Moving house has affected one member of our household more than the others. The children are fine, we are fine-in fact, we’re rather enjoying ourselves. But the dachshund-all 24 bad-tempered inches of him-is not. He’s not ill. He’s developed separation anxiety coupled with depression, which manifests itself in low-level whining and a bark or two when anybody walks past the front door.
He follows me up and down stairs and, wherever I go, there is the sound of four short legs just behind me. He reminds me of myself when I returned from a few lonely weeks in Central America many years ago. After some days at home, my mother locked herself in the bathroom and called through the door: ‘Could you just give me a few moments alone?’
The dachshund’s behaviour isn’t helping me make friends with the neighbours-or their dogs. It’s rather late in the day to take him to classes in how to socialise, but I’m considering it because our walks are fraught with tension.
The first time I wandered off to the water meadows, I took a plastic bag, happy to follow the ‘bag it, bin it’ instructions stuck on the dustbins. I should’ve taken two. Struggling with the lead, the used bag, my mobile phone and no pockets, my problems escalated when a pair of American women asked if I would photograph them outside Jane Austen’s house.
I anchored the lead with my foot, placed the bag on a nearby wall and clamped the mobile into my armpit. As I lined the ladies up in the viewfinder, I noticed that they were both in Austen-style empire-line gowns and shawls.
Watching them go, I realised I couldn’t go any further because Fletcher had given up and was lying on his back, refusing to move. I carried him towards the river, drawing amused comments from other walkers and a group of German tourists. He threw a cursory glance at a three-legged Jack Russell before growling ferociously at something enormous, which seemed to have Rhodesian ridgeback in its gene pool. Hauling him away, I wondered if I should invest in a muzzle.
All small children (of whom he is terrified and to whom he is therefore foul) want to stroke him. ‘He’s not very nice,’ I apologise, pulling him away. ‘He looks nice,’ comes the response. ‘I know, but he’s not nice,’ I repeat, increasingly worried that he’ll snap at the little hand coming towards him. Every walk has the same soundtrack: ‘He’s got small dog syndrome,’ I say, hurrying to the other side of the path when another dog approaches.
I finally did try a muzzle, but he just lay on the floor and refused to be seen outside the house in it.
We attempt another walk and, initially, his tail is up, rather dog about town. But the cars terrify him, bicycles unnerve him and the tail goes down. He doesn’t consider pavement to be a suitable medium for anything that needs doing.
Halfway round the water meadows-a circuit we usually achieve in a half-dragging, half-carrying manoeuvre-we bump into a friend also walking her dog. I begin to warn her, but she assures me her dog is so low in the pecking order of pack life that no dog bothers to attack him. And she’s right. Fletcher ignores him.
A man is sitting on the wall, dangling his fishing rod into the water, enjoying the early-evening sun. Our backs are turned to him as we continue our gossip. My friend assures me that I will soon be making friends with the other dog-walkers. I don’t agree, but I’m enjoying the neighbourliness of the moment. ‘Cheers,’ says the fisherman and we turn towards him, not detecting the note of sarcasm. ‘Your dog has just cocked his leg on me.’
This is a new low in bad manners and I’m about to berate Fletcher when I realise that he’s not the perpetrator. My friend is busy apologising and I drag Fletcher away to hurry home, spelling out dachshund in my head. Somehow, it keeps coming out as Schadenfreude.