THE LAST PAPAYA
Thus it came about that Tilly, at the age of six, had become an only dog. (See Triple Trouble.)
As a tiny puppy, she had been such a friendly little thing that while we were still in Margate (see The Hungry Polo), we had maintained an almost paranoid vigilance for fear that someone, succumbing to her charm, would make off with her.
The isolation of Iswepe soon got the better of her, however, and even before she left puppyhood behind, she had become wary of strangers. Mina, our part-time domestic help and Frans, our full-time gardener, were the only two non-family members whose presence she accepted. (She and Poppy made a huge nuisance of themselves keeping Frans company while he ate his lunch, staring at him with hungry eyes and drooling lips. When I realised that he had fallen for their stratagems, I asked him not to feed them under any circumstances, but the damage had been done. For the remaining time that he worked for us, he was stalked.)
But for the rest of the human race (barring her immediate family) Tilly developed a fearful, nervous antipathy expressed in backing away from all friendly overtures with a volley of hostile barking.
We found this to be very exasperating, because with us she continued to be the most charming dog we had, until then, ever had. For sheer cuteness, she outmatched even Scampy. (See The Hunters for Scampy’s story.)
Whenever she was reprimanded, she flipped onto her back, front paws waggling and tail thumping an apology on the carpet. If one of us stepped on her accidentally, she grovelled a profuse and ingratiating apology for getting in our way and to assure us that she did not at all hold it against us.
She lived in joyful anticipation of going for a walk, and eventually we did not even have to complete the question: “Do you want to go for a walk?” One of us would just say: “Do...” and she’d be off the couch and prancing excitedly at our feet faster than we could say “Tilly-bird”!
But she was determined to keep her cuteness a state secret, and neither friend nor wider family member ever found out. (She did eventually warm to my parents, but only because there was no other lap to sit on while we were away on holiday.)
This lack of socialisation was to have devastating consequences, but that was still some years ahead and is another story.
Now, as an only dog, it was becoming more and more apparent that Tilly was becoming impossibly reclusive. We needed to get her a companion.
I would have preferred another dachshund, as our village was very safe, and we no longer had the same need for protection as in Iswepe. But Barry wanted another Rottweiler. He began to surf the internet and soon found two likely litters. As I have over the years grown to love and appreciate the breed myself, I withdrew my objection and he and Tasha set off to inspect the litters.
They came back triumphant. One of the litters they had inspected had two likely candidates – the only problem being that Barry fancied one and Tasha the other. After examining the photos closely and hearing that the one Tasha preferred had been a calm and gentle little thing, I ranged myself on Tasha’s side, much to Barry’s disgust.
While Barry eventually succumbed to her irresistible, over-the-top personality, and we heard no more about the Pup We Should Have Chosen, Tasha and I made the rather disconcerting discovery that the only reason she had appeared to be calm and gentle was because she had been sick! (We had had to wait an extra week before fetching her while the breeder got it sorted out. It had been an intestinal parasite.)
Finding a name for her turned out to be quite easy, and this time it was Barry who chose it.
Tasha and I were discussing the matter in the kitchen and Barry, overhearing us as he went past us and down the passage into the depths of the house, yelled out something I could not hear. I asked Tasha what he had said, and she said she wasn’t sure, but it sounded like “Pixie”.
We stood there digesting this and then, because of the puppy’s pretty elfin face with her longer than usual ears, and because pixies are supposed to be mischievous, we thought this a very good fit. However, when we informed Barry that we had decided that “Pixie” was an excellent name, he was quite put out. He had not said, “Pixie”. No, he had said... wait for it... yes, “Trixie”! (See The Hungry Polo.)
When we first arrived home with Pixie, we introduced her to Tilly in the garden. She immediately recognised Tilly as her new playmate, but the feeling was not mutual. Tilly ran off and hid in the cannas. When we had the nerve to bring this bouncing, bumptious intruder into the house, Tilly went and hid inside the back of the couch in the lounge.
By the following day she had progressed to ignoring her. On the third day she showed signs of tolerance, and finally, on the fourth day, gave in to the overtures of friendship and accepted the invitation to play. Games of tag, hide-and-seek, tug of war, and endless wrestling became the order of the day. She had even more fun with this puppy than she had had with Poppy, simply because, being the same age as Poppy, she had always been much smaller. Now, however, she had a friend who was the same size.
It did not last long, though, for Pixie grew fast, and after two months had more than doubled her weight and was twice Tilly’s height, but the relationship had been sealed.
The only time Tilly did not tolerate Pixie was when she was sleeping on the couch under her blanket, in which she skilfully wrapped herself every evening while we were viewing television. (This was an artistic display which I regret never having caught on a video cam.) Pixie sneaked up on her, grabbed a corner of the blanket and yanked it off. The roar of rage from such a small dog had to be heard to be believed. Pixie was a fast learner of Tilly-speak, though, for she never did it again.
