Saturday, November 19, 2011

Three black dogs

My dog is not part of the cool club. Instead we have to walk past them every single morning, me tugging at her lead to calm her down and she trying to rush at the fence and give them all a good telling off.

It's a good thing actually, because the 'off leash' section in the park is a mere 15 metres by 30 metres and is devoid of grass or anything more interesting to sniff at than dusty turds ignored by lazy owners. Instead, we veer off the path well trodden and into the 'forest'.

The 'forest' in reality is a small strip of neglected land between the park and several large apartment blocks but it's dark, dank and full of canine-friendly nooks and crannies to investigate, not to mention a few cats and squirrels to chase amongst the moss, mushrooms and wet leaves. Then, on the other side of the park, there's a huge expanse of grass that I also let Milly run freely on if there are no other dogs about.

Trouble is, there often are other dogs about but I don't spot them until there's a furry clash of meeting bodies and a mutual butt sniff which is then followed by me dashing over to clip Milly back on and apologise for any nip that the other animal received or was about to receive. "Je suis desolee. Mon chien n'aime pas outre chiens."

Luckily for me, this clumsy attempt has resulted in three Swiss humans reverting instantly to English.

It has also buried the popular myth held by most expats in Geneva that Swiss people are stand-offish and unfriendly. Not in my neck of the woods.

The first to revert to English when faced with a pudgy-but-apologetic Australian woman who was still unshowered, morning-breathed and messy-haired was an elderly lady in a burgundy puffer jacket as wide as she was tall, the colour of which set off her purple-hued perm rather nicely. Her big, black, maybe-cross between a Labrador and St Bernard took Milly's less-than-welcoming demeanour in his stride, contenting himself to stand there panting and wait for her approach him when she felt like it.

"His name is Cassius," Madame Burgundy informed me. She jumped in before I could reply. "I'm not a racist, I didn't call him that - it was his name for years before I found him at the ---- " several words of French escaped before the Anglais term arrived "----refuge. Yes, refuge."

It was then I noticed the criss cross scars on his front paws, standing out amongst the high gloss of his fur and shining, friendly eyes. "He was a guard dog for a man who owned a metal yard and had to run and sleep out on the sheets," she said. Through a series of questions, hand movements and guess work, Cassius's seven year life story before the arrival of Madame Burgundy emerged. No love or attention until somebody noticed his bleeding, infected feet and stole him away, hoping he'd find a better owner at the refuge.

"My husband died and I needed something to love. Cassius is everything to me," she said, leaning down to pat his head. Milly allowed me to do it too, taking the opportunity to flip over in the dewy grass and rub her back in the remains of kebab wrapper instead of rush over and attempt a quick nip.

Further on in the park we encountered Malou, the Mr Crazy Caffeine of our neighbourhood, careening around the corner of the copse in a blur. A regular buddy of ours, he too is a mutt; presumably the love child of a greyhound and Jack Russell with a sturdy torso and impossibly skinny legs. He looks like a coke can with four toothpicks stuck underneath it. He'd been found wandering up in the Jura mountains, abandoned. His coat is very flat but black and shiny like a brand new top hat.

"Hello sweetie," I cooed as he jumped up for a greeting. He lost interest the second he clapped his beadies on Milly who was still unaware of his presence as she stared longingly up into the tree that held two cavorting squirrels many metres up.

Malou danced. He pranced and woofed. He ducked and dodged. He cavorted, rushed up and back, sniffed alongside Milly and even nudged her arse in some truly commendable and exhaustive efforts to get her attention. As with Cassius, she was off lead and not inclined to make an attack but was unfortunately intent on studiously ignoring him. At least until he gave up and trotted back over to where his owner was standing, chatting to me.

"I'm so sorry," I said to Malou and then glanced up at his owner in case he felt offended on his beast's behalf. "You'd have won me over with your smooth moves and agility."

