Going for a walk in the woods with my fiancee and two children is usually a walk in the park. (The woods are next to the park, so this is both an idiom and a fact.)
Today we were deep down the leaf-strewn pathway, the skeletal branches arching like the beckoning fingers of a Dickensian school teacher, when the tranqulity was shattered.
(Admittedly we were with our 3-year-old son, so tranquility is a bit of a mistruth.)
We heard a commotion ahead as a woman who had not long passed us called out to her curly-haired little dogs with a sound of authority mixed with panic.
The twin dogs both wore hi-viz joggers vests, for dogs. Running around with their permed ears bouncing in confusion, they looked like doggy get-fit characters from a 1970s sitcom.
Bursting down the path, chasing the camp canines at a pace that implied if this were a pooch version of The Great North Run it would be a serious contender for the winning medal: a jet black big dog.
This shiny-coated sprinter mocked the two running clubbers as its muscles rippled with each bound, drawing fear yet undoubted admiration from the pair who, even though I saw them and know this not to be the case, I can’t help but picture wearing toweling headbands around their light-brown curls.
My son is not fan of dogs. I don’t know why but there’s a slight phobia there. It may just be a three-year-old’s thing. Seeing this animal athlete leap about, he proclaimed:
I don’t like it!
I scooped him up into my arms, whilst trying to keep my eye on this unwanted chaos as it skidded through the golden leaves on the ground, challenging lesser comers as they scarpered into the ferns.
“It’s a big dog and its got its heckles up.”
I didn’t know what that meant in dog terms.
I do know what it means if someone is referencing it happening to them when receiving bad customer service at a supermarket. It’s not good. At best it could mean a less than favourable Google review.
As this big dog was barking incessantly with very apparent teeth, the worst wasn’t worth thinking about for a father-of-two and a fiancee-of-one.
The woman desperately tried to get Colin and Howerd (presumed names) onto their leads as this Alsatian-looking beast leaped and pawed at them. Sporadically it would run up to us and bark.
The woman with her chartered accountant dogs moved towards us, which when you have a 9-month-old in a pram and a gnarling stray dog in the vacinity is not a welcomed move.
Oh yes, the big dog was without collar. It flashed in from nowhere, the sun showing its beautiful coat and powerful form.
This big dog was free. Free to cause absolute bloody havoc.
The woman made her way out of the wood, with the dog following.
With my partner pushing the pram and my son on my shoulders, we too followed the sunlight that guided us out of the forest.
(We’ve been to the woods hundreds of times and were about 30 seconds in. That sun bit is just to add to the poetry.)
As we entered the car park, the big dog ran up to us, barking. It was focused on not being friendly at all. B***ard!
Then, it saw an elderly gent walking his little dog and was on a misson again.
It was then that, for the first time in my life I called 999.
Initially, I called the 101 police number but it said I was in a queue. Normally I would not mind this. On this occassion however, I wasn’t trying to renew my car insurance or add a phone bolt-on.
I was trying to avoid a beastly massacre at a suburban woodland.
I hung up and, like any action hero, I dialled 999.
With my son on my shoulders and a very friendly operator on the other end, I explained what I could see: a black dog with no collar and big muscles had terrorised a family, two dogs who were probably members of a bridge club, an elderly man with his beloved pet, and currently three women in their late 20s and designer coats were were being leapt at as they tried in vain to protect a little sausage dog.
The first thing I was asked was: “Have you phoned the dog warden?”
I hadn’t. Mainly because it was half-past-two on a Tuesday afternoon in the Midlands; as opposed to 1920s Chicago.
As I gave details with, if you haven’t already noticed a somewhat limited knowledge of dogs, my son was on my shoulders seeing this black beast bounce closer, urging:
“Sshhhh doggy. Ssssshhh…”
Facing the woods, I gave more details when behind me came a call: “Is that your dog?”
I turned. It was three women and a dachshund.
Still on the phone to the emergency services, I tried to mouth that it wasn’t my dog.
They asked again.
With a worried son now clutched to my chest, a patient operator clutched to my ear, and a bloody ferocious dog someone close by, I went to make a step closer to explain.
The thing is, it was very muddy. And there was a mound. A mound I hadn’t seen.
I took a step, slipped, fell over, and placed my son on the cold, muddy ground with skill I had never previously displayed in any rugby lesson at school.
The women gasped. The big dog in the woods barked. My son wailed.
The operator asked if anything had happened.
I explained that I had slipped on a little mound.
Covered in mud, with a crying son and a feeling of saving the day replaced with the humiliation of an unplanned slapstick pratfall, the operator told me he’d get a warden there.
I don’t know what happened to that big dog. It may still be roaming the night woods as I type.
I am convinced of one thing though.
Two middle-class dogs will be leaving our local woods a very bad review on TripAdvisor.