So Monty has Nigel and Nellie. Carol Klein has Fleur and Fifi. I have Ziggy (left) and Ruby (right).
Ruby entered the garden three and a half years ago as a wriggly little sausage. She is, as her name suggests a ruby Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. I have a long history of unimaginative pet names. My honey-coloured rabbit was named “Honey”. The stray chintz cat who adopted my gran was named “Chintz”.
Ruby lived up to all expectations. She learnt to come, sit, stay, and not to lie down on command. Lying down seems beyond the intellectual capacity of a cavvie. But she can fetch and catch a ball, and she is an excellent dribbler at football. She is an uncomplicated, lovely little dog.
We flirted with the idea of breeding from Ruby and keeping one of the puppies. I took this very seriously and bought a copy of the dog breeder’s bible, Book of the Bitch (yes, really). I read it aloud at the kitchen table one Saturday morning. My voice began to falter as I read about miscarriage, birth defects and the possible need to dispatch a puppy born without eyes. When I read that sometimes a bitch licks her puppies so much she licks off their tail or a limb, I put down the book. Ruby is a licker. Dog breeding is not for us.
Within the hour we were on the M25 bound for Essex to pick up Ziggy.
Ziggy is the best impulse-buy ever. Yes, Stephen did query whether he was walking quite right. And he did (and still does) have a wonky eye. And he does bump into things and fall off things quite a lot. And he does make slightly deranged noises like an enraged cat. And he did spend most of his first year hanging off Ruby’s ear making these noises. And if you move him whilst he is asleep he makes a sort of leaking bagpipe, sly fart sound. And he seems incapable of lying in conventional dog sleeping positions. Ruby adopts the classic ‘puppy-pie’ (nose tucked up inside tail), the ‘flea’ (legs extended and touching) and the ‘sulk’ (chin on front paws, brow furrowed). Ziggy just seems to spill to occupy the available space. He is liquid dog. He rolls slowly off the edge of the sofa and continues his slumber uninterrupted. Or he will roll onto his back, four limbs extended at hectic angles in the air. And he will proceed to snore loudly in this position. Bagpipes.
But he is also capable of great elegance. He is light-of-foot and can leap like a gazelle. He trots like a prancing pony, stopping with one foot delicately raised, tail plumage and ears held aloft, pointing. Stephen and I joke that when he dies we will get him stuffed in this position so that we can continue to enjoy his regal silhouette. I am only joking. That would be barbaric. We also joke that he might be skinned and made into a fur stole because his pelt is the softest, downiest bunny fluff you can imagine. A fur stole would not have the delight of the wet nose and slightly fishy breath though. Ziggy comes as a whole package. You have to take the rough with the smooth.
Ziggy is the perfect garden dog. In cold or wet, Ruby would rather be a puppy-pie in her basket. Not Ziggy. He is up for anything, rain or shine. When I’m crouching to weed the flowerbeds, I will suddenly feel a little butterfly kiss on my ear, and there is Ziggy. There is generally sniff, sniff, sniff, a tentative lick, followed by a sneeze.
Ziggy has a repertoire of expressive sounds. Ruby has an authoritative bark, which she employs for cats, squirrels and alpacas. The alpacas in the field behind us just look on disdainfully. Ziggy has a special bark, which we call his ‘boffle’. This is when he’s a bit embarrassed because his barking has been utterly ineffective and he realises he’s made a bit of a fool of himself. It is a sort of barking cough, with wobbly jowls. He looks away, as if it wasn’t him. There is an even less confident ‘wiffle’. This is almost soundless. Try it. Say ‘wof’ with floppy cheeks and lips, at a whisper. That’s a wiffle.
(Don’t be alarmed if you sound a little bit like Jacob Rees-Mogg when you do this. This sound is the only thing that Zig has in common with JRM)
Ziggy loves a squirrel. Here he is tracking one:
That’s him being half-dog, half squirrel. I love his ‘can-do’ attitude.
Garden dogs are fantastic. Even when they dig in your mulch. Even when they run off with your gloves. We get endless joy from the Ziggy bagpipes and the Ruby pie.
Do you have a garden dog? I would love to hear about how they add to your experience of the outdoors. Or maybe you have crossed to the dark side and have a cat? Or an alpaca?