Sunday, August 21, 2011

Dogs I've known II: Clive

Long ago and far away I spent three happy years in Wolverhampton, learning how to design things. Back in those halcyon days, a generous government would not only foot the bill for tuition, but would actually pay students a living allowance. Though it did not permit holidays on the Riviera, it was enough to live on if you weren't picky. I wasn't.
After a brief sojourn in the Halls of Residence that was terminated when the cleaners found a motorcycle engine in my sink (you had to look hard; there was a lot of other stuff in there too) I shared various scruffy old houses with an assortment of scruffy young people. Way down the Cannock Road, one such joint brought me into cohabitation with Rory, a ceramicist whose enormous talent was matched only by the eccentricity of his lifestyle. We got on just fine, going so far as to pool our meager funds to buy a 56lb sack of potatoes and thus solve all our nutrition problems more or less permanently at one stroke.
Out beyond the back of the house there was a builder's yard. We never saw the guy who owned it, but one winter he set a small, skinny dog on a rope to guard the place. It was a freezing November, with penetrating rain and blasting winds, and the poor thing had no shelter. Its pitiful whining struck a chord in Rory's kindly heart, and much against the protests of the other inhabitants of the house (I never really worked out how many there were; I was shacked up with at least one of them at the time, but I think there might have been two more) he brought the bedraggled dog in.
A lively session in the bathtub ensued, as we tried to scrape enough debris off the animal to figure out which end was which and possibly what color it was. By the time we'd hosed him down and toweled his skeletal form off, we could see that at least part of him was Collie. "Smart dogs, collies" crowed Rory, "we'll make a pet of him". We called him Clive, after Clive of India.
Seldom has an animal become so devoted to his rescuer. It was heartwarming to see Clive fill out again (Rory fed him considerably better than he fed himself) and we congratulated ourselves on the boundless good karma this humanitarian act had doubtless brought us.
It was not until he started going walkies in public, a few weeks after his rescue, that it occurred to us that something might not be quite right with Clive. Perhaps because his captors the builders had been Indians, he seemed to have an issue with anyone of darker hue. This included West Indians, real Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, nuns and in fact anyone in dark clothing - including policemen. At the sight of them, he would bare what was left of his teeth and snarl like a timber wolf, straining away on his hind legs while his potential prey nervously eyed the frayed bit of clothes line that passed for a leash.
Fellow dogs excited a different kind of passion in Clive. Having been alerted to the existence of love by his miraculous rescue, he had clearly made it his life's mission to give back to his own in a direct and physical way. The sight of any dog - male, female, huge, tiny, no matter - would bring out the Barry White in him.
One fine day in West Park, the inevitable happened. Inflamed by the allure of a well-groomed Afghan hound, all silky hair and eyelashes, Clive tore at his rope hard enough to snap it. Barely pausing to register his good fortune, he streaked towards his quarry with the clearest of intents. She (or he; we never found out, though I bet Clive did) got the message while Clive was still some way off, and tore away into the park, leaving the aggrieved owner with a bruised wrist and rope burns.
It took us an hour to find Clive, but the Afghan was still AWOL when at dusk we wisely left ahead of the duly summoned police. When we found him, he seemed to have expended his ardor and was waiting peaceably under a tree, rising only to snap at passing Bengalis.
"He's got to go" I told Rory, "he's mental. He'll have us all in the dock at this rate".
Shortly after that I graduated, left that house and moved to Bristol. Some months later, I had a call from Rory. He was in town, and we met up. It turned out that he too had sensed the city's allure, and was now living in a squat up in Frenchay. "How's Clive?" I asked.
Rory looked down for a moment, then confessed. "I took him home to my parents' place" (they lived in a high-rise in the magnificently-named Spon End district of Coventry). "I told them I was going to get some milk, and left him in the lounge".
"Eerrr...how long ago was this?"
"Six months."

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