|Benji and Boots|
Boots the English shepherd may be adorable, but he is eating us out of house and home.
It’s not the amount of food he eats, though that’s pretty impressive. Our two spaniels stare in admiration and jealousy as he chomps through shovelfuls of “large puppy” kibble. Large puppy? He’s nine months old, and the size of a pony.
Our problem is that Boots is rather partial to the kitchen itself.
It started with the skirting board – he brought us wood shavings as presents when he was tiny. Soon whole sections of joinery were being nibbled away.
As he grew, he moved onto walls (he is very keen on newly painted plaster). Meanwhile, he has consumed four rugs, several chair legs, and this month chewed the carpet off the stairs.
Brand new stair carpet, it was. Beige. Our stair carpet now starts on the third rung.
This has rather taken the edge off our property-selling plans. When people come to see the house, instead of showing off our brand new designer kitchen, we try to distract them from the destruction.
“He’s only a puppy,” says Jo, as we open the door to guests.
“He’s really pleased to see you”, we laugh in unison, as the beast plonks giant paws on potential buyers’ shoulders.
“Off, Boots!” Jo commands sternly.
“Yeah, sure”, says Boots disdainfully, as he licks a complete stranger’s forehead.
The English shepherd breed died out in Britain a century ago, and was only recently reintroduced here. There are plenty in America, where everything is bigger and bouncier. They’re like large handsome collies, with long, soft coats, gorgeous brown eyes and big carpet-chewing teeth. They love herding sheep, cows, ducks and 4-year-olds.
He and Izzy are inseparable. He follows her wherever she goes. It’s cute to see her buried in his fur as the two of them watch Peppa Pig together.
Apart from their companionship, loyalty and intelligence – they make great mountain rescue dogs – Boots never gets wet or dirty. After a walk in a rainstorm through a muddy field, one quick shake dislodges all moisture and mud. When he’s being particularly naughty, I tell him he’d make a great fur coat.
Last weekend we reunited Boots with his brother Benji. Jo is part of a Facebook group where several English shepherd owners discuss chewed carpets together.
One family was visiting Northumberland, so we invited them for tea.
It was incredible to see the Boots lookalike jumping out of a car and onto my shoulders.
“Off, Benji!” shouted two voices in unison, and there were his jolly owners.
Benji ignored them completely and carried on licking my nose.
I have never seen Boots so excited. All afternoon he and Benji chased each other round the garden, with the spaniels in hot pursuit, while Izzy bounced on the trampoline with the couple’s children. It seemed churlish to part them all, so we invited our new friends to stay for supper.
Then we encountered a problem. There was almost nothing in the fridge, apart from a few lamb steaks and Tesco sausages. Which would have been fine, except that we discovered that our guest had got through to the advanced rounds of Masterchef, gave cookery demonstrations at country shows and owns a gourmet sausage-making company called Big Sizzle, which has just won some big Taste award.
Somehow I didn’t think Tesco sausages would cut the mustard. So we raided the garden.
While the kids bounced, the wives chatted about dog treats, and the dogs carried on racing, Simon the chef and I spent two glorious hours picking, chopping and mixing.
We made vegetable soup and purees, and vegetables with grilled vegetables. After such a hot summer, there’s an abundance of everything. We cooked and ate for England.
Later on, we suddenly thought: where are the dogs? There were the four animals, curled up together. Our bouncy Tigger of a dog was completely exhausted.
“That’s it,” said Jo, “maybe we should get another English shepherd for Boots to play with”.
I turned towards the staircase, with its sad carpetless treads. I looked at the gaping holes in the wall and the half-eaten rugs.
“Maybe not,” I said firmly.