It keeps me focused on what I’ve decided to write about. Of course, the title doesn’t appear in the newspaper – it simply says: “Julian Norton The Yorkshire Vet”. This is a shame, because I sometimes think the title is the best bit.
Among my favourite titles are Châteauneuf-du-Hamster (which featured a hamster restrained in a wine glass, so I could examine it without getting bitten) and Reel around the Fountain (which is the title of a classic Smiths’ song, but also described my encounter with a nervous dog by the fountain in the centre of Boroughbridge).
Today’s piece is entitled, at least in the file on my laptop, Extending Leads and Retractable Puppies and describes something I experienced this morning, whilst walking my own dog, Emmy.
We’d just completed our usual circumnavigation of Sowerby Flatts. This lovely area of open space provides grazing for a few dozen tame bullocks and a dog-walking haven for the people of Thirsk and Sowerby. There is an endless combination of loops on either side of the gently meandering Cod Beck, which has kingfishers and herons but definitely no cod.
One part of this little river is very straight after a half-hearted attempt to turn it into a canal. Over the years that I have lived in Sowerby, I’ve observed the beck’s gentle but persistent determination to return to its original course.
One day, I hope it will make it back. On a warm day, the grazing cattle often stand cooling their feet in a shallow part. On a hot day, children paddle and even swim.
But, before work, it is the domain of the dog walker. This morning, one little chap was out, I guessed, for his first ever walk. He was so small that he must have only just have had the necessary vaccinations.
He was a miniature dachshund and he gamely entered the fields via the kissing gate, eventually followed by his owner, who was connected to him via a huge retractable and extendable lead. The mini dog was full of excitement and his long, curled tail pointed upwards and twirled round madly. If it went much faster, I reckoned he’d take off like a helicopter.
Emmy and I watched from a distance as he ran in all directions, unaware of the presence of a proper path to follow. It was a comical sight, because the dog was so small and the extendable lead was so long, but the owner was happy in the knowledge that his new puppy would be safe and could not run off or get lost. But the way the new owner stared at the controlling handle of the lead made me think he was a novice at using such a complicated device.
I remember when these extendable-retractable leads were first invented. My gran, who had bred dogs all her life and ran a small boarding kennels and knew everything about dogs, disapproved of the new-fangled things.
It was impossible to control the dog properly at its far end. To her, a short length of rope was perfect.
This morning, the limitations identified decades earlier by my gran were evident. When a big, fluffy dog approached the tiny pooch, the new owner either panicked or deliberately pressed the “retract” button to bring his puppy back to safety.
Sadly, the combination of the small mass of the baby Dachshund and the power of the elastic recoil in the lead succeeded in sending the puppy hurtling through mid air. He landed, confused but fortunately not injured, at his dad’s feet moments later.
For once, the extendable-retractable lead had exercised far too much control!