Sunday, December 07, 2008

St Bernard Meets Ferrets

It took Billy three days to meet Theodore, Miette and Albus. Don’t get me wrong, Billy was extremely busy during those first few days, but with my house yard it was a case of too much to be chewed, too little time to chew it all - as far as an overly zealous St. Bernard was concerned. So, in those early days, Billy was otherwise occupied. The ferrets saw Billy as soon as he jumped out of the back of the car on the day he came home. They stopped what they were doing, stood up on their little back legs to get a better view, looked at each other in disbelief, formed a huddle and came up with a united plan to keep this huge brown intruder in his place. And believe me you haven’t been put in your place until three tiny little ferrets make you feel that, despite your size, you just aren’t important in their scheme of things.

It seems to me that our pets have ranged themselves in two camps – Apollo and the ferrets believe in keeping Billy at the bottom of the pecking order, and rubbing his face in it by never missing a chance to let him know just how insignificant he is, despite his size. Shadow, the cats and all breeds of birds, on the other hand, just wish he’d go away and inflict himself on someone else - preferably in some other country. As I mentioned before, Billy had spent those first days being quite busy making friends and chewing anything that stood still long enough. He managed to explore nearly every nook and cranny of our very large house yard. His day was made when he found a couple of holes in the fence and he rushed up to give Graeme the good news. Graeme was working in the shed, thinking of nothing but getting the tractor ready to sow the crops when Billy sidled up from behind and offered to help. Graeme, after climbing down from the shed ceiling, brought Billy back to the house yard, lecturing him on social etiquette and the bad manners of sneaking up on unsuspecting farmers and then barking loudly from behind, especially with the improved acoustics in the shed. I’m pretty sure he mentioned Emily Post’s undoubted disapproval of such behaviour. Graeme then returned to the tractor and ... yep, Billy almost beat him back to the shed. Graeme put tractor maintenance on hold and found where Billy was getting out. Billy helped Graeme locate his doggy exit points by getting out via one of these holes as soon as he was returned to the yard yet again. Graeme fixed the hole and returned to the tractor without further incident or St. Bernard offers of help.

Billy spent most of his days loitering around our back door either looking in with a longing expression on his face with large strings of doggy drool hanging from either side of his jowls (even in my St. Bernard loving heart I know it’s not a good look), or trying to manoeuvre me out of the way in an effort to barge through the door ahead of me to reach what he imagined to be St Bernard paradise - the kitchen. The score so far is me 2 - Billy all the rest. I get the 2 because on two occasions I managed to sneak inside while Billy was occupied with Shadow’s head in his mouth. I know, I know – I don’t deny that I sacrificed the little Silky type’s dignity to save my own, but someone’s dignity had to be sacrificed and I’m bigger than Shadow!

After Billy had settled in and felt comfortable with the rest of the now decidedly soggy menagerie, he decided to explore further a-field. He needed to find another past time now that the ducks and rooster were ensconced behind wire and poking their tongues out every time Billy went up there to invite them out to play.

The answer to Billy’s prayers occurred while I was feeding the menagerie. Billy had managed to scoff his entire dinner before Apollo could throw Billy's dish off the porch, so he had some spare time on his paws. He followed me on the rest of my feeding rounds. “Hmmm,” he thought. “Ducks and rooster - definitely not coming out to play.” There was no fun in feeding chooks, they lived behind wire as well, and when Billy was around they were behind the tree in their yard for good measure! Now that’s a sight worth seeing – 6 fat, black chooks and 1 large, red rooster all jostling for the best hiding position behind one pine tree. While it definitely caught Billy’s attention and amused me for a while, it still wasn’t getting Billy a playmate.

Then he saw them! What they were he couldn’t even begin to imagine. Billy had never come across something this small! Or that fast! Still, they certainly looked like they were going to be fun. Remembering Graeme’s etiquette lessons, Billy began by politely introducing himself. He crouched, the front half of his body down low with his front legs straight out in front, so he was ready to spring should the need arise. His head was lower than the bottom of the ferret cage giving him a good look at their soft underbellies. The ferret cage is a large wire rectangular box on four long, wooden legs raising it off the ground by about 1 metre. It also has a raised box off the side at the front end providing them with a private bedroom. With his head down low as described, and his bottom end furiously wagging tail up in the air, Billy gave a very loud "hello" bark and waited for the reaction. Only problem was, there wasn’t a reaction. He stared at the ferrets in disbelief. This was the modus operandi that so satisfyingly sent the cats in all directions with their tails the size of bottle brushes. This was the technique that Shadow was well used to by now, and sent her grumbling off to dark corners.

