Even a small dog can be quite high maintenance. No, I’m not talking about Mali, our one-year-old cavapoochon, but Bertie, a six-month-old cavapoo. Bertie is Mali’s best friend and — I regret to say — almost constant companion. The reason they spend so much time together is because his owner, a close friend of Caroline’s, drops him off on her way to work and picks him up on her way home. They both think it’s a perfect arrangement because the two dogs can keep each other company, gamboling away all day in our garden, while they get on with their busy lives. But Muggins here, whose office is located at the bottom of said garden, is the one left carrying the can.
Quite often, that can is full of poo. I’ve remarked before on Mali’s supernatural ability to strew the lawn with little brown sausages, depositing at least half a dozen every 24 hours, but Bertie makes Mali look anally retentive. He’s a sausage machine! Walking from the kitchen to my office every morning is like navigating the strip of land between a Taliban stronghold and a British army outpost in Helmand. A day doesn’t pass when I’m not out there, bent double with a roll of lavatory paper, gingerly disposing of these little bombs. I’ve told the kids that they can’t play football in the garden — or, indeed, set foot in it — until I’ve done a ‘sweep’, but this is a rule more honored in the breach than the observance. The upshot is that I spend quite a lot of time bent double over the stair carpet, too.
I thought all this work on the poo-removal front would earn me a lot of credit — it gives new meaning to the phrase ‘brownie points’ — but not a bit of it. When Caroline sees me combing the lawn with bog roll in hand she purrs with pleasure. Picking up poo is a ‘blue job’, apparently, by which she means something she doesn’t want to do rather than a task that requires any strength or manual dexterity. Other ‘blue jobs’ include cleaning the lavatory, taking our VW Touran to the car wash and removing spiders from the bathroom.
When Bertie isn’t despoiling our little handkerchief of grass with his toxic waste, he’s digging holes in it. I’m quite proud of my lawn, having invested time and money in cultivating it over the past 13 years, and it cuts me to the quick when the little mutt starts frantically scratching away at a patch of grass with his front paws. If I’m not out there immediately, he disappears into the lawn like a mole on crack, earth flying behind him. And to cap it off, Mali has taken to standing next to him and copying him, like they’re involved in some demented hole-digging competition. First one to Australia’s the winner.
Sometimes I take them both for a walk in the hope that they’ll run themselves ragged and then sleep when we get home, leaving me time to do a bit of work. But Bertie is a bit of a liability in the park. I’ll let them both off the lead and start ambling down the path, Mali trotting along beside me, only to turn round and discover Bertie hasn’t moved. Is it because I’m not his owner and he doesn’t recognize me? There’s nothing wrong with his eyesight, because he can spot another dog when it’s no more than a speck on the horizon, at which point he’s off, haring towards it with surprising speed. I’ll try putting his lead back on, but then he does his ‘lead weight’ routine, meaning it can take 20 minutes to go 100 yards. The solution is to pick him up and carry him, but then he’s as full of beans at the end of the walk as he is at the beginning, ready to wreak havoc again the moment we get home.
Bertie is more alpha than Mali, possibly because he’s a boy, and I find myself becoming quite protective of my baby. It’s not just the constant ‘play-fighting’, which often involves Bertie pinning Mali to the ground with his jaws at her throat, but his insistence on being king of every castle, whether it’s occupying Mali’s favorite spot on the sofa or taking up residence in her dog basket. When we feed them, we have to do it in separate rooms.
Mali is remarkably good-humored about not being top dog — but then she’s fairly sanguine about most things. Her survival mechanism is to gravitate to the lap of the most powerful person in the room — usually Caroline — whereas Bertie is determined to stake out his territory and defend it. Perhaps that’s why I struggle to love him as much as Mali: he reminds me too much of myself. I have three sons who are endlessly trying to prove they’re bigger men than me. Being constantly challenged by yet another highly competitive male is a bit too much.