Anyone who owns a dog, especially in Cornwall, will know the delirious joy it shows when hearing the word “Walkies”, made famous by Barbara Woodhouse some years ago. Eyes light up, ears prick, the body quivers – all is agog for the treat to come. Never will you see a greater expression of pure joy, betokened by a wagging tail which threatens to detach itself from its body. Glorious, glorious fun.
But not our dog. Not our Basset! Sam was her name – alas, she is dead now – short of course for Samantha, for she was an aristocratic dog who put up with we humans patiently. A barrel of a chest, short, sturdy legs and sad eyes which seemed often to fill with tears. That was our Sam.
Calm, placid and with a doleful yet wise look, she regarded us all with a mixture of resignation and pure love. For love us she did. To feel her soft, rapturous welcome when one returned home was to feel the sheer magic of adoration.
But try saying, “Walkies!”
Just try taking her bell-laden harness down from its hook in the hall. Sam would then look up and her expression says it all. A walk? You must be joking! “Come on Sam,” we would say, our voices alive with enthusiasm, “Come for nice walkies.” Big, soft, brown eyes would look up, misting over with sadness. Her ears, already long, seemed to stretch to the carpet. Me! You can’t mean me! In desperation she would back away, watching warily, then slowly back away to any place where it was well-nigh impossible to put her harness on.
But after a long and difficult struggle, the deed was done, and we were off.
That’s what you think!
Four great feet firmly planted on the floor with Sam’s muscular frame rigid against any tug on the lead. Only sheer strength set us to the door with Sam being pulled along like a bag of cement.
From long experience we learnt that, when left alone to ponder the situation, a basset will nearly always do what you want them to do, partly out of sheer doggy kindness and partly from working to the principle that to do what this silly human wants is a lot less hassle in the long run.
Not that a “long run” is what we were going to get but, eventually we got to the gate whereupon Sam would promptly sit down, front legs stiffened against any further progress. Now, even allowing for a basset’s innate generosity of spirit, a clash of wills was something we wouldn’t win.
Brute force came into it again and at long last Sam would condescend to amble along, the whole length of the lead behind us, with just enough resistance to let us know that it really was a bit much! Perseverance paid and some progress would be made, a few yards at a time, broken by short sit-down strikes.
Indignant passers-by witnessing the grim struggle between a hulking brute and a poor dog made one feel that one would be lucky to escape the clutches of a lynch mob or the attentions of the R.S.P.C.A.
But finally, we would reach the point where we had decided in advance to turn back, came what may. So, turn we would and nearly trip over Sam, the gallant friend of man, who was doggedly going her unwilling way. But now, sensing the change of direction, Sam would be transformed. Off she would go to the front, head and shoulders thrust forward and with a gait that would do credit to a spring lamb. Sam would look the picture of well-trained excellence.
Returning home in a time that would knock spots off the previous course record, Sam would lead the way to the front door, wait impatiently for it to be opened and then, divested of the hated harness and after a quick, greedy slurp from her drinking bowl, Sam would collapse on the sitting room carpet with sides heaving, tongue hanging out and water dripping from her open jaws – whacked to the wide. “Wasn’t that lovely, Sam,” we would say, stupidly. “I bet you enjoyed that!”