Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I may not be a dog person

We're spending the week with these bitches.
Jenn and I are this week house-sitting for her best friend's mother. We are in a quite-large house in West Sussex, providing company and food service for three golden retrievers, a small cat and a handful of chickens. 

It is, unquestionably, an enviable situation to be in. Literally within a stone's throw of South Downs National Park, we are in one of the most English of English landscapes. There is a garden from which to pick fresh fruit and vegetables, a grass tennis court on which Jenn and I have been doing DDP yoga, and a large patio where we eat our meals outside. 

Thanks to the power of the internets we are both working remotely –– able to be here without having to take off time from work –– but with the rest of our time we have been running country lanes, eating massive pub meals, hiking the South Downs Way, and just lounging on the sofa reading.

The latter activity is probably the most idyllic because it is then that the dogs and cat (the chickens stay in their coop) will come to lounge with us. The cat nuzzles a place next to my thigh and occasionally headbutts my elbow for fun. The dogs lie near our feet, expel the heavy sighs of canines and fart shamelessly.

They are delightful and stupid, the dogs. All females, they are aggressive only for attention. If you pet one, another will muscle in and demand that your giving of affection be a full-body affair: left hand scratching behind the ears of one dog, right hand rubbing the belly of another, legs squeezing a third.

They are fun to be around, fun to go on walks with, and –– if you can get used to the smell –– emotionally comforting on a level that is sort of hard to explain. But, oh my gosh, are they a bunch of trouble.

These dogs are pretty well trained, but still much of our routine revolves around their pooping and peeing. I make sure they get a chance to go out and do their thing before bed, then I need to be up at about 6:30 in the morning to let them out, else they'll start barking. And still, twice so far we have been greeted in the morning with a special doggie present on the floor –– of which all three of the dogs have disavowed any knowledge.

"Which one of you pooped on the carpet?" I asked this morning.

They looked at me as if I had said, "Which one of you wants a steak?"

Effie was suspicious when I claimed to not have any food.
Meanwhile, they will bark at anything –– especially things that are not there. One in particular, Effie, barks ceaselessly at the unknown. Perhaps there's poetry in that, but not at 7 in the morning. When not barking they are searching for food. Or finding some mud they can track into the house. Or strategically placing their hair on EVERY SINGLE THING.

I have always thought of myself as a dog person but in now actually living with the beasts I can't help but wonder if it's something I could put up with on an everyday basis. Because things only get worse when you take them away from the house.

On Sunday, Jenn and I took the dogs on a walk to a nearby pub for lunch. If you read just that sentence it probably sounds awesome, and for one or two fleeting moments –– watching these golden-haired dogs run across a field in the late summer sun –– it definitely was. But the rest of the time, I found myself emitting a constant soundtrack of reproach:

"Effie, get away from the road. Phoebe, come on, let's go. Sophie, leave that little boy alone. Effie, stop biting Sophie in the face. Phoebe, come on, let's go. Effie, leave that horse poop alone. No, I don't have any food. Sophie, leave that horse poop alone. No, I still don't have any food. Phoebe, come on, let's go...."

The responsibility of being a (temporary) dog owner was wearing me out. I had to pay attention to each little aspect of the world around me and consider how the dogs might respond to it, how it might respond to them: cars, people, other dogs, horses, woodland animals, the smell of faraway barbecues,  tricks of the light, and, of course, all kinds of things that were not there.

It's exhausting. I'm not sure I could live this way. After all these years of thinking otherwise, it turns out I may not be a dog person after all.

Though, having said that, it's probably worth noting that in writing this post I twice found myself getting up and seeking out the dogs just to be able to pet them.

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