It was half an hour before dawn and I was walking the streets, hoping for a miracle: that I would find Guido, our missing cat.
As I peered under cars and into hedges, it was remarkably quiet. I was aware of the murmur of birds while calling quietly for my cat, balancing the need to advertise my presence while not disturbing my sleeping neighbours.
So, there I was, leaning down to check behind a rear wheel when I heard a whisper of sound behind me. It had barely registered when there was a Woof. It’s a pity the Olympic Committee weren’t there because I jumped a mile; I practically went into orbit.
When I landed back on Earth, I leaned against the car, heart trying to crash its way through my ribs, sucking in great gasps of air. And there, right before me, stood the culprit – a massive dog the size of a small pony, black as night and with dazzling white teeth.
I noted the teeth because he was laughing at me. I kid you not! That dog had “ninja-ed” around his garden, crept up behind me and then, very carefully, he’d unleashed his weapon of war.
Between you and me, there was some fervent swearing on my side. The wannabe Hound of the Baskervilles loved it. He stood there, lapping up my shock and disbelief as a personal compliment. Then, having had his fill, he woofed at me mockingly and trotted away, thoroughly pleased with himself.
I am pretty used to being barked at because in our street you can’t move without a dog reporting on your movements. I have the Gremlins on one side, the Pugs on the other, and Jyn across the street. Half a step away, there are the Huskies, Mojo, the rescue dog from PAWS, the Chihuahua, more Pugs, and finally, a Pitbull and his Retriever-like pal.
Trying to navigate our street is like that old Clint Eastwood film, The Gauntlet. Every step you take is examined and, if you don’t look a-okay, you’ll be woofed at.
While I like dogs, I don’t like barking. In fact, I find it incredibly stressful because I’m sensitive to noise. A little irritates me but constant clamour has me so on edge that I can’t sleep or think properly. Neighbours messing about with home improvements have unknowingly contributed to the sale of earplugs, noise-cancelling apps and bottles of vodka.
Although each bark and yap go straight through me when I walk, I do understand that the problem lies in a cultural disconnect. What I see as torture, dogs see as a multi-layered activity that is entirely positive.
Dogs see the world in terms of territory. They have a patch of land that’s their domain – and the people who live with them are their tribe. A Good Dog guards both with passion and unflagging vigilance. He will watch, growl and bark, loudly and fiercely, all to protect his treasured kingdom.
Unfortunately, Man’s Best Friend is also a black-and-white thinker: if you are not tagged as “tribe”, then you are a danger. The evillest of these are the postman and the dustbin collectors. These persistent attackers come back again and again, trying to get into the territory and harm the tribe, and only the Good Dog is fending them off.
To combat our furry warriors, I’ve asked to be introduced where possible, so that I’m tribe. It has worked with some but there are others who are steadfast in their verdict that I’m a bad lot. Hulk, the Pug next door, has hysterics whenever he sees me, and the Chihuahua thoroughly agrees with him.
As for the ninja hound, he and I are conducting a war of nerves. I walk up several times a week, ever hopeful of a miracle in that our Guido will meow back when I call.
But as I approach the big dog’s lair, I tread cautiously. I watch for him, checking for stealthy paws underneath his car, and double-checking shadows for that covert patch of black.
Sometimes, I spot him before he woofs at me. At other times, he’s victorious. And like the first time, whenever he catches me out, he’s thoroughly smug about it.
I don’t mind being caught out too much. The ninja hound loves it and I hear that a good fright is as good as a run. And with him in charge, I’m probably getting a marathon.
Iconic, clever and covert hounds
In horror stories, dogs are favourite characters because they are seen in real life as wonderful, sweet companions who are Man’s Best Friend. So it’s fun to twist that around and turn this blessing into a fright.
One of the most popular dangerous dogs in Western literature is the Hound of the Baskervilles who stars in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes eponymous mystery. The dog character is first presented as a demonic creature that stalks the Baskerville family because of an evil murder committed centuries before.
When Holmes confronts the dog, it is a massive creature, trained to be vicious, and not at all supernatural. In the various films, it is usually played by a Mastiff or a Bloodhound.
Doyle may have taken the idea of his character from a myth and legend called the Gytrash. Unlike the Hound, the big black Gytrash meets travellers on dangerous roads and quite often saves them. Depending on the story, the dog knows good from bad, or is a lesson to people not to judge on looks alone.
Lovers of Japanese stories will recognise the Gytrash’s counterpart, the Okuri-Inu. A large, mysterious wolf-like dog, the Okuri-Inu walks with travellers in remote mountains, protecting those with good hearts – and disposing of the rest!
Most interestingly, though, one of the fiercest dogs has to be the Rajapalayam Hound. A favourite of the Nayakar dynasty in Tamil Nadu in southern India, these dogs were said to be trained to sneak into enemy territory on the night before a battle and to sabotage the cavalry horses by biting them in the legs. Wild, huh? Especially because Rajapalayam hounds are white, so not exactly covert.