Lilac and Lime

Contrasts in colour, contrasts in life – Mary Bruce

Archive for July, 2008

The trials of a dedicated dog

Butch was a young adult when he came to live with us. I’m not entirely sure of the circumstances but understand that an aversion to the local postman had something to do with his departure from Durban. We were living at Botha’s Hill at the time and Butch made numerous moves with us before finally dying as an old man while running back through the plantations at Ferncliffe to be at home with Mom.

There are lots of memories associated with him, all of them overshadowed by his complete devotion to Mom.

He came to us with a number of established and intriguing quirks which he never lost. One was his refusal to set one foot out of the gateway onto the verge, although there was no gate to prevent him from doing so. Another was his behaviour whenever he was given a bone ; instead of being demolished as one would logically have expected, he was observed to take these trophies to a clearing in a nearby shrubbery and then retreat behind one of the bushes. The reason soon became obvious : the poor dog next door could see and smell an apparently unaccompanied bone and it consequently wouldn’t be long before it appeared next to the bait. There inevitably followed a scaled down World War.

Butch was generally known to the family as “Squeaky” because of the tendency of his vocal chords to give out when he was particularly pleased to welcome us back from any outing. He would circle and show his delight openly, but could only produce a sequence of squeaks from the sound department.

Although Mom was always his primary person, he had a deep affection for us – which we sometimes simply didn’t deserve. It wasn’t that we were lacking in feeling or affection for him, it was simply the way things sometimes turned out.

It came out a couple of weeks ago that none of us has forgotten one of poor Squeaky’s bathtimes. We had a big galvanised tin bath that was used for the ceremonial removal of fleas, dirt and dryness from our dogs. It was half-filled with jugs of hot and cold water and then the victim was assisted into the torture tub. They stood while we poured water over them, rubbed in the shampoo and then sat down while we washed it all off again. On this occasion Butch didn’t sit down. So we assisted by pushing his rear into the required position. He returned immediately to the upright position. So we instructed him to ‘Sit’, which he wouldn’t do. Once again we assisted him and he shot back to full leg stretch even faster than before. It was only on the third attempt that we realised that what was to us pleasantly warm water was much warmer to his unaccustomed regions. And he still loved us afterwards although he probably qualified to have his thoughts washed out with soap too at the time.

And then there were the ten days Mom spent in hospital recovering from surgery. We visited each afternoon and, having since had stitches myself, I only now realise what we must have put Mom through on this day. Dad has recently taken to adamantly denying the story, saying the food was hot, but the rest of us clearly remember it differently. The night before the visit in question, Dad had made ‘white sauce’ to go with supper. I am not sure why it didn’t appear on the table but something must have been wrong because it found its way en masse into Butch’s bowl. Much to the eternal delight of the family line, Butch, ever keen to use up scraps, sped up to the bowl – and then stood and barked at it. He never ate it, even when we had stopped laughing enough to check again. Hot pot? maybe not.

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Neighbourhood Watch

Tug

Tug

This photo of our Ginger Monster was taken in January 2004 as we were packing to move from the flat in Epworth to Oak Park. Sir packed himself frequently in various locations, sometimes inside, sometimes on top but, having made two earlier moves in his toddler years, he was quite capable of checking contents – and ensuring his own travel voucher.

His poor nose had taken a hammering from the sun and he had had a rodent ulcer cut from it in his youth. It was one of the very few hassles he ever had with his health and it was ironic that it was later a compromise of his immune system that lead to his premature death.

On the more positive side, the move to Oak Park extended the opportunity to be appointed as one of Tug’s agents to countless more breathless applicants. Kimberley remained his primary agent but the group came to include numerous dogs, a fish and a selection of monkeys were in training at the time of Tug’s demise.

