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Being Winnie

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It's all hustle and bustle when you own a Jack Russell

First a bit about Winnie to help you to understand what her adopted owner Soraya Porter has undergone as the hapless victim of a terrier. Winnie is a small rough-coated, tri-colour JRT girlie. In fact, she is tiny - approximately 9.5 inches at the shoulder which is smaller than many cats - but not in her mind. It's as if Dr Who has taught her how to bend time and space so that she can cram more brain power per square inch into her skull than any normal dog. But then again, normal is not a word often used when talking about Winnie.

Winnie came to live with me at age 17 months. Her previous owner was really worried that she would escape and get on to the road. Things had come to a head when she came home from work one day only to see Winnie going up the road in the opposite direction, after she'd climbed out the bedroom window and got on to the roof of a bus!

Winnie was a  big culture shock when I first got her. My other dog was at the top end of the Small agility height range and was a very laid back and gentle soul. Ernie was a Petit Bassett Griffon Vendeen X Jack Russell who only got cross if extremely provoked. When he wasn't doing agility, he divided his time between smiling at people and sleeping. This is not to say he was a slouch at Agility. He went from Elementary to Advanced in one season when it was still possible to do such things and competed and placed at Crufts six years on the trot. So suffice it to say it was a long time since I had run a beginner dog - especially one with issues! How I've since got her to Grade 5 I'm not entirely sure at times.

When I first got her, she thought I was out of my mind when I wanted to walk her when it was dark. An even greater madness in her eyes was walking in the rain. Why would anyone want to do that? Hadn't I watched the Wizard of Oz? Didn't I know people could melt or shrink in the rain? She was already a very small dog - she didn't want to take any chances that she might get smaller - look what happened to the Wicked Witch of the West?

Now she does walk in both darkness and rain, but she still thinks I'm mad. She fancies herself as a bit of a human trainer and she takes every opportunity to perfect her training skills. So far she has got me to get up and make breakfast while she carries on sleeping in MY bed - under the quilt of course. She is working on the 'I'm not coming downstairs until you offer me a biscuit - and a good quality one at that!' technique. Only problem is that the uncooperative human keeps going upstairs and picking her up and carrying her downstairs. However, she hasn't given up hope - because sometimes it works.


Chapter 1

How do your mornings start? Are you met with a happy smiling doggie face, telling you that it's morning and that it's wonderful so you should get up?

Not me.

As the clock approaches the time for the alarm to go off (i.e. a work day time) I come round to some wriggling in the bed. Winnie sleeps in the bed, but that's another story.

The wriggling increases with the odd small squeaky noise, a bit like a guinea pig, plus an occasional kick from a small back foot. If this doesn't work, the kicks get more frequent as do the squeaks. Finally either the alarm goes off or I give up and get up. Not for me the leap of joy from under the quilt as a jubilant canine dashes to charge downstairs with me. Oh, no - all I get is a head peeping out from under the quilt especially if it is winter time and the heating hass only just gone on. This head is rapidly withdrawn under the quilt.

So I stagger downstairs, accompanied by Dillon, my ever faithful Siamese cat. I put the kettle on, add fresh water in the water bowl and give the cat his breakfast. No sign of the small thing. I add dog biscuits to the dog bowl. Still no small thing. I get the wet food out of the fridge to add to the biscuits - still no small thing. Only when I proceed to mix the wet food with the biscuits does madam appear. If I take too long, then the anxious looks start, swiftly followed by the guinea pig impersonation again.

As the food bowl makes contact with the floor, she is ready and waiting. She then very carefully picks through the bowl, eating all the meat and leaving the biscuits. So glad I took the time to mix them all up. When this is accomplished she disappears again, back upstairs under the quilt.

