Charlie the Cocker has always been a bit OCD. Change (no matter how minor) disturbs him to the point of distress. His bed has to be in the right place. Feeding times must be rigid and we get a wet-nose poke if we forget it’s supper time. His walk ‘around the block’ on work days has to be in one direction, anti-clockwise, or he plants his paws and refuses to move. Every time he’s in the garden he has to complete his perimeter patrol, just to check if his arch-enemy (an aggressive, songbird-murdering black cat) has been on his patch. The cat’s usual hiding place is under a huge, out- of-control Viburnum and Charlie feels it his duty to the ‘flush’ the shrubbery every time he steps into the garden. Alas, Covid-19 lockdown has been tough on poor Charlie. If we’re all going insane being confined to barracks for a while, spare a thought for your dog, too. Charlie’s life has just been turned upside down, just like yours and mine.
I’m actually in week three of my self-isolation. Grounded by my employer due to my ‘underlying health conditions’, which I don’t believe even worth describing here. For the first two weeks, I was ‘working from home’. Very productively, too. Then I was put on ‘furlough’, like many. Lucky enough to be working for an outfit that moved swiftly to join the Chancellors ‘Government Employment Retention Scheme’. My first reaction to being told to stop work but still get 80% pay was ‘Yippee!’ It didn’t take long, though, to understand that this wasn’t a ‘holiday’ offer. The ‘lockdown’ announcement on March 23rd nailed that home … excuse the pun. So did subsequent advice from HMG, BASC and the police. A week later (to my relief), my wife’s employers finally got the message and asked her to work from home. For Charlie the Cocker, who has always exhibited separation anxiety, this should be a dream come true surely? Twenty four hour / seven day company!
Dogs have superb memory and associative intelligence. The only time Charlie would normally experience such a collective gathering would be weekends and holidays. He quickly deduced this was something different. We weren’t packing bags, stowing fishing gear and food or even going out to the vehicles. He knew something was wrong and did that thing that worried canines do. He attached himself to my ankles, metaphorically speaking. Everywhere master goes, so does his dog, and still does now. Guarding me? Worried that he is going to be abandoned? Who knows. What I do know is that the dog had picked up on the occasional negative, stressed ‘vibes’ that Master and Mistress were unwittingly emitting.
Things have got worse for Charlie. Like all sensible ‘recreational shooters’ I haven’t attempted to visit my shooting permissions. Some of my land-owners are so remote that to bring Covid-19 to their doorstep would break my heart. Rabbit, squirrel, corvid, pigeon and fox control. Compared to threat to human life? Definitely not essential. Which has naturally left me with a huge hole in my ‘raison d’etre’.
Now don’t get me wrong. I love my garden. I just happen to hate ‘gardening’! It’s like taking penance before enjoying the sin. Faced with no ‘work’, a wife slaving away at her computer and a dog crawling around my ankles, I decided to tackle a project which I had avoided for two years. I ripped out the overgrown, out-of-control shrubbery. It was hard, physical work and kept me occupied for three days. Not just cutting out the intertwined shrubs but also in reducing the ‘waste’ to shreds small enough to fit into my garden waste bin. It was a bit like undoing a ten thousand piece jigsaw. The perfect antidote to boredom. The only things I left intact were the budding Magnolia and the bottom stumps of the Viburnum. Unfortunately, however, it has left Charlie apoplectic. I swear he looked like he was going to cry as he watched his homeland ‘scrub’ being dismantled.
In a rare moment when I took my eye off the ball (the ball being Charlie) I returned to the bare patch to find the Cocker half way down a huge hole between stump and tree.
“Are you digging your own grave, boy !!!” I roared at him.
Charlie jumped from the excavation, barked at me and ran around the garden jumping picket fences and dodging between my legs. He did that scatty Cocker thing where he rolled around on the grass in front of me then splayed out all four legs and did a 360o shuffle. He stopped facing me, tongue lolling, eyes flaring. Daft bugger. Charlie came to us as a kind of ‘rescue’ when the Father-in-law died. He and I have enjoyed a chequered relationship, as I insist on total obedience from a dog. His escapology and anarchy preceded his arrival. Too unruly for the hunting field, he has never accompanied a gun since his old Master passed away.
It wasn’t until the next day that I realised what a favour the crazy Cocker had done. Not only had he exposed the underground mesh of Viburnum suckers that would have come back to haunt me if not extracted. He had also dug up all the sub-surface cat-scats left by his nemesis. Good boy, Charlie!
And of course, like many dogs over the past two weeks, his paws are sore. I’m taking our walk in morning. My insistence on varying route and direction has become a battle occasionally. Charlie knows how to plant his paws and just add dead weight to the end of the lead. Like a new pup on its first leashed walks. Thankfully I’ve won every battle so far. The wife is taking her exercise in the evening, so he gets a second option. We’re keeping an eye on his pads, of course.
Yet, in these strange days of self-isolation and restriction, I’ve been impressed with old Charlie’s concern for us. I reckon he will sense if we’ve got the virus before we know it. (OK. I’m going to admit it. I love the old bugger really.)
I’m sure many of you are experiencing similar issues with your own dogs. We’ve a long time to go yet before things return to normal. Give some thought to how it’s effecting your dogs and help them adapt.
It’s going to be a pleasant weekend. Stay local, take your hours exercise but please don’t leave home for anything but essential reasons. Be safe.
Copyright, Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, April 2020