Our neighbours have a female Jack Russel who has had three litters of puppies. She is almost entirely white with a couple of brown patches. This is relevant because the only pup to stay on from her first litter is a bit taller, more slightly built – and pitch black. He looks like a tiny Labrador. His name is Chocolate (‘Nunu’ when he’s on our property) and he is an absolute gem, very eager to please and willing to learn. His only regular shortcoming is a memory lapse related specifically to keeping out of the cat bowl. None of the second litter stayed on, and two white females were kept from the third and final litter. Although their mother and brother are smooth-haired, both of these girls have wire hair. There the similarity ends. One is tall and scraggly, a real little tomboy whom we have named Dixie – she is perpetually in trouble with others and tends to be a bit of a loner. She is also my favourite. Both she and her brother climb like monkeys and have been seen at head height on wire fences. Her little sister is half her size and has beetle eyebrows which give her an endearingly anxious expression. We call her Peanut.

Tug referred to them collectively as “The Dominoes” – ‘if you smack one, they all fall down’.

He had no problem at all in controlling them – and was frequently required to exercise it. They retained their conviction that he smelt like a cat, despite his distinctly non-feline behaviour. This led to frequent attempts to ambush or pursue him. He simply stared them down.

Albert is the Jack Russel who belongs to our landlords. We were a bit concerned about how he and Tug would get along as he, unsurprisingly, did not like cats and Tug had been resident on the property for a couple of years when Albert moved in. On the first day after Albert’s arrival, his owner Pam came to me in a rather perplexed state. Albert was apparently desperately upset because all his attempts to charge at or chase Tug were thwarted by the refusal of Sir to budge an inch from where he was sitting. This untypical reaction had wrecked all Albert’s pre-conditioning and he had had to accept at the end of a long day that one cannot chase something that refuses to move.

Possibly the most surprising of Tug’s agents was our first Siamese Fighter fish, Hakkaludi. He was stunning electric blue and a character of note. Each evening Tug would come in and recline on a packing box that was parked in front of the cupboard that held the fishtank. Once he was suitably relaxed, on his side at full stretch, Hakkaludi would start the scheduled performance. Like a miniature dolphin, he would jump out of the water and flip over backwards, swim up and down shimmering his generous fins, and generally show off for the benefit of the cat. We were simply the taggers on. The cat appeared to enjoy the show and regularly watched with a smile of satisfaction.

We were priveleged to live in this community.

A gaggle agog

Tug’s interaction with other animals was fascinating. In most cases his confidence saw him through but on a few occasions he thought even faster than usual or, very rarely, abandoned his poise and ran for it.

The kitchen in our second garden flat overlooked an extensive garden at the back of the main house. There were three other garden flats and we had to walk around our immediate neighbour’s home to reach the back garden which was fenced off from the front half of the property. About half a dozen geese lived in the back and I admit to keeping a watchful eye on them whenever I went into the area to hang up washing, or for any other reason. Kimberley and Tug generally avoided the area like the plague, although both Kimberley and I enjoyed feeding the geese from the kitchen window.

Kimberley visited her dad on most Saturdays and on this particular afternoon I had the property to myself. With confidence induced by the solitude, I decided to make the most of a sunny day and took lunch, a book and a blanket over to a lush green patch in the middle of the lawn. Within minutes the whole goose family had assembled around the blanket and were surveying me and, more particularly, my lunch with great interest. Tug must have been watching this encounter as, maybe spurred on by my survival, he breezed over and sat on the blanket alongside me, before long lying down and assuming a relaxed pose.

By this time I had consumed my lunch and the geese, while remaining alert to any action on the food front, diverted their attention to the furry orange item on the blanket. His determination to maintain a cool facade proved to be his undoing. The nonchalant flicking of his tail fascinated the assembled throng. It would appear that potential food sources rank at the top of the check list of geese when confronted with anything out of the ordinary. The outstretched necks and intent gazes were soon followed by a number of random pecks at the enticing appendage. This was too much for the Master of All and that was probably the only time I ever witnessed him abandoning all dignity and rushing to safety.

On one of the other occasions when circumstances dropped him deeply in unchartered waters, he almost carried it off with supreme aplomb. This happened a couple of weeks after we moved into our present flat in Oak Park. Tyke (Staffie) and Tug had formed an uneasy truce as both had reputations to consider and could not be publicly seen to get along. This situation was amicably resolved to their mutual satisfaction by the cat speeding up and jogging along so the dog could trot along in pursuit a few metres behind whenever they realised someone had seen them in the same area at the same time. It suited the cat as he was seen to be able to escape the clutches of his predator, and it suited the dog because he felt obliged to at least look as if he was chasing cats.

