Cave Canem is a selection of Hamish’s ruminations, several of which have appeared in The Deeside Tattler, which is the bi-monthly magazine of the Scottish episcopal churches in upper Deeside. It is edited by Aboyne-based musician and composer, Sheila Maxwell. Although Hamish died in June 2013, he lives on through his words and in our thoughts.
Apparently a sponsored walk is a “good thing”, “dog and human in partnership in a good cause” – that sort of stuff (according to Master). This may be all very well for humans – it looks very different indeed from a whippet’s perspective. Not that Master and Mistress often make that leap of imagination into the mind of a rather attractive, vaguely literate silver brindle whippet with a manly white chest and rather elegant gait. I’m talking about myself and my own mind, in case that description didn’t give you the necessary clues.
Sundays are usually notable for a couple of hours’ peace and quiet in the morning. This is our normal Sunday morning routine: Master goes out to do what he laughingly calls “singing”. Mistress disappears from our home – I don’t know where she goes. I sleep.
On the Sunday of the “sponsored walk”, or SW as I call it, things were very different.
For a start, it was a beautiful day. That in itself was notable. I don’t know about you, but I have found this winter long and tedious – cold wet walks, frozen paws and icy winds that rattle your teeth have been the order of the day here. Anyway, the sun was shining and the air felt quite warm. “Surely, surely,” I thought, “there will be no mention of SWs today. This is a day for lounging about on my garden bed, soaking up sunshine, eying up spring time rabbits. That sort of thing.”
I was bundled unceremoniously into the car bed and thrown a biscuit by Mistress to keep me sweet. Instead of going singing, Master jumped into the car as well and we all drove off. The warmth of the sun shining through the glass soon made me drowsy and I slept for what must have been at least an hour. I awoke to find we had stopped near a large reddish building. The sun was still shining, but there was a fierce wind blowing which whipped dust into my eyes as I jumped stiffly from the car bed.
Despite the dust in my eyes I found myself gazing at a visual horror show. Master and Mistress had both donned horrible purple shirts and Master was carrying a long pole. He also appeared to be wearing black glasses over his eyes – “No dust in your eyes, mate,” I thought as we ambled off through the wind to meet some of Master’s friends.
“Not so fast, Hamish.” This from Mistress who was pulling something over my head. I have spoken before about the indignity of dogs being made to wear human-imposed clothes, but this was the worst ever. Purple is not my colour, yet here Mistress was dragging a purple shirt over my manly body. The three of us – Master, Mistress and myself – looked like a nightmare in purple.
Things got a bit better as we stood around with Master’s friends. Despite my horrific clothing, these friends seemed to want to pat and stroke me – something that appeals to my sense of value and dignity as a dog.
As for the SW itself – it was long, tiring and breezy. Lots of new smells, but not a rabbit in sight.
As I say, if Master mentions SW again, I will bite his ankle – hard.
In a rut; out of a rut
A few weeks ago I was a laid-back, easy going creature – fairly lethargic, fairly dull, fairly middle-aged – ok, let’s correct that, fairly elderly. I spent much of my day asleep or gently dosing, ears alert, awaiting the happy rattling sound of meagre quantities of food being poured twice daily into my dish – I lived for those moments. Even cats and rabbits no longer held the thrill of the chase the way they once did. Life had assumed a predictable routine that remained unchanged from day to day. You might say I was stuck in a rut.
Then, one day, without warning (as is their way), Master and Mistress took me back to our old island home. Memories came flooding back. First there was the salty air, a faintly fishy smell and, above all, that rolling motion as the ship made its way across the sea. Then, as soon as we hit land, I knew that something was changing in me. There was a stiff breeze in the air, the sky seemed vast, the sun brighter and the possibilities of the huge empty beaches seemed energising and enticing.
On our first beach walk together, I leapt from the car bed, sniffed the bracing air, jumped like a puppy, gave one of my rare barks and raced off along the lovely gritty sand. There was no other dog in sight. I ran and ran and ran in a way that I thought I’d completely forgotten. I even ventured a few inches into the sea and felt the salt water cool, then chill my paws. The beach was full of new, interesting scents. That first night I slept soundly, my lungs full of sea air.
