It was the way he stroked my ears through the bars that gave me the idea he fancied me rather than Ginger in the next run, though by the clamour Ginger was making it sounded as if he thought otherwise. I'd never seen him so active, galloping aimlessly round his enclosure, only stopping to issue those attention-seeking howls. The man had given him a cursory glance, then came to scrutinize me, shunning Ginger as if he was the worst captive canine he'd ever seen. And all down to the howls. I had to admit they were greatly off-putting, that's why, now I was the butt of the man's inspection, I was staying cool and not trying to win him over with silly tricks.
Somewhat experimentally I sneaked my tongue out to lick one of his fingers. It tasted kind of interesting, as if he'd been gnawing chicken legs with bare hands. I knew about chicken legs. That's why I was caged up in this unholy place; because I ate the old lady's supper when she was out. Not an adventure I ever had an urge to dwell on with all the caning and outraged bellowing that went on.
The man crouched to get a better view, then stared me straight in the eye. It was a strange thing to do to a dog and I wondered if he was being hostile. If he was, I was in trouble, but he looked genuine enough so I ignored it. If he'd a mind to offer me a home I didn't want to spoil things, especially if there was chicken in the offing. I had a vision of chicken scraps in a huge brown bowl (with mixer and gravy the way the old lady served it in the old days) until the iron gate at the end of the pens crashed open and knocked the image away. I could hear the Gaffer pounding towards us, his hobnailed boots striking the concrete like a salvo of bullets.
'Fancy him do you, Buddy?' he yelled as he approached the man.
'How much you asking?'
'Fifty, providing you can give him a decent home. And I'll need references.'
I planted the ears back in amazement. Since when did buying a Staffordshire need references?
Ginger's tethering chain began to rattle as he clawed that damned ear of his; he'd been plagued by dreaded mites for a while. Well he could keep them to himself if he didn't mind, an invasion this side of getting adopted was out of the question. It wasn't every owner who could tolerate infestations, I realized that when the old woman brought me in and stridently advised the Gaffer to scrub my ears with Lysol. The mere sound of the word sent me dithering into a corner, but to give the Gaffer his due, he simply used drops to cure the irritation. 'So, if you can hear me Ginger, quit showering me with your bugs.'
Chicken Fingers said, 'I really wanted a bitch.'
A bitch? He had to be joking. What use was a bitch to a bloke like him. Slurping water from the steel dish as if it was a cure-all for shock, I pinned the ears further back so as not to be distracted when I studied his face. A dog's man if ever I saw one, beefy and hard. Suddenly he bounced upright, his thighs quivering with the exertion. I followed the curve of his leg until my eye rested on his corpulent gut, and thought of all the meat it must have taken to make it grow so big.
'The wife wanted a bitch.'
Dejectedly, I lay down and put my muzzle on my paws. The fantasy was over. Chicken Fingers had a wife, which meant I was doomed to stay forever with Irish Ginger and the wretch who looked after us.
Chicken Fingers stooped again and poked his hand through the bars. 'He's a fine looking animal,' he said.
I raised one eyelid.
'I'm sure the Missus will understand when she sees his funny grin.'
Scrambling to all fours, I began to pant with excitement, but I didn't run about. Good behaviour was of paramount importance if I was to be salvaged from this dump and transported to a place where a Missus cooked chicken and fed her man until he could hardly move.
The Gaffer reached up and drew the bolt on the gate. Merciful heaven, the gate swung open and liberty loomed. Producing a leather strap from his trouser pocket, he rapidly slid it over my bonce. 'Come on, Butch. Go walkies with the nice gent.' Turning to the nice gent, he added, 'And don't let him pull you. He'd tug a bus to the ground if he was let.'
Chicken Fingers laughed and scratched the spot between my ears, making me go all gooey inside. 'Don't worry,' he said. 'I'm used to dogs.' Then he rubbed the tip of my ear, little knowing it was another of my sensitive spots. 'Things'll be fine when he's found his bed and had his first bite of grub.'
Spinning my tail to show I approved of his plan, I immediately looked up and down the gully trying to remember the way out. Ginger shoved his nose through the railings and gave a subdued bark, and I woofed at him: 'Hey, Ginger. It was my funny grin that got me placed. Now, if you really want to get out of here -'
'How much for the Setter, mate?'
I shot my head round to stare at the new man in my life. He was surely not thinking of taking Ginger as well as me. Him and Missus must live in a mansion.
'Same,' Gaffer said. 'Fifty and a good home.'
'They'll have that all right. We live on a farm. Fields to run in and a barn to share.'
'Won't the wife create if you buy two dogs?'
'If she saw the mutt's downcast expression, she'd be cross if I didn't. I ask you, in all conscience how could I leave him behind?'
As if he had the sense to know what was going on, Ginger yapped wildly and started to chase his tail, taking no notice of my warning that if he didn't behave he'd be left behind; however, since he hadn't been incarcerated as long as me, I suppose he hadn't had to learn the hard way.
A similar strip of leather went over Ginger's head, stopping him in his tracks. Gaffer said to him, 'Okay, Ginger. You're off as well.'
And with that the nice gent clipped a lead on my collar and looped it through Ginger's so we couldn't help but walk as one, and we were led away, my short legs racing to match Ginger's stride. I didn't care, I'd have slid on my belly if needs be.
So we vacated the squalid billet that had been our home, glad to go yet grateful for the shelter it offered when no-one else would take us in. Perhaps one day we would return, but in the meantime we'd have Chicken Fingers for boss and chicken legs, if we were lucky, for our rations.
PART TWO NEXT WEEK