People have started ignoring me, giving me a wide berth when I approach and those who do stop to talk show little interest in me.
Take the day-before-yesterday. Harness in hand I let the guide-dog lead me to The Wells for an ale and a burger.
Anna, the lovely manager, threw open the door in welcome.
“You’re back! I have missed you so much. Oh yes, you are beautiful!”
I beamed. I’d only been away a few days but returned to desiccated houseplants, a bevy of bills and the cat’s dirty protests at my absence. Now, at last, I was being welcomed home properly.
“Oh Ella, you are adorable! Shall I get your usual bowl of water and maybe a little something else?” Then, turning to me, Anna said, “And it is nice to see you too.”
Crestfallen I recognised my destiny is to play second fiddle to my recently-acquired guide-hound, even down the pub! I needed a drink but Anna had nipped off to fetch Ella’s water so I sulked instead.
It’s bad enough surrendering independent locomotion to an (admittedly not-so-dumb) animal, but discovering that my Labrador has more allure than me, well that takes the biscuit! No wonder Churchill called his bouts of depression his ‘black dog’!
Once Ella has been settled with her bowl of water and a dog biscuit (that I suspect Anna paid for out of her own pocket) I order my pint and burger.
This dog really has wasted no time in getting her paws firmly under my table. In the space of a month since her arrival she has charmed my wife and daughters and proved herself adept at guiding me to and from all my local haunts. My journeys with her are safer than they were with a white cane. She steers me round obstacles. And people make way for us. But it’s her that they notice. Her puppy-dog eyes and skew-whiff ears seduce all who clap their mincers on her. Truly she is a seeing-eye dog!
Is this why I alone seem immune to her charms; because I can’t see that she’s adorable? Don’t get me wrong. I do appreciate my waggy-tailed familiar. She dotes on me, is always eager to get into harness and lead me wherever I want to go (especially if there’s the prospect of food there) and she is beautifully behaved. But love her? Nah!
Maybe I am being a little dog-in-a-manger about this. My pint arrives and Ella lifts her head to check I’m okay, licks my sleeve and lets her ears flop back down onto my feet. A passer-by asks if he can stroke her. I should say no he can’t, not while she’s on-duty but she’s already standing up, tail wagging and I find myself feeling guilty for denying her the attention. Oh god, am I susceptible too? Is the dog I only accepted as a working animal destined to become a pet?
“Hello gorgeous.” My friend Hannah slides in to sit opposite me, and Ella’s up again having her ears tickled, dominating Hannah’s attention for the next five minutes.
“You know dogs are the perfect communist citizens” she tells me. “They respect rigid rules and hierarchy. And, so long as they get a modicum of food, shelter and the hope of reward they will work tirelessly and without complaint for their masters.”
The Guide Dog Association said pretty much the same. “Ella’s trained to work for you, don’t spoil her.” “I’ve got no problem with that” I tell Hannah who’s fondling Ella’s neck, “but with the liberal amount of affection everyone gives that particular worker, I fear for her efficiency.”
“And,” I might have added, “I resent the assumption that I too should welcome this addition to my life. I’ve never wanted a dog or the sight-loss that necessitated me getting one. It’s like opening your heart to a pacemaker.
Later, after half the pub, including an amorous Irish wolfhound has said goodbye to Ella, I head home; Ella walking stalwartly ahead, alert and confident, me straining to put complete trust in her.
We stop at the corner outside Burgh House and, after cocking a cursory ear for traffic, I urge her to cross the road to Flask Walk.
The bloody dog refuses to budge and, as I growl at her to wake up, silent death in the form of an electric car hurtles past our noses, ignores the one-way signs and plunges down Willow Road.
With a newfound respect for my good and faithful servant and a glow of affection I let her lead me home.