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A Dog's Life

A Dog's Life

Monday July 30 2018

Throughout the summer, we are revisiting some of our favourite Ron Ferguson columns. In June 2009, Ron recalls some ministerial close encounters with animals.

All things bright and beautiful? Well, sometimes.

Some of the Lord’s creatures can really get you down. They also create real hazards for ministers going about their lawful business.

I once visited a manic bird-lover who insisted on opening his budgie’s cage while our conversation progressed. Now my idea of a superb evening does not include sitting in an enclosed space with a swirling bird.

In no time, the budgie took on the aspect of a gigantic, threatening, Hitchcockian hawk. It sat on the mantelpiece looking malevolently in my direction, then it suddenly made for my head like a feathered cruise missile. At the last minute, it applied its brakes and landed gently on the bridge of my spectacles.

Let me tell you, from experience, that it is exceedingly difficult to sustain a serious conversation about the nature of the Holy Trinity with a budgie perambulating back and forward on your specs.

Dogs can be a particular problem for clerics. I’m a dog lover myself, but when I was working at the ministerial coal face in Easterhouse, one of God’s special envoys, an alsatian which answered – or more correctly didn’t answer – to ‘Prince’ decided to attach itself by its teeth to my ecclesiastical rear end.

Was I delighted, at that precise moment, to be communing so closely with the animal kingdom? Was I, like the great St Francis of Assisi, full of benevolent thoughts about God’s creatures? No, I was not. I was, shameful though it is to admit, trying to kick this particular heavenly creature in order to persuade it to release its jaw muscles.

Now, it is extraordinarily difficult to kick a wolf which has a vice-like grip on your posterior. Try it for yourself. If you’re at home, order your dug to sink its teeth into your ‘backside’ – as people in Bearsden call it after a few sherries – and see how hard it is to kick a whirling beast. If you don’t have a dog, stand up now and try it notionally. As you will find out, even an imaginary dog attached to your posterior is hard to kick, for the simple reason that it is always, as in any pantomime, behind you.

Anyway, the Easterhouse anti-clerical alsatian with lockjaw was eventually persuaded by its owner to come in for its dinner. He shouted to me – the man that is, not the Alsatian – “Sorry, pal”. It was somehow reassuring, even touching, to be called ‘pal at that particular moment. You must always look on the bright side of life.

Dogs can also be a problem indoors. When the apocalyptic Hound of the Baskervilles hurtles towards you and leaps on to your lap as you sit sedately eating scones and drinking tea, you must remain calm and Christian.

“Don’t worry, Jasper won’t touch you,” the lady of the house will insist. (That’s what the Romans said to the Christians when they released the lions.) Soon Jasper will have his paws round your neck and will be licking your face with a tongue that has explored things which cannot be mentioned in a family column.

Let me confide in you about an even trickier problem. Some dogs have an insatiable desire to stick their long snouts into men’s crotches. Why this should be, in the great scheme of things, I have no idea. What I do know is that this can transform a kindly pastoral visit into a piece of grotesque ecclesiastical theatre.

“He must be smelling your dog!” cries the lady of the house. Eh? Even as you back away, bent double, the beast’s uncannily invasive snout manages to root around. Is this why bishops carry crooks? There is nothing in the scriptures about how to deal with this situation.

There’s worse. Sometimes a Jack Russell will attempt – how can I put this delicately? – sexual congress with your ministerial leg. The louder the embarrassed hostess trills, “Leave the minister alone, Horace!”, the more Horace will engage in unPresbyterian conduct. The frenzied, unseemly activity going on down below indubitably detracts from your lofty observations about the sexual obsessions of modern society. This is definitely not the time to kneel for prayer.

All things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.

As the west of Scotland’s metaphysically untutored would put it: Why, but?