Ginger had snored in his sleep most of the night and with every snort a stick of straw bounced on my nose. I snarled a few times hoping it would stop without me having to move. All the same, I opened my eye, saw a glimmer of light showing through the broken slats in the barn door. The day was dawning, it felt warm yet I smelled rain. Mice scurried in and out of tiny holes, something Ginger and I had to put up with. I didn’t mind sharing the barn with Ginger but the mice really got on my nerves.
We shared the farm with other animals, rabbits., rats, and the occasional fox. Hens were kept in a covered enclosure, only allowed to roam free under supervision so that foxy couldn’t grab one for a meal. I avoided them when they were out. I’d had enough nips from bantams to make me wary. My favourite hiding place was in the stable along with a grey mare called Dolly. It was a daft name for a horse but probably not as silly as calling me Butch. I mean, did you ever see a dog less butch in your life? Ginger I could understand, him having a red coat, but Butch… No!
More pokes from the hay, the last one right in my eye, ended my bit of daydreaming. Feeling irritated I shoved up closer to Ginger and barked in his ear. He leapt up, half alert, half still dreaming, then lay down again. Whoa! Not so fast, young man, you’ve got things to do, this is no time for lazing on your pallet. I dragged a paw over his eyes, the only sure fire way I knew to get his attention and to remind him that today was his big day.
That did it, he was up and pacing before I could get on my feet. I felt a bit sorry, really, knowing how much he disliked dog shows.
Heralded by the crowing cockerel, I padded to the barn door to see if Chicken Fingers had laid on breakfast. I could see the food plates were empty, only the water bowl was full and even that contained a couple of flies trying to swim. It was already feeling muggy; I could feel the pressure of impending heat. Not the right condition for poor Ginger to be marching round a show ring.
Ginger and I shuffled towards the house, woofing occasionally in the hope that waking Chicken Fingers would get us fed sooner rather than later. He was a bit of a late starter at weekends. My stomach rumbled with hunger, my fault for not having had supper! I was sulking ‘cause Ginger was getting all the attention. Missus was a great one for overdoing the ear fondling and her declarations of love for what she called a Silly Setter were quite painful to listen to. Chicken Fingers tried to pacify me, promising me a knuckle bone while Ginger was in the ring. Sometimes it pays to be small and undemanding.
As we cornered the house, we could hear Missus humming a tune so I guessed she was in a good mood. Exceptional smells emanated from the kitchen, inviting me to dart through the door. But I hung back to let Ginger go in first. Sight of him would have her doubling our rations since he was her favourite. She couldn’t do enough for him, and I was glad. It meant I was in for the extra that Ginger couldn’t eat. Our appetites were quite different which Chicken Fingers said was unusual considering our different sizes.
There were a lot of hiccups that morning. Missus and Chicken Fingers fell out over a bit of mud he’d walked into the kitchen. Humans are funny sometimes. The telephone rang repeatedly, mostly when Missus was in the middle of doing something important. One time she was putting on her face when it rang, though for the life of me I couldn’t think why she was so upset. I actually thought she looked better without all that paste and stuff she layered on every day. Ginger nearly went into one of his hurtling sessions but managed to control himself… not easy when you think how much he hates the telephone. It was more than his life was worth to resort to old practices of belting round the kitchen, breaking things, and upsetting Missus into the bargain.
Missus had a lot to do before the event but when she got round to seeing Ginger she calmed down and actually seemed to be enjoying herself. Poor Ginger had to be washed and dried and brushed until he shone. And shone he did. His wavy red hair was a sight to see. I don’t get jealous. I mean, with my short coat there’s not much to shine. And any way I wasn’t being shown and judged. Gaffer once told his mate that ‘Butch belied his breed, he hadn’t got a jealous streak in his body’. I spent a long time wondering how I could belie my breed, whatever that was.
We arrived at the showground early. Ginger hung back at first, I reckoned he was scared in case he got dirty. He’d been warned not to chase after one of the little dogs, the one with short legs that Ginger thought was German. Me, I don’t know a Beagle from a Poodle, they’re all just dogs to me. I couldn’t help grinning at Ginger when he tried to look the other way so as not to be tempted.
Since it was early Missus gave us permission to have a look round. “Mind you don’t get yourself dirty”, she said as she stroked Ginger’s head. He had the graciousness to look pleased… he was good at toadying up to her. He might be a bit dippy but he was no fool, he knew which side his bread was buttered!
People were shouting things like ‘Roll up, roll up’ and ‘Try your luck with the cards’. Kids giggling behind clouds of pink fluff on a stick stopped to give Ginger a stroke, I looked at them in my most appealing manner, was rewarded with a tickle between the ears which made me go all funny. I longed for more of the same but the girls wandered off, leaving Ginger and me alone.
Wandering round the side stalls we stopped to watch some colourful horses riding in circles, going up and down. According to a young girl who stood nearby it was called a merry-go-round. I’d heard her ask the lady whose hand she held, ‘Can I have a ride on the merry-go-round?
Ginger decided he wanted a go. He ran up the ramp and squatted beside a lovely red and yellow horse with a black mane and spotted body. I barked at Ginger, hoping he’d come down without a fuss, but it was only when a gent wearing a brown apron threatened him with his stick that he decided enough was enough. Ginger ran down the ramp and hit a deep puddle left by the previous night’s rain. Oh boy, trouble was definitely ahead.
