Billy's idea of joining a quilting group is to roll on his back and offer his tummy for a rub whenever a quilter walks past.
Yesterday Billy decided to join my quilting group. Five lovely ladies and myself meet here once a month usually, but weekly during January. My neighbour Aileen was the only one who could make it yesterday with some of the others still cleaning up after the January fires and others not feeling too well. With the temperatures well into the 40’s Billy usually spends his days lying on the kitchen floor underneath the air conditioning duct. I was a bit worried about inviting him in while I had visitors, but Aileen likes Billy (believe it or not some people are actually frightened of him!!) so I thought I'd risk it.
Early in the morning, before the heat really hit us, I gave each of the dogs a frozen bone, sort of like a doggy ice-block. The standard routine for dishing out bones is to give Billy a huge marrow bone to keep him occupied while I give Shadow a smaller bone and lock her in the laundry so she doesn’t have to stand guard over it while Billy tries to steal it. Then it’s time to give the Kelpies their bones. I manage this tricky manoeuvrer by constantly feinting stealing Billy’s bone so he doesn’t feel confident enough to run down the porch steps and grab the Kelpies’ bones. The Kelpies know to take off with their treats as soon as they get them, and peace reigns supreme to the sound of bones crunching from all directions. Once the temperature hovered around the high 30’s it was time for Billy and Shadow to come inside. I opened the laundry door to invite them in. Shadow wandered over to the back door, sniffed Billy's bone and decided the cool air was the better option and Billy, who had been trying to push past me, turned and made a beeline for Shadow's bone in the laundry.
He then faced a huge dilemma. The kitchen door was open and he was finally being invited in. Did he steal the bone and miss out on coming inside or come inside and miss out on Shadow’s bone? He stood in the laundry door way, a picture of indecision with his head swaying back and forward between the bone and kitchen door. Decisions, decisions. What was a dog to do? Then inspiration struck. Billy lunged at the bone, picked it up in one quick movement and headed for the back door. I was too quick for him and told him to finish the bone first and slammed the door. Once the crunching stopped I allowed the thief to come in and enjoy the cooler air.
All is usually fine once the dogs are settled in the kitchen. Shadow, with one evil glance at Billy as he stretches out under the air conditioning duct, finds a cool spot on the floor and grumbles about huge furry lumps who take unfair advantage of their size and hog all the coolest air, but apart from the Silky grumbles, an air of quiet and calm descends on the kitchen.
Not so yesterday. It appears that Billy didn’t feel quite secure in his being able to stay in the kitchen. It could be he thought Aileen might voice a protest about wall to wall St. Bernards on the kitchen floor, or he might have been playing for the sympathy vote from a visitor, but whatever it was the decibel rating in the kitchen regularly came close to that of a sonic boom. As Billy lay prone, soaking up the breeze from the air-conditioning duct, he began to pant. No problem with that, after all dogs have to pant to cool themselves. He had a bucket of water next to him to help him cool down if he needed it so there was little excuse for all the panting. I even ignored the lolling tongue and river of drool on the floor while he indulged in his panting session. But, did he stop at just panting? Not my Billy. The pants developed a definite grunting undertone and soon it sounded like a mob of pigs had invaded the kitchen. With each pant and grunt the noise level increased until Aileen and I had trouble hearing each other. Graeme, who hasn’t joined the quilting group, but was doing inside farm work today (accounts and such) began adding his grumbles to the general cacophony. Eventually I’d have enough of the noise, say “Billy!” in my loudest, sternest voice and Billy would go back to almost silent panting. Then, sllowly but surely the grunts were re-introduced and the cycle began again.
Aileen, true friend she is, found the whole thing very amusing and had a good laugh. Billy immediately recognised this as a sign of support for his overacting and rushed over to the silver strip separating the carpet in the dining area from the vinyl floor in the kitchen. He knows he’s not allowed to put a foot on the carpet and usually respects this rule. The problem is that with his toes on the silver strip, while he’s technically still in the kitchen his head overhangs the carpet. You can see the problem here can’t you? Billy’s toes aren’t the problem, his toes don’t leak – his head does (or more accurately his huge mouth does). Soon, strings of drool were heading south towards my lovely cream carpet while he smiled at Aileen and tried to garner sympathy for a poor unloved dog forced to live in this heat. I jumped up and pushed the offending head back onto the vinyl area, getting my arms bathed in drool, and reminded Billy of The Rule. The Rule is that when inside Billy has to sit with a towel close by so that it can either catch the drool, or be close at hand to at least wipe it up. The problem with The Rule is similar to the problem with the No Feet On The Carpet Rule. Billy is more than happy to stick close to the towel, if I really insist, so much in fact that he’s usually sitting on it, and again, his back end isn’t the end that leaks! Also, with the weight of a large St. Bernard on the towel, it’s very difficult to retrieve it to wipe up the drool puddles.
