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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #378

This morning was a beautiful sunny day, perhaps the first of Spring, so I decided to have a dog take me for a walk once more. The location for this idiosyncratic Saturday morning activity is the Domivka animal shelter on vulica Oleksyi Dovbusha 24 in Lviv, and it is open daily from 10am to 5pm so I thoroughly recommend it as one of the most enjoyable things you can do in Lviv that helps Ukraine while staying healthy. A few friends and I gathered at 10.45, and we tramped up the steep streets to get to the shelter which is located on a series of buildings on the side of the main hill that overlooks Lviv. (Not many people realise that Lviv, being one of the few historical European cities not built on a river, was in fact located at the foot of a large hill.) It had been down to freezing overnight but in a bright and radiant way, so while I had warmed myself up with my military fatigues (that are fur-lined and the like) in readiness for the walk in the frost this morning, by the time I got to the top of the hill I realised I was entirely overdressed and really this was a job for a t-shirt. Ukraine has wonderful weather outside its grim and cruel winter season that really only lasts a couple of months, and today we were going to enjoy it to the full. And so was the dog.

As has become the usual routine last the Domivka animal shelter, the lady assigning dogs to be walked took one look at me with my military fatigues and stern, snarling expression on my face (I rarely smile unless you put alcohol or a beautiful girl in front of me) and decided to give me the largest, most aggressive dog in the shelter, just like the last time weighing easily more than me. This huge hound had slavering sharp teeth and a wolf-like long tongue ready to snap his jaws around anything that moved, and the first thing he did was to show me just how large he was by placing his paws on my shoulders and barking in my face. I soon got him under control, after a fashion, but the somewhat plain-spoken lady who was assigning dogs to walkers this morning warned me in simple English “no contact other dogs”. Which was exactly what my new friend wanted to do: to eat them all. Just getting him out of the main shelter building was an ordeal, as he snapped and barked and growled at all the other dogs in the shelter and then proceeded to menace the other walkers by running up to them and barking them, until I got him on an extremely short leash and we began transforming chaos into order.

Still my canine companion was determined to show that he was the boss. Every jogger passing by as we walked around the beautiful wooded enclosures on the hill would get a snap, every baby’s stroller a snarl, and every other dog a gigantic woof and a tug on the chain. When I wouldn’t let him attack and eat all the other dogs, he got very upset with me, repeatedly lifting his leg to urinate in front of me, I think in some sign of contempt for me, and then he proceeded to attempt to gnaw through his chain so that he could get away and do some violence towards the other passing dogs. Then he pulled me off in the wrong direction and we ended up amongst some desolate trees and we had to call for help because we had no way of getting down again.

That was not the end of the torture this 100-pound monster was to put me through. He decided he wanted to go down a sheer slope, dog first, me being pulled after him, and he wanted to yank me through the mud as though I were a water skier being pulled by a speedboat. Again he would try to bite through the chain, and again I would have to pull him back, his being undeterred by a sharp collar specifically designed to keep him obedient by having pieces of metal dig into his flesh if he did not follow orders. I think this was the most violent, dangerous dog they have in the shelter, a Belgian Alsatian, so I am told, some wolfish monster of a hybrid dog that could easily snatch away small children or even large animals in the night. The only inference I can draw is that they give me this dog because I look crazy.

My friends F—— and L—- by contrast got a sweet little sausage dog that my companion wanted to gobble up in a single snap of his lascivious jaws; he was particularly attracted towards and interested in female dogs. F—— is actually a larger man than me; so why he gets the sweet sausage dog and I get the monster is entirely a cause for speculation. We joked and smiled about this as we walked back down the hill into the cobbles of the Old Town, all exhausted by the morning’s dog-like activities. As I returned my canine friend to shelter, I saw a long line of people wanting to take different types of giant and not so huge dog for a walk on a beautiful Saturday morning and I thought what a wonderful escape this exercise is on a weekend for a people beset with the trauma of war. It’s an escape from the humdrum of everyday existence and it makes you feel good about yourself, and healthy, for a couple of hours.

If you wanted, you could make dog walking a full-time job as there are quite enough dogs there (in the hundreds) to merit constant attention. But you would have to be amazingly fit to do this or you would be quite exhausted. My new friend T——- who was just arrived in town laughed that even walking his little puppy was enough exercise for him to last a whole week. As I write these words, my eyelids are drooping and the prospect of going back to bed for a rest is beckoning. I’m not sure a full-time schedule of being taken for a walk by different giant dogs is quite for me.


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