Ruff Times in a Dog’s Life
When my youngest uncle, David, he was only eight years older than me, got married and moved out of the house, everyone decided Granny Clarke needed a dog to keep her company.
Granny Clarke put up a stout resistance saying it would get fat as she couldn’t take it out for decent walks. John, her last bachelor son, insisted he’d take it walks for her and since she could deny John very little, someone found a dog called Ruff, a kind of collie all-sorts.
Ruff moved in and began a platonic relationship with Granny. She fed him titbits on the side but, if there was anyone present, they were mere acquaintances. That way Granny preserved her independence and Ruff pretended to ignore everyone while he lay analysing the oddities of human behaviour.
This careful observation eventually developed sympathetic human expressions. Whether the expressions reflected human thoughts and emotions I’m still not sure.
Anyway, in spite of the odd titbit, Granny Clarke watched Ruff’s diet carefully which meant that, like all decent dogs Ruff was always open for a little extra, even in the shape of a burnt black crust of bread.
Me, I only forced down those black crusts to save other children in far off lands from starving or worse, but when I visited Granny Clarke on holiday and found Ruff had no such worries I began to let his conscience carry the load of those far off orphans and slipped the crusts to him.
When Ruff saw I had eaten most of the buttered slice he would leave Granny’s side and sneak round to me. All I had to do was drop my hand and let Ruff grab the crust. Ruff would slip under the table and go back to Granny’s side looking as innocent as a schoolboy who had put a frog in teachers inkwell.
I never heard Ruff bark or growl in the house but when he and I went for walks in those summer days he barked happily, his eyes inviting me through hawthorn hedges and into ditches after something we never found.
As we climbed out again his eyes would ask, wasn’t that fun?
I’ve known many dogs who enjoyed having their heads patted or ruffled but Ruff was too independent to be treated as a pet.
Then one day Granny Clarke decided to get involved in the black crusts.
She was busy in the kitchen and I was peeling potatoes and listening to one of her stories about the Leprechaun or a water witch when she absently handed me a piece of a crust.
“Just give that to the dog, he’s looking as if he could do with someone talking to him,” she told me.
Ruff, who had been sunning himself, sat up to see what was being said about him. As I came out with the crust he looked first at Granny but her back was turned and he smiled at me as he took the unexpected treat.
Ruff took two chews at the crust and looked at me.
‘How could you do this to me,’ his eyes asked.
“It’s from Granny,” I told him.
‘I’ll eat it to keep us both out of trouble,’ Ruff’s eyes told me, ‘but I’m terrible disappointed in yourself.”
Despite my approaches, Ruff refused to have anything to do with crusts ever again, or even with me for several days but the rain stopped and as the sun steamed the roads dry I raced out to play, glad to be free of jackets or pullovers and feeling ready to show off in my new red shirt.
Ruff seemed to feel the same for he took one look at that shirt and invited me to take him walking. I was so pleased I didn’t think.
We were about half way up the middle division when he turned off along a lane to one of the big houses. That didn’t bother me and I followed him along the thorn hedge past one field before he turned through a five bar gate into one with some trees giving a bit of shade at the top end.
I climbed over beside him and Ruff went up the field looking over his shoulder now and then to make sure I was following. When we got about half way up he seemed to remember something and raced back past me. I was staring at him with my hands out to ask what was wrong when he started to bark, looking up towards the trees all the time.
When I turned to see what he was barking at a great hulk of a bull came out from the trees, all snorting, throwing its head in the air, and pawing great clods out of the field and tossing them behind him.
If I’d stood still, he might have ignored me, but how can you be calm when you’re wearing a red shirt and two tons of mad bull are charging across a field in your direction.
I jumped the five bar gate like a champion hurdler and ran down the lane.
Ruff was sitting on a knoll with his tongue lolling out on one side and a look of pure enjoyment in his eyes.
I lay down gasping for breath.
Ruff let me lie for a while before he came and licked my cheek in the only display of affection I ever saw him make, then he was up and barking twice in an invitation to go looking for more excitement.