Kimberley and I had arrived home and were in the driveway at the same time as the family. Tug and Tyke had apparently had a long day but, realising that they were cornered, gamely set off on the charade. Tug jog-trotted just ahead and, to add variety to a now-boring routine, deviated off the route and up a paperbark flat-crown tree that grew adjacent to our carport. As he hadn’t built up enough speed to get very high up it, he jumped a couple of metres up the trunk but on the lower less-used side that was under the roof. Exactly two seconds later, as Tyke jog-trotted up underneath him and pretended to look disappointed that Tug had yet again escaped, the significance of a paperbark tree became apparent to the cat. A sheet of the bark, defined exactly by the perimeter of his footprints, parted company with the rest of the tree and the cat descended backwards directly at the dog’s head. It was one of those frozen moments where you could see the think bubble above the cat’s head as well as the horror on the dog’s face as he realised he was about to be hit on the head by cat-and-glider and have his cover blown. His eyes scrunched up and his head recoiled in anticipation. The rest of us laughed so much that the two decided to give over the act and from then on got along remarkably well, with just occasional jousts to waylay derisive comments about their respective roles.

Hello, I am Tug and you are . . .

Tug’s fearlessness almost knew no bounds.

Our first garden flat was situated on a steep hillside on a side street that ran parallel to a main road and taxi route, making ours the road less travelled. This accounted for the fact that a herd of about a dozen Nguni cattle frequently made use of our thoroughfare to amble down the hillside towards the Botanic Gardens.

Not long after Tug moved in, I was surprised one Saturday afternoon to see a little ginger body come hurtling through the front door and disappear under a tall bookshelf. This was the first time he’d ever shown a lack of self-assurance. A glance out of the door showed that about eight of the cattle had wandered right up the driveway and were grazing around the car a couple of metres away from the flat. Sometime later he re-appeared and walked confidently out of the door back into the garden.

Being curious as to the change of attitude, I was rewarded with the sight of a confident young kitten striding down the driveway, arms swinging from the shoulder – about two metres behind the cattle who were by now ambling back into the road. Every inch the herdboy escorting them from the property.

Two huge Dobermans lived at the house across the road. I used to go to the postbox at the end of our driveway to collect the early morning newspaper, always accompanied by Tug who would wind himself around my ankles and be very affectionate. It was puzzling that every morning, the two Dobermans would squeeze themselves up against their gate, one with his arms around the post, and whimper like babies whenever we appeared. This from two fierce watchdogs was a total mystery.

One day our landlady provided the answer quite accidentally. She came over to chat and told us how amused she was to regularly see Tug (still a very young cat) climb the loquat tree on the Dobermans’ verge, walk out along a branch until he was over their garden, and crouch down extendinging his paws to them. No wonder they dribbled at sight of him.

The second occasion I saw him totally nonplussed was shortly after we moved into the garden flat in Epworth. The family had a Jack Russel and a Labrador ; the move was enlived by Tess (Labrador) running at top speed through our front door and almost immediately out of the kitchen door in pursuit of what appeared to be a whirling Catherine Wheel. Tess had a grin from earlobe to earlobe but was very puzzled on arriving in the back garden sans Catherine Wheel. Having by now grown accustomed to the exploits of our Ginger Fiend, I was already in pursuit to see where he had gone. While Tess huffed and fuffed under the hedges, Tug sat diametrically opposite her behind a circular herb garden – cleaning his face.

A stark contrast to the look on the still shiny clean angelic face when, three days after we arrived, the family took on an adult Great Dane. Tug happened to be facing me when Big Boy (Great Dane) ambled around the side of the garage and up the driveway towards our flat. It is no exaggeration at all to say that Tug’s jaw dropped completely while his head roved up and down as if the sight before him was too much to be taken in just by swivelling his eyeballs. It didn’t matter at all that English didn’t feature in his vocab – total disbelief was written all over.

