Chapter Nine and Ten – Other Pack Members and Respect Your Elders.
I considered Henry to be part of our pack despite being a cat. I also included the dog next door Danny despite Sally trying to keep us apart.
Danny came to his new home and was allowed a level of freedom that is common in rural areas. He did not go for organised walks but was allowed to roam his two acres and the lane from a very early age.
These made him far more street wise than I was and also gave him access to the other gardens in the lane which did not necessarily make him very popular with the neighbours.
He would sneak in under the fence into our garden despite Sally spending vast sums of money “Danny proofing” our territory. She was afraid he would lead me astray and take me on one of his road trips. Whereas Danny was streetwise I was not and being a sheep dog, Sally worried that I might get too interested in the flock at the end of the lane and get shot by the farmer. One night I did actually crawl under the fence at his invitation and found myself in the dark, on the wrong side of the hedge.
I think Danny was having a laugh at my expense and was trying to teach me a lesson for my previous cowardice in not following him on one of his escapades. He disappeared into the darkness and through the back door of his house leaving me stranded.
Sally who had only turned her back for a minute while she fetched a flashlight was frantically calling for me on our side of the hedge and I barked to let her know where I was and that I was scared.
She came up our long drive and marched down the neighbour’s waving her torch and calling me. I had never experienced any form of mistreatment at her hands but I knew when she was not happy and that this was one of those occasions. I hid behind the dustbins and heard her ring the doorbell.
When it was answered by the next door neighbour I heard a number of words that I did not understand only catching a few.
“Your damn dog has been over into our garden again and this time he has brought Sam back with him and now I can’t find him. Put your outside lights on so that I can find Sam and in future keep that dog of yours under control.”
It was more the tone that alerted me to the fact that Sally was angry and that I needed to please her immediately. I slunk out of cover and up to her where she attached me to my lead and walked firmly and quickly up the neighbour’s drive and into our own garden.
As we walked she only said two words repeatedly. “Bad Boy.” And although I could not see it I knew that she was wagging her finger at me. Tail between my legs I walked beside her and into our own house. I was upset that she was upset and sat down and offered my paw in penance. With that she leant down and hugged me tight.
“Sam don’t ever do that again, I was frantic with worry. I love you so much and couldn’t bear to lose you.”
Of course I did not understand all the words but I did appreciate the feelings that poured from her.
To this day I have never done anything like that again. I always know where both she and David are, and even though I may not be on a lead, I stay close enough at all times so that I can see them. Luckily my lead is 26 feet in length which means that I get the best of both worlds, room to roam on our walks but still in touch with them both. We were very lucky to have such a beautiful sandy beach and dunes on our doorstep in Ireland that provided plenty of safe walking and playing adventures.
I have to say though that Danny still used to come through the fence and we would play together in the long grass of the meadow behind our house and I reckoned as long as I stayed on my side of the fence within sight of the house I could still enjoy the friendship of this freedom loving dog. He told me of his adventures but after a while I realised that the lane and his garden was his entire world where as I travelled many miles in the car with my pack and visited many different places.
Eventually he got bored and frustrated hearing my tales of the world beyond the lane and stopped coming to play.
David and Sally had broken away from their own packs to form their own many years ago. However, unlike in my case, older former pack members retain a high status in their offspring’s circle and often visit. Siblings are also welcomed although I have to say that when all the packs come together for an annual reunion some of the younger members appear not to have learnt as much about pack protocol as I have.
Sorry, just an old dog talking and when I was younger I did enjoy the additional attention that I was given by small humans but I am afraid I have grown rather intolerant lately and tend to find one of my favourite sleeping places hidden around the house when we have younger visitors.
Apart from immediate pack members there were also visitors from other packs that became very important in my life during the time David was in Madrid.
Sally’s mother was called Grand Mollie and I first met her when I was about six months old. At that time I was really only interested in my immediate needs but I stored away her smell and knew that she was part of Sally’s pack and therefore part of mine.
The next time she came to visit was when I was a year old at Christmas and this time I took my new job as head of security very seriously and guarded her at all times. I slept on the landing outside Sally and David’s room but during Grand Mollie’s visit I camped outside her door and escorted her to the bathroom during the night and always preceded her down the stairs etc.
Sally had given me strict instructions that I was to look after her and as her feet used to get very cold sometimes I took it upon myself to lie over them whenever she sat down.
She was very appreciative and of course whilst it had no bearing on my devotion to her the odd sneaked snippet of cheese and sausage that she slipped me only confirmed that she was a worthy member of the pack.
David’s father lived in Dublin and he would visit us out in the country. I went to his house once when I was still very young but unfortunately his head of security “Tuffy” was not going to allow some ‘wet behind the ears’ new pack member have the run of her territory inside the house or outside in the garden. She very quickly showed me who was the boss.
She backed me into a corner, sat and glared at me, daring me to move. Even though I was only a few months old, I was considerably bigger than she was, but I felt little inclination to cross teeth with her and I never visited again. I know that she was just doing her job and in her way she taught me that you have to respect other peoples territory and that you must be prepared to drop the ‘nice doggy’ persona for a slightly more resolute stance from time to time.
