An unexpected bonus of getting a dog was that it opened up whole new vistas of friendliness. Quite apart from getting her out into the fresh air every day without fail and the undoubted benefits that brought, she and her puppy quickly became new members of a community.
Walking at roughly the same time every day, the two of them would encounter the same people, day in day out and always exchange a few words, a pleasantry or two, a quip about how it was nice weather today, or nice weather for ducks. Dog people, she soon decided, were the friendliest people around in this restrained, reserved London suburb. Over time she realised that it was a rare dog owner who didn’t at least nod or smile. Those who marshalled their charges by without meeting her gaze or muttering a quick ‘Hi,” were, in her eyes, more rude than those who did this when not walking their pet: what else could you expect from non-dog people, after all?
It helped that her puppy was instantly likeable and friendly. He’d dash up to everyone in the more adorable way, though it was sometimes rather embarrassing that he seemed to love everyone so much, even those who didn’t always reciprocate. And he grew and grew and everyone in this community grew to love him and welcome him with smiles and strokes and the occasional morsel of Gravybone.
One particular man she encountered practically every day, either striding purposefully across the park or sitting in quiet contemplation on a bench overlooking the golf course. His three huge Dobermen were always within his reach, sitting obediently at his feet or hovering around him. They soon got to know her and used to come bounding up to sniff her dog and beg for treats, stretching out their paw to say please.
These huge, fearsome looking dogs had all been rescued at one time or another from violent or abusive owners who had failed to turn them into guard dogs because their personalities were not sufficiently hostile. Having failed to become attack dogs, they had been dumped in a shelter, often for years, their sad eyes gazing at everyone who came, looked, and kept walking until this kind man had taken them on, spending his meagre pension on their food.
Over the years one or the other died and was replaced by a new charge, each with a different personality, lovingly trained by the old man who sat smoking roll-ups and watching them with his benevolent, patient eyes. Their paths crossed regularly, and humans and dogs had struck up quite a friendship, always stopping for a chat, a sniff.
One day, while on her usual walk with her two dogs, it suddenly occurred to her that she hadn’t seen the old man with the Dobies for months. He hadn’t been in the best of health, that was true enough, and she wondered whether he had gone to live with his son in the country.
Later that same week she came across a small knot of dog walkers, all women, standing around with a Doberman who did not growl and sniff her dog to check him out before deigning to extend her paw of friendship. No. She seemed to know him, know them both, and rolled on her back, paws in the air, inviting her to bend and rub her tummy. It suddenly occurred to her that this was one of the old man’s Dobies.
“Ooh, I’ve been wondering how he is. Do you know what’s happened to him? I haven’t seen him for, well, it must be months and months,” she asked the woman with the Doberman, whom she didn’t recognise.
“Oh we know all right. He got banged up for 21 years last December. He’s a paedophile.”
You can never really know people, can you?