Bringing up Pixie turned out to be not for the faint of heart. For starters, she had a thimble-sized bladder. Never have we had the problems to house-train a puppy as we had with her.
Her arrival was also not well-timed as I had just completed my annual spring-clean. My newly shampooed carpets soon lost their freshness.
The first few days she made tiny puddles every ten to fifteen minutes – literally! It nearly drove us nuts, as that amounts to four or five times an hour, which amounts to more than thirty times a day! It was almost impossible to get her outside onto the grass in time.
Although the number of puddles steadily decreased, the size of them increased proportionately and we still had plenty of accidents. I used up a full three bottles of Wash & Get Off spray before her bladder finally matured enough for puddle making to become only an occasional accident rather than an hourly occurrence. This was five weeks later!
It took yet a few more weeks before we could declare her to be safe, and once we had done so I had to arrange for my carpets to be steam-cleaned.
When we took her to the vet for her second lot of inoculations, we met a man in the parking lot who took one horrified look at her before asking us if we were aware of what we had let ourselves in for. He had had a Rottweiler puppy and it had been the worst decision of his life. I loftily informed him that this was our fifth Rottweiler so we were completely familiar with the breed.
My patronising attitude soon came back to bite me.
Pixie turned out to be a holy terror.
I have mentioned that Poppy was an angel, an unusually responsive and obedient dog from the moment we got her. Pixie could not have been more different.
It was not that she was disobedient, nor did she display any of the passive resistance for which Rottweilers are so well known. There was nothing passive about this dog at all. In fact, she had the energy and playfulness of a Labrador – a Labrador regularly dosed with amphetamines! As Rottweilers are usually medium energy dogs, this came as a shock.
This high energy, together with intelligence which outsmarted even our French poodles, a tremendous sense of fun, plus a huge, over-the-top personality, wore us out.
Because she had pushed so hard for us to choose Pixie, Tasha felt morally obliged to take a very active role in the housetraining as well as entertaining this little puppy who simply did not stop – it was go, go, GO!!! There were moments when Tasha came close to deeply regretting her choice.
She was soon too much for Tilly, who now seldom obliged with chasing and wrestling games, so she had no-one to play with and this led to increased mischief. Tasha ended up having to entertain her all day long.
More than any other dog we have ever had, she was extraordinarily loving, friendly and affectionate – not only with us but with everyone. She just loved people and she was such a silly clown it was impossible not to fall in love with her.
She thoroughly enjoyed any kind of training and was a star pupil. When Tasha taught her to lie down, she watched her with a gleam of excitement in her eye, and on command she didn’t just lie down, she hit the floor like people do during a drive-by shooting, her eyes never leaving Tasha’s face. The training was greatly facilitated by the fact that she adored food and would do anything for it.
But, oh my word, she was destructive!
There was the typical emptying of every wastepaper basket in the house with the contents shredded and strewn about, and it goes without saying that she left long streamers of unusable toilet paper throughout the house.
Tasha’s selection of soft toys and ornaments, all of sentimental value, were either damaged or destroyed. Two dolls in national costume, brought to her by her daddy from overseas trips more than twenty years before, had interesting adjustments made to their clothing, while teddies and dogs and lions had their noses chewed off.
Books were removed from the lower shelves of bookcases to be torn apart and scattered. (Tasha was particularly indignant when one of her precious PG Wodehouse novels – which are not readily obtainable – was eaten up.) Pencils were splintered and pens were scrunched and crossword puzzle pages were pulped.
A cherished polished stinkwood toothpick holder was emptied several times, with hundreds of toothpicks having to be discarded, and eventually it too was reduced to splinters. Barry’s nail file and nail clippers, kept next to his TV viewing chair for convenience (Is this a guy thing?) were taken elsewhere and, when found, showed unmistakable signs of having undergone Pixie treatment.
The woodpile kept at the fireplace provided a constant supply of material to reduce to splinters or sawdust and to scatter over the lounge carpet. My home began to resemble some sort of rat’s nest.
She stole and ate the contents of the veggie rack in the kitchen, being particularly partial to the sweet potatoes. In fact, she developed such a taste for sweet potatoes that the following year she regularly unearthed the orange sweet potatoes growing in my veggie garden until there was not one left.
She and Tilly slept in the laundry. Tilly’s igloo was chewed so often that there was soon nothing left of it and Pixie’s own cushion had to be mended and re-stuffed many times.
Old towels, placed in strategic positions at the back and front doors (Hermannsburg being a very damp place in spring and summer), were also chewed up and had to be thrown into the rag box.
On one occasion I could not find my brand new reading glasses. I searched for them frantically, convinced that I had left them on the arm of the couch. Yet, they were not there. Had I left them somewhere else? (I am well-known to be constantly looking for my reading glasses.)The search continued for some time. I scoured the house and eventually the garden, suspecting that darling Pixie might have taken them. But they had vanished. I prayed for guidance and continued my search. Four hours later, we found them just outside the back door (where they had definitely NOT been when I first began to look for them). The titanium frame – a bit battered – could be rescued, but the lenses had interesting tooth-mark patterns on them. No need to wonder if Pixie had been the culprit!
