Saturday, September 11, 2010

Walking the dog hurts my throat.

It’s official. Walking the dogs hurts my throat.

I’ve just come back from a walk around the neighbourhood with my two dogs and my throat is raw. Now I’ve always loved going for walks in the area I live in. It seems to ground me as I enjoy the season’s changes in the gardens around me. For a while, though, my silly Springer spaniel wasn’t very good at walking down roads. She has a nervous disposition and would leap in fright at most passers-by and noisy trucks. Once she even knocked me onto a busy road in her terror. So for a few years I’d load her and my parents’ Maltese into the back of my car and drive to the racecourse next door. Walking around there was less stressful but the resultant slobber in the car made me reluctant to offer any humans a lift later.

And psychologically it just felt wrong to drive so that I could go for a walk.

Then a short while ago I devised a cunning plan. If I put my slightly silly Spaniel on a lead and asked my strong older son to take control of her, we could revert to walking out of the garden gate without a road-trip first. It all seemed so simple.

Our first expeditions were lovely. As the sun began to set my son would tell me about the latest events in his favourite Japanese animation; he’d keep me up to date with the Formula 1 rankings and also kept me well informed about La Liga, the Spanish equivalent of the Premier League. Obviously we’d have a chorus of barking from dogs behind bars as we passed through the neighbourhood but we’d zone them out until we were hardly aware of them.

That was until the people with the biggest Alsation on the planet decided to drive their 4 by 4 out of the driveway. As we walked past. We were oblivious to the danger at first as it was already quite dark. Suddenly, a form as silent and deadly as a trained Ninja swept out of their gates and went straight for my silly Spaniel’s jugular.

Now I’ve been in situations like this before. And I know my National Geographic too. I’ve learned that you have to become the alpha animal in this scenario, asserting yourself above the level of the crazed-attack-mode killer dog. So to head the dog off at the pass, I screamed at the attacker with the greatest authority and volume that I could muster, while placing a well-aimed kick at the dog’s slavering head. The dog yelped in shock and quickly released its hold on my Spaniel. For good measure I aimed another kick to knock even more sense into him. Then I continued to shout at the dog to Remove! Itself! And! Get! Back! Inside! The cowed dog whimpered as it slunk back into the gates. That was the moment the owner stepped down from his chariot and swaggered towards us. “The trick is not to panic,” he told me, with an ‘aren’t-women-silly?’ smile. I don’t usually like being patronised. Especially after I’ve just raised my adrenaline to Fight or Flight levels. And especially when said patroniser was safely ensconced in his giant 4 by 4 when his dog was about to turn a suburban street into a blood bath. Still in alpha-animal mode I screamed at him that I would stop screaming at his dog when it stopped attacking mine. He looked stunned. I did not care. But I did have a very sore throat.

Fast forward to last night when my son and I walked the dogs again. Two giant Ridgebacks, bred to hunt lions mind you, were wandering outside their owners’ house while said owners were warmly tucked inside watching TV and drinking wine. I’m imagining those details, you understand, but their situation was definitely more cosy than mine, eyeballing two killer dogs in ‘let’s- have-lunch’-mode.
Afterwards I consoled myself that at least I must be a good teacher. As the largest Ridgeback launched itself at our tiny Maltese and mouth-bred-for-retrieving Spaniel, my son used his best soccer skills to kick some sense into the hell-bent animal. When the owners finally shook themselves awake and came to open their electric gate, I didn’t leave anything to chance. Like Ahmed the Tiny Terrorist I yelled “I will KEEEL YOU!” to the dogs until they cowered back inside like frightened Chihuahuas. The owners looked at me in shock. I love animals more than most, but a ravenous dog in killer mode isn't an animal I'd entertain in any way.

We walked back to our house with adrenaline levels higher than a first-time skydiver’s and I thought I’d have to be better equipped on our following walk. Next time I must take cough sweets along to ease my aching throat.

First Published in The Sunday Independent on 12 September 2010.