Tasha is an 11-l/2 year old mixed breed bitch whose mother was a pure- bred Cane di Pastore, or Maremma Pastori, or Cane de Abruzzi, take your pick. Her father was a boxer, though you would never guess. I got her because I was deathly afraid of dogs. In France,where I lived then, dogs are everywhere – in restaurants, on every country walk, dozing in the doorways of shops. Raising a puppy, I thought, would help. I was right. My work then required driving long distances, and I thought a dog would be good company. I was wrong. Tasha threw up every time she got in the car.
I didn’t really like dogs. They were smelly, they shed hair all over, they brought dirt in from outside, they had disgusting eating habits, they barked, and they jumped all over you. All that, I found, is true!! Add to this a habit of rolling in the vilest smelling stuff in the countryside and coming back with a smile, as if she were wearing JOY. Not endearing to someone with acute olfactory sensitivity.
What I didn’t know until I lived with Tasha is that training can change some problems, like jumping up on people, and that what can’t be changed (at least, not by me – so far) doesn’t matter anymore. It’s part of her and I accept it, like my own children’s snotty noses or dirty diapers.
Without her, I might be a social pauper. She has introduced me to an elite of kind and generous people, in France and especially in England,who have made us feel we belong right from the start. We have been welcomed with open arms.
Without her, I might not take daily walks in the countryside, and would miss the small signs of changing seasons in the fields and woods. I would miss seeing her joy in being here, now, in this moment, running through the grass with her ears flopping. And learning from her to try to live this moment fully, as she does.
I was afraid she would miss the French countryside she grew up in, but she is thriving. There are dozens of
rabbits to chase, and she makes no concessions
to age. In the fall, she caught the scent of a deer and disappeared, only to reappear some minutes later panting, wet, and
happy. She pays for her zeal with stiff joints, as I pay for mine, but
her joy in doing what she is meant to do is more than ample
compensation. An aspirin and a good nap do their work, and she is back
to her old self.
She loved pheasant season, as I can only guess
the two-legged hunters who swarm the woods with their guns love it.
Although she has no "hunting dog" genes, she gets the scent, stops
still in her tracks, quivers with restraint, and finally flushes the
bird. The game-keeper of the estate doesn’t like the dogs messing with
his pheasants, so we dog walkers keep them on a leash during pheasant season– at least if there is
any chance he’ll be around.
A fellow dog-walker warned me about the game-keeper. He caught her when her terrier was off lead, and he was not happy. The terrier is a free-spirited, fearless soul, who with (or without) Tasha runs
after anything that moves, and follows wherever it leads. My friend has twice
rolled under the barbed wire fence which lines the field to retrieve our
mutts (she’s the thinnest), and so we put them both on leads when we
walk together. Anyway, he’s about half Tasha’s age, and she still tries to outrun him.
Besides which, I do want to stay in the game-keepers good graces!!