“Do you want the good news or the bad news?”
It’s a question I’ve asked Ana quite a bit recently, mostly in connection with Garfunkel, our newly acquired horse/dog who resembles Iorek Byrnison, the polar bear from His Dark Materials.
When you’ve had an LA dog called Simon for nine years and then a new guy joins the household…I mean, what else do you call him?
And what a great excuse to scatter a blog with cheesy song references.
Garf is a Rafeiro do Alentejo, which is a mastiff (pronounced massive) from this region of Portugal.
They are huge dogs bred for protecting cattle when the farming communities of the Alentejo used to drive the herds into the mountains for summer pasture and then back down to the plateau for the winter.
He’s a guard dog who’s afraid of being inside…of being under any kind of roof actually…and if I was to pick a suitable song from his namesakes, let’s just say it wouldn’t be The Sound of Silence.
“The bad news first,” is Ana’s usual reply.
The first time it was: “Garf has escaped.”
He’d broken free from his pen in the garden, which had been our first construction project.
It was supposed to have been immovable, but in those pre-concrete days we settled for wooden stakes and boards, a corrugated metal roof and a high fence woven around some posts.
More than satisfactory – almost luxurious – or so we thought…but Garf wasn’t a big fan.
The good news was that he hadn’t actually gone anywhere and was nonchalantly lying next to the pen with a self-satisfied look on his face. No sign of any Slip Slidin’ Away.
He was apparently just a little offended as a dog of his pedigree being confined in such an unsophisticated fashion.
Garf is a high-born rescue, is around three years old, and is taking a bit of time to settle in.
While I was in London finishing off at the BBC, our friends Penny and Nick persuaded Ana that he needed a good home.
They were pushing at an open door…Ana has been signed up to numerous Rafeiro Facebook groups for about a year now (actually it was two, I’m told).
Penny and Nick volunteer at the Bamboo dog and donkey sanctuary near Vila do Bispo in the Algarve, and Garf was headed there from the tiny compound which had been his somewhat restrictive home for what we think was most of his life.
No wonder he decided our little outdoor pen wasn’t suitable for a cattle-protecting hero of his standing.
He spent a couple of weeks with the wonderful Emma Thomas who calmed and trained him brilliantly.
(She also recommended a Halti harness which we’d never heard of, but is perfect for controlling a horse/dog with minimal effort. The metal ring is around his chest, so he can’t pull without turning sideways and it’s so much better than a choker.)
Completely unrelated to a Boxer, he’s a pure-bred Rafeiro, but unusually is all white…except for small, soft, black fluffy ears and the Mike Tyson tattoo on the side of his face.
Nice Scar-Bro: Fair? (too much?)
Although Mike and Tyson were early name contenders, when we first met him his commonly used name was Zavial…after the beach near where his second owners lived.
But he’s quite the dog royalty - his kennel club name is Rafiki (coincidentally meaning friend in Kiswahili).
I can only imagine his disgust when people accidentally call him Garfield.
To begin with, we feared we had acquired the David Beckham of Rafeiros – looks amazing but isn’t quite what you expect when he opens his mouth.
Like zebras. They’re the David Beckham of the African savannah – dazzling to look at, but have you heard the sound they make?
It was a sorrowful cry that first night, which echoed down the Valley of the Stars, but it soon morphed into a big, booming bark which more than compensates for his fear of plastic bags, sudden noises, his own shadow…and being inside.
Perhaps Garf is to guard dogs what Ferdinand is to fighting bulls. After all, he makes nests and his favourite ones are under the cork oak trees near the house…and I’m sure I’ve caught him sniffing flowers.
When we first took Garf out into the countryside it really looked like he’d never had such freedom before.
To begin with he walked like a camel – awkwardly pacing with two left legs moving forward then the two right – but now he’s trotting, cantering and galloping normally most of the time.
Our friend Sian has dubbed him “The Great White Galumpher” with a hat-tip to the Jabberwocky.
The long process of daily “indoor therapy” seems to be paying off.
He used to whine a lot, look longingly outside at the driving rain, and scratch at the door.
We put down an ugly towel which became his calming sucky-blanket, but with the discovery of scratches, treats and warmth, he no longer hyper-ventilates indoors.
But come bedtime he insists on being outside. I guess we’re his cattle, and he needs to be alert, so we tie his lead to a rope and attach him to a favourite tree.
The odd bark echoes down the valley through the night and it must be said that the wild boar party spot – the muddy patch by the lake – appears now to be permanently closed.
The story of the tumultuous relationship of the more famous Simon and Garfunkel does not bode well, but as far as our Simon (“the small dog”) is concerned, life remains fair At The Zoo as long as he gets to sleep on the bed while the big dog stays outside.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say they are Old Friends, but as Citizens of the Planet it’s going pretty well: they usually say good morning with a nose bump and they’re Not Fakin’ It.
Garf’s not as much into his Pinot Noir as Simon, which is reassuring, but he has taken to accidentally galloping over him when Homeward Bound from a walk…which provokes a growl and a snarl from the indignant terrier.
Rafeiro’s are known for being stubborn and hard to train. They’ll only do what you tell them if they want to.
Thankfully with Ana’s persistence on every walk Garf will sit, give a paw and come back when we call him…but only because he wants to.
“Do you want the good news or the bad news?”
The bad news is that Garf has learned how to untie knots and detach his lead from the rope…but the good news is he’s just lying in the same spot anyway.
No joke - he’s done it three times now. He’s learned to untie double knots without chewing through the rope. And he stays put. But only because he wants to.
Some might say…If he could, he surely would.
Anyone know where I can buy polar bear armour for Christmas..?
Well done for rescuing Garf, a big undertaking and I hope it goes well. Simon & Garf - great names, and a great post too.
I’m definitely coming over to visit to meet Garf