Posting day: Sunday, and, sometimes, maybe, extra bits in between.
Sunday March 21st 2021
Photograph by Bev Dakin
This is definitely the highlight of the dog walking week.
Bev and I are watching the activities of the birds on the partially drained lake in Cannon Hill Park, when she notices the heron standing in the middle of the lake.
He has a predatory look about him, but surprises us by walking purposefully to the shore and pooping mightily before returning to the water. (Well, who’d poop in their pantry?)
The heron is now seriously ready to hunt. We are surprised as we know that the fish have been relocated to the smaller lakes. We have just told the heron that he’ll be lucky if he finds a tiddler, when he stiffens into dive mode.
Bev catches him seconds after he emerges with this sizeable fish.
Hairy One’s horizons have widened considerably over lockdown. She’s been taken to new places with very different features.
Among potential destinations are now three parks, two recreation grounds and a huge wood. As a last resort, if the light is continuously changing and Isis is clearly distressed, there’s always the back lane!
We have frequented all of these over the last few months. The ever changing British climate and the ratio of space to bodies is a decisive factor when we’re considering where to go. We also attempt to frequent venues where the mud is less than ankle deep.
Hairy One’s first outing, seven years ago, was to Kings Heath Park. Then, persuading her to leave the car was the first challenge. The second was persuading her to walk.
The poor little animal was clearly traumatised, but no-one understood why.
In the early days, thirteen year old Jo. frequently came with us, and we spent a lot of time trying to work out Hairy One’s apparently random behaviours. Why would she leave the car sometimes and refuse to move at others? Why, on some days, would she refuse to walk, then, on different occasions, happily spin around on the grass at the end of a long lead held by Jo?
In Kings Heath Park, both Isis and Human learned a great deal. I learned both from my own observations and from the observations of our caring dog walkers’ gang. It was Gr. who first noticed that she shied away from trees which moved in the wind, D. who suggested that rather than avoiding the stretch of path which terrified Isis, I try carrying her, then putting her down when the ‘danger’ was over, and Bev who was convinced that Isis would be more willing to walk if she got used to the presence of Nancy and Rufus.
In this park Isis had her first taste of freedom beyond her own garden. The old bowling green where our group gathered early each morning was the ideal spot for The Big Release, we had decided.
For some time B had been urging me to try Hairy One off lead but I was afraid that she’d bang into the conifers which line one side of the green. So she was taken every day to walk in and out of these trees. As the group pointed out, there were enough of us to give chase if she staged an escape.
The big day dawned and I released Isis on the edge of the green at the bottom of the high bank. She began to sniff, and as she sniffed, she climbed slowly and calmly up the bank. She made no attempt to run away, and so long as nobody canine or human approached her, she seemed to be perfectly contented.
She was still very frightened of other dogs and of people. When taken towards even a group of two or three dog walkers, she would bolt with me on the other end of her lead.
Then, at last, came the day when she would stand with me on the edge of a small group as long as no two legged or four legged beings were too close. Eventually, she walked along with our group – shadows permitting – always on the outside, but no longer terrified. Gr. and B. even persuaded her to take a treat from them.
One day we met R. and S. with the greyhounds Gilbert and George. R. distributed some particularly delicious treats to six or seven of the dogs as, looking angelic, they shuffled surreptitiously nearer and nearer to her. When she’d finished and was about to put away the treat bag, a clear, single ‘woof’ was heard from behind the group: Isis was asking for her treat!
She became very attached to certain areas of the park, and always chose to play in them. The first was around one of the pine trees high up on the bank. While the other dogs chased balls and each other, she would spend her time circling the tree, pouncing on its springy branches and nipping at them.
She also enjoyed playing on the high mound up above the path and behind the basketball court. Here is a deep shrubbery against which she could bounce and into which she could plunge if another dog appeared. There’s a nice holly bush there too, she discovered, under which one could gnaw peacefully on one’s stick.
Her very favourite place was, and still is, the Colour Garden. Quiet and enclosed on all sides, its long, wide beds invite twirling and dancing. She would race around them and launch herself into their substantial shrubs for hours on end.
She still loves Kings Heath Park, the bowling green bank, the little track near the railway line, the mound, the copses and the Colour Garden.
Over the last twelve months, we have seldom been there: the park is small and has been packed with people taking their lockdown exercise, and the more secluded areas have been intolerably squelchy.
We’ve not abandoned our park completely. When it’s overcast and rain threatens, Isis is happy to take to the pavement, and we walk there and back. Nowadays, she can wander virtually anywhere there, so when it’s raining and virtually empty, she can race around on the grass to her heart’s content.
I’m sure that the first British park she ever set paw in will always remain a favourite.
*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 firstname.lastname@example.org or www.dogwatchuk.co.uk