour said nothing. We said nothing.

We’re talking about getting another pet.