When I wakened next morning, however, my body reminded me that I was no longer a young dog. Every joint ached and it was as much as I could do to slither from my bed. Somehow, though, I didn’t care. I limped slowly beside Mistress as we took a short morning walk. Happily, the pain in my joints eased after a few days.
Of course, this couldn’t last. After a few days of beach running and fresh air, I was packed without ceremony into the car bed and whisked back to the reality of life at home – no beaches, no buffeting winds forcing salt air into my lungs, trees instead of vast skies.
But the strange thing is this: all that energy I had suddenly felt beside the sea seems to have stayed in me. I am like a young dog again – I am interested in chasing cats and rabbits (though I never catch them); when Master picks up my lead I actually want to go for walks; I have begun to indulge once more in what can only be described as adolescent behaviour. I’ve run off and hidden from Master on walks. Just yesterday, I picked up a squeaky toy that I had not played with for years, ran around my home with it making it squeak and scream until I collapsed exhausted in the kitchen bed with a satisfied smile on my face. In the background I could hear Mistress muttering that she preferred me in my semi-comatose state.
I know that Christmas is coming – I have seen the tell-tale signs, smelled the tell-tale scents, seen the tell-tale preparations for the small children who will visit us. For the first time in years I feel I have the energy to face it all – the long frosty walks, the moments of disgrace when I’ve over-excited the small children or pinched their toys, the disruption to my routine caused by the periodic invasion of humans, shouting and calling out to one another. Yes – this time I can face it all.
What has caused this magical return of energy? I have seen no similar effect on either Master or Mistress – they are as dull and predictable as ever. Whatever has caused this infusion of joy and energy, I’m eternally grateful for it. To Master and Mistress, I may seem like an annoying, restless, fidgety adolescent, but I’m revelling in it.
I’m out of that rut, and I won’t be returning to it any time soon.
I have written before of the many beds with which I am provided – car bed, kitchen bed, fireside bed and so on. These soft, warm beds are no more nor less than a whippet requires in order to maintain a reasonable level of comfort and a decent quality of life.
Of all these beds, perhaps my favourite is the car bed. There are several reasons for this, but amongst the most important is the fact that in order to persuade me to jump into the car bed, Master always provides me with a small biscuit. The car bed is also a superb place from which to observe the world slipping past, and when I tire of that, the gentle swaying allows me to sleep peacefully. Then again, there is the element of surprise. I always know where I am when I leap into the car bed; when I leap manfully out of the car bed I am usually in a different place altogether. Sometimes I am in a strange place, but always there are new and interesting scents to engage my attention. Another aspect of the car bed which pleases me greatly is the fact that I can stretch out – sprawling out to my full length while being gently rocked to sleep to the background hum of wheel on road is one of life’s great pleasures.
Thus it was, a few days ago, that Master’s call of “Walkies!” led me to believe that my car bed awaited. I was suffering from a slightly painful leg, and, if truth be told, I was not desperately keen to leap into the car bed. Nevertheless, the prospect of a small biscuit was enough to overcome the thought of jarring my leg as I leapt in. The first thing that aroused my suspicion was that the car itself seemed to have shrunk. I am used to it casting quite a dark shadow over part of our “garden”, as Master calls the area next to our home, or “outdoor convenience”, as I call it. Somehow that shadow did not seem quite as dark or quite as extensive as usual. Also, Master seemed to be a lot more excitable than normal. “Come along, Hamish, jump into your bed,” he called, leering at Mistress and holding open the door to the car bed. As usual, he tossed a small biscuit into the bed, and my automatic reaction, of course, was to jump in after it. The next thing I knew was that my head had banged against the dark wall at the back of the car bed – instead of the vast flat area of soft bed that I had become used to, there was a shrunken area of bedding and the walls of the bed now confined me in something that seemed much more like a cage than a bed.
I was not best pleased.
