Try crossing a four foot police dog from the Low Countries and a small Scottish canine rabble-rouser of a West Highland Terrier: and what you get looks like this.
His legs are less than a foot tall, but he has the stare of a headmaster during exam week. His social skills are limited: in normal times (as opposed to Strange Times) he is what they call ‘Fine Off the Lead’. This means that when he is free to ramble and meets another dog he behaves unsettlingly like a stalker, invading the body space of taller doggy compatriots and sniffing where the sun don’t shine. Generally his subjects are gracious under his laser like stare because he is, after all, only one foot tall.
On the lead he is a scrapper. He foights with all the passion and natural ability of a Romany boxer.
His name is Riley. He resembles a teddy bear but smells rather differently. On off days he steals pants from the washing basket and gives them his full attention. He also, despite all these exceptionally anti-social traits, steals hearts and he is frankly, in the household and out of it, adored.
And now, for now, as long as we are allowed out into the forest, Riley must master social distancing.This requires being on a lead.
Social distancing is not difficult in our forest, because it is a forest. When you do come upon someone, there is ample room to step out of the way. Two metres? We in the forest are filled with largesse. Have three, Have five. No, take ten.
We bellow across the divide: have a lovely day, beautiful morning isn’t it, aren’t we lucky to have this beautiful open space, etcetera, etcetera.
And what is that noise beneath the dialogue? It resembles a phone call heavy-breather, a wheezy tramp. It is not an attractive addition to this pastoral bliss. I don’t mind admitting it jars.
It is Riley, who is on the lead, stalking the clueless boxer accompanying the other party. Despite many attempts at puppy training and an endless supply of available treats, Riley is pulling my arm out of its socket and wheezing like a good’ un, completely oblivious of everything except one thing. The rest of the forest has gone away, (Think Tony and Maria at that dance in West Side Story) and all that exists is the boxer’s bottom.
He strains at the leash. He has perfected this menacing growl quite out of proportion to his stature; it is meant to inform us he is a dangerous canine criminal with big sharp teeth. In reality he never uses his teeth, he just rumbles with the ominous tones of a Mafia boss about to total a diner. And though I do not know whether the dogs actually believe him, and are worried about a pint size staring stalker with attitude, his Oscar winning tones mean that there are those owners who choose to increase their social distance by some several metres with startling rapidity, leaving us with Dog Corleone, happily throttling himself on the extendable lead.
So for us, social distancing is effortless. It happens quite naturally, though with chagrin. One day, some day, Riley will be allowed off the lead again and we can go back to the old familiar unsettling stalker behaviour we have all come to know and expect. For now, Riley is helping the effort to keep social distance with ease.