By Sam Smith, The Gear Head

WAR IS HELL, as the man said. More so if the main weapon is a garage full of rump-logs. I have been engaged of late in a furious and titanic battle with my dog. When no one is looking, she sneaks into the garage, hides behind a car, and poops.

I am afflicted with several vehicles. Most are slightly tatty, because owning and using good cars on a writer’s budget often involves tattiness.
The only nice machine in the stable is a 2001 Acura, an Integra Type R. Unmodified, original paint, tight and clean, no rust. Not coincidentally, the Acura is the only car I own that lives at home, under a roof, behind a locked door. One of the best front-drivers in history. I like it. Its presence is calming. This is almost certainly why the dog dumps at it.

I tell myself that she can’t know how much the car means to me. That revelation would imply too many terrifying truths about the universe. All I know is that the scene is remarkably consistent. No leavings on the floor when I’m watching. Always a sneak attack, slipping through a door that someone left open. Usually at the end of the day, when the garage won’t see foot traffic again for hours.

All from a six-year-old spaniel. Otherwise well-behaved. And not the mayor of indoor Browntown until recently, when we moved into a house with an attached garage. I named her Elly, after the aviatrix Elly Beinhorn, Bernd Rosemeyer’s wife. She is good with strangers, kind to children, a fan of long walks and chewing crunchy things. Generally unassailable, as animals go. Except. Great attempts have been made to communicate waste protocol. Months of fighting the static of unshared language.

There have been punishments and demonstrations. Books read on dog training. I have even made attempts at outsmarting her; noisemaker traps, automatic door-closers. All of which failed but should have not, because we are not talking about a heavy consciousness here, even for a dog, even for a spaniel. Forty pounds of fuzz and blood and fewer working synapses than a stapler. I have seen her so unthinking as to flee, terrified, from kittens. At least once or twice a week, this right honourable member of my house gets far too excited about something (Food! Air! Breathing!), carefully surveys her surroundings, and proceeds to run headlong into a wall. I am losing a fight to this.

The location stings. The old garage-as-sanctuary trope is rooted in truth; everyone needs a place outside their normal, a way to unplug. We also need those places to not smell like an old trout. I have two young children, which means the Integra room is also the only part of my house not regularly covered in yoghurt, or greasy fingerprints, or scale models of cartoon characters made entirely from doll knickers and cheese.

I can teach a three-foot-tall person to use a toilet or speak with correct grammar. But dog excrement zoning: no. In quiet moments, I sometimes wonder if this is one of those battles best closed by admitting defeat. And then the dog leaves munitions behind the rear tyre and I unknowingly roll the floor jack through the battlefield the next day and everything smells like dead things and kibble and the rage builds.

She slinks into the room, eyeing me suspiciously. A standoff commences. I glare back, pondering laws regarding the shipment of animals, wondering how much Elon Musk would charge to mail a box of canine life support to low Earth orbit. Then we each back away, preparing for the next round.

As with all wars, the conflict’s end is inevitable but difficult to foresee. We could enter an uneasy truce, but I’d first have to get off the back foot, make some in-kind counter-offensive.

(My wife has informed me that such actions would result in immediate divorce, despite the fact that the enemy has left vital Dog Territory unguarded.) We could continue fighting for years, neither side gaining ground except in those weeks where the kids spill a plate of beans on the floor at supper, and five hours later the Type R reeks of used burrito.

Or I could just keep looking into that space thing. Maybe it’s unfair. Or maybe in space, no one can hear you bark.


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