Country Matters: Take care and don't kiss the dog you love!
An archetypal little-old-lady was carefully making her way up the steep church steps to the main doorway. From her shoulder bag peeped the perky features of a small Scottie terrier, going a familiar route without objection to the bag's movements on the climb.
The woman reached into a stone water font at the door, dipped her fingers and blessed herself demonstrably. Then it was the Scottie's turn for a Saint Rocco moment of a shower of blessed droplets. Rocco, I learned, is the patron saint of the dog world.
Not a whimper could be heard to where I had been beckoned by my Edinburgh friend Fraser who lived opposite the church and who never had recourse to dip his fingers in holy water.
As she entered the church, the woman, with endearing fussiness, patted her pet's whiskery countenance and settled it more securely into her bag. She then kissed the animal on the forehead.
Fraser said this was a regular scene he had witnessed. He found it quite fascinating. I was amused - but a little uneasy. Let me explain. I have been accused at times of being cold-hearted about being too companionable about dogs. I shy away from petting, scratching or taking their paws. There are some who don't believe that I once bred Welsh springer spaniels.
In those days there was also a couple of Jack Russells, as well as several cats of varying and almost human dispositions. All the animals lived outside and I always scrubbed-up after handling, which also included guns, game bags, wet socks, wellies or leather stalking boots from Northampton.
But there was little extra-cosiness with the dogs. Triona, the springer, smelled strongly after rain, river and bog and, after a rub-down, was content to retire to its own nest. A 'Rev John Russell' was generally tolerated in the kitchen, though its great usefulness was outside - there were no rat problems. I loved my dogs, in a detached way. It had to do with their training and I suppose my mother's early influence. She had drilled into me that dogs and cats lived outside as certainly did also racing pigeons, mice in cages or any abandoned seabird chicks I might find on the nearby seashore.
Of dogs, there was a recent reminder in the British Medical Journal of something I have written about before, an infection called sepsis. I had warned dog lovers not to be carried away in kissing their pets and having them lick one's face!
The message is: don't be carried away. A simple lick from a dog can be dangerous, if you are unlucky. Dogs - and cats - carry the sepsis bacteria in their mouth cavities which can have nasty consequences if passed to very old and very young with weaker immune systems. You don't have to be bitten or scratched.
This won't stop you loving your pet. Last week, a colleague, Campbell Spray, motoring in Donegal, wrote of the kindness of butchers who brought out bones to the car for his almost blind pet. Coincidentally, and sadly, another Campbell sent me a picture of her father, an old friend, in his hospital bed in Florida being visited by his beloved pooch in his last days. Man's best friend was there with "whiskers crushed against the green of my old coat….looking to see what it is I can see…"