To dogs, theft is sport. What else could it be? Naturally, for starving dogs it's a survival mechanism, but if there wasn't a sporting element in it, why would a well-fed lapdog dabble in crime?
Dolly, having already had supper, treats, and the remains of the cat food, is entirely capable of nicking a whole chicken off the kitchen table. She's not even subtle about it: she yips with excitement as her paws skitter across the floor, and gurgles loudly as she disappears behind the sofa with her loot.
This is because the canine tea-leaf has no shame. Take old Sandy. She didn't just used to go round eating stuff in other people's kitchens, she used to nick whole bowlfuls of food and bring them home. I would open the front door and find, lined up neatly on the doorstep, strange cat dishes, roasting trays, china plates and even once a plastic supermarket box labelled "duck breasts" - each and every one of them, needless to say, empty and licked scrupulously clean.
It's hard to deny your dog's criminality when the evidence is at your feet and the owner is pointing to a foreign cat dish and saying, "How did that get there, then?"
Confronted by an irate cook and an empty roasting tin I would waggle it under her nose and ask as sternly as possible, "What's this, Sandy?"
"Roasty-dishy, Mum," she used to pant, waving her tail
enthusiastically and grinning. "That's the one left over from the pork chops I filched. Nice tin, don't you think? It's a present!"
What can you do? Well, try not to laugh anyway. Not so long as the victim is standing in front of you, bursting with righteous outrage. At least none of my dogs has ever discovered how to open the fridge. I've lost count of the number of my dog-loving mates who've been reduced to literally belting their fridges shut.
My lovely black lab cross Tessa used to nick stuff too, but when caught used to grovel in the most humiliating, apologetic, guilty way. Worse, she wasn't very clever so she always got caught, and she was so bone-thin when we first got her that people used to think we were the horrible monsters who had starved her.
What had actually happened was that we rescued her out of somebody's coal shed and started feeding her up as soon as we got her home, but as she gained in confidence, she used to open the garden gate and heap off on stealing sprees.
She started with the bird-bread on next-door's lawn:
hoovering it up with gusto until the neighbours caught her and took her inside for a luxury blow-out while they came round to tell us off. That took some explanation. Eventually however, it was all sorted out and Tessa, looking bilious, was returned to us just in time to be sick on the kitchen floor. She would eat anything, that dog. Anything at all. Even chewing gum, if she found it on the pavement. Yuk.
Her weakness though was ice cream. She simply couldn't resist it. Any flavour, it didn't matter: she could smell it a mile off and would steam in for a bite, a lick, a drip of the stuff. Anything. She was an ice-cream-o-holic. Cones were her best. Lovely cold, drippy cones. Strawberry, chocolate, vanilla... it didn't mater. She would accelerate towards a toddling sweetheart; swerve in at the last moment and without braking for as much as a second, shoot past her victim, swiping the top off the cone on her way through.
Naturally the assaulted child would put up a howl of protest and I would be left (panting up from the rear) to soothe the child, smooth the apoplectic mother, and buy replacement ice creams all round. By which time, of course, Tessa would have spotted a new target on the horizon and shot off in pursuit.
But if that was embarrassing, it was as nothing compared to Magnus. Now I have to confess that this dog wasn't mine - he belonged to an adorable doggy friend. He was a golden retriever and had been spoilt rotten from puppyhood so there was no excuse for him, but he just couldn't help it. He would half hitch anything that came to paw: sweets, burgers, sandwiches, shopping, the contents of entire fridges... it was all fair game.
But the absolute worst, the lowest, most embarrassing,
shaming and ridiculous of all his crimes were committed in the name of love. He simply adored people, especially visitors to the house. Not content with laying his great, noble, golden head on their lap and drooling all over them, he had to, absolutely had to, give them presents.
So he used to lope off purposefully up the stairs, tip
over the laundry basket and snuffle through the contents in
search of a suitable offering, because his idea of a good
present was dirty underwear. The smellier the better. And once he'd found something truly delectable, like baggy knickers, he would carry his offering downstairs and deposit it lovingly in the lap of the lucky guest - be it granny, plumber, tax inspector or vicar.
Which may not be the shaggiest dog story I know, but it certainly is the most embarrassing.
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