As we drove off I looked over the wall of the car bed in the direction of Master. Yes, there was no doubt about it. Master was now much closer to my car bed than he had ever been before. This was a completely different car, and the bed area provided for loving, faithful Hamish had been reduced to a small enclosed cage. Meanwhile, the area reserved for Master and Mistress still seemed to be much larger than they could ever need. In an attempt to underline my unhappiness to Master, I gave a short yelp and circled round and round my tail a few times before curling into the tight ball shape that I was forced to adopt in place of the comfortable sprawl that I had previously been used to when resting in the car bed.
The events I have just described happened a few days ago, and since then I have been hoping against hope each time the small biscuit was produced that I would leap into the vast, comfortable old car bed and things would revert to what they had always been.
No such luck.
What sort of living conditions are these for a silver brindle whippet with a white chest of manly proportions? Once again a huge change to my life has been imposed on me without care or consultation from Master and Mistress. I’ve said it before, and I say it now again. Why can’t humans just leave well alone? Why does there have to be this wearisome, constant change – usually for the worse? Bones and biscuits, one day they will destroy everything.
I am seriously considering my next move.
I may have to find a new Master.
The Big Splash
My big fear is water.
I know, I know. You’ve seen lots of dogs frolicking in water. I’ve seen them too. Usually those dogs are large and hairy. They make a great deal of noise, they splash about a lot, and when they come out of the water they shake themselves so vigorously that curtains of moisture cascade over everything within a hundred paw-lengths of their sodden bodies.
I wish I could be like them, so loud, splashy and carefree. There is a fast flowing river near to our home. Every morning, come rain, hail or shine, Mistress takes me for a walk along beside it. I often stare out into the river wishing that I could be the kind of dog who throws all care to the wind, rushes into the water and frolicks about. But, I just can’t. Any time I have found myself standing accidentally in water anywhere above paw depth, I simply freeze – literally and metaphorically. I stand stock still, feeling with horror the cold water soaking through my paws and filled with one desire only – to get out of that water as quickly as possible. The deepest I have ever ventured, and ventured accidentally I may say, was to a spot where a stream was rushing along at the base of my chest (white and manly). As I stood shivering, I just knew that if I went any deeper my legs would be pulled from under me with disastrous consequences for my dignity and safety. Call me a wimp of you like, but that’s my fearful, trembling relationship with water. It is a relationship well understood by Master and Mistress.
You can imagine, then, a few weeks back, when I saw Mistress filling several large containers with water, that I was certain this activity could not have anything to do with me. At the time Master appeared to be bashing his desk and staring at the screen he looks at sometimes, so clearly the water could be nothing to do with him either. It was a warm day, and I was enjoying lying on my bed in the garden watching Mistress splashing the water. I was also picking up the whiff of a rabbit somewhere nearby. I was about to stand up and investigate this scent further, when I was aware of Mistress marching towards me carrying a large cup. “Don’t mind if I do,” I thought, assuming this cup held some meagre scrapings she was about to pour into my food bowl.
Imagine my horror, then, when Mistress grabbed my collar and dragged me towards the water containers saying, “Hamish, that Dan Druff is dreadful and we’re going to do something about it.”
Without explaining who or what Dan Druff is or was, she began to rub me with a brush that was lying on the ground near the containers. I responded by cowering and struggling to escape. But Mistress, as you know, has an Iron Will and the brushing proceeded apace, while her grip tightened all the more on my collar. I glared hard at her.
Mistress now proceeded to rub my entire body with the contents of the cup, a foamy soapy substance that frothed and tickled, while she still kept that firm hand on my collar. I wriggled once more and pawed the ground in an effort to escape. This was a waking nightmare.
Worse was to come.
Before you could say “Biscuit”, Mistress had poured the lukewarm contents of one of the water containers over my foamy, frothy body. In a few seconds, I had been turned into a soaking, gasping, shivering wreck – a mere shadow of the warm contented, bunny-sniffing dog who’d been lying in the sun a few minutes earlier. The first container of water was followed by a second and then a third. All the foam that had covered my body now lay quietly popping on the ground around me. I finally broke free of Mistress’ grip, stood stock still, then shook my body vigorously from head to tail. I was delighted to see, through a mist of moisture, that at the end of this whole procedure, Mistress was almost as wet as I was.
