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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Simon Hattenstone

The pet I’ll never forget: Mickey the spaniel, scourge of park-keepers

A brown and white springer spaniel dog lying on the grass
‘We took him to doggy school – the teacher told us he was a lost cause.’ Photograph: bettphotos/Getty Images/500px

Mickey was a rebel. Not the kind of dude who’d go round telling everyone how radical he was – just quietly, persistently insubordinate.

Springer spaniels were pretty rare back in the 1970s. We thought he’d be like a cocker – sweet, passive, affectionate. Mickey turned out to be supersmart but ungovernable. He became known to some as “Mad Mick”.

Mickey was six weeks old when he joined us, and unbelievably cute. He couldn’t get up the first stair without falling back down. Not for long, though. He soon learned how to get into bedrooms, using his left paw to open the door. It could be false memory syndrome but I could swear I once saw him open a locked door – paw on handle, twisting the key in his mouth. Mickey was also spectacularly athletic. We had a 6ft wooden fence built in the back garden to stop him escaping. He took one look at it and jumped over – without even much of a run-up.

Mickey was a handsome geezer; a dog’s dog. He looked like the French footballer Dominique Rocheteau, and reminded me of Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine in Casablanca – strong, silent, a romantic loner.

He was bought for me when I was 10 and long-term ill. My parents thought I’d take him for walks, we’d become friends and I’d get better. But initially he resented me because I was in bed nearly all the time. He was furious when he saw me, so he’d rip my pyjamas to shreds, me still in them.

But we became soulmates. I took him to the park, where Mickey re-socialised me. We both made friends – him with dogs, me with women in their 40s. There was Freddie the dog and his actor owner, Marlene Sidaway (who played Brenda Taylor in Coronation Street). And there was Frynn the dog and her companions, two sisters called Pat and Moya, whom we met most evenings. Mickey and Frynnie were in love, but it was never consummated.

Throughout his life, Mickey continued to be heroically disobedient. When friends came around for tea, he would sit at their sides, looking up at them adoringly. The moment they turned away, he’d jump up and steal their dinner, particularly if it was steak.

Even though Mickey was a dog, he was quite cat-like in character. He was perfectly huggable (when I got older, there was nothing I liked more after a night at the pub than lying down beside him and falling asleep), but never craved affection. In summer, he’d go to the park and spend the day there on his tod, mooching around. When a boxer dog he had the hots for was on heat (this was purely physical, unlike with Frynn), he’d spend days outside her house howling for action.

We tried to train Mickey, but failed miserably. We took him to doggy school, but after a few weeks we were banned. The teacher told us that Mickey was a lost cause.

It wasn’t the only ban he received. Springers are gun dogs, and Mickey loved to catch birds. He’d often slip under the park lake railings to nab himself a duck. He’d then wander around the park, triumphant with said duck in mouth. There was nothing malign about it – he didn’t want to kill ducks, let alone eat them. It was just his nature.

Jack the park-keeper wasn’t impressed. One day I went to look for Mick because he hadn’t been home for hours. On the park gates, written in huge felt-tipped letters, was “Mad Mick is banned”. Sure enough, I found him there, happy as anything, perfectly oblivious to his outlawing. Jack the parky had forgotten that, however clever Mad Mick might have been, he’d not quite learned to read.

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