Billy is sorry. Truly he is. He doesn’t know how it happened. One minute he was being his usual friendly self and the next minute he was chewing on a small, yellow gum boot for consolation. He just doesn’t know what came over him.
Frances, Joshua, Hannah and Erin came to visit last weekend and Billy was thrilled to add more family to his list of those to be drooled on. He made himself very busy getting close and personal right from the start. As Josh and Frances fought their way out of the car with armfuls of small children, Billy was there as the advance guard of the welcome wagon. He bustled about, doing all the things expected of a good host, the obligatory tail wag; the welcoming bark; the attempt to get as close as possible to everyone as they were trying to wend their way to the door; the apology for getting too close and nearly knocking someone over – in short he didn’t stint on any of the niceties.
Once they’d gained the shelter of the house, Hannah hit the ground running and a great time was had by all the humans. Billy once again found himself on the wrong side of a closed door, but with his usual sangfroid he heaved a heavy sigh and settled down for the night.
The next morning Hannah, Frances, Erin and I ventured outside to inspect the new lambs. Hannah takes a keen interest in new lambs and their mothers and is always anxious to get to the lambing shed and disperse food, hugs and positive comments to all the inhabitants. I took the precaution of locking Billy in the laundry before we headed for the shed because he too enjoys a chat with the new mothers and babies to the point where he can induce hysteria in a normally placid ewe. After Hannah had spread love and lupins from one end of the shed to the other we returned to the house and I let Billy out for a bit of social interaction with the short people.
Billy was thrilled to get this chance to catch up with Hannah. He hadn’t really had much quality time last night to have a good chat with her, what with the tail wagging, general welcoming chit chat and apologies, he found that he soon ran out of time for really personal exchanges. He began this tête-à-tête with a big lick and a smile.
This proved to be a big mistake. Hannah was left with the unalterable impression that Billy was in fact having a taste prior to getting down to the business of eating her. She therefore not unreasonably, began to cry and request to be lifted out of the reach of that huge mouth. Billy tried to explain that there was some misunderstanding here and that he’d like the chance to properly explain himself. Hannah wasn’t in the mood for further explanations, so we decamped to the lounge room where Hannah soon regained her composure. We settled down to some serious sewing (Hannah, at two years old, is a budding quilter already) and tried to forget the whole sordid incident. Billy’s name wasn’t mentioned and peace reigned throughout the house.
Little did we know that outside on the back porch dreadful atrocities were being performed on Hannah’s footware. Hannah in true farmer style had left her gumboots on the back porch when she came inside and it didn’t take Billy long to find them, smell Hannah all over them, and begin to console himself by snuggling up the to them while he tried to figure out how things had gone so terribly wrong. Unfortunately snuggling wasn’t all he did. At sometime during his cogitations Billy began to absentmindedly have a chew on one of the boots while he pondered the capriciousness of dog/little girl interactions and how wrong things can go when there is a misunderstanding of an innocent dog’s intentions.
I found the thoroughly chewed boot when I next went outside. Billy tried to explain that he didn’t know how it had happened. One minute he was treasuring the boot and the next he found he had a mouth full of plastic! It was a total mystery to him as to how this came about. Billy listened attentively while I had a few words to say on the matter, nodding at my more insightful phrases and commenting that boot munching was definitely a bad habit he thought he had kicked months ago.
I then returned to the house to apologise to Hannah on Billy’s behalf. Hannah was shocked that there was a dog in the world who could take a bad situation and make it so much worse. We decided the best course of action was for Hannah to give Billy a victim’s impact statement concerning his vandalism and we’d all move on from there.
Hannah came out with me to give Billy a piece of her mind about boot eating. She chose the cleverly strategic position of sitting on my hip up high out of Billy's reach. Or so we thought. Billy was so glad to see she'd forgiven him his two indiscretions that he raised his paw in a friendly wave and managed to scratched her foot!!! Hannah couldn’t believe the perfidy of this large dog. First he tries to eat her, then when that evil plot failed he settled for second best and ate her boot and now, here he was scratching her bare foot (and why did it have to be bare we ask ourselves – because Billy ATE HER BOOT, that’s why!!) in an obvious effort to knock her out of Nanna’s arms and have another attempt at Hannah eating! More tears and a hasty retreat to the lounge room and Billy/Hannah relations were severed for the rest of her visit.
Billy was still on Hannah’s black list when they left the next day. He tried to get close enough to once again explain how all these misunderstandings had come about, but I thought Hannah had endured enough of his clarifications – her foot and boot still bore the scars of some of these, so I kept a firm hold on his collar while Hannah was safely ensconced in her car seat. Once they were all safely on their way back home, Billy and I had a heart to heart about big dog/small child interaction and once again Billy sadly agreed with all I had to say. It was clear that Billy needed to do something and quickly to get back into Hannah's good books if it was at all possible. I braved the drool and we put our heads together to come up with a suitable apology, all the safer carried out from a distance of about 500 kilometres away.
I would buy Hannah a new pair of gumboots and Billy would write Hannah an apology, sign his name and hope that he could be forgiven. He gave me the gist of what he wanted to say and I typed the letter for him (his paws are just too big to type correctly on small human keyboards). The letter was duly written and signed "Billy". I then had the great idea of adding Billy’s paw print. Like a lot of my great ideas involving Billy, it was fraught with problems. If you’ve ever tried to rub a very friendly St. Bernard's huge paw on a stamp pad and them print it onto a letter you'll know it's a near impossible job!
Billy was less than co-operative. I’d lift one huge paw off the ground and try to pull it in the general direction of the stamp pad while Billy valiantly tried to return his foot to its original position on the ground. The ensuing tussles resulted in nothing but an inky back porch. It would have been fun for anyone watching! Imagine if you will one slightly unwise Rosemary, one large, friendly, but determined not to co-operate St. Bernard, and add ink to the mix and you might begin to see the chaos that ensued. As usually happens when I try to make Billy do something he’d rather not, I found myself on the ground with Billy standing over me smiling and spreading drool far and wide. It’s not as if Billy actually gets me in a judo hold or anything, he just resists for a while and then sneakily gives in, resulting in my toppling over. Billy is always anxious to help me up and start all over again. After all a dog’s got to have some fun from time to time. I was tempted to get the paw print by rubbing the paper over one of the many paw prints on the tiles, but that would have made the letter far too grubby for a little girl to handle. After a few more fruitless attempts and a promise to myself to clean the tiles later, I gave up, dusted myself off, wiped off the more accessible drool and looked about for a suitable picture of a paw print that would do the job. I found one (it’s a cat paw print, but don’t tell Hannah), enlarged it to St. Bernard size and added it to the letter.
I then added a photo of Billy's saddest face. St Bernards have a naturally sorrowful look so finding a Billy photo where he looked suitably repentant wasn't difficult.
Hannah has received the letter and gumboots now and is prepared to forgive Billy everything. I have a feeling that the 500 kilometres has a lot to do with her easily won forgiveness and I don’t hold a lot of hope for it lasting more than a few minutes in Billy’s company next time she visits, but you never know, miracles might just happen.
In the meantime, I’ll be trying to impress on Billy the need to treat little people and their possessions with more consideration, not to mention less drool.