We've had a lot of flies this year. I suspect they are attracted by the grapes that are rotting on the vines that grow along our fences. The grapes taste horrible, and this year even the birds have point blank refused to eat them, so the grapes just hang there and rot, filling the garden with a sickly sweet smell that the flies find irresistible.
When the flies get bored with the grapes, they come into the house in search of amusement. On a bad day there can be twenty or more buzzing around and making nuisances of themselves. Chemical warfare has proved to be an inadequate technique for eliminating them. The house is simply too airy and open plan for it to be effective. So I decided to try more primitive weapons...
"What are those?" asked Jake the Dog when I came home from my shopping trip. "They are made out of plastic. I like plastic. Can I chew them?"
"Sorry, Jake," I said. "These are fly swatters and you can't chew them. They have a vital task to perform."
Jake was puzzled. "What's a fly swatter?" he asked.
"I'll show you," I said. "See that fly over there, the one that's crawling up the lounge window?"
"Yes," said Jake. "I can see it. I can smell it as well. It smells like horse poo. I like horse poo. It's very tasty..."
"Watch this!" I instructed and I swatted the fly. Stunned, or possibly dead, the fly fell to the carpet where Jake pounced on it and ate it all up."
"Oh YUM!" said Jake. "Hitting it with the swatter really tenderises the meat. Can I have another one, please?"
"OK," I said. "Here's another one." I walloped another fly, but it was too quick for me and it flew away, sniggering at my ineptitude.
"I'm not going to let the fly get away with insulting you like that," said Jake and he lunged violently at the lounge window where the fly was crawling desperately up what, from its point of view, must have looked like mysteriously solidified air. But, the fly proved to be too agile even for Jake, and the only result of his lunge was a great smear of dog snot all over the window pane. But this proved to be a blessing in disguise for the fly soon came back to the window, landed in the dog snot and became stuck fast. Now that it was unable to escape, I could wallop it with impunity. I did so. It fell to the floor and Jake ate it. "There," he said in tones of deep satisfaction, "serves you right!"
Over the next few days Jake and I refined our fly hunting technique and Jake grew fat and lazy on his new diet. The plague of flies only began to die away when the advent of the cold winter weather made the flies finally slow down and vanish. Jake was very disappointed when this happened. I, on the other hand, was rather relieved.
Meanwhile Jake got yet another significant rash on his willy which quickly spread over all the way up to and across his tummy. "It itches," he complained and he spent so much time scratching and licking at the rash that he became quite bald, red and inflamed on his lower body. It wasn't the first time this had happened and we knew exactly what to do. Off we went to the vet where yet again we spent a vast fortune on the steroids that eventually reduced the inflammation. The rash went away, for the moment at least. "That's better," said Jake in a very relieved tone. "I've stopped itching now." Slowly his fur grew back and he started to look more like a dog again.
"This is happening rather a lot," I said to the vet. "Is there any other alternative to these regular steroids that we have been subjecting him to?"
"Well," said the vet thoughtfully, "we can take a blood sample and it have it screened so that we can find out just what it is that he is allergic to. Once we identify that, we can see about keeping him away from whatever is causing the reaction. It's rather expensive though the testing is done in America and it's very, very thorough. They examine a huge range of possible allergens."
"How much?" I asked.
"About $500," said the vet.
"We've already spent at least that amount of money on visits to you for consultation and drug prescriptions," I pointed out. "And this rash is occurring so frequently that it won't be very long before we'll have spent that amount again. After all, the cost of the allergy test is only the cost of five more visits here."
"Hang about," said Jake, who had been listening anxiously, "Are you trying to reduce the number of times I come to see the vet? I like coming here. I get lots of hugs and cuddles and heaps of treats. It's wonderful!"
"Don't worry, Jake," I said. "We'll make sure that you see all your friends here as often as we can. I'll bring you with me every time I buy another sack of biscuits, and if we ever happen to be passing, we'll always make sure to pop in to say hello."
"Oh," said Jake, mollified. "I suppose that will have to do."
"OK," said the vet, "I'll take the blood sample and we'll send it away for testing."
I left the vet with a considerably lighter credit card and a new supply of steroids. Jake left the vet with an empty paw and a tummy full of treats. "That was nice," he said with satisfaction.
A month or so later the results of the test came back and Jake and I took another trip to the vet to discuss the results. "Well," said the vet, "the good news is that he's not allergic to flies so you aren't going to have to make any changes to his diet."
"What's the bad news?" I asked.
"You know all that green stuff that covers the ground in the park?" asked the vet. "It grows in people's back yards and sometimes in their front yards as well."
"You mean grass?" I asked.
"Yes," said the vet. "I believe that's what it's called. Jake is very, very allergic to it."
"Any particular sort of grass?" I asked. "There are very many different kinds, you know. I learned that from one of David Attenborough's programmes. They're very educational."
"Indeed they are," said the vet. "And it is true that there are a lot of different kinds of grass. As it happens, Jake is allergic to all of them."
"Goodness me," I said, shocked. "It's a good job he never became a farm dog. He wouldn't have had much of a life."
"No," said the vet. "He'd have turned into a bald blister on legs within minutes of herding his first sheep into a paddock. You simply can't avoid grass. It's ubiquitous. He's very allergic to daisies as well, so summer would have been an extra torment to him, poor thing."
Jake looked shocked. "But I always sniff the daisies when they are in flower," he said. "I like the smell, particularly after my friend Oscar has christened them." He looked thoughtful. "Oscar is too tiny to use trees or lampposts," he explained to us, "so he has to make do with daisies."
"Is Jake allergic to anything else?" I asked, just in case.
"Yes," said the vet. "He also has a particularly nasty reaction to Artemisia vulgaris, more commonly known as mugwort."
"Oh no!" said Jake, horrified. "Does that mean I've got to stop reading Harry Potter novels?"