On Tuesday I met a lion tamer. He was getting into his car outside our house when Teddy introduced us.
This Miniature Schnauzer doesn’t give his love freely, he’s choosy about who he will sniff and wag his tail for, so when he decides to make friends, I’m always a bit intrigued.
Teddy made his way over to the older gentleman as he was easing himself into his car. He held out the back of his hand, as people who are used to animals tend to do. Teddy sniffed it and looked expectant. He got an extravagant ear rub.
We got talking and this recently retired lion keeper proudly showed me a photograph, kept pristine behind plastic, of the big cat that he had hand-reared and clearly adored. He used to walk the lion about the zoo when the public weren’t there. He would go in its cage for demonstrations and sometimes the lion would take his arm in his mouth. “People would gasp in horror, but there’d only be the smallest dent from those 2-inch incisors,” he said, fondly. When the lion was ill as a cub, he had slept with it for months. They had a bond that had lasted for that lion’s life and he was going to write a book about it.
See why I love these dog-led interludes? Yesterday we met an elegant older lady whom Teddy had been doing his best to trip up. I was busy apologizing but she was beaming, full of admiration for this little dog and full of regret for the fact that she could no longer keep one of her own (she had a beloved Bouvier des Flandres) as her grandson is highly allergic to animals. In her jazzy-for-Hampstead fur coat, with her carefully coiffeured blonde hair, the trace of an accent and her charm, I was left wondering. With the exception of Diane Keaton – whom I knew instantly when she came over to pet Ted, because they were filming in our street – I’m not always great at recognizing some of the more fabulous people about Hampstead that Teddy puts me in the way of. Perhaps that’s the best bit: dogs are a great leveler, and when you are talking dog, you’re rarely at a loss for words.