All four of them rattled along extremely well together over the following four years, probably helped not a little by the discovery on the part of the dogs that cats travel with their own food bowls – a source of hitherto unexpected treats for anyone prepared to take on the owner.

Tug for President

Tug, a long-haired ginger tomcat, joined us as a kitten in March 1998 shortly after Kimberley and I moved into our first garden flat. It became difficult not to think of he and Kimberley as siblings – the squabbles, squinty eyeballs during disagreements, the practical jokes (nearly all Tug on Kimberley), the deep mutual affection and the one-on-one connection. One of the lasting memories is of Tug’s ginger head sticking out of a large green shoulder bag which was flung over one of Kimberley’s shoulders as she rode her bicycle round and round the courtyard. Leather flying helmet and goggles a la WWI would not have been out of place.

Tug would likely have classified himself as a dog, dogs classified him as a nightmare, we didn’t attempt to classify him at all.

Why “Tug”?

Back to the first few minutes of the rest of our lives. We were visiting the SPCA with the intention of choosing a cat/kitten. However, we had totally misread our role. Tug, at six weeks of age a confident little orange furball, strolled out of his shelter and immediately employed Kimberley as his primary agent.

As we arrived home he managed to escape Kimberley’s clutches and sped straight under the old house. I wasn’t at all happy about asking a five-year old child to crawl in and look for him and so we asked the teenage son of friends who lived further up the road if he would help us get the kitten out. This seems to have been exactly the kind of expedition that appealed to Byron who accepted with alacrity before his mother had much opportunity to say anything at all. The pair re-appeared fairly quickly and as a token of gratitude we asked Byron if he would like to name his temporary charge. After a few minutes thought, he decided one of the characters from the show Cats had a catchy name : Rum Tum Tigger. Kimberley and I almost immediately adapted it to Tug, although he had a myriad of other nicknames including BratCat and MonsterCat.

This sets the backdrop for another ten years this colourful character shared with us.

Tyke the Terminator

Tyke

Tyke

Tyke is a staffie who co-owned the property where our current garden flat is situated. He and his sister, Carmen the daschund (more frequently known to us as Daschdog) were very different in temperament but both full of character.

This post recalls one of my favourite Tyke moments.

A sectional title development was being built less than half a kilometre away and both the main house and our home were occasionally visited by long grey rats. In our case it was only one, but it was a very tenacious squatter and took months to evict.

One evening while working late on the computer, a movement on top of a kitchen cupboard behind a pile of baskets caught my eye. Coincidentally, Cobus (the landlord) was locking up their house at the same time and asked if I’d come any closer to catching the rat. By then we had all tried most means, fair and foul, and were feeling a bit desperate. I’d had it jump into my lap from cupboards on two occasions and shrunk in embarrassment from the memory that I’d screamed on one of them – I just don’t do things like that.

Cobus and Tyke came over to look at where it had last been seen so the kitchen was a bit crowded and the rat had disappeared into one of the baskets. Cobus poked around on top of the cupboard, I think with a broom handle. Whatever it was, something struck home and the airborne missile landed with no warning straight on top of Cobus. As sure as I’m sitting here, he screamed and threw the basket so far into the courtyard that it took ten minutes to find later on. (That’s my scream negated).

Tyke had initially joined the search with gusto but had lost interest after a while and was sitting leaning against one of the kitchen cupboards. To have a better mind picture of what went down, you need to understand that Tyke was a mature staffie with a significant midriff. He had sat down with both back legs straight out and the tummy arranged over them ; he was doing his ablutions with long succulent licks and his tummy was bobbing around something like a Babapapa (for those who remember the TV show) ; for those who don’t : like an animated water balloon.

He looked up at Cobus’ yell and both of us gazed at him in disbelief as the rat shot straight under the nearest cover which happened to be a heaving tummy mass. His bemusement at our antics and exhortations to him to do something were cut short when he glanced down and finally noticed that his tummy was still bobbing and swaying around although he’d ceased licking it a couple of minutes before. After a few seconds spent pondering this phenomenon, he suddenly flew upright and dispatched the rat into its next life with little ado.

It is rather mean to laugh at our saviour, but the mental picture will linger for much longer.