A Shaggy Dog Story.

In the 80s and 90s the Butchers went through a series of dodgy haircuts, very many Doc Martens and a couple of Yorkshire Terriers. John, or ‘Butch’,was not fond of the Terriers. They were ‘Pointless’. Butch walked around the house barefoot, and regularly trod in daily doormat ‘deposits’. One of his more coherent responses to this was; “That’s not a real dog. Can you see that thing ever hunting in a pack?”

In my first ten years the Butchers got through four hamsters, an African snail with rude words written on & Lego men glued to his shell, two terrapins, a humanity-hating cat, a kingdom of newts and a colony of stick insects getting jiggy with it.  At 11, I started pleading for a puppy. Butch was not amused. He went to the Malt Shovel in Barston for a well-earned pint, and came back with Jake. Jake was not a puppy.

Everyone has a story about how their dog/cat/rabbit is better than any other dog/cat/rabbit – it’s so intelligent, so human, no, seriously – you would not believe what it does that makes it so much better than normal dogs/cats etc.

Our species loves to build an affinity with something that’s not human, but whose idiosyncrasies give it a personality definable in human terms. A creature that depends on you to be alive and happy, and preferably communicates it. Sometimes, you get a character that inspires Garfield, or Gromit. I’m putting Jake up with the greats. He was a Butcher’s dog, and one worth telling folks about.

Found tied to a stick on a patch of ‘garden’ on the Chelmsley Wood Council Estate, Jake had a rough start. His neck had grown around the rope, and he was speckled with dents where estate residents had thrown things at him. In this time he developed a very rational lifelong hatred towards teenage boys in baseball caps.

An anonymous hero in a neighbouring high-rise  saw the puppy, tied to a post with an empty food bowl and climbed into the garden one night. He drove the puppy to a dog lover called Sue Love. If our hero hadn’t made either the rescue or known Sue, and if Sue’s husband hadn’t been a fan of the same pubs as Butch, we could have missed out on seventeen years with a legendary mutt.

Sue was a Pedigree Chum. Crufts regular, breeder and assault-course lieutenant, she paraded hounds up ladders and seesaws, weaving poles and racing down tunnels. She cleaned up the mongrel from the estate and confiscated his manhood, but the mix-&-match hound wouldn’t cut it for Crufts. Jake was fine with that. He did the entire course himself, immaculately, without escort, strutting his shaggy flairs with pride, a bit like a like a skinny, black, brummy Legolas.

And Sue made a mistake we’ll always be thankful for. Jake didn’t get on with her Greyhound. 17 years of observation gives us a good guess – Jake was not a bum-sniffer or turd-muncher, and didn’t have much time for them. And the eunuch didn’t take kindly to over-affectionate mutts. Never a fighter, any reaction had to be well provoked, and Sue’s amorous turd-eating greyhound had been in the family longer, so Jake was touted in the pub.

He arrived with a pink matted rug, plastic yellow bowl and two despondent looking squeakies. Afraid and unsure, the whites of his eyes were straight out of the ‘Baby of Mine’ scene in Dumbo. That night mum and dad went for a curry, and the two of us sat, tentatively, deciding whether to be friends. After an hour, the big shaggy black dog with the bright orange eyebrows, long nose and white triangle of fur on his chest sat by me, and so it was.

Butchers are a gregarious bunch, but he managed to suit each one of us perfectly. He was calm enough for mum, noble enough for dad, affectionate enough for me, clever enough for Jess, and cool enough for Ben. A week later, when Sue saw her error, mum was having none of it.

In the next 17 years Jake met football managers and politicians, millionaires and musicians, with discerning eyes after rudely announcing their arrivals. He won Best Pet in the Ullswater Country show. He befriended an entire pub of locals in the Lake District while also serving as pub Vacuum cleaner. He was Butch’s mountain pal, who admired the views from over a hundred peaks with a look of genuine pride and satisfaction. Fox chaser, squirrel worrier, burglar alarm, ping-pong ballboy, lover of sardines, hater of postmen, personal trainer, therapist, Eurovision Song Contest Celebrator, ice-breaker, pillow, flatulence champion, doorstop, babysitter, companion. You had a good innings, old chap, and you won’t be beat.

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