Dillon and I carry on, going about our tasks until I reach the point where I am ready to take Winnie for her morning walk. I call her from downstairs and naturally she doesn't appear. So I traipse upstairs, extract her from under the quilt and put her collar and lead on. I am then frog-marched around the town - the speed of the frog march depending upon the outside temperature. In extreme cold, Winnie employs the 'walk so fast your feet don't touch the ground and get cold technique'. It certainly is one way to prepare yourself for the day ahead, but brisk doesn't begin to describe the experience. There's nothing like arriving at the office completely shattered because your Jack Russell has been moving at twice light speed in order to get back in the warm. The whole experience gives you that 'lived in' look at best and, at worst, its more like the 'seen life and it's not been kind' look.

So once you have staggered back over the threshold of your house and unplugged Winnie from her lead, she dashes over to her food bowl and eats all the biscuits she left earlier. Often the Siamese cat has removed a few from the bowl in our absence and patted them round the kitchen floor (perfect for getting stuck between your toes!), but these are all dutifully hoovered up by the Winnie monster.

This final task completed, Dillon and I are subjected to a two second searching gaze by Winnie and then she turns on her heel and goes back to bed - under the quilt, of course.

That is the last I see of her for the morning. She will be waiting for me at lunch time but, of course, that is a whole different ordeal.

Chapter 2
Agility Addict!?*!

So, what is Winnie's very most favourite thing to do? More favourite than food? More favourite than chasing a ball? More favourite than stealing another dogs ball?

Agility. It is her reason for being.

Agility is Winnie's world. She is a complete dog agility addict. You could safely take Winnie into an area where the agility equipment is set up, release her to go off to the equipment and then walk off and leave her. You could come back an hour later and she would still be there playing on the equipment - yes even the weaves.

If she sees another dog on the equipment, she yells and shouts and screams as it is her equipment and no one else should be on it. When we finish a training session, I face another temper tantrum as she doesn't want to stop. Very funny - it's just like a kiddie throwing themselves on the floor and drumming their heels in temper.

So given her attitude to agility, you can imagine that taking her training is not something to be undertaken lightly. Firstly, you must understand that ALL agility equipment belongs to Winnie and is there solely for her own use - and no-one elses! Should some other dog get on to her equipment she naturally has to tell them off - usually by barking at them very, very loudly until their run is finished. She tells me there are a lot of rude dogs around - especially at shows and on training nights. So much so, she sometimes has to queue to use her own equipment - how very dare they!!!!

When she realises we are going training she bounces around so much in her car dog crate that she's positively vibrating on the spot. She makes a noise a bit like the air being let out of a balloon, interspersed with her trademark guinea pig noises and by the time I open the tail gate of the car to get her out of her crate she is trembling with anticipation. Once lead and owner are attached to her, Winnie carries out another one of her 'defying the laws of science' tricks - this tiny dog manages to pull her considerably larger (and heavier!) owner to the training area so hard and fast, that it is perfectly possible to feel like you are flying.

Having arriving in the near vicinity of the equipment it is now useless for anyone, or any other dog, to try to attract her attention - Winnie is now 'in the zone' - mesmerised by the brightly coloured kit as she visualises herself running, leaping and jumping over everything. Amazingly the only person she listens to is me and that is probably only because I am the 'enabler' that allows Winnie to get her Agility fix.

Now we are on the start line and I'm armed with Winnie's wages (Kong Squeaky tennis ball). She is really trembling with anticipation by this stage - so much so that she's having trouble keeping her bottom on the ground as she tries to do a sit wait. Often the combined effect of this means whilst her body is stationary the mouth goes into overdrive - this always means we are in for a bumpy ride. If the mouth has taken over completely, then there will be the inevitable wait break, then the inevitable loudly shouted excuses from her whilst I take her back to the start line and put her back into her sit wait. She seems to feel that if she tells me loudly enough why she had to break her wait. I'll understand and not take her back to the start. You can't blame her really, its just a variation on the technique that so many British use when trying to make themselves understood in a foreign country! 

