Almost three years to the day since Horse temporarily adopted us, a dog arrived on the scene. It’s a puppy, male, whose tail has been docked (or otherwise lost), and who has wiry ginger and white hair. He’s a few months old. He was spotted by our neighbours looking hungry, and they gave him food and a welcome. Their own dog, a large, super-hairy, over-affectionate Alaskan Malamute, adored the new small dog. The Malamute shows his love to adult humans with a weighty ‘lean’, for which you need to be prepared and stand full square, and to a puppy by, essentially, crushing it. From under a mass of white and grey husky fur, the puppy would re-emerge and re-inflate quite happily, then go back for more.
We are ever in two minds about having a dog. Estrela’s puppies are ready for taking now, but we have held back. It’s a commitment, a responsibility, a tie, and I have never owned a dog. What do you do with a dog, apart from walk it? Here dogs often live outside and walk themselves. We are not, however, in two minds about the dog’s name. The name ‘Crocker’ is just waiting to be taken up. This is not so much for the love of the name itself – though it is a cool name – as for the way Kojak would shout it across his desk to attract the attention of his side-kick. So any dog we ever get will be called Crocker.
Our neighbours named the puppy ‘Crocker’. They started to train him. He learned very quickly. He would sit on command and started answering to his name. The day after turning up, Crocker made his way over to us. He drank from the water butt. I gave him an unfinished restaurant dinner I’d brought back in tin foil and he ate the lot: the meat, the potatoes, the orange rind. He stayed with me in the garden while I chopped olive branches for kindling; then did the same when Husband came home. We both had the experience of thinking he’d gone, only to find that he was so closely attached to our heels he could no longer be seen. He was like a shadow.
I switched the irrigation on. Crocker got very excited by the squeaking noise the water made as it exited a hole in the hose. He dug deeply, getting his paws wet, and pulled out the roots of some wild mint, which he placed to one side. This dog is a hunter, no doubt about that. Not so much a dog as a hound. He looks like a Portuguese hunting hound, the Podengo I believe it’s called, except that instead of the distinctive cone-like ears of that breed – rather threatening, I find – he has soft spaniel ears. That night he went home to our friends, his bed a comfy cardboard box with a blanket lining.
Day two. Having recently completed a piece of work for a publisher in London, I was entirely free. I could allow myself a day in the garden. The sun shone from a bright blue December sky. Five minutes after I heard our neighbours’ car leaving, came the sound of paws on gravel. Crocker came over. We went for a walk. How sweet it is to tread in the footsteps of a dog. When he wasn’t just in front of me, he was just behind, or he’d run off for a ferocious sniff of something then return to heel. This dog has a professional approach to sniffing; he’s a connoisseur. He inhales, then snorts, as though to maximise the spread of the odour across his olfactory cells. Either that or he’s allergic.
For the rest of the day he settled down to watch me – keenly, I might add, occasionally half shutting his eyes but never fully switching his attention off. I gave him bits of biscuity bread to chomp but he’d been well fed and, instead of eating them, he hid them in secret places for later.
So that’s what you do with a dog. You just be. I think I fell in love with this hound.
Our neighbours’ car returned. They have first dibs on Crocker, although I strongly suspect they saw us as having more long-term potential to give the dog a home.
They gave me the bad news straight away. The dog has owners. They’ve been looking for him. He’s a great little hunter and they want him back. As we were talking, they arrived. Two burly, stout men in a red car with a sun-scorched bonnet and a back seat full of dogs: two Podengos with cone ears, and one, a bitch with pendulous teats, more like a cocker spaniel. She got out of the car and Crocker greeted her, but he was otherwise in no hurry to join the gang. He didn’t answer to the men’s calls, so one of them climbed out, grabbed Crocker and hurled him in the car. The two men grinned broadly, reversed up our drive then drove off, happy to get their precious hound back. The image that stays in my mind is of Crocker’s little face in the rear window of the car, looking back at the heaven he’d found.
There’s no point in being sentimental. This is a hound, who earns his living by hunting and probably gets chained up when he’s not at work. Given his propensity to escape, he almost certainly does get chained up, or will do from now. He won’t get the cuddles and the affection he had from us over the past two days. That’s not how Portuguese hunting dogs live, however impossibly sweet-natured they are.
What I want for Christmas is . . . a river. Ours is still dry, unheard of so late in the season. We have water in our well, but the river is a desert. And maybe one day to feel able to take on a dog . . .
Boas festas. A merry Christmas and a new year of happiness and health for everyone.