Juno the Dog is refusing to come in from the garden because she suspects – rightly – that I want to put medicine on her swollen nose. (She was recently on the losing end of an encounter with a very large horsefly.) Really, Juno should join the Christian Scientists, as she regards medical intervention as against the law of God. We have these periodic disputes; she usually wins.
It’s my fate. I have never had a dog that didn’t see itself as the main decision-maker in my household. Of course, I’ve only had two dogs, which is a small sample, admittedly. But they have been LARGE dogs, both of them, so I think I’m safe to declare an emerging trend.
I know this particular drivel is not what you’re expecting. It’s mid-August (already), usually a time when I report to the breathless public just how the annual family vacation-cum-torture test turned out. For those of you who are new to this maundering, my family – we usually live at relatively safe distances from one another – every year undertakes a mad, week-long retreat to Star Island on the Rideau. Here, up to five dogs and some 15 closely related human beings meet for an annual week-long bonding session on a rather cramped little island. Many of my family are younger than the age of reason and others, though elderly, are unlikely to achieve it: this adds a certain spice to our vacation. From this outpost of civilization over the years I have thrilled you (or not) with tales of near drownings, plumbing catastrophes, and my sad attempts to lure someone, anyone, into listening to lines for the upcoming play at Linden House.
Now I have a problem. Absolutely nothing happened this year. It was a peaceful, friendly and relatively safe week in a rustic environment. It didn’t even rain. Oh, sorry. I tell a lie. There was one outstanding moment, and what was a catastrophe for my nephew was a shining moment for me: I achieved a score of 472 in a Scrabble game, thus scotching – or at least denting a little – the persistent rumour that I am not very bright!
Oh, we did have one donnybrook, and it was all my fault. In packing up at the end of the week, some relation was foolish enough to move my suitcase, on top of which I had piled, ready to hand, a few especially precious items, such as Juno’s leash (“without with, nothing,” as the ancient Romans used to say when attempting, like me, to encourage 112 pounds of over-stimulated dog to sit still in the bottom of the boat). Now the suitcase was gone. Some evil agent had moved it without authorization, and now the leash was lost somewhere among the piles of bedding and unused food and deluxe scrabble games. I loudly expressed an opinion that anyone who “moved my stuff” was born to be hanged. I don’t know about yours, but my relatives are never slow in rising to an insult. They dropped the gloves and waded in, loudly proclaiming innocence and making some rather hurtful comments, I thought.
It got rapidly ugly, except that early in the war I located my purse and happened to check inside (just in case). Oops. Blush. There was the leash, just where I had put it. Oh, I hate that, don’t you? I briefly thought of hiding the leash in my sister’s handbag and claiming to have found it there, but not for nothing am I a sidesman at St. Bartholomew’s Church. I turned myself in, ate a modest amount of crow, and peace returned to the island.
And that’s about all that happened – one horsefly bite and one minor skirmish. Hardly worth reporting. In fact, I had to come home to get some excitement. And this time it was Juno’s fault, but it began with the Linden House play. The learning of lines has stalled on the issue of accent. In Somerset Maugham’s romantic comedy, Jack Straw – tickets on sale soon – I get to play a vulgar, loud-mouthed bitch. (I have some relatives who claim it won’t be much of a stretch.) But there are certain challenges. “Oi ‘ave to saound laike a Lunnoner,” you see, which slows me down considerable. I am also hindered by the fact that every time I come to some word like “sure,” I suddenly turn Irish (reference my last play). It’s disconcerting.
Returning to Ottawa, therefore, I decided to take expert advice and was on my way last Friday to see a master of accents by the name of Charlotte Stewart. I was ready to go, script in hand and taxi at the door, when suddenly all hell broke loose. You see, Juno the Dog wanted to come. She REALLY wanted to come.
I was taken by surprise. When Juno was a puppy and had no sense, she once upon a time slipped past me as I opened the front door, and then she gambolled madly up and down the busy street where I live. The game she conceives at such moments is called, “You can’t catch me!” The trick to winning this game (if you are on the human end of the equation) is to look disinterested and walk the other way. Not easy, when traffic is roaring along, and all you want to do is scream with horror and rush out and seize the offending beast. But that feat, you see, depends on your ability to run faster than a young athletic dog: and I don’t. However, I did manage to lure Juno to me quite quickly on that long-ago occasion, because her brain was still quite small. I fooled her by crouching down, holding out an imaginary treat and thus effecting a speedy arrest.
The trouble is, I forgive and forget, but Juno doesn’t. Juno is a four-year-old now, her brain has expanded, and she has taken charge. And apparently she remembers that imaginary treat with some rancor. So it was nothing doing.
There are moments – not all that many, really – when Juno allows me to believe that I control the agenda. For example, when I leave the house these days she usually gives me a cold glance from her cushion by the fireplace and that is about it. Not this time. This time, she made a mad dash for the door and – collarless – slipped by me and went dashing across the road. I threw my purse and notebook to the ground and launched a squealing pursuit.
This is frustration writ large. When we go for an off-leash walk and I call “come,” Juno is at my side in a flash, and I reward the behaviour appropriately. Yesterday, she was having none of it. There was a message clearly written on her black and furry face. “You can’t catch me!” she said, looking positively furtive as she scuttled away, always just out of reach. “You are NOT going to put me back in the house and leave me!”
The next 10 minutes don’t bear thinking about, as she scurried around in circles, crossing from one side of the street to the other and spurning my pleas to “Come, Juno, come!” I ran towards her (she ran in the other direction, only faster). I stopped traffic with one hand and pretended I had a treat in the other. (This worked four years ago, but no longer). I ran away, calling joyously, ”Let’s go for a walk, Juno!” (she’d heard that one before). I flung open the taxi door and cried in a loud, cheerful voice, “Come on, Juno, let’s go in the car!” (The taxi driver said, “Not in my car, she isn’t!”) But still Juno wasn’t fooled. She continued her criminal scurry from one side of the street to the other.
By this time, we had attracted quite a crowd – men leaned out of car windows and offered advice. An Asian man, clearly scared of dogs, looked as though he were going to climb a tree. A hair-dresser from the nearby salon rushed out and attempted a flanking movement. Juno was having none of it.
Clearly, new strategies were needed. I rushed into the house and grabbed her collar and lead, dashed out, crossed the street and sat down with what I hoped was casual nonchalance on a tree stump. “You win,” I said. “You are in control. I surrender.” Juno – who, I think had been a little disconcerted by my brief absence – trotted up and meekly put her head on my lap. I put the collar around her neck, laid my forehead on hers, and there was a cheer from the assembled crowd.
That was yesterday, and we are recovering with the help of aspirin, fluids and bed rest. In fact, Juno has just got out of bed – she is not an early riser – and strolled in to ask about breakfast, so I’d better get busy. Then she’s taking me for a walk.
By the way, if you are interested in hearing more about this year’s production by Linden House – it’s a romantic comedy set in 1905 and made splendid with Downtonesque costumes and set – check out the website at www.lindenpro.ca or give me a call at 613-842-4913. Tickets for the fall show (October 24-November 2) go on sale in September.