This week’s ‘Stare of the Dog’ takes a look at the subject closest to any Labrador’s heart, food. That is at least, in the loosest sense, for the tawdry tale I intend to tell involves the consumption of a good many quite frankly inedible substances devoured over the years by the gannet like protagonist of these pages.
It’s hard to look past toilet roll and tissues for the optimum starting point on this less than savoury culinary adventure. I don’t doubt other dogs are just as keen, but Dudley in particular is totally obsessed with the stuff. Of course, as an infant, he did his best to imitate the ‘Andrex Puppy.’ Looking all cute and cuddly, he’d grab hold of the loo roll and stretch it half way down the stairs before getting intercepted by one disgruntled human or another. If his obsession had stopped there, I’d have been happy enough. But it didn’t and he just had to take it further. So much so that tissue boxes are now off limits in our house, banished to the top shelves of bookcases like the pornographic publications of the pre-digital age. To put them anywhere else would be to place too great a strain on Dudley’s self-restraint.
Worse still, he is not a bit fussy about how he takes these wafer thin slivers of papery goodness. Be they dirty or clean, fresh or used, all are considered legitimate targets. And in a neat nod to “Pavlov’s famous pooch, young Dud has learnt to associate the sound of a nose being trumpeted with a papery treat, appearing stealthily from the shadows for a snotty treat whenever he hears the siren call. From a dog ironically not too bothered about retrieving things, his lowest ebb was reached the day he fished a used tissue straight out of a ‘used’ toilet and swallowed it whole right there in front of me. Grim times indeed. Though I will concede a certain level of admiration on my part, given that the beast is clearly brave enough to stride boldly where others fear to tread in order to force back boundaries of the culinary frontier.
But then I wonder, do humans have it wrong. Is our narrow definition of ‘food’ to be our downfall? Certainly, by applying Dudley’s fluid and flexible understanding of what constitutes a meal, I could halve the grocery bill in our house in a stroke. Take the composted remains that lurk encrusted at the bottom of your ‘food waste’ recycle bin – the portion that never slides out into the collection truck each week and instead is left to fester for years like a jilted bride. Would I be willing to lick the shovel clean that had just removed those part crusted, part putrid remains? Dudley was. What’s more, he attacked it with the same ferocity that a hungry lioness might a freshly caught antelope. To give him some credit, I can accept that composted remains might once have bore a relation to more palatable provender.
However, I am in a less charitable mood when I consider his appetite for wood and cardboard. In dispatching an entire length of wrapping paper tubing one Christmas, the hound doubtless thought he was doing my wife and I a favour of sorts. However, as I crouched down low the following day to scoop up a ‘draught horse’ sized turd complete with cardboard protrusions, I couldn’t help but think I’d have been better off recycling the tube myself without his help. Not content with just a cardboard diet, Dud often prefers to take his wood derivatives at source too. The bark of one particular tree on the route of our morning walk for instance has been systematically stripped bare, as he tears great strips off it one by one as you might the pages of a calendar. Sometimes I am able to stop him, but for every time I fail, the poor tree loses another inch of its circumference.
Weirder still, my wife’s uncle related a peculiar anecdote to me one Christmas about his childhood Labrador who had a thing for eating coal. He was admittedly at pains to point out the seriousness of it all, as coal is highly poisonous to dogs, but beyond the health risks, I believe I may have spotted a niche in the Labrador market. Why not start ‘breed selecting’ for the new ‘Labrador Firestarter.’ A distant cousin to the retriever, this highly trained variant will help out around the homestead, gathering firewood, coal and other combustibles to get your oven or log burner started. Better still, given the number of times Dudley waggles his Labrador booty and shakes his tail feather when passing our own log burner, I see no reason why I couldn’t fashion something abrasive to the end of it and have him light the thing as he makes a pass. Indeed, with a few tweaks here and there and a chat with the Kennel Club, I cannot see too many flaws in this business venture and shall endeavor to get started on a prototype for Dudley’s tail immediately.
But whatever explanation lies behind the famed and legendary eating habits of the Labrador, I still find it very hard to reconcile my own interpretation of what constitutes food with that of any animal capable of licking WD40 lubricant off the chain of a bicycle and visibly enjoying it.
But then I’m unable to lick my balls in polite company, so who’s really having the last laugh here Dud?