Every kennel has its Oldest Inhabitant. In Sirís, apart from myself this distinction has been held for the last twelve years by BRUTUS, a spherical, evil tempered Papillon with one eye. He was our third but he was the one that started the whole damned dog thing by winning a rosette at a limit show. Convinced by this that we had the next Crufts Grand Champion we immediately entered him (in every possible class) for the Combined Canine Club Show, making sure on the day to join the club so as to qualify for all the extra prizes. Anyway, Brutus waddled fatly around the ring, snarled at the Judge and crapped on the floor. I a class of three I think he got fifth, or it might have been withheld, I canít remember.
Sir, who is much more tolerant of dogs than of husbands and similar low life, forgave him on the basis of his Hard Life, which in fact he has had. He spent his youth getting inhaled by Labradors, which, reasonably enough, did little for his good temper (or ours, especially when the owner of one of the assassins, who had not only swallowed and regurgitated the unfortunate Brutus, but had also tried to bury him under a tree, came to the door and complained that our dog had nipped his dogís ear).
Shortly afterwards, Brutus was unwise enough to irritate a passing Doberman. When we took the remains to the Vet he injected them with Cortisone Ė An excellent idea, except that he omitted to read the label on the bottle and administered a dose more suited to a cow than a toy dog, so that Brutus swelled up like a balloon with legs and never went down again. He was not only short tempered but round. (Like me).
By now we had already acquired Alice, the Boxer, I have already told you about Brutusí lonely passion for Alice, how when she was in heat he would climb on a chair and wait for her to pass by, whereupon he would launch himself into space in hopeless lust, slide slowly and pathetically down Aliceís huge smooth rump and hobble miserably away. His unconsummated love for Alice did not, however, extend to her son, Honky Cat. The stupidest Boxer in the world, whom he disliked as much as Honky disliked him. And of course one day when Sir was elsewhere (probably on the bloody phone) he jumped up and bit Honky on the knee, so Honky inserted his lower incisors efficiently into Brutusí right eye and crunched.
Spherical, evil tempered and one-eyed, Brutus was sentenced to live out his long and complicated life on the other side of a chain-link fence from Honky. (Is it a common experience that people who breed dogs breed fences? My house looks like the outside of Portlaoise!) And there he would sit day after day, glaring balefully through his remaining eye as his enemy went about dreaming of new ways to torment him. Chief among these were Honkyís persistent attempt at a revenge mating with one of Brutusí harem of Papillon bitches. Few things in life are as ridiculous as the sight of a full grown Boxer trying to manipulate a Papillon into a compromising position. Itís like watching a film of a chipmunk working on a nut, but Brutus never seemed to see the joke.
Last month Minnie the Bernese Mountain, tore a hole in the fence, possibly in an attempt to get upwind of one of her own internal explosions. Brutus got in. His eye blazing with hatred he launched his rotund body into the deadly assault he had been planning for two years. I was in the kitchen with the Dragon Lady when we heard the commotion. By the time we got to the battlefield it was all over, and poor Brutus covered in blood and plainly dead, was the centre of a boisterous tug of war between Honky and the other big dogs. Even with the energetic use of the poop scoop on all concerned it took some time to recover the body. I picked up the limp little round bundle and held the muzzle to the window to check for breath. Nothing.
The corpse was already stiffening, the single eye glazed. There was nothing to do but get the plastic bag from the kitchen and bury him.
I put him on the roof of the car away from the others and went inside, where Sir was sitting in a state of collapse. Ten minutes, two coffees, about fifty cigarettes later I judged her fit to be left alone, got the bag and spade and went back out.
Even the hardened Dognostic cannot help a certain sadness at such a time, and I confess to a slight catch in the throat as I looked for the last time at that single dead eye. It winked. Just once. I held him up to the window again. Still no breath. But I put him in the car anyway and drove like a maniac to the Vetsí. By the time I got there he still hadnít moved, but was complaining loudly in a querulous growl, no doubt about Honkyís not fighting fair.
The Vet returned him to us the next day, stiff, sore, one-eyed, fat ill-tempered and now with a great ugly scar across his head. Heís the ugliest Papillon in recorded history like a Frankenstein Papillon or The Papillon From The Black Lagoon, but heís still alive and as I write heís sitting sourly staring with his one eye through two fences (yes, folks, another one) at his sworn enemy and if I thought dogs could think, which I donít, I would swear heís thinking.
ďNext time you BÖ..d, next time.Ē