Post haste

Sunday is a disappointing day for the dog. There is no postman -- and this means that for her, more than for most dogs of my acquaintance, Sunday is exaggeratedly a day of rest. It is a matter of contrast: all the other days of the week are so incredibly active.

For one thing, there probably aren't too many dogs who, like her, live a quarter of a mile from their front gateway. Your average suburban Dalmatian or Cairn has to escort the uniformed post office official only ten or so yards down a rose-bordered footpath. The excitement is soon done. But for my dog -- and this is not a thing of pretension so much as one of the more primitive aspects of living deep in the Yorkshire hills -- scaring off the red postal van is a major outing, a journey, a wild excursion into the wide landscape.

They say dogs like routine. It's true. Should the postman not arrive on the dot of 9:00 AM, a definite air of uncomprehending despondency overtakes her. She sits, back hunched, at the long window, nose pointing. If one were to draw this glass-misting nose, that line would unerringly arrive at the corner of the low barn, 'round which the expected vehicle will come. By ten past nine a kind of tensed fed upness begins to show through her concentration. By 9:20, she begins to notice that the stone floor is cold, and shifts here hindquarters slightly. Thenshe renews her attentiveness more strongly.

Not often does her quarry fail to appear. Only appalling weather stops him. The dog doesn't understand this: she'sm willing to chase him whatever the conditions -- nor flood nor black ice nor six foot snowdrifts will deter her -- so why should hem not willing to come and he chased?

Most days he is willing; as a matter of fact it is not so often "he" as "they." In the old days, three of four years ago, the postman used to be the same fellow every day. He came on his bicycle as far as the schoolhouse and then on foot across the fields. Now three or four different men come, week about, in red vans. It's all to do with efficiency. It may also (though I hadn't thought of this before), have to do with self-protection. The red post office van, tried and true, is as an armoured car to an assaulting dog: the worst he could do is tear a tire or two with flashing teeth. Ankles go unscathed.

I have politely asked my various postmen if they mind my dog chasing them to the distant gateway. They seem perfectly content with their lot. "I'm only bothered," one said, "while I'm turning the van 'round. After that she only runs alongside."

So the time nine o'clock routine is established. When the postman arrives, the dog charges, with frenzied barks, into the hallway. She is then ordered back into the sitting room and contained, while the letters are delivered, by a firmly shut door. She accepts this quite happily. It is a game we all understand. In truth she is the gentlest of beast (has even on occasion been chased by a cat) and the very fact that she can't get at the postman means that she is quite safe to intensify the frenzy into a show of even louder strength. The postman and I exchange pleasantries and letters (he can collect as well as deliver), while in the background the dog's barking rises to crescendo.

Not until our visitor has turned his vehicle round in the yard and has set off, do I slowly allow her majesty out of the back door. I use the back door as a further delay tactic. By the time the eager creature has whipped round the house and scaled a wall, the postman is well in the lead.

When I have time to spare I watch the ecstatic pursuit from the stairway window. From there I can see to the topmost point of the long rough tract . . . There are hounds in that picture of "The Hunt" by Uccello, which bound and leap and streak after the prancing deer with less style and fervor than this white lurcher of mine after the postman: and Uccello's dogs are the springiest and lithest in all art. It is a sight to behold. Shem doesn't think she is just "running alongside." No! She is terrifying the encroaching alien, banishing the cowardly intruder.If she weren't, they why would the red machine flee, tail between its wheels? Why doesn't it turn and fight? The postman rattles finally over the cattle-grid wayup there in the northeast, and the god,instantly stops, losing interest. She turns vaguely, sniffs a grass-tuft, and wanders contentedly back home, taking her time. The work is accomplished.

One of the beauties of dogs is that they rarely put two and two together. If the enemy had really been routed by canine bravura, why (she never seems to ask herself) does he always return the next day? And why would she be sorry if he didn't return the next day?

Somewhere along the line the domestic dog has forgetten that the reason for chasing postmen (rabbits, hares, cats and others), is to be rid of them once and for all. They have instead come to believe that it is for the sheer delight of the chase itself. It releases the fantasy that is such an enchanting part of a dog's joie de vivre . . .m

Though who can tell if on Sundays the dog's sadness at the lack of postmen might not still be tinged with a certain sense of triumph? Perhaps her Saturday fury had been especially potent: perhaps, after all, she hasm stopped him coming back -- for a day at least. Who can tell?

One thing is certain: the postman is her best friend. Hem takes her for a run every weekday morning.

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