Finally we've got the correct start and I've released her onto the course. Bearing in mind that the force of the terrier mouth can take over at any time, it is essential that I keep all verbal commands to a minimum, so that I neither encourage her to join in, or to try and shout me down with her own course direction choices. Whilst we are running I must never, never attempt to correct her during the course as this will unleash The Fury! The Fury is Winnie telling me just what she thinks of me making her go wrong. It is delivered in rapid staccato barks at top volume and goes something along the lines of -

'Now look what you've done, you've made me go wrong AGAIN, that's what I get for listening to a human, they're so indecisive, and you're one of the worst and you made me go wrong AGAIN. And so on ad infinitum. So not only do you have the humiliation and self-recrimination of going wrong, plus the comments from your trainer and club members, but you also get the very loud telling off from a diminutive terrier - delivered in such a way that no one can be in any doubt that this is exactly what she is doing - telling me off.

As we finish the exercise, I lob the tennis ball for Winnie's wages. Winnie becomes an Exocet missile in terrier form as she darts off to catch the ball and squeak it. Any confused doggie bystander that even thinks about going after the ball is blasted out of the way by the shockwave left in the wake of the Winnie - missile as she captures her prize and skips happily round the ring showing it off.

Running Winnie can leave you battered and bruised - both mentally and physically - but it does leave you with that lovely feeling of triumph at having survived another training session.

Chapter 3

Winnie (Not the Pooh) Sticks

I know the dog books, vets, dog specialists and weekend experts all say you should not encourage your dog to play with sticks - and I didn't. She needed no encouragement. In Winnie's book, sticks are dog toys - full stop.

Since Winnie came into my life, I've kept a collection of assorted dog toys about my person - I’m funny that way - but Winnie tells me there are times when only a stick will do. These sticks, however, must be selected by Winnie. Any human selected sticks will be taken off the gift giver and 'thrown away' by the tiny one.

According to Winnie, there are various grades of sticks in a small terrier's mind. We've already touched upon the first one

a) Human selected sticks are all rubbish, not worth the effort of running around with and are best discarded at a distance far enough away from the 'helpful' human to discourage them picking them up again. The stick should be removed swiftly from the person so as to minimise any hurt feelings or emotional attachment to the stick by the person. Once sticks have been thrown away two or three times by a determined terrier the person usually gets the message.

b) Small dog sticks are often selected by humans, so this type of stick can be an a) and b) combined type of stick. Naturally this only adds to its unsuitableness - if there is such a word. Small dog sticks are the kind of sticks that humans think a small dog should run around with and taunt other dogs with. This really only goes to show the general ignorance of humans when it comes to the status value of a stick. For this, among many reasons, a caring terrier tries very hard to train their human out of this way of thinking in a bid to stop them making a complete ass of themselves in canine company. After all, this kind of stupidity does not reflect well on any accompanying dog.

Small dog sticks are not desirable for a terrier that is vertically challenged for many of the reasons already covered. They are usually selected by humans, specifically they make a small dog look cute - almost as bad as dressing one up!. They are very common and easy to find and they are easy to lose. It is hard to bash any dog, or human with a small stick. This is a very important point as we shall see later. Really, small dog sticks are only taken up if there really is no other kind of stick around. We won't mention the human selected ones here again. They just don't count.

c) Dog sticks are the equivalent of small dog sticks, but for larger dogs. They are often favoured by gundogs, or those dogs of an amiable and easy going disposition who don't care about their street cred or reputation. Their value to a small terrier is that they are larger and, therefore, make more of a statement. Cleverly manipulated, it is possible to carry out at least an ankle swipe or shin graze with one - always a good thing to remind any people on a walk that walks are all about the dog - not gossiping, or admiring the view. There is also the implied kudos of the possibility that a small terrier may have taken this stick off a larger dog and, for this reason, a vertically challenged dog is often seen to adopt a kind of swagger when running around with a dog stick in their mouth. Winnie says this is 'walking the walk.'

d) Big dog sticks. No, this is not sticks taken from a big dog, although it can be. Study the swagger to work out if it is. This is a big stick carried by a small dog. The best big dog sticks have one or more small branches attached to them - sometimes still with foliage - which is even better. On average, a big dog stick only qualifies if it is over three foot in length. Otherwise its just a stick.