She did not restrict her activities to the house, as the garden provided marvellous opportunities for entertainment.
She chewed up a pair of my domestic worker’s shoes, left in the change room outside while she was working in the house, and the rubber garden gloves and boots belonging to the gardener were constantly removed from the toolshed and chewed. My peg bag, once unwisely left on the washing line, was pulled down and the pegs chewed and scattered.
The plumbing on the back wall of the house could not be resisted. A cap was chewed off the drain from the dishwasher and she even tried the toilet pipe. Mercifully this survived her onslaught.
She found a packet of cement and grout in the lean-to next to the garage, tore them open and had great fun bedaubing the driveway. The mess beggars description. It took me hours to clean up.
One day the automatic front gate stopped working. Investigation revealed that the outer casing of the motor had been removed and the inside damaged. Of course, we had no idea at all who could possibly have been responsible for this vandalism!
Our responses ranged from sighs of exasperation to shrieks of dismay and occasional yells of fury. We usually managed to restrain ourselves but she did get quite a few sharp clips.
There was only one occasion when I completely lost it.
I was sitting in the lounge when out of the corner of my eye I saw Pixie run past the window. Was it my imagination or did she have something blue in her mouth? In double quick time I scooted out the back to check on my washing, and what do I find? Every single article of washing yanked off the lines and lying on the grass below!
I called her but she did not appear. I had to go and fetch her. Possibly my tone gave her just an inkling that I was feeling less than friendly. I dragged her back to the scene of the crime to discipline her as I had learnt: Take dog by scruff of neck and shake thoroughly as would mommy dog. But the sight of the washing, lying dirty and frumpled on the back lawn, drove me into such a fury that I reverted to a more traditional form of discipline. It’s as well I am not a celebrity being stalked by paparazzi. I’m sure the video would have gone viral and I would have been vilified for ever after as a sicko who needs to be lynched. (Keep calm all you dog lovers. I have never been a strong person and I did not use a stick. I assure you my hands were sorer than she was.)
The blue article I thought I had seen turned out to have been Tasha’s bath towel. You may stress the “have been”, because it was not any more.
Thereafter she was banished to the front garden on washdays.
This dog was a non-stop dynamo of energy. Even as a small puppy she hardly slept during the day and as she grew up she did not stop to nap at all. In the mornings, to try and tire her out, Tasha would take her for the six kilometer run around the dam – with Tasha on her bike and Pixie on a leash.
This turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Tilly. She went along for the run and absolutely loved it. She would run full sprint round the dam and at the end of it would be ready and willing to set off again. She was fitter and faster beyond anything we would have believed a daxie to be capable of. The lack of whitethroat swallow training no longer mattered. (See Idyll)
In the afternoons I would walk Pixie round the dam. After both the run and the walk, she would collapse with exhaustion on the kitchen floor and actually sleep for a full ten minutes before waking up and looking for further entertainment!
When she went for her booster shots at twelve months, the vet noticed that she was unusually stiff and he asked us how we were exercising her. Well, it turned out that we were hopelessly over-exercising her and with her joints still growing, we had possibly caused irreparable damage!
So, no more exercising. Shudders of dread all round.
We formed a family support group. Whenever one of us felt that Pixie was a Very Bad Dog (read as The Pup from Hell) one of the others would take over for a while.
Because Poppy had so much enjoyed being an inside dog, we had decided even before she arrived that Pixie would be brought up as one too. So far, however, things were not going according to plan and I began to wonder if my home would survive her permanent presence.
The situation came to a head when I bought two beautiful papayas from Woolworths (so they weren’t cheap) and put them on the dressing table in the spare room, where it was nice and sunny in the mornings, to ripen fully.
One evening soon afterwards, we went out for a few hours and when we arrived home again, it was to find the passage full of papaya pips. I sighed, too tired to deal with disciplining her, besides the fact that I knew very well that the dog liked papaya so I really should not have left it within her reach. I called her and Tilly to go to bed in the laundry and Pixie first dashed off to the lounge. She returned with the remains of the papaya. (No doubt, just in case she felt the need of sustenance during the long hours of the night.)
Needless to say, the lounge carpet did not look too good either. I went to bed.
The following morning, I cleaned both the lounge and passage carpets and discovered that she had eaten it in eight different places. Eight sticky patches which I had to get down on my hands and knees to scrub clean.
Two mornings later, I went out shopping, forgetting that I had resolved to close and lock the spare bedroom door before leaving. I returned to find the remains of the last papaya in the passage. A hurried (and harried) investigation revealed that she had once again eaten it in eight different places!
I am sure you will understand my consternation. This was SIXTEEN sticky patches in two days.
I did my famous impression of someone enraged.
This was the last straw. Or papaya. Take your pick.
Pixie had to become an outside dog.
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