Koda, the gorgeous chocolate Labrador that we are looking after, gets fed twice a day, straight after his walks. It is hilarious to watch. The sequence is as follows:
Step 1: We come through the garden gate and round to the back door. I get a towel and wipe half of Colchester off of him while he does his best to turn away and keep at least a quarter of it.
Step 2: I open the door and mouth the word ‘Bed’. I don’t even have to say it because he knows he has to go there first while his meal is prepared.
Step 3: I pour the food into his bowl. I can’t actually see he is still in his bed in the other room but I’m sure he is. The momentum he hares in at in Step 4 is impossible to achieve without either the aid of a giant catapult or a very long, frantic run up.
Step 4: I tip the food into his bowl and call out, ‘Ko...’ Before I finish his name, he comes into view. This is the really funny bit. He has to negotiate three 90 degree turns without slowing down. I’m usually watching after the third bend. I see his tongue first, followed by his snout, which, let’s face it, is the engine room of this whole operation, closely followed by the rest of him. He misses crashing into the cupboards by a combination of no little skill, determination and unadulterated greed; any delay might mean having to wait a nano-second longer for his food. He is all arms and legs (think Scooby-do running away from a ghost) as his sharp claws, evolved over thousands of years to give his species stability and control over rough terrain when hunting, try to cope with the very smooth terrain of our floor tiles. How he stops at his bowl, I have no idea.
Step 5: In less than 30 seconds, the bowl is empty. He then disappears back to his bed with the expectation that the process is going to be immediately repeated. It isn’t.
Taking him on walks is a joy. I know I’ve been doing it in summer when we are blessed with good weather and long days but, regardless of that, I think I would always like it. Being out in the fresh air is so much nicer than being stuck in a house that stinks of dog. I exaggerate: it’s not as bad as that. It stinks of dog and reed diffusers. This is an unusual scent, only marginally better than dog.
Walking has lots of benefits. We are out together in lovely woods and fields and it is, I must say, genuinely a pleasure to be with him while he tears about the place. He is so full of life! He has this constant inquisitiveness about every location we visit. His tail doesn’t stop wagging and he bounds everywhere. Every piece of fox excrement he finds is a new experience, a new delicacy to sample, a new odour to embrace and share about his body. He's worse than the punters going through the duty-free perfume sections at airports. He knows every single fox intimately in the Essex countryside – their DNA is all over his back. One of them knocked on our door last night and asked if Koda could come out to play. I didn’t need to ask him how he knew where we lived.
I have more than doubled the amount of steps I do every day and it would be even more if I didn’t spend the first five minutes of the walk on the horizontal, legs out behind me and one arm extended, clinging on to the lead as Koda heads for the first copse on the left hand side down the lane – the special poo place. Since those first few days, he has substantially increased the amount of incendiary devices he has deposited in there, which is a relief as I don’t have to clear up so much. The local pooches don't use that spot anymore and. indeed have started to warn each other of the hazards of using Koda's special toilet. The other day, I saw a French poodle putting up some yellow ticker tape around it with the words, ‘Danger of fall out. Do not cross this line.’
I will miss Koda like mad when he leaves but I will not miss the feel of the warm squidgy yukiness through the plastic bag as I scoop it up. He expects a reward straight afterwards; a tasty biscuit treat. How come he gets one of those? I have to make do with just a gin and tonic after I've been.
We were out walking last week and we came across a lovely white Labrador. He and Koda got on like a house on fire so the lab’s owner and I had a quick chat. So engrossed in our conversation were we that we did not immediately notice the dogs happily and manically prancing about in the corn field next to us. We stopped them before they did too much damage but I felt really bad. I would have paid the farmer a few quid if anyone had been around to pay. I did, however, learn something about how crop circles are formed and can now reveal that secret to you: they are most definitely not formed by 2 crazy Labradors high on each other’s testosterone. That section was a bit of a mess, I'm sorry to say.
Next week, Koda will be returned to his loving family, Terry, Jackie, Lauren and Katie. Before he goes, I want to assure them that he is now firmly in a good routine, something that is so important for young dogs. This is what his new routine looks like. I hope they will adhere to it.
6:00 Wake up – bark
6:02 Follow human round house while he fumbles around with pulling back curtains, tripping over dog’s toys, tripping over dog and deciding which way up the coffee cup goes.
6:10 Watch human find key to back door and continue wagging whole back half of body (he truly does this, folks – very endearing). Sucker human into thinking that, if a biscuit treat is not forthcoming mighty soon, there could be consequences far worse than a bit of fox excrement coming into the house.
6:12 First exercise of the day. Important that the ‘poo walk’ is done in these early stages – half Twiggy, half John Wayne – to sucker human into thinking that, if a biscuit treat is not forthcoming mighty soon etc etc
6:20 First deposit of the day done in poo place. Collect treat. Wink at French poodle who is watching from behind the hedge on the other side of the lane.
6:20 Walk, sniff, lick, snuffle, stop suddenly, bark, eat grass, tissues and sticks, snort, repeat ad infinitum or until 6:50, whichever is the earliest.
6:55 Return home – enjoy leisurely breakfast.
The rest of the day is spent sleeping, begging for food if humans are around, scavenging for food if humans are not around and slobbering.
17:00 See 6:10, 6:12 etc
21:00 Pretend that a walk has never been done before in the history of dogs and stare at human with puppy dog eyes (where he gets those from, I don’t know). Ensure eyebrows have been set on random play. Do poo walk if human not playing ball.
21:10 Go out and play ball with human.
21:25 Leave ball at furthest most point from exit point from field or garden. Watch human’s own eyebrows dance and nose snort as gunky ball is picked up and placed in bag.
22:00 Bed. Dream of the hills of the Peak District. Break wind on the hour.
So, as Koda and I come to the end of our la-bro-mance, it’s time to evaluate our time together. I have to say, it’s been brilliant. He is such a character and lovely company. He is in good health and heart, I think. We have followed all advice and instructions during his stay, even some of those given to us by his owners. Admittedly, he has got used to his pasta in the evenings being al dente and his chicken fried (brown on one side only) but I’m sure he will prefer to be back with his loving family very soon, allowing them to take over the cooking duties.
I will miss him very much.
As will our new pet fox.