A small dog with a big stick has got bragging rights. They cannot be ignored. If the stick is a good one, it can look like the stick is moving by supernatural forces, as opposed to 'terriernatural forces which we all know are scarier. A big dog stick says something about the strength of a dog. It shows determination i.e. that a small dog has not been defeated by the enormity of the challenge of finding and running with a big dog stick.

Then there is the problem of stick envy by other less capable canine foragers. A big stick lets a terrier take on all comers - and win.

There is one more benefit with a big dog stick especially one with strategically placed branches. You can hit or trip a human very effectively with a proper big dog stick. This ability is not to be sniffed at. A stick with sufficient length can be cleverly threaded through a person's legs - this takes terrier practice - so that at least a stumble is inevitable and, if carried out correctly, it is even possible to make one fall. This is, of course, very useful if the people are ignoring small terriers and talking to other people. A terrier into people training can soon get them to always treat a terrier with a stick with the respect and the attention such a trophy deserves.

For the poor terriers who happen to be unlucky enough to have a slightly dim owner, then there is another technique. If they have selected a proper big dog stick with plenty of branches, it is perfectly possible to hit them on the bottom with it. This usually gets their immediate attention.

Finally there is the last category - a very rare one...

e) The perfect stick. Winnie is still searching for one of these and she tells me that some dogs go all their lives and never find it, but Winnie reckons this is because they lacked focus and were not clear in their own mind as to just what 'the perfect stick' was. Winnie knows what her perfect stick will be.

It will be will be 5-6 feet long and ideally a young willow sapling, minus its roots. It will have a well-developed branch system at the top but still be light and bendy enough for her to manoeuvre. The whippy branches will be perfect for tripping multiple people and sweeping away any canine rivals for this perfect stick. She is currently working on a technique of running full tilt at a group of people and taking them out at the ankles. I have my suspicions that she may have got this idea from watching the chariot race scene in Ben Hur!

Note: Please note neither the author nor Agilitynet are promoting sticks as suitable dog toys. There are many safe stick substitute toys on the market and we would always recommend that you discourage your dog from playing with sticks.

Chapter 4

No Way…!

Many people informed me that if I was taking on a second-hand terrier there is no way I could have a cat. No way. Terriers are notorious for chasing cats after all - everyone knows that - or so I was confidently told by my friends, who were suddenly terrier experts. Apparently I might have a chance if I'd had one from a puppy and the cat was already 'in situ', so that the cat could teach the dog respect, before it grew big enough to argue back. Taking a terrier on at 17 months - no way, they predicted.

Trouble is, someone forgot to tell Winnie. When I asked her previous owner if she was 'cat friendly' (the dog, not the owner), she (the owner) said that as far as she was aware Winnie had never met a cat, so she didn't know. She agreed to take her over to a friend who had a bouncy kitten to see how she reacted. Given my friend's predictions, I was a little concerned for the safety of the kitten, but I needn't have worried. I was told a couple of days later that she'd just brought all the toys over to the kitten and tried  to get it to play. It all sounded a little bizarre to me but, at least, she hadn't acted aggressively, so Winnie came on a two week trial.

When Winnie arrived at my home, I waited for the World War III to erupt. Ernie, my beautiful PBGV x JR lad, decided the best thing was to ignore her and hope that she went away. Winnie bounced round the house, making herself at home when she suddenly came face to face with Dillon.

Dillon is a large, neutered, seal point, Siamese cat. He was brought up as a kitten in a home containing two gigantic Rottweilers, so a small Jack Russell (he is taller than Winnie) was absolutely no problem. Winnie was amazed. What was it? It didn't sound like a cat. It didn't look like a cat and it didn't seem pleased to see her. In Winnie's eyes this was to quote the Princess Bride 'inconceivable' so she looked flummoxed.

