I mentioned in a previous post that I preferred cats to dogs. I have had several dogs in the past, one of whom, Leon, got a mention, so I thought I'd tell you a little about him here.
Leon came with the Spanish country house my wife and I bought in Murcia in 2003. The sellers were elderly people downsizing into a townhouse and it was thought with Leon being an outdoor dog in the country that it would be unfair and frankly a bit of a gamble to expect him to adapt to life in the confines of the indoors.
When I first met Leon he barked his head off as the estate agent pulled up to the gates of the property in her 4x4. He was just alerting the owner to our arrival. I later learned visitors could tell whether anyone was home or not because if someone appeared at the gate while we were out, Leon wouldn't bark. Why should he? Leon was a clever guy.
We got to know the previous owners quite well. For the first few years they would visit from time to time to see Leon ask how we were getting on. We learned that he was a purebred German Shepherd they had got in Barcelona. Apparently their son worked in Barcelona and they used to visit from time to time. It struck me Catalan was his first language, Castellano his second, yet he still seemed to understand me in English. He was more familiar with the area than I was and guided me on many a long walk on the tracks and hills where we lived. Like I say, was a clever guy!
Not long after we moved in, some builders had to replace the old bathroom so I built a crude commode with a bucket and an old chair with a hole cut in it. On one occasion I dug a hole in the garden and poured in the waste for burial when Leon leapt out of nowhere, picked up a piece of poo with his teeth and ran off with it, chewing away as best a dog can. I was more cautious about letting him lick me after that.
Leon's appetite never failed to amaze me. I visited my neighbour Manolo one day when he happened to be eviscerating a freshly killed chicken. Casually he pulled out the various guts and tossed them to Leon who had obviously played this game before. Seeing him chomping down on hearts, lungs and the giblets made me feel kind of queasy but Leon was as happy as Larry, his big bushy tail whipping up a minor dust storm in the dry sandy yard.
Leon was getting pretty old by this time. One day I got a phone call to say he had died. I was working in the next village and couldn't get back until late afternoon where I saw my wife sat on the patio next to poor old Leon covered with a sheet. It had been very sudden, probably his heart gave out. I thought we better get him cremated or something so I popped into town to see the local vet. When I asked him if he could arrange for the disposal of the body he threw me a puzzled look and explained they don't do that sort of thing, at least not in this part of Spain. Just bury him in the garden.
"Oh" he said "Leon is a big dog. Make sure the hole you dig is deep enough". The vet knew Leon, having had many previous wrestling matches with him in the past for inoculations and on one occasion a little dentistry.
I went back home and got my 'azada', a sort of sturdy, square shaped hoe that the farmers use to dig holes and trenches here, and tried to dig. Well it was the middle of July, the ground was bone dry and rock hard. There was zero chance of me being able to dig a hole even vaguely big enough and time was not on our side. Burials are traditionally performed quickly in Spain before, well, things start to go off.
So then the hunt started for help. I made a few phone calls but no joy, then we were joined by an English neighbour who recommended her gardener, Ginez. I knew him vaguely as a farmer with a property not far away from me and I had spoken with him once or twice at a few social events. It turned out he had a small mechanical digger which was just what we needed to dig a grave. I made the call...
"Ginez, my dog died. Can you dig a hole to put him in"
"Yes, but I'm out of town" he replied.
"I'm working in Caravaca. I'll come when I've finished"
Caravaca was the next town along, only a couple of miles as the crow flies so I was hopeful it wouldn't be too long.
Well we waited and waited. The wine came out and a few more neighbours came to see what's up. It started to turn into a wake for Leon.
Some hours later I phoned Ginez back and asked if he was still coming.
"Yes I'm on my way now he said"
What he didn't tell me was that he was driving the tiny digger on its sluggish caterpillar tracks all the way back from where he'd been working! By the time he pitched up it was gone half ten in the evening! The digger slower came through the gates and we showed Ginez the dog and started to scope out possible burial sites. Ginez removed his John Deere baseball cap to scratch his head, revealing that a farmer's tan is a universal thing among the tractor driving fraternity.
He explained the problem was there was nowhere to bury Leon inside the property. Although the grounds measure 1500 square metres, half of it was given over to a white gravel drive, and the other half was an orchard. The drive would be a pain because we would have to scrape back the gravel and replace it, and would probably have water pipes going through it anyway that could be an issue if we hit one. The trees in the orchard were all too close together. Although the digger is small it needs room to manoeuvre so he couldn't dig a hole there unless we removed several trees.
We went and look outside the property. There was an unfenced area just to the right of the front gate with a hut on it that belonged to a local goat farmer, who had fortunately given up the goats quite recently and now lived in Caravaca. He came back to potter from time to time but I figured if buried Leon there and 'covered our tracks' well enough he probably wouldn't even notice.
Ginez got to work and in half and hour or so we laid poor Leon to rest, covered the hole, said a few words and then started scattering grass and bracken over the grave to disguise its existence. It was quite an inauspicious end to a loyal security dog and friend but in the years that followed I realized I felt quite comforted by the notion of Leon in that spot outside the main gate, guarding the property for eternity! RIP Leon.