Saturday, February 11, 2012

Biting off a bit of water

Over the last week, when the weather was bitterly cold, I allowed Fitzroy, exceptionally, to sleep in the kitchen with Sophia. Inside the house, however, Fitzroy becomes rapidly bored, because he's a hyperactive dog (that's the adjective used by French journalists to describe Nicolas Sarkozy) who needs to race around and jump in the air, scrambling up and down the slopes of Gamone, snapping at the donkeys' hind legs, racing after birds (who surely can't imagine how an earthbound animal such as a dog could ever hope to catch an aerial creature), or killing field mice. Yes, Fitzroy has a distinctly feline feature: he's a skilled mouse-killer. It's true that I train him in this art as often as possible. You see, inside the house, I use a couple of metallic cages as mousetraps.

When the door of the trap springs shut, the rodent is simply imprisoned, but otherwise unharmed. Then, with the generosity of a Nero, I give the captured mouse a fighting chance of survival in a confrontation with Fitzroy. The other evening, I organized such a combat in the dark, on the snow-covered roadway. I used an electric lamp to see where I was walking, and to open the cage enabling the mouse to dart out with the speed of an arrow (or almost), but Fitzroy relied solely upon his sense of smell to locate the escaping mouse in the dark, pounce upon it, scrape it up out of the snow and break its backbone. In the style of a cat, Fitzroy will then toss the mouse in the air a couple of times, to see how it reacts upon landing. I believe that this is not merely a cruel game, but rather a way of evaluating the physical state of the captured prey. In the case of a field mouse in the snow, in plain daylight, Fitzroy's skills are quite spectacular. He will pounce into a heap of snow—where there's no visible sign of life—and emerge instantly with a mouse clutched between his teeth.

Inside the warm kitchen, Fitzroy usually squats Sophia's big wicker basket. But Sophia is just as happy spread out on the tiled floor, which contains electric heating. The problem, alas, is that Fitzroy's boredom is often transformed into vandalism.

He dissects minutely everything he can find. Let us not forget that, over a year ago, Fitzroy was no more than a pup when he destroyed my thick hessian and rubber doormat by tearing it into smaller and smaller fragments. Fitzroy is fond of applying this fragmentation process to smaller objects such as supermarket cheese trays, yoghurt containers and Kleenexes (preferably used). Since I'm rarely on the spot at the moment when the damage is being done, I can't really adopt a negative attitude that might inform Fitzroy that his vandalism pisses me off. So, I merely chase him out of the house and clean up the mess. If there's one word that Fitzroy does understand perfectly, it's the command "Out!". For him, it's an invitation to return to his normal pleasant outdoors environment.

Incidentally, talking about the dogs' environment, I'm always happy to rediscover that both Sophia and Fitzroy are resolutely winter animals, indeed snow creatures. Whenever they've got something on their mind such as the investigation of an unidentified external presence or odor or noise, they immediately ignore the fact that a Siberian snow blizzard might be sweeping across the slopes of Gamone. Finally, it's only when they've got nothing better to think about that they get around to thinking that life might be more pleasant indoors.

Yesterday afternoon, I was relieved to find that the temperature had become quite mild and the sun was shining. I took a few gardening tools up the road, to break up the thick layer of ice (a driving hazard for my neighbor) that had formed just below my spring.

A steady stream of water continues to emerge from a hose attached to my spring. Since this running water is a few degrees warmer than the frozen surroundings, it can actually be used to melt the ice. Now, Fitzroy has a theory about water streaming from a hose. It's cool and tasty, and Fitzroy reckons that a smart dog should be able to bite off a bit, to grasp between his teeth, as if it were an agonizing field mouse.

He jumps ceaselessly at the nozzle of the hose, with constant determination, trying to get his teeth firmly around the stream of icy water. There again, as in the case of Fitzroy's vandalism, I can't find the right words to communicate effectively with my dear dog. To be perfectly truthful, I don't wish to exclude totally the possibility that Fitzroy might come running towards me proudly, one of these days, with a short fragment of still-running water clenched in his mouth. That would merely make him a quantum-theory dog... which wouldn't amaze me unduly. Anything's possible...

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