"The Homecheck" by Helen Tranter
"He's still very much a puppy. But huge."
"You say perfect, but he's not really very well behaved in other people's homes. Maybe I could do the check without him."
"Hmm, not really. He's exactly what we want. People need to know what they're like. If it's any consolation, another one of our homecheckers' dogs recently ate a lemon loaf from off a coffee table, and there has been one who cocked his leg up a sofa. In a way, these things help the process come to fruition. It aids the decision making. For both parties."
"Well, I warned you.
Okay, I'll do it. We'll do it."
"Fabulous. I'll email you the address and forms."
I put the phone down and looked at Stealth Puppy. He raised an eyebrow nonchalantly. He knew.
The morning of the homecheck dawned, and worst fear #1 raised its ugly head: rain. Does one take one's own towel, or does one laugh in the face of towels and traipse paw-mud into the house with reckless abandon? This is after all, the grim reality of taking a dog into your life. You take with him, all the vile things he loves best. Mud, a well hidden portion of horse manure, that well known aroma "eau de fox", unidentifiable park debris, other dogs' balls, the bag of prawn crackers he found outside the Chinese takeaway and wouldn't "DROPIT". And my personal favourite, the little bit of something deceased that smells like an August post two week bin collection day, and is always carried with a tail or limb cleverly poked out of the mouth like a trophy lollipop.
The plan was thus: LONG walk to tire him out a bit and ensure the toileting faux pas that had befallen others couldn't possibly be re-enacted by Stealth Puppy. Next: fill a rucksack with previously frozen peanut butter, kibble and banana Kongs that could satisfy even the power-chewer for oh, at least ten minutes. Remember Dogmatic Head Collar, or risk a dislocation when anyone so much as makes eye contact with the hairy mutt, and that bottle of water, which was probably for drinking purposes, but could also be used in other situations that I really didn't want to dwell on. Oh, a dash back to the car - poo bags! How could I forget?
I'm not the most confident of drivers. It's not the carmanship skills - I can handle a car and I'm happy driving one. It's the lack of a sense of direction that hampers me. And the failure to realise that those quaint lanes that all look the same are in fact the same lane over and over again. Anyway, I had my Google map, and if other people could do it, then so could I.
Well, I'm proud to say I landed up. And the dog waited in the boot beautifully until I said "jump down". We had a road to cross, and he took great delight in sitting perfectly whilst waiting to negotiate the small amount of traffic. Once again, at the applicant's home he sat there at the front door as I rang the bell, pretty much as if I'd dog-whispered. If you asked me now "was there any indication at all of what was to happen? Were there no subtle signs that with hindsight, you wished you'd picked up on?" Then I would have to say that the tail wag outside that front door ought to have rung alarm bells. Stealth Puppy, you see, has three tail wags:
1) General wag about town: your common side to side exuberant doggie wag.
2) Circular Wag: reserved for people he adores. Usually family and close friends. (Actually, also the vicar and the post man.) The subtext being: "I may be forced to stand on my hind legs in my excitement to greet you. And there could also be slobber. Just saying." On this day, the mutt was displaying:
3) What I like to refer to as Chaos-Wag: a very quick but limited in breadth wag, sometimes interspersed with a circular movement, and very erratic. This is the tail wag that all Labradoodle owners have known. It's the "I am frenzied and rabid, and cannot decide how to wag my tail anymore" wag. It smacks of confusion, mischief, badness and lunacy...
I didn't have much time to react to the door opening debacle. This was essentially what happened: the door opened, he sprang, I dived. I was attached. You know the situation - you've (like an utter fool) wrapped and coiled the lead around your wrist. We have all done this. Why? Why do we do it when it means that the recipient of the ambush gets not only the dog on his or her lap, but the owner too? It's so clearly The Wrong Thing To Do. Apart from anything else, you are transferring all your anxiety down the lead and right into the very essence of the Hairy-Thug-Dog. You are making it worse.
So, anyway, I made it worse.
I landed a little breathlessly at the knees of a sitting-down man, who recovered quickly enough to hold his coffee at arm's length and make a grab for the collar of Not-So-Stealthy-Now-Are-We? Puppy. There was going to be a face licking scenario unless I could come up with something, and fast. For my next trick, I am mortified to recall that I unwound my now floppy and useless hand from the lead, and commenced some ineffectual blowing on a whistle. I wonder what I thought might happen as a consequence of the whistle blowing. I certainly couldn't have predicted the next misadventure. Stealth Puppy, I should mention, laughs in the face of whistles. He doesn't care what the reward connected to the whistle sound might be. The highest value treat for him is the opportunity to roll on a human with his legs in the air. I could offer him a Marks and Spencer's roast chicken, but he'd walk on by if there were new humans to abuse. I'll cut to the chase. There were some animals in that house who did respond to the whistle.
"Oh, my cats..." exclaimed the lady as a family of spitting cats vaulted over a stair gate and took themselves off to the safety of upstairs. Except Stealth Puppy can clear a stair gate no trouble. I would suggest that this part of the visit was probably my least favourite. "Are they usually okay with cats?" the lady rather needlessly asked as we listened to world war three play out on her landing. I don't remember getting as far as answering that, because at that moment, I spotted Stealth Puppy crashing his chubby 30 kilos against her bedroom door. This was followed by the sound of white (I know they were white without looking), Egyptian cotton sheets being defiled by the hairy one. Yeah... he was pretty much in the bed effectively demonstrating the shedding myth.
Someone at some point sensibly suggested we take the meeting out into the garden. Okay, he swam in an ornamental pond and dug a hole in a neat lawn. Oh, and did a small amount of leg humping and in fact a poo. But I managed to ask all the necessary questions and kept telling myself that in spite of my feelings of disastrous mortification, I had done a good job. These guys now knew the worst-case scenario. I cleverly declined a hot drink and cake (ha - I wasn't going to get caught out with THAT one) and with some help from the couple, managed to wrestle a shrub out of Stealth Puppy's mouth and get his head collar on.
As I left, the lady commented; "He's gorgeous, really full of... character. But..." And then she trailed off as she watched the scruffy reprobate lie down on her doorstep and proudly let out a lake of submission wee.
We took our leave.
© Helen Tranter