I am 47 years old. Throughout my body but more advanced around my spine I am inflicted with advanced osteoarthritis. Those of you who know me know that although I suffer terribly with pain, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, as the arthritis grows inside and outside of every bone in my body I do not moan or complain, preferring instead, as much as is possible, to just get on with life as best as I can on any given day. As I awake each morning I know from that moment on what I can and cannot do during that day. That does not stop me from attempting to do something I know I should not attempt however. Obviously as the day progresses my body starts saying to me enough is enough and starts to slow down. I manage to walk only with the aid of walking stick. Soon to be two I suspect as the arthritis grows and twists my bones. I do not walk well nor very far nor often, especially on my own, so it is with some delight my dog and I take this once a week long waddle together. At the behest of my wife, and to my chagrin, I take my mobile telephone "in case you get into difficulties". This is my only touch with the rest of the world. I must admit the walks with my dog are getting harder and harder but for as long as I can do it, I will do it and bugger the pain. Who enjoys it most, myself or the dog? Who knows. But I do know that my dog knows when the time to get ready for this excursion is approaching as he displays excitement and a sudden perchant to do everything his master tells him. Typical of a dog.
Buster, as we named our dog, is a 2 year 1 month (why that 1 month is mentioned rather than say just over 2 years old will be explained later) short haired Golden Labrador Retriever. A very powerful Drakeshead. He is, as anyone who trains, properly trains, these wonderful animals, knows is very good on command. But, and this is why his age was given as 2 years 1 month, he is at that age when Labradors seemingly forget almost everything they have been taught. He still does his extensive command set but he is relaxed about exactly when or what he will do when given a command. Thankfully this state of affairs only lasts for 3 months or so after which everything is back to normal. No-one knows why Labradors do this nor if it is forgetfulness or a backlash to being controlled but whatever the cause is they go through this 2 to 3 month period at around 2 years old.
So there we was. One man and his dog enjoying the slightly cold wind brushing against his face and making the hand on the stick turn white then blue. Listening to the wide variety of bird song around him. Where was I? I was out walking our lovely Golden Labrador dog down a little grassy area next to a children's playground where we live. This strip of grassy land is approx 20ft wide and 3/4 mile long. Fenced off from the playground and children's play area down one side and lined with heavy thicket the other side. It opens up, as it does, into a large open, long since abandoned by the farmer who in years past had probably lovingly tendered it, at least he would have until our government sold our farmers down the river. Now the E.U. pays them to leave land unattended. Via farm subsidies that pay farmers to leave good arable land to go to waste. Their loss is us dog owners gain.
It is an ideal area to let ones dog off its lead to do its thing without worrying if some member of the public, who is possibly a dog hater as well, will jump up and down with indignation due to the fact a dog is roaming loose. Not that it matters to that type of person but I, and I am teaching our children to be likewise, am a responsible dog owner who not only picks up his dogs poo but also ensured his dog fully understands and more importantly does recall. Well, does recall as good as one can reasonably expect, damn near flawless in fact in so much as 99.9 (recurring) times out of 100 he will come back to base on first call. The remaining 0.1 times on 2nd or 3rd. Recall is one command I have drilled into our dogs and while one can never be certain the dog will always come back on command I m reasonably certain that Buster will every time.
Towards the bottom end of this patch of land the thick thicket that lines one side tails off as the open field beckons beyond its end. It was there that an incident with some of todays youths happened. They were stood on the apex of where th thicket ends. My dog must of been obscured from view as they shouted obscenity after obscenity in my direction. "Crippled up old bastard" one shouted. "Waste of human space" shouted another. And so on. Unperturbed I carried on walking towards where these youths had positioned themselves. Actually, unless one turns around and goes back from whence he came, thereby showing these youths they had won, whatever it is they win, one has nowhere else to go but to go towards where had positioned themselves. Being once youthful myself I know they knew this. As I was approaching ever closer the youths changed tack. "Coming to sort us are ya!" One shouted. "That stick a secret sword?" inquired another. They where becoming increasingly more violent in tone and content the closer I got. As I got to within 2 or so yards of them I gave Buster his whistle. From approx 70 yards away he came bounding towards where I was stood waiting. If you have ever seen a fit 72lbs Drakeshead Labrador in full flight you will know what an imposing sight it is.
The looks on those youths faces as Buster came running at full tilt, barking that gruff excited bark as he does, was a delight to behold. Suddenly they had gone from a stance that can only be described as intimidatory to one of resignation that not only was this 'crippled old man' not scared of them but he had with him what one of the youths described as "a big fuck off dog." I was not about to tell them that this big dog was as soft as a soft thing from softland.
I smiled to myself all during the rest of our walk together.
Now when Buster and I go for this weekly romp these same youths, when there, play with Buster and treat me as one should treat their elders. With respect. In return they get respect from me and Buster who even though he is gong through the temperamental stage he is going through right now does some of the commands they give him.