Chapter 14: Summer of Love

Better at Not Barking – St Adina – A Nightmare Scenario – Foley Suggestion – Shakespearean Caution – Love and The MOD – Love means never having to come back till you’re lassoed

paw print

Stanley’s getting better at not barking.

There. I’ve said it. It’s out there. I’ve had the t-shirt printed and everything.

There is a slight rider, though. He’s getting better at not barking but he’s no angel.

‘He barks when he feels afraid. When he’s uncomfortable in situation,’ Adina says, gently circling her fingers in the crazy wig of hair between his ears. Stanley’s eyes spiral in ecstasy. ‘The important thing is to show he can trust you to take care of situation for him. Then he can relax, and not worry about it. So. If you find yourself in situation, make sure you take Stanley a little further off. Yes? Put distance between you and whatever it is. And if that’s not possible, simply walk away in the other direction. Isn’t that right, Stanley? Hmm?’

And my memory might be a little hazy, but I’m pretty sure he nodded once, emphatically, before meekly accepting the tripe stick she passes down to him like a novice priest receiving the sacrament.

Quite why Stanley is afraid of the Golden Retriever that comes running towards him over the field is a mystery. Even from here you can tell it’s no danger to anyone. It couldn’t look more obviously friendly if it had huge, squeaky paws and a flashing bow tie (although, having written that, I’ll probably have nightmares). I think the issue isn’t the thing itself – a buffoonish dog running towards us straight out of clown dog school, the light entertainment between the Afghans on Horseback and the French Bulldogs on the flying trapeze – but the way in which he appears, which is suddenly, from a thicket of trees just to the right of the path. It’s like being ambushed by a giant tongue.

Luckily, Stan was on the lead at that point – only because there was a hole in the hedge that he’d run through after some rabbits the other day, and it was a job to get him back. As soon as he sees the Retriever he rears up on the lead and barks his bark. It’s such a rich and devastating sound. I’m sure they could use it as a sound effect in the next Jurassic Park movie. The scene where the velociraptor gets croup.

But here’s the thing. If I was a dog running happily over to meet another dog, and that other dog made a noise like that, I’d take it as a sign maybe I should exercise caution, and hang back a little, at least until someone wearing a bomb disposal suit went over first and made sure the scene was safe. But this particular dog is so filled with love for all things, so totally and open-heartedly devoted to finding pleasure in the world, and lapping it up, like a giant, golden bee rushing from moment to moment siphoning up the nectar (and there’s another nightmare I’ll be having later), it takes absolutely no notice, but rushes up to us regardless. I’m tempted to let Stanley off the lead, because I know that by hauling on the lead like this it’s only making him worse – but I think of that Shakespeare quote: Let slip the dogs of war. So I don’t. I look around for the owner. I see a woman in the distance, waving a lead in the air and calling Maisy or Daisy or something, without the least effect. I try walking off purposefully in the other direction. Which would be fine, if Maisy or Daisy (I’ll call her MOD for short) stayed put and didn’t follow. But of course she follows, because whereas Stanley has a darkly nuanced vocabulary of emotions, influenced by his nine long years of abuse, MOD has one mood setting, which is LOVE. Dialled up to eleven.

I feel bad for everyone, particularly MOD. Looking at her, though, I’m not sure it’ll set her back all that much. She is the epitome of Golden Retriever, the essential article, stuffed full of golden things, Affection and Love and Goodness and Forgiveness and I don’t know what, hurrying about the world, retrieving wonders.

I give up trying to walk away, because apparently it doesn’t matter that Stanley has transformed into a huffing and puffing troll swinging a spiky club and threatening bloody vengeance, MOD trails happily in our wake like a hippy at a festival strewing flowers left and right and sticking a few in her hair.

‘I’m so sorry about that!’ says MODs owner, catching up at last and lassoing the Retriever. ‘She’s not the best dog in the world at coming back, especially when she’s having such a lovely time.’

‘That’s okay!’ I said. ‘I’m sorry about Stanley. He’s a good dog, really, but he still has a bit of a barking problem.’

‘Oh dear!’ says the woman, smiling down at Stanley – although her smile doesn’t seem quite as unconditional as the Retriever’s.

‘He’s getting better though,’ I tell her.


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