One welcome visitor to the house emerged from the bushes one evening after work. A small tan puppy bounced across the concrete and rested his paws on the front step. I, being naturally drawn into anything canine, clicked my tongue and put out my hand to invite him in. Fatal mistake. The dog came up to me, furiously wagging his tail and snuffling through his snout and proceeded to wash my hand and forearm with his tongue. I reached down and scritched his neck and he fell over and submitted to whatever attention I could give him.
Scritched. If you have ever had problems getting a dog’s affection it is because you have not scritched him. I first came across the term in an old Peanuts cartoon where Charlie Brown was trying to scratch Snoopy’s head, but Snoopy was pushing away. Schroeder says no, ,he likes to be Scritched. And you see him doing it in the next frame and Snoopy loving it. We always scritched our dog, and the term has now entered the urban slang; it is defined as gently scratching the back of someone’s neck. The intention is to gently massage the skin (or fur on a pet) using fingertips or the softest touch of the fingernails. What is the difference? Well try it on a dog. If you find the dog moving away you are doing it too hard, if you do it just right then lean right into you, move their neck around so you can do it to different bits, and in the most extreme cases just collapse on the floor in ecstasy. Once a dog discovers you can scritch, you have them for life.
Edsel, Eduardo and I had been working together for over a year, and had known each other for much longer, but the presence of this little bundle of energy brought us closer together over the coming days. We would wake up in the morning and find it curled up on the veranda waiting for our attention. He would stumble under our feet as we got ourselves ready to face the day. When we returned at night, the scratching of claws scurrying across the concrete would greet us as we turned into our driveway. And from then on one of us had to play with the dog no matter what else we had to do. You had to type one hand on the computer as the other one scritched away at his neck. Cooking took twice as long, and you had to budget for the scraps of meat to be thrown down to the dog.
The puppy was lean but by no means underfed. He had a bright new collar around his neck. this was the dog equivalent of a two timer. He had a family home (although we knew it was not the landlord next door to our plot, we had suspicions it was his immediate neighbour), but obviously like many Caribbean dogs he was not getting the attention there that we were lavishing on him at our place. Indeed Edsel, being the only native West Indian, behaved more like a typical Caribbean with the dog – pushing it away, ignoring it for long periods or calling it bad names. But it was all a show, numerous times I would walk out on to the veranda and find the dog being tickled absent-mindedly by Edsel as he surfed the web on his laptop.
For Eduardo and myself it was like having a child around. I was sad when he was not there, but could become annoyed when he was. I was drafting reports towards the end of the trip, and had left a pile of papers on the sofa in the lounge while I went to the bathroom. On my return there was no sign of the dog but a trail of chewed sheets crossed the carpet. On other occasions we realised the puppy had not quite been house trained and little messages were left on the floor. We found ourselves training the dog to sit and stay, and making sure he knew we were not pleased when these little mishaps occurred.
But you couldn’t stay mad at him for long. He would do all those endearing things that puppies do to ingratiate themselves with you. He would nuzzle in to your body or lick your hand when you ignored him; he would play with his tail, roll around on the veranda or start tugging at whatever piece of muck he could find. Usually it would be a feather or a strand of grass. Occasionally he would find an insect. He would follow a beetle across the yard, sporadically getting a nasty nip from their pincers when he got too close. Several times I found him swishing his tongue around his mouth where he was trying to remove the nasty taste of the moth he had attempted to devour.