Saturday, December 06, 2008

Billy Settles In

This was written in 2003 shortly after Billy arrived.

As I said in a previous post, Billy was the ideal travelling companion when we picked him up from his previous owner (ideal if you can ignore he drool and I can when I'm in the front seat and he's way over in the luggage area). Arriving home and settling in was another matter for Billy. He was more than happy to be adopted by us and was determined to be part of the family from the beginning.

Apollo and Shadow on the other hand, were sure no-one had put in an order for a grossly over sized pup. Apollo told Billy a few facts of life, none of them complimentary to St. Bernards in general and Billy in particular. Billy, being a dog of peace, stepped back and left Apollo to his bad humoured thoughts, turning his attention on the other canine inhabitant on the porch. Shadow, our Silky Terrier type, who spends most of her spare time bullying all the larger dogs on the property, took one look at this massive newcomer and realised that she’d met her match. She quietly snuck into the laundry and turned her face to the wall, refusing to acknowledge Billy’s presence. Maybe, just maybe, if she ignored that great hulking dog, he’d take the hint and go away.

Billy, in the meantime, was anxious to explore his new surroundings. He set off on his first survey of his new home and liked what he saw. He returned to the back door happy with his new home but carefully avoiding Apollo’s eyes and curled lip, and Shadow’s disapproving back. He then settled in to waylaying any member of his new family who came out the back door, requesting pats or tummy rubs or any other demonstration of affection they might like to bestow upon his person. If you’ve never seen a St. Bernard rolling around on his back, four legs in the air, head rolling from side to side with his huge tongue lolling out the side of his mouth, and displaying a large amount of stomach ready to be patted, you have missed out on one of nature’s funnier shows.

Mum-Puss, Lancelot and Guinevere our cats, who appeared to Billy as grey and black blurs when they shot through the back door on his arrival, opted to spend the night inside rather than answer calls of nature and head off on their night time rambles with this brown giant as a companion. They stoically settled in for the night, crossed their legs and tried not to think about running water or garden beds just ripe for fertilising.

Unfortunately, Billy’s first reaction to everything he met, both animate and inanimate, was to ask himself the question, “Is it edible?” At 6 o’clock on the first morning after Billy’s arrival we awoke to loud quackings and the fluttering of wings. Graeme (who was getting up anyway so he can’t tell me the damn dog was the cause of his waking early), went outside to find Billy standing there with a very disgruntled TOD (stands for That Other Duck) in his mouth. Billy stood there trying hard to smile at Graeme bits of duck hanging out either side of his huge mouth, while TOD voiced his opinions on people who let duck eating dogs roam at large during the night. Graeme, who long ago earned my undying respect for the way he can think quickly in the mornings, persuaded Billy to drop his feathery bundle and leave the scene of the crime. TOD was basically unhurt, with the exception of his dignity, and limped pathetically whenever we went to check on him for the rest of the day. By this time I had got out of bed too, and Graeme and I sectioned off a small yard for TD (That Duck), TOD and Russell Crow, our spare rooster who had the run of the back yard up until now. All was peaceful in our little domain until...

We returned to the house via the back porch. A scene of devastation and destruction lay before our bleary, sleep deprived eyes! It appeared that Billy had been busy exploring his new home while we slept and had spent his time testing any object he encountered for taste and texture. The first morning’s casualty list included a diverse range of objects. The body count included: Justin’s old thongs (well Goths don’t wear thongs so no real loss there); various plastic feed dishes which had taken on the appearance of colanders; the back door mat now shedding coir like a Persian cat who knows summer is just around the corner; and a bucket which was now no more than a large number of chewed bits of blue plastic with a handle. I gave the bucket the last rites with Billy watching on with interest and offering to help by further reducing its size. I hid the bucket from Graeme’s sight and tried to convince Billy that all these things were useful, so we therefore wanted them to remain in one, un-chewed if possible, piece. Billy pointed out that they weren’t very tasty or soft on the gums and therefore, in his opinion, they weren’t useful at all and consequently no great loss. I’m still working on this minor problem of Billy’s inability to recognise any other criteria for an item’s usefulness apart from its edibleness rather than useful-to-the-familyness.

The rest of the day passed with very little excitement. I breathed a sigh of relief when Apollo declared an armed truce and agreed to share the back porch with the interloper. Apollo soon took to employing guerrilla tactics and managed to put Billy in his place by the simple expedient of picking up Billy’s feed dish from under his nose, preferably while he was actually eating out of it, and dropping it on the grass off the back porch. Billy good naturedly sat and waited for one of his humans to retrieve it and then stand guard while he finished his dinner. He discovered that there’s no use in going down to get it himself because Apollo would just remove it again. I’m pretty sure that Apollo was working on the premise that if he restricted Billy’s calorie intake Billy just might shrink to a more reasonable size, or better still, leave home in search of a feed bowl that stayed put.

