Sunday, April 3, 2011

It's A Dog's Life

As Mabel stood sniffing at the strange room, Truffle stared up at me with disbelief. This was the forbidden land: no dog had ever crossed this portal. Was it a trick? No, instead of shouting at them to get out, I was beckoning them in.

For three years they’d been consigned to the cold tiles of our kitchen floor – now here was a thick pile carpet and a sofa they’d never seen before. It was soft to the paw and, even better, there was human food: a constant supply of tidbits dropping from Izzy’s chair. So this was life behind the white door, the Narnia where the humans went at night. What on earth had happened?

What happened was the builders. Like distant Australian cousins who drop in unannounced and outstay their welcome in the first afternoon, they’re now entering their second month of works. What started as a simple new door into the garden has turned into a major redevelopment. You know what it’s like: someone with a hammer walks in and you immediately find them something to knock down: in our case three-foot-wide walls, ceilings and floors. As a result, half our house is completely covered in rubble and dust, not even fit for dogs.

So, for the first time, the dogs have crossed the mud barrier. The very first thing we learnt, on moving here from Los Angeles, was that the principal crop of the Northumbrian countryside is mud. There are acres of it, waiting to be carried on boots, tummies, paws and tails. It’s bad enough on human shoes – it’s impossible to get from car to front door without bringing in a sample – but for the dogs, it’s a permanent appendage.

We bought Mabel as a golden working cocker spaniel, and, once a month, for a few brief moments following the visit of the Dial-A-Dog-Wash van, she reverts to her true colour. For the rest of the time she bears an underbelly of brown-caked muck. At least you know it’s there. Her sister Truffle is the colour of her name: you’ve no idea how dirty she is until she jumps up on your newly washed jeans. The fox poo is even deadlier: you can’t see it through the mud on their backs, but its sweet pungency can linger on a jumper for weeks.

That’s why we established a no fly zone for our dogs: an impenetrable border in the middle of the house, where kitchen ends and civilisation begins. To them it was a door to nowhere: we never showed them the other side because we thought they’d be upset to know what they were missing.

Of course, what they’re experiencing now is nothing like our normal existence. We aren’t usually crammed into one room that combines kitchen, sitting room, nursery, dining area and dog kennel. In one corner there’s a microwave and a micro fridge, a baby changing mat, three sets of cutlery and crockery, a lot of red wine and a big bag of dog food. It’s like camping: we’ve been living on ready meals and yoghurt. Dog heaven has been a month of hell for us.

But now they’re learning two major life lessons: be careful what you wish for, and be content with your lot. With all of us trapped in one room, and the garden out of bounds because of builders’ rubble, Izzy has found a new way to amuse herself, while the dogs have discovered that there’s no escape from a two-year-old.

Right now all three of them are sitting in the dog cage and Izzy is playing “This Little Piggy Went To Market” with their paws. I’ve never seen such miserable looking mutts. Their eyes are pleading with me to take them back through the white door to their nice dusty kitchen. Don’t worry girls, only another fortnight to go.

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