While my contract stipulates that I must be prepared to walk a ‘variety of breeds’, I usually rock up to the local common where I'm thrust the leads of the same four dogs – all relatively small, all relatively easy to handle (except for Wilson the bulldog, but you’re probably aware of our ‘arrangement’ by now).
There’s some variation to this, but any fluctuation generally means walking a bigger, more difficult dog alongside three docile ones.
However, there are days when fate conspires against me and I’m given a group so barbarically challenging I genuinely consider walking them to a nearby tree and just standing underneath it for an hour, thus, according to the laws of probability, avoiding stimulation of any kind whatsoever.
Yesterday was that kind of day, and I apprehensively trundled off with: Ava, the world’s nerviest dog that’s also afraid of grass; the geriatric and glacially slow Roger; Rufus the Doberman who hates squirrels and all other dogs; and Taffy, a deceptively strong Saluki that hates bother, and by extension, Rufus. So that’s all great.
Things start off ok. We manage to walk the entire length of the common without trouble, even switching direction with relative ease when I spy an approaching Labrador. Rufus holds it together when a squirrel falls out of a tree, and Roger is playing ball by moving at – what is for him – a lightning speed (a moderate toddle). Nervy Ava even lets me pat her head, but I don’t give her too much attention in case she suddenly realises we’re walking on grass and falls over in fright. “Well done!” I chirp to them all, and they look pleased with themselves.
And then my heart sinks, for up ahead is a ruddy-faced, Hunter wellington-clad women in a gilet, braying into her mobile phone, entirely oblivious to her dog barrelling straight towards us. Only inches off the ground and barely able to see behind the mountains of fur obstructing its bug-eyed face, the tiny scrap bounces merrily across the earth, tongue hanging out of its mouth, panting in joyous excitement at the prospect of making friends. But I know that were it not for his muzzle, Rufus would sooner eat the thing than make a new chum, and so I quickly change direction and up the pace.
Too late. Rufus clocks the approaching furball and begins the deep, resonating growl that usually precedes a meltdown, irking Taffy who starts barking fiercely. Ava, panicked, suddenly realises we’re on a patch of grass and starts dancing around in a bid to – presumably – take flight, and Roger decides this is the time for a nice lie down. Still the woman’s hapless dog approaches.
“COULD YOU CALL YOUR DOG BACK, PLEASE?” I yell. She’s less than 20m away and looks me directly in the eye before haughtily holding up a finger to indicate that she’s too busy to pay me any heed, or just be, you know, a responsible dog owner.
“Well I told him to go to Waitrose, but he seems to think M&S would be a better choice,” she whinnies into her phone.
The stupid dog is now less than 10ft away from me and my circus of canine horrors.
"Well the party is on Friday. Not to my taste, of course. Who hosts on a Friday?”
“HELLO? YOUR DOG. PLEASE CALL IT BACK.”
“Oh well that’s awful news about Olivia and George, of course. But was anyone surprised? I’m sure I needn’t mention that dreadful nanny business.”
“LADY ON THE PHONE. I KNOW YOU CAN HEAR ME.”
But it’s too late. The little ball of well-intentioned yapping barrels straight into the breach and chaos ensues. I’ve only got one pair of hands and a pair of legs through which dog leads cannot pass. I use a free leg to scoop the intruder out of the ruckus, and only then does Lady Gilet pipe up.
“Goodness! Rupert!” she exclaims, hurriedly finishing her call and wading in to retrieve her errant pet. “Control your dogs, won’t you?” she clips at me.
And with that she takes out her phone again, saunters off in her impeccable Hunter wellingtons and remains oblivious as Rupert runs towards a terrified, screaming child.
While we're talking about pets, did you know you can search for a cracking deal on pet insurance at Gocompare.com?