Looking after Ben

by Harriet Steel



It’s a lovely spring morning and the sun streams through the windows of my study.  I’m stretched out on the rug, my head on Ben’s foot, enjoying a snooze.

            If you ask me to describe Ben, I’d say he’s lovable, although a bit diffident, but when encouraged, he will be playful: chasing sticks or balls, having tugs of war with socks or playing games of tag in the park.  He usually gets very excited when we play the tag game, making strange, high-pitched shrieks and shouting my name a lot.

            Me?  I’m a liver-and-white springer spaniel.  My full name is Peregrine Took Skywalker.  Unfortunately, when I came to live with Ben last winter, I was unable to explain this to him because, being a human, he can be slow on the uptake, so he calls me Bramble.  It’s a pleasant enough name and I have no objection.  If I am not too busy, I will even come to it.

            When I was a pup, I spent a short time with a family called the Harrisons.  The Horrible Harrisons I named them before long.  They had a mean streak.  The man who was the pack leader often tried to kick me, and frequently I was shut up with no food or water.  One day, someone left a door open and I ran away.

            Life on the street was tough and the nights were freezing.  Fred, an old-timer with a lame leg and a badly torn ear, warned me that it was best to stay healthy; a sick dog didn’t stand much chance of survival.  As a youngster, he’d only just pulled through after his people threw him out of their car onto a busy road.  Thank goodness a kindly human turned up and I was rescued.

            I was taken to a place where there were lots of other dogs.  They’d all had bad experiences, some much worse than mine.  When Ben arrived, I could see straight away that he needed love and attention.  I felt that helping him would take my mind off my own troubles.

            He took me back to the place that became our home.  Clearly, he’d done his best, but the house needed a dog.  It didn’t take me long to put my teeth and paws to work and make the rugs and furniture look more homely.

            Since then we have been very happy together.  We take long walks most days and then he likes to sit in front of his computer.  I worry about this sometimes.  He’s often there for hours and hours.  Surely it isn’t good for him?  So I take him for another walk or find him little jobs to do; for example, a trip to the shop to buy some nice treats, or grooming sessions.  During these, I give him a good wash with my tongue.

            One disadvantage to living with Ben is the food.  Whatever the Horrible Harrison’s’ faults, and there were many, when I could pinch it, a lot of the food was delicious: scraps of chips, burgers and Kentucky Fried Chicken. 

            Ben always boasts to his friends about my healthy diet.  This consists of pieces of coloured cardboard made into different shapes.  There are little balls, rings, bones and things that look as if they have been scraped off the bottom of shoes.  All of them taste the same.  He says they are the best food for me.  If they are so good, why does he eat other things, especially chocolate bars and bags of crisps?  At least he leaves the wrappers lying around so that I can enjoy those.

            The other disadvantage is his peculiar habit of collecting my poo and placing it carefully in a small blue bag.  I have tried everything I can think of to stop him doing this.  I clamber under giant laurel bushes, stand on brambles or lean up against railings, but he never takes the hint.  If all humans removed our poo, how could we dogs communicate with each other?  Clearly he doesn’t understand the importance of TEXTS: Turd EXaminaton and Telepathy Systems.  But despite these drawbacks, I have become very fond of him.

            Coming back to today, I think it’s time for some exercise.  Finding my lead, I run about with it in my mouth until he obliges. 

           We go jogging in the park.  The drifts of daffodils are like pools of gold and pale green leaves sprout from the bare branches of the trees.  I stop to examine some interesting smells in the bushes.  After a few minutes, I lift my leg on a carefully chosen one and then trot on to catch up with Ben.

            Suddenly, there’s a commotion.  Racing around the corner I see a slim, tanned, female human who has rolled over on her back.  She’s wearing pink Lycra shorts and a pink top.  Her blonde hair is tied up in a pink band.  Ben’s standing over her saying ‘Sorry, I’m so sorry’ over and over again.  This is an example of how human and dog behaviour differs.  A dog would knock over another dog as the preliminary to a fight or a good game.  Either way there would be no time spent apologising.

            Ben helps the female human up.  Leaning on his shoulder, she hobbles to a nearby bench.  She seems to be having trouble with her left leg.  Ben takes out his phone and starts talking into it.  Presumably by coincidence, one of his friends drives by soon afterwards and takes me home.  Ben hardly takes his attention off the female human to say goodbye to me. 

            Ben’s friend gives me some cardboard food and refills my water bowl.  Then he leaves.  I wait for what seems like an age for Ben to come home.  When he does, he just scratches me behind the ears, says ‘Sorry old boy’ and goes to bed.

