Zoom is my dog. He was once a puppy:
He was one of 13 glorious puppies born to a Merle Great Dane and a long-haired German Shepherd. It was impossible to choose one when we went to see them but Zoom climbed on top of his siblings and licked my husband’s nose. He was the one.
He grew up in Italy, in Piedmont, running free and happy in the fields and the hills.
When we took him to England he had to get used to the lead, and he wasn’t happy about it.
He would get lost chasing hares and pheasants, sometimes I’d have to wait for him for hours. One time he came back all yellow, from running in the fields of rapeseed and getting lost.
One of these times I got seriously worried for his prolonged absence and started putting up posters and went to look for him with my baby in my backpack, calling him in increasing desperation as we went. I was beginning to despair, when a lady called me over: she was the owner of a pheasant farm. She had Zoom locked in some sort of shed. She showed me a table with 5 of the 17 pheasants that Zoom had killed :(. She was quite nice about it, I guess because of all the (illegal) fox traps Zoom had miraculously avoided. She told me he’d been extremely lucky not to get seriously hurt.
That was all in Yorkshire. Here in Cambridge he has aged and is much better behaved. He can now finally go everywhere with me.
In his older age (he is now 10. NOT old. Just older), I notice, he is even more my dog.
You can see how beautiful he is, let me tell you about his character.
When he was still a puppy and we walked all round the fields around Viguzzolo, in Piemonte, Northern Italy, we would come across various gated gardens that belonged to very rich villas of the various moneyed people in the area. One of them contained 3 massive and very beautiful German Shepherds. They looked lion lions.
Zoom still barked a puppy bark, and every time we passed that house he was terrified of those dogs. Then his curiosity won, and instead of being afraid, he watched them: he’d understood there was a strong fence between them and he was safe. The dogs would come right up to it and bark their fierce deep bark. Zoom started to bark back, but I think he realised how pitiful his bark was compared to theirs.
Everyday he got a little more confident, everyday they barked at him, and everyday he would bark a little more. Until one day, he went from his pitiful wa wa wa to a progressively deeper and stronger WOOF WOOF WOOF. He almost jumped he was so surprised of himself and from then on he practised his bark whenever he could. He was barking like one of the big boys!
Even now I notice how even when we meet big dogs, their bark is sometimes pretty puny. Zoom’s bark is strong and brave.
The first time I saw what kind of dog he was, was when we went, just him and me, up to the castle park in Tortona, back in Italy to read. I spent so much time when I was little walking for miles and miles getting lost alone or with my dog when I had him, it was my favourite thing to do. Now that I was older and more aware of the dangers I felt very inhibited. This was the first time I decided to go somewhere really isolated, potentially dangerous. Zoom was with me. He was still very young:
We sat, him lying next to me. I’m not sure I can convey just how this is my ideal moment of happiness. Him and me and a book. Anyway. At one point he gets up, looks towards the path that climbs up to us, and emits two very steady barks. Calm and steady, but deep. I hadn’t heard anybody so I hadn’t even put him on the lead. After a few minutes three men arrived. They passed us and continued along the path. Zoom just sat next to me but still looked at them. He’d warned them, so it was all ok. I knew he was young, but his bark had told them: “I am not aggressive, but know that you do not mess with me. I am here.”
At the same age, again we walked in the fields and hills around our house, and we often came across this massive German Shepherd who was well known to be a nasty dog, poor thing. The owner always let him off the lead despite him being a problem dog, so I was happy for Zoom to be running hundreds of yards away from me most of the times I met him. One time, however, this dog came round the corner and Zoom happened to be next to me. The dog ran towards Zoom aggressively and I was terrified. Zoom was still young and this dog was bigger than him. Zoom was so sweet-tempered and I was worried for him as well as for me!
