This morning I went for a walk with a dog. And I don’t mean that I walked the dog; the dog walked me. What this is all about is that up on some hill right in the centre of Lviv there’a huge convent and behind the convent there is a giant dog prison of some kind: an animal shelter, the size of which I have never seen before, with cats and dogs and big beaky birds and ostriches and all these other crazy things making huge amounts of noise. The sullen stern staff are not enormously talkative but it’s an unusual sort of volunteering opportunity because you can just show up and take one of these many hundreds of barking dogs, all living in a giant aircraft hangar, for a walk.
So of I went. It’s a steep hill, and I was nursing a heavy head, shall we say, but I’d resolved to give this a try. I’ve never been hugely into animals as pets with all the mess they make and you have to clean up after them but they’re no worse than me. I can make more mess than a dog ever could. I slogged up the hill past the ominous redbrick former KGB building and round and up the winding cobbled paths, and I was assaulted in all senses with these animals. The people running the cat part of this operation - a giant room with a thousand or so cats all going Miaow and a bunch of dogs waiting outside who want to eat them - pointed me in the direction of the dog centre with the help of a bit of my crooked Ukrainian. And the young lad in there took one look at this large and decided obviously in his mind, “military: this guy needs a big dog”. So I got the biggest dog of the lot, a massive creature called A——, and he gave me a lead that looked and felt like a piece of electrical cable. The problem with A—— was that she is heavier and stronger than me, and she had a very clear idea of where she wanted to go: straight over the sheets of ice at maximum speed. I didn’t pick shoes with very good grips for this adventure, so I was dragged over the ice as though skating in a rink at great speed by this woolly mammoth of a dog. There was no stopping her; if I tried to yank her at the collar she just barked and carried on. I nearly fell over a dozen times until we got off the ice and then she decided she wanted to keep climbing up the hill. So up we went.
This wasn’t really a volunteer’s exercise as far as I was concerned, because I wasn’t a volunteer. I was being forced into doing this, and the dog was my master. We went up the hill then down again, round and round some derelict disused old Austro-Hungarian mansion that the Soviets had left to rot, in and out of people’s gardens, all with me trying to restrain this 100kg+ dog from doing whatever she wanted. I offered A—— pepperoni that I’d brought with me for breakfast; she wasn’t interested in that but she was interested in running at 20 miles per hour and I can’t run that fast. Then we went down the road some more and I thought this would be the end of me; my cadaver would be found at the base of a tree somewhere remote in about three weeks with A—— barking and yapping and trying to drag off my corpse round new hills and dales.
But then A—— had a change of heart, and for reasons unknown she suddenly wanted to head back home. So off we galloped back up the hill, her pulling me at maximum speed and my panting to keep up. It wasn’t clear to me why she wanted to return to captivity; maybe it was meal time and her inbuilt clock was telling her to get back.So I went flying up the hill and then skating back across the ice rink and I felt this warm sense of relief as I handed her back to the dog boss, the young boy who is in charge of all this mayhem on a Saturday morning. Relieved, I tiptoed back over the ice rink and tentatively started walking down the hill. All time had passed me by, and I bumped into the three colleagues I had arranged to meet gently sauntering up the hill to begin their own dog walking adventures with not a care in the world. Whereas I had been up close to a near death experience this morning, and it was barely Midday. Give me Kherson any time over another adventure with A——; I’m far less likely to be hit by a shell than I am to be walked to death by A——.
This little escape from the routine of existence (if there can be said to be such a think in crazy Lviv) was very welcome, before I tramped back down through the cobbled streets, past another half-dozen ancient churches I had never heard of or seen before, and noticed the vodka brigade starting to get stuck in for lunchtime in a bunch of bars. Normal life was returning in Lviv. I stopped for a coffee with the girls working in the supermarket under my apartment, ate a hot dog, and breathed a huge sight of relief.
Will I go back to the animal shelter? Will I let A—— take me for another walk? Because I could see a glint in the boy’s eyes: whenever (if ever) I go back there, he is going to give me A——. A—— is a dog for the rough, tough men; no normal person could possibly walk her. She is a creature all of her own, with a personality ten times as tough as mine. And as for me? A man is a dog’s best friend.