Love Chunks was once in the park jogging when I was busy talking to Malou's master. We don't know each other's names, just our dogs' (which tends to be standard social etiquette for four legged walkers the world over), but I did know that Malou enjoyed cross country cavorting when his owner was training for triathlons.

When I got home, LC said, "You know, you shouldn't just talk to any old bloke in the park you know. You've got to be safe, have your wits about you." The fact that Malou's master was good looking, fit and young wouldn't have had anything to do with his concern...?

This thought warmed me as we walked through the grass this morning, me grateful for my wellington boots as they crunched the ice now coating the fallen leaves.

Milly stopped, one of her front paws raised: a sign that she'd spotted something surprising. Strangely enough, it was another dog, not something she'd normally consider lifting a paw up for. I'd seen them in the distance on many other occasions and mentally considered the lady as Classic Genevois: designer coat, expensive fringed ugg boots, perfectly lightened hair and impeccable make up - not a bad effort for 7:30am.

I felt like lifting up one of my own legs in surprise because Milly's tail was wagging and she trotted forwards towards Black Dog Number Three. This one was as large as Cassius but slimmer in frame and shaggier in coat - a twist of liquorice wearing a flokati floor rug perhaps.

"Bonjour madame." Genevois Gentlelady smiled at my greeting and answered in English. Even those two words - spoken in what I assumed was a pretty decent French accent - betrayed not only my foreignness but also my ignorance.

"This is Bernard," she said, as he flopped on the grass beside her. As she walked, he walked; when she stopped, he flopped. Milly sniffed his seated butt cautiously but appreciatively. That was something new for her.

"What sort of breed is he?" Eyes like burnt caramel, fur softer than a kitten's and a mouth that truly widened into a smile the second he was touched. Something pretty special no doubt.

"Nobody knows....." I stroked his ears with my left hand and Milly's with my right to allow the conversation to continue without generating any jealousy or impromptu fighting.

"He is now two years old and I adopted him when he was only twelve moins - no - months - old. He had been through a terrible time."

It was nearly eight o'clock when she had finished, kissing the top of Bernard's head in a loving form of punctuation. Her change of movement had him up on his feet instantly, ready to move when she did.

She gently lifted up his tail. "You see here - it's a bit personal, yes? - under his tail, by his anus? They had burned him with cigarettes there."

And that's when I found myself holding hands with a woman I'd only met twenty minutes earlier and whose name I didn't know.

Three black dogs. Giving joy and deserving joy.


The Elephant's Child said...

Oh Kath. That is a beautiful post. And here in Oz I am confident of the names of the dogs and cats in the surrounding homes and much less confident about that of their owners. I thought it was a private affliction, but am pleased to hear that it is not. And so happy to hear about badly treated dogs who have found a loving 'forever home'. Thanks.

Pandora Behr said...

Dogs are such a bonding influence. Superb post. Agree with EC - it's wonderful that these animals have found such loving homes. I can't be the only one who believes that those who mistreat animals in such a way should have the same thing done to them.

River said...

Burned with cigarettes?? Oh, that's awful!! Why do people do these things? And yet the dog has remained gentle and loving, easily trained, eager to please. And poor Cassius, neglected even when his feet were infected. I'm so glad these dogs now have loving owners.
I'm also pleased that these owners are able to speak English with you, a touch of home, so far away.

Kath Lockett said...

I was saying to LC this morning how I'm constantly amazed by the kindness and cruelty of people. The dog folk I've met have all been fascinating to meet and the love they have for their dogs is incredible. And deserved.

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Bonjour Kath,

It would be nice to own a dog again (haven't done since I was a child). Sadly with three cat it would be a nightmare.

I haven't given up hope though.




Snowbrush said...

Now that my dog is old, blind, and none too friendly, I miss the camaraderie I used to feel with other dog owners when we would stand around in a big circle while our dogs played.

Kath Lockett said...

