The other day I walked my friend Estelle’s dog. It’s something I’ve done on occasion when she has been unable to, and it’s something I enjoy, both because I like walking and because Ruby, a black labradoodle, is one of the most well-behaved dogs I’ve ever known. Everyone on the street knows Ruby, and everyone loves her.
I don’t consider myself a dog person. I didn’t grow up with them, although my grandad had an alsation (a time when the word German in any form was unacceptable). Monty was a lovely dog, a gentle giant before I’d ever heard the term, and accepted all sorts of childish pulling and patting with good grace and patience. Until I met Neil it was the only experience I’d had of dogs.
Neil had a boxer, also a lovely dog. She wasn’t the brightest, but she wasn’t as dim as she sometimes appeared. Knowing she wasn’t allowed on the sofa she would inveigle her way onto it via the lap of the nearest human. First she would place her chin on your knee, then her head. A shoulder would hunch up, then a leg, followed by a second leg and half a body. Finally the weight of her bum would land on you, then the final two legs until she was curled into the tightest ball she could be, balanced precariously on a lap half her size. All the time she would avoid eye contact, sort of if I can’t see you then you can’t see me. It was fun to watch.
My brother and his wife have just lost their fur baby. Ballou was a chocolate lab, a big clumsy dog, who I always thought looked one bone short of a full skeleton. He bounded about like he was still a small puppy, crashing into anything that got in his way. If he stood on your foot you were in danger of needing a visit to ED. Goofy as he was, he too was a lovely dog, much loved by all who knew him and missed even more.
Ruby used to have a housemate, Muppy*, who wasn’t quite as well behaved as she is. More than once Estelle had to put out a social media post or text to say he’d disappeared whilst off-lead, asking for help to find him. He always returned, was grounded, did it again a few weeks later. Ruby has never behaved this way. She returns when called, no matter how tempting the diversion is, and she pauses at the kerb to be told it is safe to cross the road. Temptation does get the better of her at times, her excitement at seeing a human friend overcoming her obedience, and we often see a black streak running down the street to greet someone. If she catches a glimpse of Neil or me as she is being led past our house she bounces as though on springs, a Zebedoodle if you like, leaping high enough almost to clear the fence, all the while squealing in excitement. We’re not special – she gets this excited at seeing anyone she knows, especially if it’s one of her younger friends.
Last week we walked the usual route, half road (on lead), where she pauses at each blade of grass to check who has been there since she last passed, and half riverside path, where the lead comes off and she tears around, disappearing ahead, sprinting back towards you, a quick turn and flying past again. If more than one human is walking with her she pauses at regular intervals to make sure the family is all together. At the end of the track she waits until you catch up, knowing that she has to be clipped back onto the lead.
Obedient as she is, Ruby is a drama queen. Even if you saw her a short while ago, she greets you as though you’re returning from a year-long absence. She obeys when told no but her face tells you it’s the end of the world! She’s pretty good at The Look. On our recent walk we had a ‘discussion’ about whether swimming was allowed, her expression clearly saying that it was so unfair and he’s doing it! as she glanced at the dog behind her. I won and I’m sure I got an eye-roll as she jogged towards me, casting longing looks behind her at the river. When I left her back at home she gave me The Look that said: is that it? When it became clear I wasn’t hanging around it changed to a look of despair and utter despondency, as though the end of her world had just been declared. Later, when Neil and I left after feeding her, she howled as though she’d been seriously injured, or permanently abandoned. If she could use a phone, no doubt the SPCA would hear about this.
A couple of days later, along with her mum, she brought some delicious carrot cupcakes to say thank you. We laughed as she bounced around, Zebedoodle-like, then paused to sniff and lick my fingers, which I clearly hadn’t cleaned sufficiently after making chicken sandwiches for lunch. She’s a gorgeous dog, a lovely part of our community (just like her mum), and a real character. It’s a privilege to be her companion when I’m asked to be.
*I should point out that Muppy is alive and well and very happy – he no longer lives with Ruby because he returned to live with his own family when they moved to a pet-friendly rental.