Each time Graeme or Aileen wanted to go to the kitchen I’d race ahead, indulge in a sort of one sided tug of war with Billy in an effort to get the towel out from under him, and wipe over the floor. Not because Aileen would complain (although Graeme would!), but because I’m aware that few people are as tolerant of dog drool as I am, and heaven forbid that either Aileen or Graeme slipped on the slippery stuff and landed in a puddle! It just didn’t bare thinking about. Billy was always helpful during my cleaning up sessions. He followed me round pointing out spots I’d missed, while failing to notice that he was actually making these new spots as he went.
When lunch time arrived Billy and Shadow were banished to the back porch until all the food was eaten. This is because Billy is ever the helpful St. Bernard - he’ll tell you it’s in his breeding to help whenever possible, and he’s more than happy to place his huge head on the kitchen counter and sniff the food to make sure it’s hasn’t gone bad. He doesn’t steal the food, mind you, he’s far too well mannered and honourable for that! But, by the time the food has been thoroughly sniffed, no one else seems to want it. So the battle to de-Billy the kitchen began. Shadow is always first out. With the air a of martyr about to face the firing squad Shadow hunches her shoulders and marches out to the oven like back porch. She doesn’t let on that she knows the laundry floor is considerably cooler and where she’ll spend her time until she’s allowed in again, that would ruin the whole impressive martyr act, so with the bravest look she can muster, she leave the kitchen and the fun begins.
Billy develops a strange condition when he comes inside. He can no longer understand humans if those humans are saying, "Outside!" no matter how those humans try communicating with him. I tried verbally, loud verbally, very loud verbally and finally sign language (I grabbed his collar and started pulling). I managed to get Billy as far as the back door and there he stopped. He splayed his legs and just refused to budge another inch. Let me tell you when a 75 kg Billy refuses to budge, budge he doesn’t! So there he stood, spreading drool and winter coat everywhere. I finally decided to resort to bribery and waved a cup of cat kibble in his face. Billy loves cat kibble - he'll even ignore the ferrets for the few seconds it takes him to scoff the kibble. Just like his earlier dilemma with Shadow’s bone and the kitchen floor, Billy was torn between the kibble and the cool air and couldn’t make the decision. He did have the bright idea of trying to get the kibble from my hand while maintaining his hold on the kitchen floor, but apart from having me in stitches at his attempts to stretch his neck as far as it would go while keeping the rest of his body well and truly in the kitchen, we didn’t make any headway towards outside. I eventually had to call in the big guns. Graeme grabbed Billy’s collar and it was all over in a matter of seconds. The kitchen was now Billy free. It did mean I had to empty the teapot on the front garden rather than the back, but otherwise everything was fine and we enjoyed our lunch while trying not to imagine the pitiful sight of a melting giant, outside the back door.
As soon as lunch finished Billy was invited back in. He nearly bowled me over in his eagerness to get the best spot on the kitchen floor again. Shadow followed at a more sedate pace and settled quickly. Not so Billy. He tried first one spot and then another, letting me know that now he’d lost his favourite spot and couldn’t find it. That would teach me a lesson to go wantonly shoving dogs outside in the middle of the day! How could I live with myself now that I was witnessing this pathetic little scene? I cold-heartedly returned to the lounge room after a quick reminder about The Rule, and with no audience to impress, Billy settled in his usual spot to begin his panting and grunting routine. It wasn’t long before everything was back to “normal” and cries of “Billy!” rent the air from time to time to regain peace and quiet, even if only temporarily. All in all I didn't manage a lot of sewing.
And how do I know that this was a special act for my visitor? Billy is lying under the air conditioning duct as I write – there’s not a peep out of him; not a grunt or even a pant to be heard.