She looked hastily around the room and saw a toy box full of dog toys. Whilst Dillon stood there, drawing himself up to his full imposing height and fluffing his tail just for good measure, Winnie skipped backwards and forwards piling up the toys around him. Dillon looked at me questioningly, completely non-plussed that Winnie hadn't shot away in terror by his sheer magnificence - and height. Once Winnie had piled up all her toys, she went into a play bow in front of him - front legs flat on the carpet and bottom in the air, tail wagging furiously, asking him to play. Dillon looked from her to me and back to Winnie again. Finally, he gave her a look that was exactly like Captain Mannering from Dad's Army, but instead of saying 'stupid boy, Pike' I swear the look said 'stupid girl, Winnie'! With that he stomped off in disgust as if he had a bad smell up his nose.

From these inauspicious beginnings, a gradual friendship has been forged, largely due to a shared love of hunting - spiders, that is. I live in an old house, built in the late 1600s, complete with huge wooden beams. These seem to be a spider magnet in the autumn as the temperatures start to drop. As the house has a large and drafty fireplace, plus less than perfect fitting sash windows, gaining access to my house seems to present very few problems to determined spiders. It has to be said I'm not a great spider lover, but, generally speaking, I leave them alone if they do likewise. 

However, Winnie and Dillon have other ideas. The pair of them seem to form up some kind of bloodthirsty tag team when it's spider season. Between them, no spider is safe. Dillon can hurl himself at any wall or ceiling to dislodge them, doing so with an almost balletic skill. As soon as they hit the floor, Winnie is waiting to herd and push them with her nose so that they start to scuttle. Then the pair of them hunt their prey with a kind of pincer movement, gradually chasing their prey until there is nowhere left to run. However, this is where the team work seems to break down as Winnie will eat the spider, if she can. This infuriates Dillon, as he likes to play with the spiders, monster that he is. So an early dispatch by Winnie often earns her a sharp clip round the ear from Dillon. I think he sees himself as the brains of the partnership.

Since Ernie died last November, the two of them have become much closer. Now I can often find the two of them curled up on my bed together. However, I think this is more Dillon's idea than Winnie's as she often wakes up looking a little startled when she finds Dillon snoring in her ear. She knows he has claws and is not afraid to use them. Although in Dillon's defence, I have never seen him bat her with his claws out, but I believe the threat of violence is often enough.

Chapter 5
Do I Know You?

For a dog with a huge self-image, being a small and pretty, rough-coated Jack Russell must be mortifying. There you are trying to project this ruffty tufty, dog about town, 'too cool for school' persona and the first thing most people say when they see you is 'Ahhhhhhhhh, look at that little dog! Isn't she sweet? Isn't she cute?' Then - to add insult to injury - they loom over you and bend right over on straight legs and 'pat' you smartly on the top of your head! If that isn't the recipe for a headache I don't know what is!

Having observed this strange ritual being played out in a variety of scenario's, I  see the sigh of resignation and mild outrage that crosses Winnie's face every time. I can't blame her really. If you were (or are!) a small person, would you really want some complete stranger to tower over you and thump you with the flat of their hand on the top of your head? I don't think so. Why doesn't anyone bend their knees and go down to Winnie's height to greet her? Why do they all talk to her in high pitched squeaky voices? Why do they all assume she's friendly and accost her without a 'by your leave' or giving her chance to decide whether she wants to talk to strangers that day? She could be having a Marlene Dietrich moment (it has been known) and "want to be alone", but no-one would know until its too late.

Whilst Winnie is generally a friendly and sociable little girl, she is quite particular about introductions. Complete strangers who accost her out of the blue are usually favoured with a look that says in her best schoolmistresses voice: 'Do I know you? Have we been formally introduced? No? Then I'm sorry, I can't possibly talk to you, it wouldn't be polite.'

With that comment she normally turns her back on the offending person and trots off. This is a technique she particularly favours with loud, badly behaved children. Properly respectful children are allowed to approach but are not particularly encouraged. She is of the opinion that children are a very overrated novelty - to be endured rather than enjoyed unless they have food, of course.