Zoom didn’t flinch. He grabbed him with his paws and climbed on top of him, brought his head down and held his mouth open, as if to bite but not biting, firmly on his neck. He held the dog there for a bit, then released him. He stood next to him with his head held high. The other dog padded away without a word. His owner eventually caught up with him and carried on his way, without a word. Only at that point Zoom resumed his happy walk as though nothing had happened.
Zoom is no saint. Whilst being looked after by our friends for 6 months (England’s dog immigration laws) and on a walk, he chased and killed kittens.
With our cats, however, he’s always been nothing but good. Though perhaps he enjoyed squishing them.
Back in Middlestown, in Yorkshire, where we lived when we moved to England, he confirmed his guarding ability. With all the people that had come and gone in our house I knew him as an extremely friendly dog. Anybody who came into our house had been obviously vetted by us, so he would sniff them and wag his tail and if they ignored him he ignored them and went to his bed, if they fussed him he’d fuss them back. When I was alone with my small baby, not very well at all, both boys in school and husband at work, I sometimes was worried about the rough people that lived around us. I kind of hoped Zoom wouldn’t be too friendly if someone nasty came to the house.
One day someone knocked on the door. I opened it with my baby daughter held in one arm. With the other I had opened the door and then held Zoom by his collar, as we’d been taught by a dog trainer who’d advised us to have a collar on even indoors, so we could hold him down so he didn’t get too enthusiastic with his greetings (he could easily knock you down). It was sunny behind the guy at the door, so our entrance was very dark: he hadn’t seen my dark Zoom next to me.
The guy asked me if I wanted window double glazing or something like that. He was a little insistent. He crept me out, there was something dodgy about him. Then his colleague passed in front of our house, headed to the next house. At that point Zoom emitted one simple, low, very deep bark. The guy in front of me looked down in alarm, hurriedly excused himself and left quickly in great agitation. He obviously had a dirty conscience and was worried Zoom would get him.
I then found out a few days later that a gang had been prowling the area: they sent out these guys to find out what the situation was in the house: who lived there, were they alone, etc. Then they would break in and steal, scaring some elderly people half to death.
I was, until Zoom barked, a wonderful candidate: woman alone with little baby. But Zoom made sure those guys steered clear of my house for good. And all he had to do was WOOF once.
Zoom has always taken his responsibilities to heart, without ever overdoing it. When baby Maggie came back from a month in the hospital (she had been born with gastroschisis, had had a serious operation and had spent a month in the Neonatal Intensive Unit) for the first time, Zoom would never leave her side. He looked so enormous next to her. He knew what a small delicate being this was, and she was instantly his new charge.
Zoom doesn’t care much about people he doesn’t know when out on a walk.
As I walk in the commons by the river Cam I often see people, standing around, their waggy tailed dogs sniffing and playing with each other. Zoom and I are not like that. We’re loners. People ask me: “Is he friendly?” “I say well he certainly won’t hurt you,
but he couldn’t care less about you or your dog.”
He’s my dog. He’s a bit of a winge sometimes. But he is the sweetest soppiest dog ever. We’ve had at least 5-6 people come around who were either scared of or just not very sympathetic towards dogs. Zoom has conquered them all. Zoom is always the exception. His soul runs free and when I couldn’t walk, and I couldn’t run, or whenever I used to feel trapped in my own fallacies, he would run free for me.
Now he doesn’t run so far, or even so fast. He is even gentler, and funnier, and wants his biscuits, and sleeps a lot, and has been given the right to the couch once again. My mind is so much quieter and happier generally so him and I are a very peaceful pair just walking places, sometimes with my daughter tagging along, mostly just him and me. Zoom and I walk her to school along the river, and I have had to regretfully teach him not to bark at the rowers because (and this is the real reason) I’m worried he might hurt his legs running like a cannonball along the very uneven grassy edge of the river.
Zoom is very much a part of our family and we love him to bits.
There is nothing, nothing that equals the friendship you can have with a dog. After all, this is a species that evolved precisely to be with human beings. All that is noble and all that is fair and all that is fun loving and all that is life is a dog. And my dog is the best of them all 🙂