            Two days later, Ben’s taking his usual shower.  He often howls in there but today it’s even louder than usual.  Afterwards he spends ages trying on different clothes until he finds some he is happy with then he puts on a lot of smelly stuff.  Is he trying to mark his territory?  He leaves the house and I settle down disconsolately to wait.  If he’s going to the pub, why doesn’t he take me?

            Much later that night, he returns with the female human, whose name turns out to be Asha.  I know this because he introduces us.  She doesn’t look too keen on making my acquaintance and asks if I will bite her.  Just give me the chance, I think.

            Her visits become alarmingly frequent.  She soon usurps my place in the bedroom and seems determined to oust me from my position of pack leader.  I rack my brains for a solution but nothing comes.

            The other person who seems as unhappy as me is our friend and neighbour Daisy.  In the good old days before Asha, Daisy often came round.  We visited her too and I always enjoyed her cooking. When Ben told her to stop giving me titbits, she would say that I was so sweet that she couldn’t help it.  Obviously a very discerning girl.  Sometimes, when Ben had to go away for a few days, she invited me to stay at her house.

            I don’t really know whether Daisy is pretty by human standards; I have always found these hard to fathom.  Her short curly hair is the colour of roasted chestnuts and she is small and slim.  What I like about her most is her infectious smile and sweet nature.  She and Ben look about the same age and both like to spend most of their days at the computer.  They seem so well suited that I had cherished a hope that I would be able to get them together.  After all, two devoted humans are better than one.  Now I can hear through the wall that the cheerful music Daisy usually plays had been replaced by mournful songs.  I think that like me, she wants Asha to go away.

            The weeks wear on.  Daisy looks sadder and sadder and Ben seems happy to let Asha make all the pack decisions.  A lot of these involve leaving me behind when they go out together.  Daisy would never do that.

             One evening, when Ben is away, Asha goes out and comes home after a few hours with a male human.  Furious, I snarl at him.  She has no right to introduce a new pack member without consulting me.

            They seem very pleased with each other but he likes me even less than Asha does.  When he comes round, they usually shut me away.  I need to think of a way to tell Ben what’s happening.  The male human never comes to the house when he is at home.

            Tonight, I’m in the kitchen, listlessly chewing at a table leg when I hear Ben’s voice.  He has been away in somewhere called Amsterdam and Asha is not expecting him back until the morning.   He opens the kitchen door and I fling myself at him ecstatically.  He scratches my head and says, ‘Hello, mate, beautiful boy, where’s Asha then?’  Suddenly the idea comes to me.  I can hazard a pretty good guess where Asha is.

            Toenails clattering on the wooden floor, I career through the sitting room and execute a perfect handbrake turn into the bedroom.  There, Asha and the male human both start to shout at me, but I ignore them.  I seize the pink lace knickers that Asha has left on the floor and run as fast as I can to the kitchen.  Ben laughs.

            ‘Bad dog!  Give those back!’  

            In his dreams.

            I dash out of the kitchen, with him in hot pursuit.  Tough having to do this to him, but as he always says when he takes me to the vet to have needles stuck in me, sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.

            As we hurtle through the bedroom door, poor Ben gives a howl of dismay.  I leap onto the bed and growl at Asha and the male human.  He grabs his clothes and is gone in a flash.  I speed up his exit by following him, snapping at his heels. 

       After Asha has left, Ben and I pass the next day under a cloud.  I try to cheer him up by tugging the lead down from the kitchen work surface and offering to walk him; I roll convulsively on my back, which usually makes him laugh; I bring him toys: nothing works.

            Finally at about six o’clock he says gloomily, ‘Well old boy, I suppose I’d better take you out.’  He fastens on the lead and we set off for the park.  He slouches along in silence.  When I want to stop and sniff, he’s irritable and jerks my lead.

            Then a voice calls out to us.  It’s Daisy.  I think she knows that something is wrong.  I jump up and down in front of her to show she should come on the walk.  Imagine my relief when she understands! 

       Whilst we walk, Ben talks a lot and Daisy listens.  Then Daisy talks a lot and Ben listens.  To tell the truth, I don’t attend to what they are saying all that closely.  In the park, there are so many intriguing smells, sniffing them all keeps me rather busy.

       When we get back, Daisy comes in for a cup of tea.  She and Ben are still talking intently.  After a while Benjy stretches his hand across the kitchen table and takes Daisy’s.  They both look much happier.

            I too feel happier than I have in a long time.  I rest my muzzle affectionately on Daisy’s knee and relax my jowls into a grin.  With her free hand, she reaches down and strokes my ear.

            Flopping to the floor with a contented sigh, I drift into a snooze with my head on her foot.


©2008 Harriet Steel

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