Don't go there girlfriend...
By: Mattie the dog and her human slave Su Lin Looi
ake sure you check your dog’s ears, in between their paws… remember never feed your dog chocolate.’
The woman wearing a badge marked TRAINER gives out sheets, badges and leads for our owners to put on. It is the first Wednesday in November in a draughty church hall in Acton.
The owners and puppies have just embarked on their first class together. I’m Mattie by the way, short for Matilda, named after the heroine in True Grit. I’m a salt and pepper miniature schnauzer but not like those with all beard and whiskers. I’m a breed originally from East Prussia but I’m from Essex. An Essex girl.
We look up at our new owners, perched on chairs too small for them. As they gaze indulgently down, they cannot resist stroking our ears and our heads until the TRAINER yells at them.
‘What misery! Day and night being pawed by humans. Can you imagine?’
TRAINER puts her hand in the dried chopped liver she has been using for treats and goes through the six people, wiping her hands in their hair.
‘THIS is what it is like!’
She dips her fingers in the sandy liver; us dogs with our tongues hanging out think she is bestowing a tasty benediction on our lucky owners. They however wince and draw back. I for one sniff my owner’s black hair which smells deliciously of meat. A blue-fleeced TRAINER yanks my lead:
The TRAINER’s helpers wear blue fleecy coats, their pockets like the TRAINER’s smell of chopped liver. Another dog, a Labrador, says that the blue fleeced helpers provide ‘spiritual support.’ The TRAINER and the helpers shake their heads sadly at the efforts of the new owners.
‘Get your dogs into position and sit.’
The owners tug at our leads and push our bodies as though an invisible button lurks under our skins. It’s quite ticklish as they press our heads, ears and bottoms. Our owners go blah blah blah to the helpers, their eyes plead amnesty.
The TRAINER has her own dog - a honey colored Border terrier. Seeing our owners troop in, he sniffs each one and pronounces our fate. He says in his uppity accent:
‘I’m not going to lie… once more unto the breach dear friends once more…’
We don’t understand what the posh Border says so he tells us his favourite films are Henry V and Toy Story - they were all about leadership. And in order to succeed we have to ‘lead’. The Border continues,
'Repetition is key when you repeat calls to the humans.'
We have to keep calling until our owners ‘heel’. To try and get the owners to walk by your side is the most difficult - they are so easily distracted. Progress is slow.
We bark encouragement making our owner’s heart beat and the blue-fleeced helpers work alongside us, guiding each owner through hoops, tunnels, and small stiles that you might see on a miniature cross country race. By the end of it our owners are red-faced but triumphant. They reward us with treats of kibble –so grateful are they for our help.
The TRAINER with a clipboard asks the owners some questions:
‘Has your dog been vaccinated? Do you have the certificate?’
The Border walks amongst us explaining the finer points as he compares his TRAINER to other humans, ‘She is …’, as he lifts his paw in an expansive gesture, ‘She is just… more DOG.’ He sucks on his teeth, ‘I’ve devoted my life time. So young pups look and learn. Look and learn.’
TRAINER shows attention to detail, from the fermented cheese tube she carries in her pocket to the creation of homemade liver treats. She can even do magic. Squeaky balls appear in her hand and to stop Al the wolfhound from yowling she pulls out a water pistol and shoots him.
Al is a puppy but towers above the rest of us and his rheumy eyes are bloodshot. He is thin and wheezes as if he smokes 20 a day, but he is all jaws and nerves. Yet when the TRAINER stroked him (after she shot him) he went all goofy,
‘TRAINER is like a god’, Al said wistfully, ‘Is she for sale?’
Border lifts up his chin with pride, ‘You wouldn’t be able to afford her, believe me. I’ve had plenty of offers.’ Border is about to say more when his lead is yanked by TRAINER:
‘Have your dogs been micro chipped and tagged?’ she asks the class.
The NEW OWNERS continue to nod with enthusiasm as if they were TRAINER’S latest car accessory.
Nelly - a red cocker spaniel - is unimpressed by her owner and barks, ‘Be different, dare to be a rebel Elizabeth!’
The cocker has been trying to give her owner lessons in empowerment.
‘Elizabeth’s mother was an over achiever.’ Nelly says.
We all nod – all our owners come from challenging backgrounds. The Border says these are called ‘Issues’.
