Despite a short holiday in Kent, our dog Ollie is happiest at home. He misses the river, and his familiar circuit around Beetley Meadows, the woods, or Mill Lane. He misses the scent trails of deer, moles, rabbits, and squirrels, and the remembered aromas of his best friends. I could take him to the same place every day, for the rest of his life, and he would be happy. He doesn’t need pastures new, trips to the seaside, or visits to old and interesting places. He is a creature of habit, and that habit suits him down to the ground. When we got home last week, and I took him across to the meadows, he scampered off as excited as the first time he ever went out. It was a pleasure to see him so enthusiastic and happy.
He misses his friends. Since his first foray into the bigger world outside of our house, he has sought the company of other dogs. Luckily, a group of us tend to walk our dogs at the same time, in the late afternoon, so he is usually guaranteed to have some company, at least during weekdays. At times, there can be up to eight of us walking the circuit, all the different dogs running around together, enjoying the short time as a pack, their instinct telling them that this is the natural way. Each dog has its routines, its place in the hierarchy, and its preferred method of play. Some avoid the water, most plunge in happily. Some swim well and enthusiastically; others, like Ollie, just wade. If there is nobody around when we get over there, Ollie will constantly scan the most-used entrances, desperate to see one of the gang arriving. At times, he will actually cry, until another pal appears. As soon as he scents the familiar smell, or sees the owner in the distance, he will tear off towards them, all cares forgotten.
They are an-ill matched group on first sight. Ollie all wrinkles and curly tail, tiny Toby the Jack Russell, a relentless ball of energy, accomplished catcher of anything, and lover of balls or sticks. Oban, the slim, shy black Labrador. Gentle-natured, a little afraid of strange dogs, but always pleased to run with his friends. He is never happier than when he is carrying a huge stick, preferably at the rear of the group, occasionally tantalising the others with it, then running off before they can grab it. He is most definitely Ollie’s best friend, and they are very happy to stay at each other’s houses, or walk together all day. Big Spike, the Rhodesian Ridgeback, though younger than all the others, towers above them, in height and strength. He can knock Toby over with ease, and if he wants a stick or a ball, he always gets it. And keeps it. Ollie tries to dominate the youngster, and if you didn’t know better, you would think that they were fighting. But their tails are wagging; it is just rough play.
This core trio of the gang are often joined by Bruno, the black Pug. He is a great character, snuffling along, fighting for breath, tiny legs that won’t allow him to keep up with the others. So small, he can pass underneath Spike, he is as tough as the others really. At least in his own mind. Buddy the black terrier will usually be around. He is ball-obsessed, and has no interest in walking around with the others. They might get his ball. Buster is a Lhasa Apso with attitude. Smartly-trimmed, alert and ready for action, he has decided he doesn’t like Ollie. As his owners give Ollie small treats, Buster gets jealous, and very grumpy. He doesn’t mind smaller dogs, but he is not happy around the larger animals. So, he doesn’t join in, but he is usually there, to be quickly sniffed, and checked out by the others. Big Rocky, the Newfoundland cross, is a huge dog. He has a nice nature, and loves to play with the others. He can flatten Ollie with one paw, and often does. Unfortunately, he was a rescue dog, so cannot be let off his lead. Nonetheless, he manages to play remarkably well, on a long extension. Bracken the Springer doesn’t concern herself too much with the gang. She is too busy putting up pheasants, and other wildfowl, her instincts overriding any desire to play.
Ozzie the Bedlington, and Millie the Spaniel are always walked together. Their owners are friends, and usually appear towards the end of our walk. Millie loves strokes and fuss, and she has the most wonderfully soft wrinkly ears. Unfortunately, Ozzie has issues with constant barking, and after a while, he can set your ears ringing. Sometimes, he has to wear a special collar that his owner ‘buzzes’, to stop his incessant yaps. Little Lola, the tiny and gorgeous heart-breaker of the group. She is a Shih Tzu, with adorable eyes, a soft curly coat, and a love of strokes and cuddles. The boys are very interested in her of course, but she lets them know when their attentions are not welcome, with a snarl and a snap. There are many others. The twin Poodles, the two Shelties, bad-tempered Duncan the retriever; once a friend, now aggressive and lonely. New arrivals are frequent. Spock the Alsatian pup, only fourteen weeks old, ready for anything. The nasty terrier, owned by a family recently moved to the area. So angry, it cannot be let off the lead, and snarls and screams at every other dog, from 200 yards away. Poppy the Patterdale, all jumping and friendly, loves everyone, and every dog too.
We have lost some over the years sadly. Barley the Spaniel, who had to be put to sleep after suffering arthritic hips. The little Westie, savaged and killed by a rogue greyhound. Gem, the blind Labrador, moved away to Birmingham, and old Max the Jack Russel, who lived with Toby, finally reaching the end of a long and happy life. Some have to be avoided at all costs. The aforementioned greyhound, now always muzzled. Billy the Terrier, so aggressive he will bite any dog. Stan the Spaniel, who decides who he does and doesn’t like, and attacks accordingly. Generally though, it is a happy gang, and Ollie is sure that it is his gang. We won’t tell him otherwise.