Met another one this morning - Spike the Jack Russell. With hand signals, his owner and I took the dogs' leads off and let them scamper and sniff each other. He has the same colouring as Milly but in reverse - orange feet, chest and belly star!

Elisabeth said...

Oh Kath, you are such a collector of stories, wonderful stores, poignant stories.

The common thread of abandonment and abuse brings dog owners together. You all share an essential trait.

I'd call it deep compassion and empathy for the underdog.

The way you describe both dogs and their owners is a writerly masterpiece.

Jackie K said...

What a beautiful post - loved it. Wonderful endings for these dogs and the owners who found them.
Our Pomeranian is not great with other dogs so I'm too scared to take him to an off-leash park. He does that embarrassing terrier thing of snarling and barking at dogs 3 times his size who just look at him dismissively.
Some people are horrible. I had our dog tied up outside a shop once for five minutes, heard him yelp and ran outside to see a man having kicked him as he walked past. Unbelievable. Hate the thought of what those dogs in your suburb went through.

Helen Balcony said...

Oh how I hate humans sometimes when I see what they do do dogs and other critters. Maggie and Ollie both went through abusive times before they ended up with us. Ollie, we know a little about, Maggie just ended up at the Lost Dogs' but we think something bad went down because she was just so excessively fearful and submissive for the first year.

Maggie's a Milly - Doesn't like other dogs, except for Ollie who she adores (lucky, that) and the odd Chosen One. There was one dog, and only one, who she'd chase and chase around the park, but his mum moved to Adelaide. Ollie's like the little black dog, always trying to be best friends with every single canine in the dog park (and such a look of wounded ego when he cops a nip!)

Kath Lockett said...

Thanks Elisabeth - that is a huge compliment coming from you (*fawn fawn fawn*). I was talking about your writing over the weekend to LC and how much it moves me.

Jackie, I just try to tell myself that there are more rescuers and adorers of Black (and other) Dogs than not. And Karma. Surely Karma will give them the kicking they deserve... ?

Helen, I can already see that I'd want to pick up Ollie and kiss him - right after I apologise for Milly giving him a nip!

TamvdK said...

Good afternoon Kath & Co.
Such lovely stories to read, it's amazing how all over the world people bond over their beloved hounds.
You'll be happy to hear the Travancore Dog park Calendar is a go this year again. The Lost Dog's Home should get another $500 or so out of it. Taking the photos this weekend - my favourite part!
Will send you one in the mail!

Jayne said...

I cannot fathom the sheer feck-mindedness of people who injure animals for their own entertainment, wish there were laws to do the same back to them.
Love your post, I can picture the park and the puppies all playing merrily :)

Red Nomad OZ said...

I'm not a great dog-lover since our neighbours dogs killed our lambs once - but these little stories made me cry. And realise one bad experience (for which I blame the neighbours) doesn't make all dogs bad.

Christine said...

Everyday I walk our little Chloedog up and down our road at Lockwood. We often pass the time of day with Lulu Brown Poodle who is out on her rounds and always with Harley the Golden Retriever who lives down the road. Don't know the names of the owners. actually.

Kath Lockett said...

Thanks for your comments - we met up with Malou this morning and, this time Milly *did* give him the time of day which nearly made him turn himself inside out with joy and excitement. All he wanted was some acknowledgement from my orange beast and he finally got it :)

Anji said...

Just reading yours as you commented on mine!

Dogs bring out the best in MOST people, don't they? I'm pleased to read that you and Milly are making new friends

Baino said...

Fabulous story. Sadly when I walk Lily it's so early in the morning the only people I say hello to are joggers whizzing by. Love your photo you look fit and well as does Milly. Such awful things people do to animals and yet they're willing to be adopted and settle with new owners. I had a 'pang' when I saw the term 'black dogs' but all good in the end heh?

Kath Lockett said...

The 'pang' was intended, dear Baino. Mine is happily holidaying far, far away and I it's happy to stay there for a long while yet.