Billy realised that a more direct approach was called for with these fearless creatures so he stuck his face up close to their wire door so they could better appreciate his size, and sniffed the occupants from the opposite side of the wire. Albus gave a huge yawn right in Billy’s face to register his boredom with the whole business, but other than that The Gang of Three were much more interested in getting their dinner and regular meal time cuddle with me. All three ferrets came out of their cage, studiously ignoring this huge, furry object trying to bounce up to their height on my shoulder. They had their regular afternoon cuddle and chat, mooched around the top of the cage for a while as usual, and then let me know they were ready to go back in and have their dinner.

Now Billy might be a dog of peace, but he’s not a dog to be ignored by three tiny little squirts who should have at least given a gasp of surprise when he bounced up to their eye level. He bounded around the outside of the cage, trying to get a better look at these little fur balls. Theodore, Miette and Albus continued scooping up their daily meat rations without even looking up to see what Billy was up to. Despite Billy's best efforts the ferrets continued to eat their dinner and chat quietly amongst them selves. You could almost hear Theodore asking for someone to pass the salt please. Billy couldn’t believe it. They were so unconcerned that once they finished dinner, they slowly climbed the ramp and retired to their bed room for a well earned nap.

You can imagine how frustrating this was for Billy. Here he was, face to face with the three tiniest creatures he’d ever encountered and, by the look of them they could supply hours of fun and frolic, but they wouldn’t come out to play! Here finally, was something new, interesting and potentially the most fun his new home had to offer and they didn’t even appear to notice that he was there. This situation needed rethinking.
So Billy retired to the back porch, placed himself equidistant between the ferret cage and the kitchen door and tried to keep an eye on me in the kitchen and the ferrets in their cage. He looked like he was watching a ping pong match – his head going quickly back and forth to keep everyone in his site. Meanwhile the ferrets went about their normal business of sleeping, playing and eating, as well as their new and favourite pastime – ignoring Billy.

Billy tried regular noisy, forays to the ferret cage throughout the day with no better success. The next afternoon, Billy had a plan: gobble down dinner before Apollo did his dish removing trick, plant himself right near the ferret cage door, before I could get down there to give the ferrets Dutch courage, and bark until he was blue in the face. The ferrets were totally unimpressed. They countered this move by first giving him the old triple ferret stare and then single file, but very slowly to demonstrate their total lack of fear, walking up their ramp and into their bedroom.

After all the members of the menagerie were fed I went back into the house and for once Billy didn’t follow to try and push his way before me. He stayed right where he was, nose pressed against the ferret cage, offering all sorts of encouragement at the top of his voice for the ferrets to come out and play. Surely they weren’t going to stay in that little room all night? As it turned out they were.

After a day or so of this treatment, when Billy’s decibel rating was too much for all in the house yard to deal with, Theodore Miette and Albus finally took some action. They came out of their bedroom, stood along the front of the cage, shoulder to shoulder (with tiny little Miette in the middle), their little mouths wide open displaying rows of very sharp teeth and dared Billy to come inside the cage and say that. Now you can see their sneaky little plan here can’t you? There was no way Billy would ever be able to fit one foot, let alone his whole body in through the door, so Billy wasn’t able to accept their challenge. After what seemed like years he ceased barking at them and wandered away to find more entertaining pursuits. All three ferrets sneered at him, making comments along the lines of “all talk and no action” and calling out to Russell Crow to supply a white feather for the coward, turned their backs on him and got on with their ferrety business. I could almost swear that Theodore lifted a paw in the air and chalked up one for the ferrets and a zero for Billy.

And, I can’t prove it, but I’m sure I heard Shadow and Apollo cheering in the background.

From now on I will only post a story once or twice a week so that I don't overwhelm you all with the goings on here at Spring Rock.