Our home zoo has expanded once again with the arrival last week of our new Labrador puppy, Fitzgerald. For the past 10 years we have been truly blessed with the existence of Huxley, a black Labrador and close personal friend of quite exceptional intelligence. Now, as Huxley approaches retirement age, we decided as a family that he should have the opportunity of passing on his considerable wisdom to the next generation – hence Fitzgerald.
About six weeks ago we all drove to a breeder near the Welsh border to select our new family member. There were about eight in the litter and they were all, to be frank, much of a muchness at the tender age of eight days. We all pretended to know what we were on about but, like pretty much everything else in this world, it was a crapshoot. We made our choice and drove home. Six weeks later and we received a worrying email from the breeder with a recent photograph of Fitzgerald attached. To say that the little fellow had grown would be an understatement – this was one big puppy. Some members of the family started worrying that we'd chosen a ringer. I suppose that they couldn't help thinking about Colonel Mustard, the sweet little kitten that my kids bought me for my birthday who has since turned into a psychopathic Asbo monster who kills for fun.
So it was with some trepidation that we turned up for the handover. The breeder showed us into her kitchen, where four perfectly formed puppies sat looking at us adoringly. Then we spotted Fitzgerald. It was difficult not to. He was a hulking mass who towered over his siblings. He attempted to greet us but stumbled on his overly large paws, falling into an undignified heap of black fur. It took about three of us to lift him into the car where he sat contentedly looking around wondering what part of the vehicle he could eat first.
Once home it was introductions time. Huxley took one look at the new arrival and stormed off in a huff. Oscar, our flat-coat retriever (who is not known for his intelligence) wandered in and was clearly puzzled as to why we had brought a small black hippo home when this was strictly against the house rules. Finally, Dr Pepper sauntered in and everyone backed away. Dr P is a large black cat of unknown origin and very much the kingpin in our animal kingdom. He padded straight up to Fitzgerald and stopped about an inch from his face. They eyeballed each other in what is known as a Cotswold stand-off. Neither side blinked although, to be fair to the Doctor, I'm not entirely sure that Fitzgerald could see too well as he had a couple of rolls of puppy fat drooping over his eyelids.
After what seemed like an age, the tension was broken by the Doctor licking Fitzgerald's face and then lying down next to him. There was an audible sigh of relief from the family. Fitzgerald had been accepted and was now under the protection of the Great Catsby. To celebrate his successful passing of the initiation ceremony, Fitzgerald deposited an impressive turd on the kitchen floor. He's going to fit in just fine.