Our dog goes by two names. The one we originally gave him was Hector – nothing to do with Richard Briers’ character in “Monarch of the Glen,” even though that would have made sense for a West Highland Terrier. Actually it came form “First of the Gang to Die” by Morrissey: “Hector was the first of the gang with a gun in his hand…” Not so appropriate for a slow, soft and generally useless little ball of white fur, although I suppose he was the first member of our little gang and will (with a bit of luck) be the first to die.
His second name is “Wiggins.” That moniker evolved over the first couple of years of his life. When he was a puppy I came home from the pub one night and stumbled over him in the dark hall. From upstairs Jessie (wife) heard me doing a crude impression of Scoobie Doo. Allegedly I was saying to him, “Hullo Mr Roggie, who’s a good roggie?” So that was apparently quite funny and for a time he was Mr Roggie (said in Scoobie Doo voice,) the silly voice remained but his name later changed to Mr Puppins, then Mr Wiggins then just Wiggins.
Anyway Hector is a love/hate figure in the Bisset household. He provides us with a remarkable amount of entertainment but, despite the fact we’ve had two children since acquiring Hector, he remains by far the most problematic family member.
Let’s start with his physical failings. Even for a Westie he’s pretty tiny. We still laugh at the memory of the vet’s reaction when we took him in to get some jabs, aged two or three. He looked at Hector as if he’d been presented with a new species and said, “My goodness, this terrier is abnormally small.”
He has rubbishy short legs and can’t even run as fast as me. He can’t jump up into the boot of the car and can’t go out in snow more than four inches deep. If confronted by either he just sits looking helpless until someone picks him up. He’s scared of spiders and when we had a problem with mice a couple of winters ago, we’re pretty sure he just used to lie in bed watching them running around the kitchen. His ancestors were ratters on the Spanish Armada for god’s sake!
We wonder if he’s a dog at all. I once found an animal in an old encyclopedia that I thought fitted the bill more accurately – Nyctereutes procyonoides or Raccoon Dog. The description of it said something like: A squat, extremely furry animal that lives in abandoned burrows and hibernates for long periods. Owing to its unusually short legs, even the smallest amount of snow can cause it problems. Yup, that’s him. I can just imagine Hector in the wild. “Oh no, where am I going to live? Ah, here’s a nice hole someone has kindly dug for me. I’ll just go to sleep in here.”
Then there are his psychological issues. Possibly the most annoying thing about Wiggins is his flat refusal to empty his bowels unless he’s more than a quarter mile away from our house. It’s actually pretty shrewd of him as it means we have to take him for a relatively long walk at least once a day. And you can’t break him on this one. We had our garden completely fenced in thinking we’d be able to let him out to do his business when we couldn’t be bothered to walk him. But no, Hector just roams around outside barking incessantly at passing cars, falling leaves and bumblebees.
Even if he’s desperate to go, he won’t cave in. He’ll start howling in discomfort, scratching at the back door expectantly and won’t stop until you’ve put him on his lead and walked him a suitable distance from the front door.
Like most dogs he doesn’t like loud, high or unexpected noises. So, he’s terrified of the hoover, he loses the plot if you blow up a balloon and he has a strange aversion to the owl noises I make for the girls by cupping my hands and blowing into the cavity. But, the noise that distresses him most is a crying baby. I don’t think it’s because he’s compassionate, it’s just because it’s shrill and irritating. So this has been a problem for the last few years with two babies in our house.
Hector’s reaction to hearing a baby crying during the night is to pee wherever he’s lying. As he’s quite naughty and tends not to stay in his designated bed all night, in the past he’s peed on pretty much every item of soft furniture in our house.
To prevent this we now have an infuriating routine to go through every evening: We lift stools, baskets and occasional tables onto the sofas and chairs to prevent him lying/urinating on them. We let him out just before we go to bed but it’s a token gesture. Each night we watch him wander around for a few minutes, resolutely refusing to cock a leg and barking every third step until we call him back in.
Despite the fact he couldn’t catch a cold, Hector does consider himself a hunter. The problem is, he’s delusional about his potential. Although he doesn’t fancy his chances against a mouse or sizeable spider, he’s confident he could take a large stag, a horse or a bull – he’s chased all three in the past and, with the last two, was very lucky not to be kicked in the head.
A couple of years ago we were walking through the woods when an impressive looking fox crossed the path ahead of us. Hector gave chase (very slowly) and disappeared into the trees. We called him and searched for ages but couldn’t find him and eventually had to head home. We were thinking if the fox bothered to look round and saw the hapless looking critter chasing him it would have been all over for Wiggins. But a few hours later Hector came trotting back up to the back door, scratched to come in and walked past us to his bed as if nothing had happened.
He’s currently sitting on the step outside the French doors in my office. He’s making an incredibly irritating whining noise and rubbing his little wet nose on the glass, there’s an awful streaky mess at roughly mid-shin height. I guess I better go walk him.