Missus was beside herself. ‘I’ll never let you out with that no-good Staff again,’ she wailed. She was, of course, blaming me for Ginger’s idiotic antics. I went and sat by Chicken Fingers, who laughed at the whole thing. Placing his hand on my back he murmured, ‘Take no notice.’ So I followed his advice and settled back to watch Missus heave the bath and shampoo out of the van, along with a container of water. Ginger was to be washed and dried all over again, in public, too. I tried hard not to let him see me grinning.
‘Daft woman,’ muttered Chicken Fingers.’
After another brush down it was time for Missus and Ginger to take their place with the others, right in the middle of the show ring. Chicken Fingers put me on the lead and guided me towards the arena, grabbing a spot right by the ring. I settled between his feet with the promised knuckle bone to watch my best friend make a fool of himself.
Three judges stood by a long table, at the side of which lay a box of red and yellow rosettes. I thought they’d look good on the merry-go-round horses. People in white coats stood behind the table, presumably waiting to be told what to do. It was stiflingly warm which was probably why one of them kept dabbing his face with a blue and white spotted handkerchief.
‘Is everyone in that should be in?’ asked the middle judge, a balding man in crumpled grey trousers and heavy green jacket.
One of the lady judges sniggered as she walked with her colleague towards the dogs and handlers. After they finished their inspection, she gave a signal to the man judge who then proceeded to give instructions for the next part of the proceedings.
Ginger looked as if he wanted to lie down but Missus had him on standing-up rein.
Dogs and handlers ran around the course, dog leads held high so that the animals could not only be seen but couldn’t do anything they shouldn’t. Chicken Fingers nudged me when Ginger and Missus came by. Ginger’s coat glistened but although he held his head up, I could see he wasn’t enjoying it. Let’s face it, it wasn’t what either of us expected when we were rescued from the dogs’ home. Seeing the look of desperation in my friend’s eyes my little heart went out to him. I yapped my encouragement and was rewarded by the flash of a grin.
The dogs had to do a number of things for the judges, sit, stand, walk, run, plus a session on obeying commands. I wouldn’t have swapped places with him if I’d been given a load of knuckle bones. I gave up watching and went back to gnawing the meat off mine.
Just then I heard a fearful noise, a crash and lots of shouting. I raised my head to see what was going on, struggled upright for a better view. You’ll never believe what I saw. It was a right scene. Ginger had broken loose from Missus and was hoofing after the German dog, chased by the fat judge whose legs were more into waddling than running. I reckoned he’d have done better if he’d left his jacket behind. The podium was tipped over, three judges chairs heaped beside it; a lady judge was lying on the floor, one of the men in a white coat jumped about nursing his hand, while Missus just stood there with her hands over her eyes.
Back home with Ginger in disgrace, Missus ranted about unreliability, dangerous behaviour, and disobedience. Chicken Fingers gave him water to drink but no food. That was worrying; it could have meant I’d have to do without as well. But I was taken out later and given a feast of chicken mince with gravy while Ginger was kept indoors. Gaffer sat with me on the outside step. He told me he never thought Ginger had it in him to be disobedient. I licked his cheek, wishing I could tell him a thing or two about my buddy. But I’m nothing if not loyal and anyway having to go through the ordeal of washing as well as being shown in an arena, in front of crowds of people, was enough to split his mind. Poor old Ginger, bet he sometimes wished he was a Staff.
Later that night, out in the barn, Ginger snuggled against me. I licked his face to demonstrate my feelings for him. He might be a daft dog but he was my pal and I was fearful about losing him. Who knows what Missus might do now that he was out of favour? A return to the dogs’ home didn’t bear thinking about. After the luxury of the farm I didn’t think Ginger would survive. I shuffled round until I could rest my head on his body, wondering how I would manage without him. We’d been through a lot, him and me. I felt properly down in the mouth at the idea of us being separated.
We slept close together all night, comforting each other. I’d made up my mind that if he went then so would I. If I wasn’t included in a plan to return to the dogs home I would run away. Life on the farm would be no good without my buddy.
Next morning, with the sun shining, the birds twittering merrily outside the barn and geese honking on the pond, Ginger and I put on a united front. We padded across to the kitchen door, noticing as we went that our dishes were empty. That was a bad sign. I was just about to turn away when the kitchen door opened and Missus raced out. Seeing Ginger she swooped, cupped his face with both hands and smothered his red face with kisses, then hauled him inside by the scruff of his neck. I followed more slowly. Chicken Fingers was sitting at the wooden table, mincing chicken. I sniffed, looked up at him, saw him wink. Slowly he rose, picked up the two dog bowls that were waiting on the drainer, filled them with mince and poured gravy from a blue jug.
Meanwhile, Ginger was being petted by Missus. ‘I don’t care,’ she said. ‘you’re my boy and I forgive you for hurting the judge. All that fuss over a silly bruise.’ She threw her arms round Ginger’s neck and plied him with more kisses. He seemed content, even happy. When he grinned at me from within Missus’ embrace I suddenly understood what he was thinking: never again would he be dragged to a showground and made to perform. Hmm, and I thought Ginger was daft.