When I first started spending time in Hastings, I had a lovely black Labrador, Iggy, who was not exactly tough. The dogs of Hastings, however, were.
In fact – to tangentialize for a brief moment – just a couple of months ago three staffies off the leash went nuts in St Leonards and hospitalized twelve people.
Anyway, Iggy… I was walking by the playground on West Hill with her and let her off the leash for her customary tear about. After about two minutes I heard this thigh-squeezing yelping and she returns staggering up the hill with two staffie pups attached to her throat. Seriously.
The owner, having difficulty herself making it up the hill, due to her excellent McCurves, arrived just as I managed to prise apart the second set of mini jaws from poor, trembling, Iggy’s neck.
I imagined she was going to apologize and decided not to make a fuss. This was not, however, the message this buxom youngster wished to deliver.
‘They’ve never done that before,’ she said, accusingly, snatching the two beasts up into the tender shelter of her weighty upper arms. She cast a vengeful look at Iggy: ‘Your dog must have done something,’ she shot, turning to sail back down the hill.
It’s quite amazing how owners of vicious-looking dogs are so defensive. ‘He’d never hurt a fly,’ they say fondly of some slavering beast straining at the leash with blood-red eyes, gnashing at the void.
Now, yesterday, it was sunny here in Funchal and we took a walk along the promenade where a canine obedience training session was underway. Two guys dressed up like police with black clothes and pocketed waistcoats were herding a bunch of dog owners and their best friends around inside a fenced off area. They told them to line up in a row, dogs sitting obediently by masters’ sides, facing out to sea.
We stopped to compare the relative attractiveness of each canine. One in particular caught our eyes – a lovely, medium-sized, collie type fluffy brown dog with a foxy tail. There was an assortment of about eight dogs, a little lap dog, a Labrador pup which kept getting up and pottering around, not very obediently, and…right at a the end of the line, a huge rottweiler.
The obedience task at hand was for the owner of each dog in turn to walk it on the leash, in and out of the line of other dogs. The very worthy aim of this exercise was to stop the dog doing that really irritating stopping and sniffing at every meeting with a fellow four-legger.
A nice, well-behaved white poodle went first, led by a pony-tailed teenage girl in jeggings and a little pink top. All went well until they tentatively approached the Rottie at the end. A distinct growling was heard and the Rottie’s owner, a dapper little man with a Hercule Poirot moustache, gave Rottie’s leash a yank by way of reprimand. The Rottie stayed seated, contenting itself with giving the white pooch a dirty look and the girl and her charge circled round and skipped off, relieved, on the home run.
‘Ah, dear Rottie,’ I said fondly and we resumed our walk. ‘They’re probably fine when they’re properly trained’. Suddenly a terrible fracas broke out and the air was filled with ferocious barking and yelping. We turned back to see the Rottie in mid air with the foxy tail of our favourite brown dog clamped firmly between his jaws; poor brown dog, still attached, was being whirled around like a toy.
The policeman-like trainer grabbed the Rottie and prised open its jaws, delivering the bloodstained victim back into its owner’s hands. Now he had to prove dominion over the huge powerful beast which was baring its teeth and facing him off. With some kind of super-human strength he hurled it onto its back and, placing a knee on its chest, kept it pinned down while it struggled and growled.
The Rottie eventually surrendered, and the assistant trainer brought over a muzzle which was buckled over its throbbing jaws. The leash was tightened and the beast allowed to stand up and brush himself down. He was then returned to his owner. Now the trainer suggested the brown dog and the Rottie should be brought together again, presumably thinking the Rottie, having been subdued by man, would now be more docile.
Wrong! Once again as the brown dog tentatively approached he went beserk and nearly succeeded in breaking free from his diminutive owner’s grip, gnashing wildly despite the confines of the muzzle, eyes filled with pure hatred and violence.
Now the trainer brought an electronic device on a collar which was fastened around the psychopathic beast’s neck. Again, the two dogs were asked to approach, again Rottie went nuts…but this time he got an electric shock delivered by a complementary device in the trainer’s pocket.
The procedure was repeated until the Rottie’s frenzy upon meeting the other dog was slightly diminished as he tired of repeated electric shocks; now he retreated, skulking and growling, by his owner’s side.
The class ended and Rottie and his moustachio’d owner, along with all the other dogs and humans, dispersed. We fell into conversation with Rottie’s owner; he spoke excellent English and explained how the electric shock discipline device worked… and then came the proof that dogs and owners are the same the world over.
‘He’s usually so gentle,’ he said, patting Rottie’s chunky cranium. ‘He’s so good with children and he sits so quietly in the back of the car….’. As we gaped with horror at the idea of Rottie being anywhere near a child, Poirot turned to look accusingly at the poor brown dog, which still appeared completely traumatized by its ordeal. ‘There’s just something about that brown dog…’ he said.