If you were to choose a dog to be a bit of company to your 82 year old mother as she struggles to live independently, you might not, if you had any sense, choose this one.
Look up the breed characteristics of a Kerry Blue and you will find that it is an obstinate dog, not very bright, who loves nothing better than to sink its teeth into other dogs. Its other characteristics are that it doesn’t moult, and it doesn’t affect the nasal passages and tear ducts of those who are allergic to dogs. It does affect the eardrums of everyone, and makes all visitors aware and sensitive to its needs. Its needs are that it …….I should call it he, really, shouldn’t I. His needs are that he shout hello really loudly, over and over again to visitors, and when they go he needs to repeat on ‘don’t leave me’. He needs to claw his way through the obstacle race of small tables, foot rests, and chairs that are placed the wrong way round against the lovely bay window to try to prevent him getting through, so that he can place his feet on the paintwork which he has destroyed on the window cill, and shout “hello, hello , hello,”and then “come back, come back, come back,” to passers by, getting down after a very long time, with a little whimper of “where did they even go?”and a bemused expression.
Here’s a picture of the afore mentioned dog. His name is Kerry. I hope I don’t need to explain why. His good points are..hmmm. He is friendly, and very docile with children, once they get over his bark. Mum, with all her complexities, is ever optimistic, and loves the dog, although sometimes she throws things at him to stop him barking. Many’s the time I’ve pick up tubes of germolene, anusol ointment and lids of Seven Seas cod liver oil capsules, and small inspirational books of the sort that well meaning relatives have bought her from the check out area at Waterstones, from the bay window.
Mum’s fate in her future in the house is bound up with that dog. He is company for her, and he is a great guard dog in the sense that he’d frighten the bejaysus out of an intruder, and might well go for someone in such circumstances, unless they brought their own dog, in which case he would just go for the dog. “GRRRRRRRRR…let me at ‘im.”. I want to make it clear that at no point has this dog been encouraged to fight other dogs. In fact my dad refused to believe there was much of a problem until one day Kerry escaped from the garden of dad’s house in the country in France. He was brought back by two irate farmers, held upside down by his hocks. Surrounded by fields of cattle, an ostrich farm, and horses, he had savaged not the livestock, but an expensive and well-trained farm dog, He was lucky they didn’t shoot him. I can only think they had run out of ammunition. Dad gave them a few bottles of wine.
My dad chose this dog because my brother in law is slightly sensitive to dogs. My brother in law rarely visits. He and my sister hate the dog, and I had to ask them to desist from telling mum that they were going to re-home him after my father died earlier this year. Ditto my mother. My mother does not want to go in a nursing home. She wants to stay in her own home, with that dog, even if it kills me.
When my husband, youngest son and I were discussing the dog recently, the question arose if Kerry was a cute puppy.
“All puppies are cute!”, I protested. Silence from them. They did the eyebrow thing.
“Kerry is definitely getting better,” my son said, without, I thought, a trace of irony. I looked up.
“Do you know how many times he barked at me yesterday?”
“No?” I replied, hoping not many, with that sort of opening line. “I didn’t notice…..”
“Sixty. He barked at me sixty times. We were only there for ten minutes. I thought I would just count and let you know.”
“Mum, why don’t you use that citronella collar thing I bought when I was staying round there?”
The collar is activated by the muscles in the throat going into the sort of convulsions that happen during the dog’s shouting its limited vocabulary of “hello”, “who’s that”, “just let me at that other dog, I’ll tear him limb from limb”, “don’t leave me”, and “it’s 12.45 and it’s time for my dentistix” again and again and again. It sprays citronella, a smell that dogs loathe, under the throat and into the nasal passages. It has a Pavlovian effect eventually on even the dimmest of dogs, as they associate their loud vocal communication with a goddamn awful stink. They can get away with an enquiring or doleful whine, but not a bark.
The result of three days training with the citronella collar was that we then had a silent but incontinent dog.