However, people that have been properly introduced and treated her with the respect she feels she deserves, become friends for life. Once Winnie decides you are a friend, you will be committed to memory and, henceforth, be expected to make a huge fuss of her every time you meet. In return, she will shower you with kisses and licks and, if you are an especially favoured individual, she will even wag her tail for you - not any easy thing to do for a dog with a curly tail.

When Winnie is out on her walks about town, or any other walk actually, she will constantly be scanning all horizons for signs of friends - dog or human. She quickly learns to associate certain places with certain people if she has met you there more than once. The trouble with this is that she will then expect you to be there and waiting, just in case she should pass that way. Should you not be there, then she will want to hang around and wait for you - just in case you have been unavoidably delayed, which is all very well, unless you happen to be the poor owner of Winnie who is trying to do a morning walk before dashing off to work. It's amazing how difficult it is to remove a determined terrier who has slammed the brakes on and wants to wait for a long lost buddy. It won't surprise you to know that it is often extremely difficult to reason with her in these circumstances - must be the language barrier.

There is one exception to her rule of proper introductions before talking to strangers. Men. Her preference is for young men in their 20s and the taller the better. However, she accepts that a girl cannot afford to be fussy in this day and age, so she is quite likely to accost any unsuspecting male.

The embarrassment factor for this one can be huge as I'm sure you can imagine. We can be walking past a cashpoint or a bus-stop when suddenly she will throw herself at a complete stranger. There have been instances when she has bounced vertically and has unfortunately head-butted the man straight in the crotch! This rarely endears her to her intended object of affection. Luckily though they rarely have the opportunity to hurl abuse as they seem to lose the power of speech. Which is probably just as well, as otherwise Winnie's feelings might be hurt. Just to be on the safe side, I have perfected the art of the swift exit with a small confused terrier.

Chapter 6
The Curse of the New Ball and Magnetic Rabbit Holes

No, this is not the title of a new murder mystery. It's a summary of two strange but common phenomena of our afternoon walks.

On a work day, our late afternoon walk tends to be the longest one of the day. This is the time when Winnie gets to stretch those little legs and run around off lead. Besides digging random holes and rolling in fox poo, she also likes to chase after her ball.

Being Winnie, this means that it can't just be any old ball unless it's a stolen ball, but that's a different tale. It has to be a tennis ball AND it has to be squeaky. Just because she is on the petite side, this does not mean that she needs a small ball. Small balls are treated with the same contempt as small sticks She wants a proper size tennis ball.

Now, I'm not sure if its done with mirrors, or whether she has the ability to dislocate her jaw like a snake, but somehow she is able to pick up one of these balls in her mouth. In fact, I've seen her try to pick up two, but luckily she's never managed it... yet! 

Anyway, getting back to the ball, this proper sized ball has to be squeaky so that, once she has retrieved her prize, she can skip around, teasing any other dogs by squeaking it as hard as possible and worrying any local wildlife in the vicinity. Winnie never does anything quietly and, anyway, why have a squeaky ball if you don't mean to squeak it? Squeaking the ball also acts as a dog magnet, much to Winnie's great delight, because then she can run around in front of them, almost letting them catch her or the ball, but not quite.

She regularly meets up with three Golden Labrador girlies on our walks and she loves to get them involved in the ball game. These girls are all considerably taller than she is but she runs interference as they all chase after the ball. Winnie will run between their legs, leap over heads, even ricochet off the side of them in order to get to the ball first. She also likes to snatch them from the 'jaws of death' or even leap up and try and latch on to the ball that one of the girls is carrying! Luckily all three girls are very gentle. One of my favourite memories involves a tuggy toy and two of these lovely girlies. Winnie watched and then launched herself at the rope toy and just hung like a toggle from the centre of the rope while the two girls continued to play tug.

Winnie never wastes an opportunity to comment on my physical prowess, or lack of, shall we say. When I first started throwing the ball for her, she used to run off at high speed in the direction she thought I was throwing without looking back once. It was obvious that she fully expected me to have amazing ball throwing abilities. So my puny efforts were met with terrier incredulity. I could almost hear her saying 'is that it?' and curling her lip in disgust. Being a second-hand terrier, she was obviously used to someone with better ball throwing abilities than me.

