This week, the ‘Stare of the Dog’ draws your attention to the thief within our midst, the casual criminal that stalks unchecked and in plain sight through every room of a dog owner’s home. Dudley’s no exception to this, and in his youth, were he human, would have struggled to avoid a custodial sentence from the most lenient of Magistrates for the many crimes on his charge sheet.
From the moment he’d grown sufficiently in size to threaten our food preparation areas, I learnt what a potent strike rate a dog has when it comes to poaching unguarded food. And when that dog is a Labrador, it is really only a matter of ‘when’ any given felony will occur and not ‘if.’
The first time my over trusting nature was cruelly exposed came when I had the stupidity to leave a ham sandwich on the dining room table. A conservative estimate of the time I took, passing from one room to the next to retrieve a pot of tea would be little more than mere seconds, but to Dudley, must have seemed like hours. Either way, what greeted me as I returned with the pot in hand was the sort of scene you find when a toddler has finished their meal. Strewn across the table lay ample evidence of Dudley’s attack. A creased oil cloth, lettuce and gherkin lying flaccid and cold, remnants of chewed bread, no ham. Rather like the woeful remains of my lunch, my trust in Dudley lay there also, shattered and broken on the floor beside me in pieces.
From here on in, our light-fingered Labrador had shown his hand, announced his intentions loud and clear. The rules had now changed, un-chaperoned food was fair game, a miasma of suspicion and mistrust hung in the air at meal times and above all, my wife and I needed to up our game or face gradual starvation at the hands of Dudley’s thievery. But you can’t throw up an impregnable ring of steel around every mealtime, and there would of course be lapses in concentration, lapses that Dudley would exploit with the ruthless efficiency and dispassion of a chess playing robot.
Predictably, our ring of steel did not last. One night, when humans were busy and attentions were focused elsewhere, the dastardly deed unfolded. A planned ‘recipe book’ meal was set in motion for that evening, ingredients sourced and selected from the fridge, a bottle of wine placed to chill and two salmon fillets casually abandoned on the worktop and left to fend for themselves in the interim. Returning to the kitchen half an hour later to start the cooking, my wife noticed a sheepish Dudley, hanging back and avoiding affection. Un-Labrador like though these traits admittedly are, little more was thought of it, and work began peeling and chopping vegetables. It was only sometime later, when an exhaustive hunt for the salmon had uncovered nothing, that the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle began to fit into place and the finger of blame was waved wand like at Dudley.
What troubled me most that night, as I sat down to my salmon-less ‘roasted vegetables and salmon’ was the knowledge that Dudley had already been fed by my own fair hand. He’d also cleaned up the veg peelings that came his way per favour of my wife and if all that was not enough, he’d had the lion’s share of our tea for good measure. A salvo of curt words and phrases were unleashed in the hound’s general direction, closely followed by an exchange of piercing glances, and all before young Dudley was invited to spend the remains of the evening in splendid isolation.
With age, he has got better, he is more reliable. But I have to remind myself often that where food is concerned, he is first and foremost a Labrador. Beneath his smart brown tunic and dapper brown brogues lies little more than a food obsessed maniac, hamstrung by a supposedly identifiable gene that renders him greedier than your average pocket lining celebrity, though thankfully, with more charm and wit. That charm wins him generous amounts of food scraps and dog treats, but these come up a very poor second to the human grub he prefers to pilfer whenever he gets an occasion to do so.
And although everybody knows that Labradors are the very definition of an omnivore, on the night of the ill-fated salmon affair, Dudley proved himself to be more of a pesky-tarian.