Monday, September 27

Tim Dowling: Is the dog’s friendship with the fox sweet or is it a bad omen? | Family

TThe dog barks. I have no idea what time it is, I went to bed late and fell asleep abruptly, but judging by the darkness outside the window, I’m sure if it was one of my neighbors, I’d be angry.

I sit on the bed. The dog keeps barking. My phone says it’s 3.30. I pick up my pants from the floor and put them on, because there are no dangers or demons in this world that I am willing to meet without pants.

Sometimes when the dog goes out through the cat flap at night, the cat blocks his re-entry from the inside, for sport, but clearly that is not the point. I know that bark: pathetic, sinister, intermittent. This is different.

My wife sits on the bed.

“What is happening?” she says.

“The dog is barking,” I say, getting up to look out the window. My view of the garden is blocked by the pointed roof of the rear extension. The barks are getting louder and more insistent.

I go down to the kitchen, which is bathed in a ghostly glow: the garden security light, activated by a trigger motion sensor. The dog is standing in the middle of the grass, facing east and barking. The rest of the garden is clearly empty. I open the back door.

“What are you doing?” I say. The dog pauses, turns to look at me briefly, and then continues. The bark he uses for suspected trespassers has a jagged, serrated edge. This is different.

“There is no one there,” I say. “Shut up.”

I turn on the light on my phone and point east, then up. There, crouched in the ivy that cascades over the trellis that runs along the top of the garden wall, is the fox.

The dog and the fox are not enemies, but friends. If you open the front door at night, the dog will often run between your legs to chase the fox down an adjacent lane. When the dog stops chasing the fox, the fox turns and chases the dog. Usually they take turns for about half an hour, until the dog runs out of strength. Sometimes when I come home after dark, I pass the fox waiting patiently under a lamppost for the dog to come out to play. My wife thinks it’s sweet and goes regularly to watch. I think it’s a bad omen.

The fox looks at me.

“You have to go,” I tell him. I take two steps in his direction, but he doesn’t move. Far from being scared, he seems to be waiting until I’m close enough to use me as a ladder. Meanwhile, the dog keeps barking.

“Seriously,” I say. “Fuck off”.

My wife has a long-range water rifle by the back door to deter squirrels from looting the bird feeder. I pick it up and take another step toward the fox. We are now less than six feet away, but he has a considerable height advantage. I aim and compress the stock of the rifle until I hear a click: it is not loaded. The fox watches me do all of this, then turns and climbs the other side of the wall. The dog huffs twice and walks past me through the back door.

“What was that?” says my wife. The dog is already lying on my side of the bed.

“The fox,” I say. “The inappropriate friendship you have fostered.”

“It is gone?” she says.

“You know our address,” I say.

“Go to sleep,” she says.

Not long after I turn off the light, the familiar barking begins again, this time in the distance. In the dark, I can see the dog still lying at my feet. I stop and look out the window, across all the back gardens, along the rows of lighted bedroom windows. The barking continues: loud, constant, pitiful.

“What’s that?” says my wife.

“It’s the fox,” I say

“It sounds like a dog,” he says.

“He’s pretending to be a dog,” I say. “Our dog.” We listen in silence for a moment.

“It’s actually pretty good,” he says.

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