I have never bitten anyone although I have to say I have been tempted from time to time particularly at the vets. As I have got older I have become slightly less tolerant but have discovered that turning away and going and weeing as high up in a bush as possible is quite affective particularly if confronted with one of the smaller breeds on a lead. If it is a larger dog and he is off the lead then I have determined that a dignified retreat to live and fight another day is by far the best approach.
When David went to Madrid to work, Sally set about finding someone who would love and care for me every six weeks when she went to Spain to visit him.
She had never put me in boarding kennels, knowing that I love company and would find it very lonely stuck in a box on my own for most of the day. I have to say that apart from a couple of special dogs I have never really been bothered about my own breed as I much prefer the interaction I have with humans.
There are two other humans who joined our pack and I came to love them very much. One was the wife of someone who worked with David and her name was Aunty Kay.
She was a soft spoken Irish woman who had a very gentle touch. At one of the final work parties that Sally and David attended before he moved to Spain, they had got into conversation with Kay and mentioned that Sally was going to try and go over to Spain to see David every six weeks but that they were trying to find someone to look after me in her absence.
I think that I have already conveyed how very important I was within the pack and how much I was loved. As I mentioned, Sally had never felt comfortable with the notion of putting me behind bars for twenty two hours of the day so that she could go off and have fun and so she wanted to find someone who had a garden and loved dogs as much as she did.
Aunty Kay immediately said that she would love to look after me and delightedly Sally arranged for Kay to come out to the house for lunch and to meet me.
The first time I smelled Kay I knew that she was kind and gentle and would love me very much. I sat by her all through lunch and when she seemed to understand that cheese was my favourite and gave me some, I also knew that we would get along just fine.
For the next two years I spent long weekends at Kay’s home in Ballinteer and enjoyed expanding my territory to include large park lands and tree lined streets which as you know is every dog’s kind of heaven. I met Kay’s cats who after a little induction training left the house to me and retreated to the garden shed where they glared balefully at me whenever I was in the small back garden.
I also met Kay’s pack members during my visits including her sister and family who lived abroad and came to visit.
On one of her sister’s visits she went out one morning and did not return until the next day. When she did she had a very young and smelly human with her. I knew instinctively that it was a new puppy and that when it was being fed both it and its mother needed to be protected. I would lie across the mother’s feet while she nursed the baby and would allow no one else near her at all. When the baby was asleep in its carrier I also guarded it to ensure that it was safe. That was my job in my pack, head of security and even in young adulthood I was very aware of my responsibilities.
Kay also had a pack member who smelt of old age and warm musky smells. She wore a very long black dress and a black cloth on her head. When she first came I was a little scared as all I could see was a face peering out from under the black cloth. However, her voice was gentle and fragile and with any old pack member you must be gentle as they do not like to play games as we youngsters do.
As part of my duties to my own pack elders such as Grand Mollie, it was important to keep them warm and safe when they move around the house and gardens. I extended this courtesy to Aunty Kay’s pack members as well and at 96 years old, her aunt who had been a nun since she was twelve years old, certainly qualified. I rarely left her side and sat with my head on her lap as her hand gently stroked my fur.
They were happy days but Sally felt that Kay who refused any kind of payment for looking after me should not be put upon all the time and that perhaps we needed to find me another loving and caring foster mum to join the pack. We advertised in the local paper.
We were inundated with offers to look after me and after Sally had checked through them all she decided that we should both go to people’s homes and meet the applicants for an interview.
We conducted two and after smelling the inside of the living room of the first one we both decided that perhaps being only a young dog I might be a little too frisky for the elderly couple. Also I have to admit there were one or two strange smells that I found rather overpowering including one came from a rather full ashtray and one from a basket containing clothes in the kitchen.
The second house was close by at a place called Bettystown and was the home of Aunty Katie. Like Kay she immediately realised how important I was and as I sat with my head on her lap she got the message straight away that a drink and a treat was required.
Sally liked her and her husband too and they lived very close to the beach where I walked twice a day. Katie not only loved dogs but was passionate about owls and the house was dedicated to them in all shapes and sizes.
I was truly pampered at Aunty Katy’s house and was offered both the bedroom and a comfortable sofa to sleep on. I quickly communicated with my body and linguistic skills my needs and these were met with pleasing rapidity.
I loved both my foster mistresses and looked forward to my visits to them, leaping in the car and rushing into their homes to be greeted exuberantly which is the only way for a pack to greet each other.
I went to Katie’s every other trip and so I had two wonderful foster homes where I was pampered and spoilt.
David came home to Ireland every six weeks and we had wonderful games in the garden while he was home. Sally and I lived on our own in the meantime and this is why I have such an ability to understand the spoken word. Some people may have thought her quite mad to hold conversations with a dog but I am a very good listener and she managed to avoid talking to me in public so it was our little secret.
®sallycronin Sam, A Shaggy Dog Story 2009
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