The Joys of Volunteering
Updated: Apr 24
(contains occasional canine defecation references)
A couple of weeks ago, in a fit of public-spirited-ness, I offered my services to Volunteer Cornwall. I imagined that once isolation really kicked in for the over-seventies, I might be able to help out with shopping or whatever. I received a prompt email back saying that they had had over 500 new offers of support, and that they would be in touch. For quite a while I heard nothing, and more or less forgot about I had made the offer.
Then yesterday, out of the blue, I got a call. How did I feel about dog-walking?
Good question, to which the answer is not entirely straightforward. I like dogs. We had dogs at home when I was a kid, and occasionally in recent years we contemplated getting one. I was given a book called “You and your Whippet” as an only-semi-ironic Christmas present, and I got quite keen on a website where you put in, say, Springer Spaniel, and it would come up with the headline “Springer Spaniels – what’s good about ‘em? What’s bad about ‘em?”. This became for a while a kind of catch-phrase for anything about which I felt ambivalent. Quinoa; motorbikes; Iris Murdoch novels.
However I have never taken the plunge, and, as you might guess, it all comes down to dealing with the poo. When I were a lad, you just didn’t bother, and there was dog-dirt in various stages of decay and ossification everywhere. It wasn’t pleasant if you stood in it, but you kind of accepted it, I guess, like the Victorians accepted one another’s bodily odours. Then maybe somewhere around the nineties – and it seemed like overnight – the dog owning sector of society was struck with a collective crisis of conscience, and picking up after your pooch became a thing.
I have to say that as a non-dog-owning pavement user I thought this was great. But as a potential dog-owner, it did rather tip the balance against me ever joining the ranks. It seemed to me that if some draconian Home Secretary were to propose compulsory poo collection as a sanction for minor offenders, it would be howled down by the liberals as a cruel and unusual punishment. I know lots of dog-owners, and they all say you very quickly get used to it. All I can say is that I have been happy up to now to take their word for that.
So how did I feel about dog walking?
The volunteer co-ordinator explained that there was a chap, living a few minutes’ drive from me, who was concerned about getting out in the current climate, and whose main need was for somebody to walk his “medium sized dog”, who was apparently “very good natured”. I could have asked for some time to consider, but for whatever reason, I didn’t. I said I would give it a go and see how I got on. It would be more interesting than just shopping, and I could do with the fresh air and exercise myself.
In the hours between taking the call and turning up at the gentleman’s house to meet my charge, various other concerns began to crowd in on the one I have alluded to above. What if it ran away? Got in a fight with other dogs? Impregnated somebody’s pedigree cockapoo? Wasn’t this possibly the daftest idea I had had for a while?
I needn’t have worried on any of those counts. Honey turned out to be a species of sheep dog, slightly larger than what I would call medium, but as even-tempered as had been promised. I took some instruction on routes that she was familiar with, and was just about to set off when I remembered the one thing it was vital not to forget. Did the owner have any bags for the…er…the...it suddenly seemed indelicate to refer to Honey’s toileting habits in front of her, but the owner quickly took the hint, a small bag was produced, and off we set.
Now I am not going to go into detail – it’s not something I want to write about, and I don’t imagine it’s something anybody particularly wants to read about. But let it just be recorded that there was one defecation event which I dealt with, I felt, in a fairly cool and efficient manner. It was fine. Oddly warm, but you just had to tell yourself you were picking up a frankfurter. Then, on the way home, there was another. A second. And I only had one bag.
A rookie error, if ever there was one.
I was on a fairly deserted bit of footpath, and Honey had thoughtfully deposited at the side of the thoroughfare, rather than in the middle. I glanced down at the package I had dutifully carried for the last twenty minutes, briefly considered the logistics of un-knotting and attempting a second pick up with the same bag. I decided that while probably it could be and perhaps had been done by more seasoned professionals, it wasn’t to be attempted by a novice. I walked swiftly on, not consumed, but not entirely untouched either, by guilt.
Then, forty yards further on, a miracle! There at the side of the path was a pristine, unused poo bag, dropped no doubt from the pocket of some other owner as they dealt with their own dog’s affairs. Reader, I walked not on, but picked up this strange gift from the universe, returned to the scene of the crime, and bagged up the second instalment.
We were that point five minutes from home. If the owner was surprised or impressed that I turned up with two bags of bounty (I hadn’t at any point passed a bin, and in any case felt a childish need to present the evidence of my responsible approach to the matter), he didn’t show it. We both declared the exercise a success, and agreed that we would continue the arrangement for as long as it seemed useful.
Who knows what Honey thought? She seemed to enjoy herself. I’m taking her out again today, and be assured, my pockets will be positively overflowing with bags.