Please bear with me - there is a cake at the end of this post. However, I am in need of therapy.
So some of you may recall that I have a dog. A 3 legged springer spaniel, christened Fred, who occasionally answers to "Oi!" and by the time you are shrieking "come back here you bloody animal" it is way too late. Yes, Fred is a lovely dog at home, docile, clean friendly. On the lead he is good with other dogs - but not overly friendly, and not at all aggressive. He will let small children lie on top of him, and he never poos in the garden. But Fred has a weakness. Game.
Game can be small and furry (rabbits), feathered and flighty (pheasants) or blimmin' big (deer). He'll have a half-hearted go at a pigeon or a cat, but he's not really interested. The merest sniff of a duck, on the other hand, and he's away. You can appreciate that this is not actually that funny. He's already lost a leg in the pursuit of game, and you'd think he might have learnt, but clearly not. That he has hurt himself is one thing, but the thought that he might cause an accident and hurt someone else - running onto the road in pursuit of something for example, fills me with fear and dread.
The fact that he is so far gone is, of course, my fault. He is my dog, and my responsibility. I took him to puppy classes when he was very small, and then he broke his leg at 6 months old when I was about to start the serious stuff. He spent 6 months essentially housebound, while we tried to get the leg to heal. When eventually it was amputated, and he was able to bound free in the fields, it was such a joy to watch him that I kind of glossed over the fact that his recall (i.e. his desire/reaction to return to me on command) was completely and utterly absent when faced with something more interesting. And then it was too late. I had what the nice man at the gundog training centre called "an established chaser". My heart sank.
That was earlier in the summer, after a particularly harrowing incident involving a duck and an outraged lady landowner. It was not my finest hour: the dog only came back to me from romping in the ponds concerned because he had actually caught a duck - I may never have trained him to retrieve but it would seem that instinct requires him to return to me with his prizes. The early return of the dog was on this occasion marred by the fact that I was having to prise his jaws open and establish the state of the duck without letting said outraged landowner (think Daily Telegraph 'Social Stereotypes') see what had happened. Fortunately the duck was sufficiently alive enough to fly off so the absolute worst case scenario where he had injured the duck so that I would have a responsibility to dispatch it - did not arise.
The upshot of that incident was that I found myself confessing my inadequacies as an owner to Howard, springer spaniel whisperer supreme. Howard actually owns Fred's father, and everything he said about spaniel tendancies rang true. He clearly knew my dog. And he wasn't completely pessimistic about my chances of turning Fred. He gave me training exercises and suggested that it would take some months. Alternatively, I could use an electric shock collar. He reckoned 6 weeks, tops, and I would have a dog that not only came back to me, but would not actually run off more than about 30 yards from me. It was tempting, but it felt drastic.
I worked hard. I for-went all 'social' dog walking to spend intensive periods of time engaged with Fred in the various exercises. We made progress. My mum had him over the summer. She continued the good work, and by the end of August, I was feeling very positive. It was definitely improving. Yes, he would still run off, but less frequently, and when he did, he would respond to my call, and return, albeit his returns would occasionally be via a slightly circuitous route.
And then. Friday. With Pink at home poorly, I had to wait till a friend could come round so that I could walk him. As both the Husband and I had been ill earlier in the week, he hadn't had much in the way of proper walking, and I was keen to give him a good, long stride. All was going well, until an open field, 3 deer, and he was gone. And he didn't come back. Over the crest of a hill, in hot pursuit of the deer, and didn't reappear.
I spent 15 minutes scanning the countryside, calling, but no avail. I did the only thing I could think of doing - I called my boss.
Now, maybe your boss wouldn't be the first person you would call in a similar situation, but my boss is different. In the 'staff' section of the company website, the office dogs (Cassie, Meadow and Welly) are featured with their own individual biogs. You get the picture. And while they have impeccably trained labradors, and have been free with the 'labradors are born half trained, spaniels die half trained' comments during my travails with Fred, they are nothing if not sensitive to a canine crisis.
The company is based in the same village where I live and within minutes, Gill and her business partner, Alice plus Alice's husband were out scouring the countryside. While Gill & I took the north sector, Alice & Andrew took the south, and we found him. Well, Andrew found him. Fred had obviously given up the chase and had found himself at a point some way behind where he had left me. However, having found himself back to our original route, he had sat down to wait for me. It appears that Andrew had to do some persuading to get him to accompany him, but eventually we were reunited (me and the dog). I cannot tell you the relief. He'd been gone for nearly an hour. I feel like the last few months never happened, and I might well not have bothered. You will not need me to tell you that Fred has shown not one jot of remorse, and actually chewed through his lead yesterday in a display of defiance...
Where I go from here as far as my dog is concerned is not for this post. All you need to know is that we are safely reunited and my lovely lovely friends require thanking. I posted a photo on Facebook on Friday of a cake I had made at the weekend which lead to a number of comments regarding the suitability of the cake for those who had been involved in the rescue operation. It was a gorgeous and lovely cake, but with pears and nuts, perhaps not the most indulgent thank you cake. It also had almonds in and Alice doesn't like almonds. Finally, in considering which cake to make, I reminded myself that Andrew is my chocolate hero. One of my personal highlights of scout camp over the last 4 years has been his chocolate contribution, sourced from a longterm contract with a major confectionary company...
So tomorrow, I will be taking this cake, along with my profuse thanks, to Andrew, Alice & Gill. And if you ever find yourselves in a similar situation, I suggest that this may be the cake to bake.
Dogcatcher Cake (with honey glaze icing)
150g unsalted butter
200g dark chocolate
220g caster sugar
150g self raising flour
125ml runny honey
60 ml water
150g dark choclate
25g white chocolate
150g icing sugar
Pre-heat the oven to 180C and butter and line the base of a 20cm spring form cake tin.
Melt the butter and dark chocolate in a bowl over a simmering pan of water. Separate the eggs and whisk the yolks with the sugar in a large bowl until light and foamy. Whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl (I used my Kenwood) till they are doubled and airy. Pour the melted butter/chocolate onto the whisked yolks/sugar and whisk together. Sift in the self raising flour, fold in the egg white with a metal spoon, then pour carefully into the tin. Bang the tin down a couple of times to get the mixture to even out in the tin, and bake in the oven for about 45 minutes.
Allow the cake to cool completely, then make the icing. Put the honey and water into a smallish pan and bring to the boil. Chop the chocolate finely, take the honey/water off the heat abd add the chocolate. Swirl the pan around a few times to get the chocolate melting, leave for a couple of minutes then whisk. Start sifting in the icing sugar - start with half, whisking the mixture, and carry on adding the icing sugar till you get a thick glossy icing. Allow the icing to cool down till it is thickened and spreadable - and spread it on.
Allow to cool and serve with lashings of gratitude.