The next morning (Day 2 of Life With Billy and his new found freedom) we were woken by the sounds of a rooster in distress. Billy was obviously an early riser. It appeared that Russell Crow (not knowing what was good for himself) found a way out of the makeshift poultry safety house we’d built after TOD’s little adventure, and came across Billy in his hunt for breakfast. That’s Russell’s hunt for breakfast not Billy’s – then again … There was Russell, thinking of nothing other than finding a tasty worm or two, and maybe having some harmless fun scratching a plant out of its garden bed in the process, when the next thing he knew he was getting the worm’s perspective and found himself looking at the inside of a huge mouth. This view not being one of Russell’s preferred vistas; he immediately let out his distress call.

Graeme again rose from the bed quietly muttering unintelligible sounds (and I wasn’t about to ask for an English translation!), found Billy with Russell in his mouth and persuaded the exultant dog to drop the indignant rooster. Russell, like TOD before him, was unhurt. Billy had not chomped down on his feathery mouthful. We came to the conclusion that Billy just likes to carry soft things around in his mouth. Russell now limits his wandering to the poultry safety house and the area outside the house yard next to his new home.

Billy became addicted to plenty of attention in a very short space of time. He still works hard to keep me from going back inside whenever I come out to check that everyone still has the standard number of ears and paws. His technique for preventing me going inside is very effective. He stands in front of me at right angles to my body and then uses his back end to push and steer me into a corner. He then places his body across the corner and voila! one trapped Rosemary who should now have nothing better to do than pat Billy and tell him how gorgeous he is. No amount of pushing on my part can move him, so I’ve resorted to various sneaky tactics to get past. It has to be admitted that Billy’s no dummy, despite his goofy appearance, and any technique I develop lasts a very short time before he finds a way to get around it. Things have ended up so bad that I really need to take a packed lunch with me when I go outside now.
Shadow remained anti-Billy for a long time. Her negative attitude wasn’t helped by the fact that Billy looked on her more as an animated, fluffy toy than a dog to be taken seriously. This attitude deeply offended Shadow who spent most of every day sulking in the laundry. When she wasn’t hidden away sulking, Shadow reluctantly participated in her least favourite activity – sitting with her head in Billy’s mouth. Billy had taken the line that if he couldn’t have fluffy roosters and ducks to chew on he could always enjoy just sitting there with a fluffy little doggy head between his jaws. He didn’t bite down or give in to his baser instincts and chew, so he saw no reason for Shadow to complain about her part in his game. It must be admitted that he didn’t appreciate the sound effects coming from that furry little head, but he was prepared to be philosophical about this and take the good with the bad though. Looking at it from Shadow’s point of view, it was really aggravating to go from being top dog of the house yard to St. Bernard teething ring in the matter of one day. I’m also working on this minor problem.

Theodore, Miette and Albus on the other hand are not at all frightened of Billy, but that’s another story.

So the state of the nation is as follows: Billy’s very happy in his new home and working hard to redecorate the back porch and house-yard in his favourite decor - Modern Chewed. The cats have sought and been granted political asylum in the house, venturing out the front door at night and scuttling back inside as soon as possible. Apollo is brushing up his stealth tactics and keeping Billy in his place. Shadow spends her time either sulking in the laundry protecting her mat from all comers, or providing Billy with an ever ready small fluffy object for his mouth. The ferrets have barely changed their routine except for the occasional guard duty when challenged by Billy.
Graeme has actually come to like Billy and spends a few minutes each day bonding with him. Not as you might think, because Billy has cornered him too, but because Billy follows Graeme to the gate on his way to the tractor. During this short walk he listens carefully to all that Graeme has to say to him, quietly agreeing with all that’s said on the subject of large, roguish dogs and the chaos they create. At the end of Graeme’s lecture Billy always promises to mend his boisterous ways. The fact that he instantly forgets his good intentions once Graeme is out of sight, and the ferret cage is before him, hasn’t as yet caused a breach in the burgeoning friendship.
I am, of course, thrilled to have my very own St. Bernard and spend my days retrieving Shadow from her soggy fate, reassuring Apollo that he’s still truly loved, trying to keep my dignity in tact while being held prisoner by a benign giant, providing the cats with a safe escort to the house, feeding the menagerie and retrieving Billy’s food dish.

Keeps me busy I can tell you!