Posting days: Sunday and Wednesday and, sometimes, maybe, extra bits in between.
Sunday February 24th 2019
A sunny week and Isis continues to enjoy herself in Highbury Park.
Lately, several people have told me that they remember when she flattened herself against the back seat of the car, ignoring our cajoling, and only today Ji. and I talk about the times when we returned home without Hairy One even setting a paw on the gravel of the car park.
Even when we managed to get her out of the car, it was sometimes impossible to persuade her to walk to, let alone across, the few feet of tarmac path which lay between us and the grass.
On occasions, when we managed to access the grass, she was still so frightened that we had to give up and take her home again. (Once home, of course, she would trot happily into her garden and play there until dark.)
Her past behaviour makes perfect sense now, of course, and I can only marvel at her bravery. I doubt that she had ever been taken for a walk before Kerry took her at Aeza.*
Bright light still makes her visibly fearful, but her desire to play in Highbury is very strong too.
Today, even though it’s February, the sun is blazingly bright. The car is parked as close to the nearby woodland as possible. I open the car door on the shady side, and unclip Hairy One’s safety strap.
She emerges eagerly, but once outside, she shrinks against the car and sidles round to the boot.
She stands nervously for a moment or two while I stroke her. Then, eventually, one paw at a time, she creeps to the edge of the track and begins to move slowly towards the meadow.
What is motivating her to walk into the dangerous space of sun and shadows?
Ah, she has now worked out a route which she feels is safer than any I choose. Clearly determined, but still creeping, she makes her way towards a small gap between the hazels.
She has only recently discovered the wavy paths which walkers have made in the little woodland strip, and she loves them.
Over the past two weeks, by a dogged process of trial and error, sniff by sniff, she has tried to follow one of these paths. It is clear that she knows that the path leads to the field she currently likes to play on, but finding the exit is a huge challenge.
Often, she takes a wrong turn and finds herself off piste.
She pushes through groups of saplings crowded together among tangled undergrowth. She stops abruptly when confronted by stiff, low branches or impenetrable clumps of brambles. As we know, she is a persistent little animal, and she usually manages to turn herself round and struggle back to where I am standing on the path.
At other times though, especially in the first few days of her explorations, because she is unable to see the dog-sized gap to the right or left of her, she thinks she’s trapped and there’s no escape. When this happens, she turns round and round uneasily until I show her the way out.
Sometimes she really is stuck. Then she freezes and stands stiff and immobile, until help arrives.
Many’s the time I’ve had to fight my way through ankle wrenching roots and armies of thorns to rescue her. These situations obviously frighten her, and when I reach her she greets me with relieved wags.
Today, for the first time, she follows the path to the field without any help from me. Although she stops now and then to check that I’m following her, she navigates all the hazards independently.
The exit is only about eighteen inches wide and framed by brambles, but she finds it and emerges triumphantly onto the field and her current dancing platform.
I admit that yesterday I bent back a particularly fat and thorny bramble which stretched itself across the exit at Hairy One’s chest height; even so, I think she’s done very well.
*Isis came from the Aeza cat and dog rescue and adoption centre in Aljezur, Portugal. For information about adopting an animal from the centre, contact email@example.com or www.dogwatchuk.co.uk