So I admitted defeat and invested in a ball flinger. On the rare occasions that I managed to get the co-ordination - which in the early days was not often - Winnie was happy. I have lost balls in a multitude of ways and normally at high speed. I then have to cope with a disappointed terrier, half way round a walk with no ball. Not a pleasant experience I can tell you!

This is where it's probably opportune to explain the 'new ball curse' part of the title. If you look in the back of my car by Winnie's crate, you will see a selection of ancient and very decrepit squeaky balls. Most of these are the veterans of multiple walks and are suffering from either being de-squeaked or having their squeaker broken in some way. They have been thoroughly played with and 'seen life'. However, the one thing that all these balls have in common is that they have survived their first outing with me and Winnie and avoided the curse of the new ball.

There seems to be an unwritten rule which says that if you have a nice, clean, shiny, pristine, fluorescent yellow ball, you are more likely to lose it on its first outing than at any other time. If I have a new ball loaded in the flinger, it will be at this time that my efforts will be more erratic than ever in consigning them to high speed oblivion. With a new ball this will be the one time that a strange dog will appear and run off with it, never to be seen again. A new ball is particularly susceptible to the effects of the magnetic, black hole powers of rabbit holes (more on this in a moment). I remember one time when we were 9/10ths round the circuit of our favourite walk with a new ball in tact and still with us when the Labrador girls joined us. I was really pleased with myself as I'd been having quite a run of bad luck with new balls. I'd watched Winnie like a hawk and averted several near disasters. I really felt that this time we might get one home, but then the curse struck when my defences were down.

Quite out of character, one of the Labrador girls felt the anti-matter forces of a particularly deep rabbit hole and, in a blink of an eye, my lovely new, nearly safe, ball was gone. Watching my friend grovel on her belly with her arm up to her armpit down said rabbit hole was a definite compensation for the loss, but Winnie didn't think so.

This brings me on to the other part of my title - the magnetic powers of rabbit holes. If you talk to anyone who owns a dog that likes balls, they will all tell you of the numerous balls that their dogs have dropped down rabbit holes. None of us can work out why this happens, it just does. The scenario goes something like this - dog retrieves ball, dog is returning to owner with the ball in its mouth. For many owners, getting the ball out of their dogs mouth can be quite hard. A ball is not a prize a dog normally gives up easily. So why is it that sometimes dogs are sidetracked by a particularly mysterious rabbit hole and go over to investigate it with the ball in their mouth? Why is it that only when they are directly over the hole do they suddenly open their mouth and drop their prize neatly down the hole - never to be seen again? Why? Neither the Labradors or Winnie are particularly interested in rabbit holes - so why do they have this irresistible urge to drop balls down them? Are they all closet golfers? Snooker addicts?......and why do they always look so pleased with themselves when they do it?

I have visions that in several hundred years time archaeologists will be writing papers on why ancient Britons buried tennis balls deep underground. Perhaps the mouth of rabbit holes are a bit like tiny black holes and the magnetic force affects the dogs jaw, resulting in them dropping their ball down the hole. I just hope Alice doesn't chose to fall down any rabbit holes in my locality as she is likely to be concussed by a squeaky ball!

You can imagine that if you put a cursed new ball and a rabbit hole anywhere close together the end result is not going to be good. The sad thing is you can see it about to happen as the dog goes into the strange 'rabbit hole trance' and slowly drops the ball with a satisfying plop into the hole. Then they look round as you cry out in frustration and loss and look at you as if to say 'What? What's your problem?'

About the author...
Soraya Porter
 lives on the Essex Suffolk border with Winnie and Dillon. She teaches, and competes in agility as well as making beaded glass dog collars - all in her spare time.

Her 'day job' is as a civil servant and she's not sure whether it's this or the dog agility that keeps her semi-sane.

Photos: Patch Guipago, Angela Mitchell and Ian Watts