This week’s ‘Stare of the Dog’ is a nod to the gentle and playful nature of the nation’s favourite canine, for if Dudley’s anything to go by, Labradors are as dependent on the need to have fun and enjoy themselves as any child.
Of course, it comes as no surprise to learn that puppies love their toys. A cursory glance down any pet isle of a supermarket or homeware store will tell you that immediately. I was however surprised to find a two year old and fully grown Dudley still as keen as ever to play and frolic about like a puppy with his gang of plastic hangers on. By contrast, the two German Shepherds that played the part of the family pet when I was a boy would dispatch their squeaky toys (usually Christmas presents) within seconds and without ever showing any remorse or guilt. Indeed it was considered impressive if the ‘squeak’ still operated by boxing day.
Not so Dudley. Cleary cut from a different cloth, he reminds me very much of the kind of kid who takes such great care of their toys that, in adulthood, will still have all of them squirreled away in the attic, each one in immaculate condition and jacketed in its original packaging as though preserved in amber. Admittedly Dud’s bedraggled band of brothers could never be described as pristine, but neither could it be said that they were in bad health. Whether it’s him specifically or the much vaunted soft bite of a Labrador I don’t know, but the generally impressive state of his toys says a lot for his gentleness.
And what of that bedraggled band of followers? His favourite as a pup without doubt was a green and grey duck. The two of them were inseparable, like a toddler with a comfort blanket. Long periods of silence around the house would often be punctuated by the sound of it quakking, often taken as the only indiction to Dudley’s whereabouts. More recently, an indestructible and charming little dinosaur going by the name of Vegi-Saurus has worked his way to the top of his toy chart. Young ‘Dino,’ as we like to call him isn’t one to abandon his post either. Subjected recently to an hour of mauling and gnawing by a friend’s Golden Retriever, the plucky little blighter emerged intact with nothing more to show for his ordeal than a thin and shiny film of froth and drool. Like the duck beforehand, young Dino still has a squeak too, proof again of a Labrador’s gentle touch.
Along the way, there have been casualties of course. Dudley’s not perfect after all. A Christmas robin and another mallard duck have both fallen ‘fowl’ of the surgeon’s scalpel. Eviscerated with ruthless precision, their hollowed out corpses were found littering the kitchen floor, doubtless left there as a warning to others. I guess all gangsters know that membership comes at a price and Dudley’s ‘firm’ is no different. If you stick around long enough, you’ll get reward though, even the background players that help to form his motley crew get a run out now and again. When Dino is out of action or the duck is buried under a duvet somewhere, rope chews and rubber bones are drafted in their place. More often than not on such occasions, he’ll trot through into the lounge with a selection of aged and battered toys, artefacts and antiquities from a bygone era we had long since forgotten about. When we are really honoured, the entire collection is brought through and displayed for all to see. One by one, their numbers swell until eventually Dudley is surrounded by an entourage the likes of which would make Mariah Carey jealous.
There will of course be a time when his gang needs a cull. Whether threadbare or simply smelling a little too funky for indoor use, some of them are beginning to look a little dishevelled, lying idle and abandoned inside his bed like bones at the entrance to a fox’s den. And like a parent just itching to clear out his child’s bedroom, I am poised to strike against the weakest and most vulnerable members of his clan some time soon, though the thought of doing so makes me feel sad and guilty. Maybe I’ll take pity on him and just bundle them up back into the toy box for a year or two more, long enough for them to work their way back into his affections, just as Woody did in ‘Toy Story’ following the arrival of Buzz Lightyear – roles played around these parts by a dapper duck and a cocksure young dinosaur.
One thing that remains for certain is young Dino’s place at the top table, at least for now. Having charmed his way to the heart of Dudley’s affections, he looks like a fella who’s heading to infinity and beyond.