Guide dogs are adept at warding off gremlins, as I know from first-hand experience. The gremlin who inhabits my flat is often at his most peevish in the early hours of the morning. Trudy, whose criminal alias is The Hereford Hoover, is instantly awake the minute he pokes my eye to wake me up. She bounces out of her wicker basket which is adjacent to my bed, grabs one of my slippers and whacks the gremlin out of my day. It always works.
Even on the most drab and melancholy Monday mornings I can’t help chuckling at the gusto of my Guide dog. I usually attempt to get back to sleep, but the wagging rudder thumps incessantly to remind me that I owe her one for chasing away the gremlin. Once my arm is out of bed rolling up her Labrador ears into long tubes, sleep loses its appeal. So at the point when Trudy’s warm, wet tongue slides over my hand I invariably get up. Trudy is all fur and tail. She wraps her paws round my feet, sprinting off as I grope around for the slipper which is nearly always still in her mouth. I daren’t invoke the gremlin by checking the time – but it’s usually around 6 am by this point. I’m still half-dazed, only just aware of a hot-breathing hound baiting me with my own slipper. She pretends to lose interest, but each time I draw near she hares off again with her stolen booty. After much hiding and seeking, pleading and grumbling, I finally reclaim my slipper – damp and crumpled after its encounter with a Labrador.
Fighting gremlins probably isn’t in Trudy’s job description, yet she is an expert. She seems to sense when the insidious creature is lurking round the corner ready to ruin a morning or afternoon. Up goes her tail, beating rapidly to ward off the malevolent spirit. The climax of the ritual involves a complicated war-dance with Trudy wielding one of her toys above her head. Her current favourite is a massive pink turtle called Myrtle. Trudy won Myrtle at the Guide dog of the Year Awards and Myrtle is thankfully still intact with all her limbs attached. Whenever the gremlin is about to steal my smile, Trudy grabs Myrtle and flies towards me snorting and panting. Even if I’m not up for a tug of war game, Trudy charging towards me with Myrtle hanging out of her mouth is guaranteed to make me laugh Laughter is toxic to gremlins so my unwanted guest vanishes instantly. One of Myrtle’s bonus features is that her tummy makes rude noises when it’s held in a certain way. This feature has proved invaluable in the war against gremlins.
You may be wondering about these gremlins. I suspect there are many types and breeds skulking about in worldwide dwellings. But the character who sneaks around in my flat is particularly destructive. He tips over milk bottles, pokes me when I’m about to nod off in a chair, and sets off the smoke alarm when I’m really really hungry and just want a piece of toast….! He pervades my mind and needles under my skin if he’s not dealt with in time. Trudy will not tolerate him. If he slips a morsel of despair into my lunch box she will take it out and replace it with a chewed sock. I wouldn’t say it tastes much better, but it’s the thought that counts. Chewed socks, stolen receipts, the entire contents of my bag – they are all brought in dribs and drabs to cheer me up. One of the things I love about Labradors is that they never arrive on the scene empty-handed. Even though Trudy’s presents are usually recycled socks, scraps of paper or stolen items from my laundry basket they are still presents from her to me. The generosity of Labradors is unbeatable, and gremlins scarper at the sight of it.
Gremlins are intent on bringing gloom into your day, but Guide dogs are gremlin grabbers! I really came to understand this when I was separated from Trudy at the start of my radiotherapy treatment. After only two days without her I became aware that the nefarious gremlin inhabiting my flat had gathered a formidable army. I was utterly defeated and could not function. I did not even have any inclination to fight. I knew that I needed Trudy back, so back home she came. The moment she bounded through the door the gremlin legion lay down its arms and marched away. They have not returned en masse since.
I think that most dogs are capable of being gremlin chasers, but as I’ve never lived with a pet dog I can’t be sure. This got me thinking about stereotypes. The Guide dog stereotype is a noble, obedient,, long-suffering dog with almost no will of its own. As a Guide dog Trudy is exemplary, but thankfully she does not match the stereotype. She can be noble – even supercilious at times when she spies a misbehaving pet dog who should know better (according to the Laws of Hound). She can be obedient too when I really need her to be. But she is so stubborn there are times when a battle of wills determines the outcome of certain situations. We have stand-offs, sit-downs and strikes in the oddest and most inappropriate places. If Trudy had to wear a school tie she’d turn it inside out with the ends askew. I’d almost certainly catch her smoking behind the bike shed with a can of lager in her free paw. Yet she’d pass her exams and probably get into Oxford. She’s that kind of “told you so” dog.
It makes me smile when I explain to audiences about the matching process of Guide dogs. So much time and effort is put into matching the right dog with the right owner. How did Worcester Guide dogs know I’m stubborn, love food and prefer to do my own thing?! It concerns me that it might be obvious! Being matched with a Guide dog is a bit like registering with a dating agency. They pool your common denominators and mix up the rest, so at some point during your partnership you and your dog become one being. I think this is what makes Guide dogs experts at chasing away gremlins. Trudy knows before I do when something is amiss. This means that the lone gremlin who wakes me up in the early hours does not stand a chance. In fact I think Trudy is quite capable of chasing him away for good, but then I’d have a homeless gremlin on my conscience.
So next time you spy a Guide dog with a wagging tail and a glint of mischief in its eye, think of the gremlins it has probably chased away that day. If your smile lasts for at least four seconds any gremlins you know may take a hike at the same time…..