The Border asked us to tell him the stories of why we chose our owners:
‘What was special about them?’
There was a pause as all of us try to recall what it was that made US choose THEM.
‘Something that made you say, ‘You, human slave, I want you’.
‘CAN WE JUST GET ON…’ growls another dog, Fender, as a human shake her collar.
Yellow glints in Fender’s coat catch the morning autumn light. Gold in her fur and dark eyes. The Border raises an eyebrow and leads in with a half-smile,
‘What was special about your owner, a dog like you, H-e-l-l-o.’
Fender is a head and a half taller than the Border who takes five minutes to show her how he can walk on two legs. She rolls her eyes.
‘I dunno why I even bothered to come.’
The Border put his paw on Fender’s shoulder, ‘You’re adopted, and you’re among friends. ‘Group hug’ he barks, but before he could put his paw on her, we rush forward to surround her like a gang, ‘Group hug’ we bark and Fender sniffs deeply.
The Border coughs and turns to me.
‘Is there a bit of Sherpa in your owner?”
‘China - born in Putney but the breed originated in China.”
‘Oh I’ve been there,’ the Border has been everywhere.
Of China he said, “ Ahhhh…you can see it in the most unlikely places, last time I went to one in Wales –it’s lovely, they even know what we want to eat, chicken rice and sometimes roast duck!’
Our Border friend rubs his belly and tells us of all the continents he has visited,
‘Lebanese, Falafel, kebab, burgers, spaghetti - I’ve travelled to them all.’ This memory of far flung places seems to awake his need to speak. Perhaps the Border has assimilated human blah blah blah characteristics.
‘It is our duty to go forth into unchartered territory, to welcome all races and provide succor but most important is our duty to educate them. To Infinity and Beyond!’
To finish, the Border gave us handouts and said if ever we were at a loss, there are always Sticks. Humans love to collect bite-size sticks from anywhere. They go mad when we get them one.
‘And never underestimate the power of a ball’.
He told us in every room in the land exists a painting with moving images which the humans pray to. Unlike blah blah blah, they talk a bit but mostly they meditate. A favourite meditation features the life of a ball. The ball belongs to a church called ‘Football’. That was not all, some people meditate so hard, that almost 50% develop mystical powers which allow them to grow balls on their persons.’ When we demur that this is impossible the Border becomes feverish as he asserts that he had borne witness to this and warned,
‘Never ever chew on those balls’ He is emphatic and almost shrill ‘Whatever you do – NEVER – EVER!’
Wow! I look at my human with new respect, perhaps one day she will have the ability to grow mystic balls?
The TRAINER reads her wrist and says, ‘One last exercise and then we must pack up and go’. Every owner has taken part in an activity with the TRAINER except for my owner, so she calls her up for the ‘ safety exercise’. She smiles as my short Sherpa-looking owner comes to the middle, she pats her on the shoulder,
‘You look mild enough.’
Well my owner didn’t name me Mattie for nothing. It is my duty to encourage her to show her what she could be, so I dart around her, barking about Germaine Greer and the Female Eunuch and cite passages from Virginia Woolf.
‘The TRAINER has led my owner by the elbow into the group centre, ‘Now if you are in a situation where a threatening person comes up to you,’ she is beckoning my owner. ‘Your dog may become excited.’
‘You be the dog’ she said to my owner, ‘Bite me!’
My owner leans forward. Her mouth is open.
Later, nobody meets our eyes as we are expelled from class. The TRAINER when she screamed had a high pitched voice, ‘I meant with your hand, with your hand.’
Soon after the TRAINER leaves for a tetanus jab. Nobody is interested my owner’s apologies, they did not understand her explanation that once she was an actress.
‘I’m so sorry, I thought it was role play, improvisation.’ My owner did not make sense and I had to drag her away.
On the way home she walks beside me, repeating ‘If she had only been more specific ‘Bite me with your hand’ she should have said’.
‘Don’t go there girlfriend.’ I bark before giving a consoling lick. I am in it for the long haul.
‘Look! Don’t feel too bad. There’s plenty of time to improve. In dog years you’d be dead already...’
She looks at me and does not understand. Her head hangs down and then I remember about the power of the stick. A storm recently has meant that the ground is littered with them. I go and get it and she smiles and throws it again and again.
It really works! BW