Mike Byrne: It's black and white – but is it my dog?
OWNING a dog can bring with it many joys and, as one of nature's little sunbeams, I tend to jog along with their occasional odd behaviour and downright weirdness.
You are, as Doctor Marten correctly stated, never alone with a dog, a species which, unlike goldfish, offer easy companionship in return for constant attention.
In my experience goldfish are rather cold and indifferent pets while constant attention for goldfish invariably leads to dead goldfish.
Dogs of course are different and are universally recognised, by man at least, as man's best friend even if they never asked to be so designated.
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My dog is called Jack. He came from the rescue centre with that name having apparently being tried and found wanting by several other prospective owners.
Black and white, he is of the Heinz 57 breed which, while not seen often at Crufts, is remarkably popular with the dogniscenti of Exeter.
When he was young, around 14 years ago, he was lithe and sharp eyed, a fleet, four-footed beast with wet nose. Funnily enough, when I was young I too had a wet nose, which my mother would insist on wiping by ambushing me from behind with a starched handkerchief, resulting in shock and a sore conk.
However, the intervening years have taken their terrible toll on both of us. My nose now dewless, his legs arthritic, our eyes as dim as a Euro light bulb.
And so having both put aside childish things and entered the mature estate, we wandered together across the vast plain that is Heavitree Pleasure Grounds.
It was there that we came across an elderly man and woman.
Because of my failing eyesight I tend to hail all comers with a hearty "good morning" or similar.
As well as marking me out as the pleasure ground loony, this serves to ensure no one I actually know is offended by being ignored.
I seemed to recall having met this very couple the previous day and so, to add some variety, I called out: "There's no escape is there?"
The bewildered couple – for it was not they I had met 24 hours earlier – cast around desperately for help and seeing none, quickened their pace, grateful they were only a few yards from the Hamlin Lane exit.
I expect they never spoke of it again, save perhaps to inform the relevant authority.
I too hurried on, but the embarrassing episode had not been witnessed by the ambling Jack who had continued wandering about in no particular direction.
And so we became separated.
It was then I realised just how popular black-and-white dogs are in Heavitree and its environs. Indeed, if my eyes did not deceive me – which they often do – one nice lady had perhaps half a dozen identical Jack-like dogs with her.
I knew there was no use calling his name or whistling some recognisable ditty – he is as deaf as he is blind.
So there was nothing for it but to wander up to any likely mutt for a closer examination.
It is surprising how upsetting this can be for dog owners, and many grabbed their beloved pets as a mother might heave a threatened child into her bosom.
Undeterred, I continued in this vein until I was stopped in my tracks by a loud voice not awash with the milk of human kindness, accompanied by a wildly gesticulating gentleman.
As he drew closer I played safe and greeted him with a simple and uncomplicated "hello".
My new acquaintance chose to ignore this affable approach, getting straight to the nub of the issue with: "Is that your dog?"
He pointed off in a vague south-westerly direction and as I followed his sharply pointed finger, I admit I thought I saw a dog of the black-and-white type in the distance. Playing safe and hoping to beat the house odds I said yes it was, and hurried off in the direction indicated.
As I drew closer I saw that it was indeed Jack.
He was wagging his tail vigorously while circling one of the park benches – on which sat a bewildered looking man.
"He won't go away," said the man with the anguished air of a non-dog lover.
Jack, either through design, although I prefer to believe through weak observation, had chosen this man as his owner, just as I had mistaken various dogs for him (Jack).
I'm pleased to say we reached home without any further mishap and, in Jack's case, with lots of mud.