DOG TAILS 7: BAD DOG
The only time Mac ever wilfully disobeyed me was down to lust. We were walking through the tourist honey pot of Padley Gorge on a hot August Bank Holiday, people everywhere. Mac said hello to a bitch that must have been on heat, for he turned and followed. I called him back but he ignored me. I strode towards him and spoke authoritatively, which got his attention but little in the way of obedience. The balloon coming out of his mouth said “A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.” The balloon coming out of my mouth said “Yeah, right, like he’s really going to stand by and let you shag his dog.” Mac trotted off up the gorge and disappeared amongst the throng. I could have run after him, brandishing the old school tie, but sod him, I thought.
It was lunchtime, anyway, so I found a spot in the shade and ate my sandwich. He reappeared twenty minutes later and walked straight up to me. We humans will never appreciate the strength of the senses that allow a dog to unerringly pick out its master amongst hundreds of moving people. His face and demeanour said it all. The mission had been a failure and he was expecting a slap. I was so relieved to see him I didn’t have the heart. I made my point with sarcasm instead. ‘Next time, take flowers.’
Every so often you hear on the news about dog walkers trampled to death by a herd of cows. In every case the herd are attacking the dog to protect their young. This happened to us in Chatsworth Park. Approaching the herd, I slipped on the old school tie, but as soon as they attacked I yanked it off and it was every man and dog for himself. I hate to think what the outcome would have been if a party of elderly ramblers had not just reached the gate twenty yards ahead of us.
‘Come on, run,’ they shouted.
Mac got there first, weaving his way through the thrashing legs. The walking group yanked open the gate to let him through. I was bumped a couple of times, but managed to remain on my feet and reach the gate. The group slammed it shut as the cows crashed into it. Mercifully, it was a sturdy metal five-bar gate between drystone walls and withstood the battering. Don’t know about Mac, but I was shaking like a leaf. It was a good few minutes before I felt able to continue.
Cows still pressed against the gate, bellowing with rage, plumes of angry breath snorting from their nostrils. Someone said they wouldn’t move until the dog left, so I gave them my heartfelt thanks once more and we left. The path was arrow straight and rose gently for several hundred yards to the top of a rise. I kept looking back, but the cows were still congregated against the gate. It had been at least fifteen minutes. I knew and the walkers knew they were never going to get through that gate today. One or two even shook their fists at us the last time I turned round.
As you will have seen from the photos, Mac was undeniably cute. When sunlight gave a deep rufous red sheen to his coat (the normally invisible brown hairs mingled with the black) he looked stunningly beautiful. Intelligent, even tempered and good with people of all ages, he was also independent, streetwise and able to look after himself. The tolerance he showed to female dogs did not, though, extend to males. Other dogs were allowed one mutual sniff and that’s all. Unless he was in the mood for play or had nothing better to do, dogs got short shrift. A warning growl was usually enough.
Two occasions when things got out of hand are worthy of mention. Walking through a farmyard, he was approached by two other Border collies, man and wife. They clearly resented the intrusion. Whilst the husband squared up to Mac head on and held his attention, the wife nipped round the back and bit him (typical woman). Mac went ballistic, totally lost it, and went for them like a demon. They ran for their lives.
The house was eighty yards away, the front door open. Mac chased them inside. A short hallway led to a central staircase with passageways either side. A woman appeared from a room on the left, drying her hands on a towel. From upstairs came the sound of growls, yelps, thumps and bangs. ‘What the hell?’ she said, looking up the stairs.
‘Your dogs just attacked mine,’ I told her, ‘He wasn’t very pleased.’
A wardrobe flew out of the window. (It didn’t really, it just sounded like it might.)
‘I don’t have any dogs,’ the woman said.
‘Oh,’ was all I could think of to say.
The woman, quite sensibly, clearly had no intention of going up to investigate, so I shouted a couple of times. Mac appeared at the top of the stairs. ‘Get down here,’ I ordered. Inside the bubble, as he passed the shocked woman, it said “You might need a mop and bucket, and a trip to Ikea.”
Thirty years on, I now live close to where this incident occurred. The house is even on the route of one of the walks in my book, “Walking South Yorkshire”. Every time I pass I can’t help but smile as the memory comes back.
A Staffordshire bull terrier lived directly across the road from us. As is the way with dogs, because Mac had lived there longest, he had territorial supremacy. It’s kind of an unwritten law. Whenever they met, Mac would mock charge, only for a yard or two, and the Staffy would turn away. It’s a bit like arm wrestling your boss. For the sake of a quiet life, you deliberately let him win, even though you know you can beat him. Yes, you feel resentment, but rules are rules.
After about three years of this, the Staffy found an opportunity of turning the tables and hatched an extremely cunning plan. Guests were staying and they had a dog, a big lad who looked like he could handle himself and wouldn’t back away from a fight. Staffy explained that Mac came out of the house with his master at about 7am every morning on a weekday. “This morning, when Mac charges me, I will attack. As soon as I do, you appear round the corner of the house and back me up. Two of us charging straight at him will force him to run back into the house like a scared Pekinese, thus establishing me as top dog. Do you understand?” His mate nodded.
Everything went to plan, except instead of turning tail Mac kept coming. Meeting head-on in the middle of the road, Staffy’s courage failed him and at the last second he swerved to his right out of the way. Thankfully, the front gates next door had been left open otherwise Staffy would have demolished them. With Staffy out of the way, Mac saw his mate and went for him instead. The visitor stopped dead in his tracks and a bubble appeared. “This wasn’t supposed to happen.” He turned tail and fled.
This exchange wasn’t exactly silent. All three dogs were barking and I was yelling at Mac. On his way back he passed the skulking Staffy and told him the score, very loudly. At this point I noticed a twitching bedroom curtain at the house next door. In fact, faces were peering from between the curtains at every house on both sides of the road for as far as I could see. You can either wave and smile or look down at the ground and hurry off. I chose the latter.
The simmering feud came to a head a year later. Enough was enough, and Staffy eventually plucked up the courage to attack. For me, looking on helplessly, it was like watching a slow motion replay. Mac stood his ground and waited. At the last second, just as Staffy sprang, he tensed and did something which totally knocked my socks off. In exactly the same way he headed a football, Mac launched himself upwards with his back legs and delivered a perfect Glasgow kiss, smashing into Staffy’s pug nose with his forehead. Staffy recoiled with glazed eyes. In a split second Mac reached down, grabbed him by the throat and twisted. Staffy rolled onto his back and Mac pinned him down. They looked like lovers in the missionary position. Struggle as he might, Staffy was completely helpless. I stood there watching in relief and total admiration until the fight went out of Staffy and he gave up. Sensing victory, Mac let go and pulled away. Staffy went home in disgrace. For a thirteen year old cripple against a dog bred to fight it was a sensational performance. Real David and Goliath stuff.
I thwarted the next attack with a well aimed kick in the chest (which nearly broke my foot), witnessed by Staffy’s mistress. That, I can tell you, led to the most vicious argument I’ve ever had with anybody. We didn’t speak to one another for five years. A week later Staffy attacked a passing dog on a lead and bit the woman owner when she tried to intervene. The police were called. I don’t know what happened to him but the next day Staffy was gone, never to be seen again. Mac was able to live out his old age in peace.