27 July 2008

Unnatural rabbitat

This is my 200th post. Hurray!

Right, now that deeply unfascinating milestone is done with, I'll move on.

Took the dogs round our playing field yesterday. Like seemingly everybody else, we've had temperatures hitting the late 20s in celsius of late, coinciding nicely with a plague of beetles landing all over your skin and clothing and a plague of schoolchildren emptying the playground litter bin in one of the goalmouths for, no doubt, a 'laugh'.

There's a nice retired couple who live in one of the smart bungalows which backs on to the far end of the field. As a consequence, they have a garden gate which just opens out on to the field itself. They own no dogs of their own, but are often daytime chaperones to the mutts of their offspring, including a podgy and rather gruff bulldog called Murphy.

They always leave water in a dog bowl outside their gate for passing pets to slurp from as they seek to cool and refresh themselves during their exercise. This is something for which the Bassets are always very grateful, and they know exactly where to find it if I've let them off the lead and we're heading in that general direction.

Unfortunately, they are also prone to leaving food out there. However well intentioned that is, it causes a problem for dog owners like me. Stale brown bread for the birds never gets anywhere near a beak, because a gluttonous pooch will vacuum clean that section of field very swiftly. This lady has also thrown left over cooked chicken on to the field and dogs, including mine, have got to it first.

I understand that any meat left out there is intended for the small band of foxes we apparently have in our village (though on my frequent late night walks, sometimes post-midnight, with the Bassets, I've never seen a fox, only its excrement). Foxes may get the meat, dogs may get it too. Fine. If it's cooked, then I can't complain too much - dogs by definition are eating machines and it's not like grandma giving a child a Curly Wurly just an hour before mum is due to put their tea on the table.

My problem is that it also attracts rats. Unlike the enigmatic fox, I have seen the evidence of our large rat population in our village. Being just outside Hull, the village was one of the worst hit by those dreadful floods - you know, the ones last summer that were worse than those down south a fortnight later but got half the coverage and sympathy - and one of the many stark consequences were the number of very, very drowned rats which were washed out of the sewers and into the view of us all. Penny, on one walk through the puddles, picked one up - it was the most disgusting thing she's ever done and, as a dog with a 'finders keepers' attitude and a rather slipshod approach to hygiene, that's saying something. Fortunately, even she realised after holding this saturated rodent for a few moments that it was a rather vile thing to undertake and she quickly dropped it. Me shouting at her from the other end of the field may have helped too, though it often doesn't.

So, the birds don't get the bread and the foxes don't get the meat. Passing dogs may get some of it, but rats will certainly get anything left overnight. And yesterday, in the baking sunshine, I walked past this retired couple's house and suddenly, Penny and Bentley were having a tug o' war with something.

"What have you two got?" I said, mock-playfully and resignedly. Then I looked closer.

It was a rabbit.

Now, we have loads of rabbits round the fields. The dogs can smell them out - their tracing heritage thanks to those wonderful, idiosyncratic large ears remains intact, even though they haven't the pace to actually catch one of the things (they've barely got the pace to catch me) - and they do often trail the scent of bunny across our open fields when I let them loose, even though they've never actually seen one.

But this was a rabbit that had already been killed, skinned, displayed, purchased, refrigerated and possibly frozen and thawed. And then thrown out on to the playing field.

A raw, possibly half frozen, rabbit.

Well, I went berserk.

What didn't help was that Penny and Bentley were on an adjoining lead. This means I only hold three leads instead of four, making tangling a little easier to remedy. Their lead has two chokers from its hook and then each end attaches to their collars.

So I had two Bassets, rendered almost inseparable by their lead, playing tug o' war with an uncooked rabbit.

The retired couple were in, and their two grown-up daughters were visiting. They heard a mild commotion, came to the gate to investigate and found me trying to separate two dogs who had simultaneously discovered a dead, skinned, meaty rabbit.

I attached Ruby and Boris - the latter of whom was deeply upset that he hadn't discovered this dodgy treat for himself - to the gate via their leads and then set to work on the other two. The only way I could get them off each other was to put my foot between their noses and right through the rabbit, so it split in two and they got their half each.

Yuk. Not altogether pleasant.

Then I released Penny from her collar so I could work on one dog at a time. With Bentley, a passive, gentle dog when it comes to persuading that he should let go of interesting things (by comparison to Penny, anyway), I put my hand in one of my spare poobags, in order to have a better grip on this slimy, slippery, bloody and deeply unappetising piece of rabbit, and then took hold of the large lump of carcass jutting from the side of his mouth. I then pulled and pulled and he let go quite quickly. He seemed content, and trotted over to the gate to join Ruby for a cooling drink.

By now, the daughters had realised I wasn't happy and also that I needed some assistance, so they had found a large kitchen roll. I emptied Bentley's catch into the roll and then, still with the bag over my hand, went after Penny.

Naturally, she'd buggered off 50 yards or so to chomp on her illicit catch undisturbed.

What followed was a good ten minutes of cajoling, warning, pulling and growling (from both of us, in a way) until I could stand her stubbornness and dental power no more and gave the rabbit leftover a full yank, via the strength of an averagely-muscled 6ft-plus, 14-stone human male.

She let go. She was not happy. But she didn't have a pop, which she is prone to do in her charmingly obstinate Basset ways when you try to remove something inappropriate from her clutches, prior to getting down on her haunches as if to say "sorry" really quickly and meaningfully. I emptied the last bit of rabbit into the kitchen roll.

Then the inquest began. I like this retired couple, and I held back because they are so welcoming whenever we walk past their back gate, but I had to make it clear that throwing food, of any type, on to a playing field (which was not theirs to throw stuff on to anyway) was Not A Good Idea. I explained the rats. I explained that hounds are particularly prone to bloat and other fatal ailments caused by unfamiliar or unprepared food. I explained that a full, skinned, raw rabbit, chucked on to a field populated by children, on a Saturday, in the middle of the summer holidays and in temperatures pushing 30 celsius, was not a sound thing to do. I asked them to stop.

The lady and her daughters were a little argumentative, but apologetic too. They did what all women would do in this situation.

They blamed the man of the house.

He was sitting in a deckchair, grinning and waving, utterly oblivious.

The dogs were given rabbit-flavoured Pedigree Chum that evening.

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