We really do have the very best of intentions. Flattering ourselves we are ‘giving back’, our disconcertingly small act of altruism comes in the form of weekend respite care for guide dogs in training. That’s right, we selflessly agree to play with a labrador for 2.5 days a week.
And yes, I can feel the collective admiration.
So, from what I can gather, the dog-in-training spends Monday to Friday in a type of canine military camp. They engage in endless training drills all day, eat spartan amounts of highly concentrated kibble at regimented intervals and sleep in caged barracks overnight.
We arrive mid afternoon most Friday’s to collect our allocated dog for its weekend furlough. Along with bedding, a sleeping crate and a plastic container of dried food rations, we are handed the leash of a wildly excited animal. The working beast, while delirious with exhaustion, is nonetheless mad for interesting new humans and spends the next few minutes leaping about like a gazelle or running around in circles until it can be coerced into the car. Once in the passenger footwell, the dog completely loses interest in us and falls asleep.
Upon arrival at its temporary pied a terre, each new dog has forensically investigated the kitchen, hoovered up anything the mop has missed and done a nervous wee on the floor – usually the carpeted bit. Often twice.
Along with a staff directive to enjoy puppy playtime, each dog comes with an explicit list of Do’s and Don’ts – Ok, Don’ts.
1) DON’T LET DOG ON FURNITURE.
Every dog has intuitively known we are basically at their will. Eyeing us speculatively on the couch (a couch, I should add, that begs to be replaced, but as getting something up to our living room requires the engineering capability of an Incan constructing the Saksaywaman wall, we’re in no rush), in no time they are happily insinuating their plush coats between us and snoring like a horse.
2) DO NOT FEED DOG TREATS.
Clearly the trainers do not spend time having brunch with the dogs. Can anyone, faced with the tilted head and pleading brown eyes of a labrador, deny it bacon? I didn’t think so.
3) DO NOT TAKE DOG FOR WALKS
So, this is to prevent you, the hapless non-Cesar Millan from reinforcing poor walking form – as in ‘crab walking’. This would be decidedly easier to abide by were we to live in a place with a garden…or a courtyard…or even a nature strip, but , for purely ‘toileting’ purposes, our closest grassy knoll is a block away and unless we piggyback all 35 kilos of Labrador they are compelled to walk. If in their haste to evacuate, they choose to tread in the manner of a decapod crustacean, who am I to judge?
FAIL. (not my fault)
4) DO NOT PLAY TUG OF WAR WITH DOG
Yeah, right. When a dog has your favourite cashmere sock in its gob, you’re playing tug-of-war, whether you want to or not. The sock always loses.
5) DO NOT LET DOG ON BED
Who would do that? They shed hair everywhere, they smell, they do that running man thing after a pee and get clods of dirt on their paws…I mean, what kind of blithe idiots would be happy with that? On their bed for heavens sake?
Our current regular dog is being trained to work with sufferers of Young Onset Alzheimer’s. Trained to follow the afflicted about the house, I note with mild consternation, his particular adherence to me. He is never far away; his perfectly cold wet snout pressed up against the sliding door of the bathroom waiting for me to emerge or his head in the crisper as I fossick for broccoli.
Eschewing the crate in favour of piled up blankets in the corner of our bedroom, he creeps ninja quiet around the perimeter of the marital bed before leaping into the narrow chasm between us and then resting his head and paws on my head. My guess is he’s checking to make sure I’m actually there and not wandering the streets in my pyjamas.
Or he could just prefer the pillow top mattress to the floor. He’s not an idiot.
The staff and trainers ask us to report any incidences or concerns after each weekend, which I initially took very seriously. It was shortly after the entire un-lidded contents of a tupperware container full of banana muffins, paper baking cases and all, was inhaled not once but on two separate dog minding occasions , that my reports diminished in detail. Now they simply read “All good, See you next Friday”.
Eventually they’ll put together the unaccountable canine weight gain and cavalier approach to furniture and we’ll be exposed as the shamefully lax temporary carers we actually are.
In the meantime, its cold and I’ve got a beautiful 18 month old golden Labrador to lie across my feet while I binge watch OITNB. Volunteering feels good.