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“Dear Sir, Your dog is driving me mad. I can’t concentrate. I should be obliged if you would bring your hound under control. Yours faithfully, E Brown.”
Paul tore up the note and threw the bits towards the waste bin. Rambo raced after them, growling ferociously.
“She says you are driving her mad,” he said.
Rambo wagged enthusiastically. Paul looked in dismay at a torn cushion, chewed slippers and broken houseplant. “She can’t concentrate. She says I’ve got to control you.”
Rambo threw himself at his lead and dragged it to Paul’s feet, prancing with anticipation at the thought of rabbits and cats to chase. It had been a long day and now it was his turn for some attention. He launched at the door, nearly knocking his head sideways in his excitement.
“I suppose I’d better take you out despite the fact that you’ve been a bad, bad dog.” Paul looked at his new neighbour’s prim garden and raised flowerbeds. He guessed she was a prim person. Her handwriting was as neat as her curtains. If E Brown had trouble concentrating, then that was her problem.
“Come on, Rambo, let’s go hit the park.”
Paul commuted daily to his job. He was often late home because of train cancellations. It was frustrating, especially when he knew that Rambo had probably been watching for him since about four o’clock. Rambo was his brother’s dog and he had promised to look after him till he returned from abroad. That had been a year ago.
“Rambo... what am I going to do about you?” Paul groaned, as the dog brought over a wet and sticky stick for him to throw for the twentieth time. He threw it into a tangled bush. Rambo bounced after it, fresh as a frisky foal. The dog was full of unleashed energy. He’d been saving his adrenalin all day.
The next evening, Paul opened the front door and gasped at the scene of total chaos that met his eyes. Torn newspapers, chewed chair legs, his pyjamas heaped on the floor and clearly slept on. Teeth marks in packets of biscuits, a curtain hanging off its hooks, dirty paw marks all over the sofa.
Rambo was hiding under the desk, ears back, making himself as small as possible and hoping he couldn’t be seen.
“You bad dog,” Paul shouted. He had all this clearing up to do just when he wanted to put his feet up with a glass of cold beer. He heard an envelope drop through the letterbox. Rambo shot from his hiding place. Paul came second by one-fifth of a second and wrenched it from Rambo’s teeth.
“Dear Sir, Your dog is suffering from separation anxiety. He is bored and lonely. Kindly buy him some new toys or I shall never finish my work. Yours faithfully, E Brown.”
“What am I to do with you, Rambo?” Paul raged, getting out a dustpan and brush. “I can’t move, not with this mortgage, change my job, far too difficult, give you away. What would my brother say? There’s such a thing as family responsibility.”
Rambo agreed, sheepishly. He sat, waiting patiently for Paul to finish the clearing up, not letting the man out of his sight. He was fiercely dependent on his new owner. Panic set in every time Paul went out of the door.
Paul always took Rambo for a quick stroll before breakfast. He tried a good talking to before he left for work.
“Now please try and be good. No hunting and attacking prey all over the house, no helping with the housework, no making your own supper. We’ll go for a longer walk this evening.”
Rambo leaped up onto the windowsill as soon as Paul left for work. He barked loudly at the postman, at the milkman, at every passing car, at any bird that dared alight on their tree and hysterically at the snooty cat from next door. The cat sat on the dividing wall, turning an elegant back on the noisy dog.
“Dear neighbour,” began the now familiar writing. “It’s not that I dislike dogs. I like all animals, even ones with behaviour problems. Please do something before I explode with frustration. The first fifteen minutes are the worst. Yours truly, Elinor Brown.”
Paul was just about to toss the note into the bin when his attention was caught by the last sentence. What did she mean? The first fifteen minutes were the worst.
He put an advertisement in the local paper: “DOG-SITTER REQUIRED FOR MAD DOG. INSURANCE NEGOTIABLE. BOX NO 138.”
He was inundated with replies. The envelopes fell through his letterbox like snow. Rambo had a terrific time especially with the second post. He shredded the lot, buried them under the carpet, surrounded himself proudly with the fruit of his labour. Paul tried to fit the pieces together while Rambo licked his ear. “It’s no good trying to get round me,” Paul groaned. “This is hopeless. Dozens of helpful people and I can’t put together a single address.”
The only address he could put together was the one next door. Elinor Brown had written again, no doubt issuing a writ.
Paul decided to go round on bended knee. He washed his best shirt, finished off the drying with the hair dryer. He knocked nervously on the door expecting a sour-faced dragon.
“Come in,” said Elinor, a young woman with a sweet smile. “I’ve been expecting you.”
“Rambo and I have come to apologise.”
Rambo leaped in, high on hopes of demolishing the cat. Elinor began to laugh. “This is Rambo? A small King Charles Spaniel?”
Rambo hung his soft and floppy spaniel ears, his big brown eyes eloquent with desperation to be liked. She rubbed his curly coat.
“My brother’s dog,” said Paul.
“That explains it. Rehomed dogs surround themselves with the smell of their new owner, worried that he’s not coming back. They can find your scent on almost anything. So they chew it, tear it up, curl up on it when the panic is over. But if they think that their owner’s return means anger and shouts, so they also get guilty and even more anxious.”
“I’m trying to find a dog-sitter, but Rambo tore up all the replies.”
“Why not me?” said Elinor. “You could leave him here. I work from home.” She nodded towards a big computer. “I analyse consumer products. Companies send me sales figures and I make charts, project swings. My cat has a cat-flap. She’ll soon get used to Rambo.”
She already regretted her last letter. She hoped it had been torn up. In her anxiety she dropped her pen. Rambo hurtled after it, thrashed it lifeless, then returned it to her, tail wagging enthusiastically.
“We could celebrate by going for a walk,” Paul said. “Would you like to come with us?”
Elinor spun her wheelchair forty-five degrees so that she could see the expression on his face. “Cool,” she said.