Lest you think I’m bitter about the bites on my forearms, the destruction of personal property, or the various household deficiencies here, I’d like to introduce you to the Four Dogs we’re caring for. The dogs don’t give a woof about our oddball situation in this British-isle-within-a-country, nor notice the unpredictable nature of their mistress. They are dogs, with four distinct personalities. I’d go so far as to say they are good dogs, mostly.
All four were rescued from the campo – the hot dry fields around this part of Spain that seem to cough up abandoned dogs like morning phlegm. The owner, I’ll call her the Ice Queen, has never owned dogs before moving to Spain some seven years ago. She is quick to add that they have saved her, too, one of the most genuine statements I’ve heard from her. She suffers from a rare disease that has, among other things, rendered her temporarily paralyzed. (So far, no one has confirmed this, but I’m a trusting soul.) Her recovery was hastened by god-knows-what therapies, medical support, and dog walks.
The original two dogs, Fernando and Pepe, are brothers, about four years old. They are named after Fernando Torres and Pepe Reina, Spanish footballers (of course), who both played for Liverpool, the homeland of said Ice Queen. Fernando is brown, Pepe is black. They are durable, medium-sized dogs with short coats accented by scruffy fur around their shoulders. Both of them have short floppy ears, like bat wings. They’re often seen shoulder to shoulder sniffing the breeze, side by side staring at me with a “what’s next?’ look, or sleeping end to end in the exact same position. It’s rare that one isn’t conscious of the other, or at least keeping the other in sight, depending on your belief in doggie consciousness.
Fernando is the leader of the pack. If he runs off, Pepe follows. If he is called, Pepe comes, sometimes ahead of Fernando. On a walk with four dogs, if you can keep in touch with Fernando, you’ve got it under control. Fernando, however, is the slowest to bond; he and I have only recently made our pact. That’s because Fernando looks out for himself, and has a respectable amount of insouciance. He’s not needy. Compared to the others, he is best able to avoid the horseplay of Buddy, the young bully pit bull (is that redundant?). Fernando doesn’t beg, and is happy to head to the doghouse just to get away from it all. He’s unobtrusive. He has learned to love brushing and de-ticking and a belly rub. But make no mistake; if he wants to chase a rabbit, he will. If he wants to swim in the sewer, he will.
Pepe is, I’m pretty sure, something or someone else in disguise. He’s so black, and his eyes so dark, that he disappears without even a reflection in the moonlight. He’s stocky and solid as a rock, with a stubby tail. Pepe is Pigpen. He gets more ticks than the others put together (and they are harder to find in his dark coat). He foams at the mouth, he snags on my hand, he is generally covered in burrs and dust and twigs, and is happiest when he’s the smelliest thing around. Pepe also loves to put his head on my lap if I’m sitting outside (recalling my beloved Gus), and is best at coming when called. But he’s a sap and a beggar, first in line for treats and would even gladly take the medicine that isn’t for him, just for the handout. Pep’s not quite as fast as Fernando, but you can always tell if the rabbit chase is on, because Pepe squeaks with excitement. One time, while Fernando persisted in digging through a pile of branches for about 15 minutes looking for some prey, Pepe gave up and followed me. Then three times, while I waited, Pep returned to Fernando to check in, trotting back to me before waiting more and going back again to get his brother.
Rarney was adopted later. She’s the only girl in the bunch, a Spanish Mastiff mix, huge and slow, with a thick coat, bushy tail, and very soft ears. She’s allegedly 3 or 4 years old, but I’m convinced she’s 14. The name comes from the goddess Rani, I think, which sounds a lot like Rarney if you’re from Liverpool. She thinks she’s royalty, and even has a British passport with pre-arranged passage to England. Rarney is most likely to find the shortest distance between two points. She has no interest in recognizing any orders whatsoever. Sit? Come? You must be joking. She is a barker. Any suspicion of a noise or scent sets her off, and usually she doesn’t even bother to stand up in the back yard to see what she’s barking at. Her most noble moments are atop the highest points of our walk, gazing off at her domain, and steadfastly keeping an eye on the brothers as they roam the scrub in their rabbit quest. If she turns to join me down the road, I know Fernando and Pepe are headed back, too. Rumor has it that Rarney protected the Ice Queen when she was assaulted. She has only run off once, and I’m convinced she was trailing the bros, then lost track and disdained to return home without them. She sauntered in six hours after they’d returned, so exhausted she couldn’t eat. Rarney patiently wrestles with Buddy, day in and day out, whenever he’s up for a fight, or a love bite.
And then there is Buddy, the puppy as strong as an ox, and unrelenting as the desert sun. But he has such a cute nose, and it feels so good when he sniffs your toes. He has something in his gigantic wide mouth most of the time. In the past five minutes that’s included a log, a bone, a shovel, a blanket, a shopping bag, and Rarney’s head. He has destroyed pool equipment, squirt bottles, a fly swatter, camera bag, Blackberry phone, two vines, one bush, many clothespins, a couple dog beds, and so forth. But he’s somehow adorable, with his suitable two-faced markings and his lopsided cropped ears. White, brown; smart, stubborn; playful, scary; alert, clueless; a baby, a veteran. Hell on four very large feet. All Buddy really wants is to be like the other dogs (or chew them up). Rarney barks and Buddy leaps up and barks…at what? Pepe and Fernando take off, and Buddy runs…but which direction? He’s extremely jealous, and uses his butt to insert himself between the others and me. He’ll attack the others when he thinks it’s time for a walk. And he’s taken to barking at birds’ shadows, voices, the moon, a sleeping dog, a blowing leaf. He has no idea how much he is feared and despised by the human neighbors, and I hope he will survive their wrath.
We’ve made progress together. Buddy will sit on command and is learning not to grab the leash and my arm when we set out on walks. Yesterday he came when he was called instead of facing down a truck on the road. Pepe and Fernando wait patiently for me to lock the gate and sort out the tangled leashes. Rarney is Rarney, and I can’t help putting Eeyore’s words in her mouth. We know each other now, and I’ll miss the personalities, if not dogging around with this gang.