“Don’t be such a wimp, Hamish,” she said as she rubbed me down energetically with a rough towel.
Once I’d escaped the towel I trotted off to a warm corner of the garden and gave myself a few more shakes to try to rid myself of the persistent numbing dampness that seemed to cover my entire body. “Never again,” I muttered inwardly, “will I allow myself to be fooled into undergoing such treatment.”
I barked once, and then a strange thing happened.
A tingling glow seemed to spread all over me. I felt cleansed and refreshed, energised for a new start in life. Sure, I’d come through a horrible but mercifully short experience, and the new clean Hamish who’d emerged seemed somehow fortified by these events – ready to take on the world. “Let me at those rabbits – and rivers too,” I murmured as I gave myself one final shake before heading off to see if Mistress had laid on extra food to compensate for trauma endured.
Dan Druff? Bring him on, too, whoever he is.
“Why should I give you a biscuit?”
This was the question Master asked me on his arrival home after an extensive absence recently. My reply was to sit on my hind legs, tilt my head on one side, look soulfully pleading and trust that he would interpret this body language to mean “You should give me a biscuit because I’m an irresistibly handsome dog, faithful and obedient at all times and, well, I deserve a biscuit.” Actually, I would prefer to be asked “Why would I not be given biscuit?” Asking the question the other way round, as Master did, simply hurts my brain.
But, this question did get me thinking – why, indeed, would I not be given a biscuit? I suppose I might not be given a biscuit if for some reason I was to become a less attractive dog. By “attractive” I don’t just mean my many obvious, pleasing physical attributes – manly chest, silver brindle hair, delicate white paws, etc. Obviously, they are a major part of my general charm. No, I’m thinking just as much of my appealing and pleasant nature – the sum total of my doggy personality, in other words. The more I think about this the more worried I become, for two reasons.
The first is to do with some possible loss of my physical beauty. To be blunt, I have developed a large bald patch on my right shoulder. This follows an unfortunate encounter some time ago with a rather unfriendly dog and the resulting visit to a heartless vet who shaved off a huge area of my hair in order to stitch up the wound. Both Master and Mistress assured me that my fine silver brindle hair would grow back in time. From the start, I had some doubts about this, for I notice this re-growth has never happened to Master who at some time in the past must have allowed a vet to shave some hair from the top of his head following a similar encounter. Apart from a few straggly hairs, the promised re-growth has not happened to me either, and, as a result, I feel colder, balder and definitely less handsome.
The second cause of my worry is a rather shocking insight I gained recently into my own greed.
Just before Christmas I was taking a post-lunch nap in the kitchen bed when I became aware of a gentle aroma of chocolate, which seemed to be drifting along from the direction of Master’s bedroom. There was no-one about, so I eased myself gently out of bed and trotted quietly towards the bedroom. The aroma of chocolate grew steadily stronger…. and stronger. I stuck my head round the door and crept into the room. The source of the scent seemed to be an enticing-looking parcel which was lying on the bed. It was wrapped in a thin covering of brightly coloured paper. Putting my front paws up on to the bed, I sniffed hard at it, then gradually, gradually peeled back the paper with my teeth, making a lovely rustling sound and revealing a small string bag of twinkling golden coins.
Ah, the prospect of great wealth!
I did what any dog would do in these circumstances. I tore at the golden coins until they revealed their inner chocolaty core. I had almost finished munching my way through all the coins and was about to stroll nonchalantly back to my kitchen bed, when the door burst open to reveal an enraged Mistress in full possession of her Iron Will. I need hardly spell out the resulting period of disgrace and shame which followed….and it got me into thinking about the one major fault I have as a dog, which is to be irresistibly drawn towards any food, whether it belongs to me or not. Greed, in short.
So, two worries, then, to be confronted as I live out life with my human companions – loss of beauty and loss of good character. Can anything be done about either of them? Are confronting honestly one’s physical ugliness and one’s ugliness of character an inevitable part of growing older and wiser?
I have no answer to these huge questions. Just a nagging fear that, one day, lack of dealing with these two issues properly may lead to a third, even more terrifying issue – complete loss of biscuit.