Even before they had turned the corner Ella would pick up speed and begin running. The big tan wolfhound cross with the lion-like mane looked fearsome. People with small dogs steered away from her, only to have her sidle up to them and - most times - give their dog a polite sniff before rubbing herself affectionately against the owner. But now Ella was in full fighting mode, and by the time they reached the green gate her head was down, tail up, teeth barred, and the hair on the back of her neck bristling. The white dog was already there, snarling and snapping and barking almost as loudly as Ella.
"Calm down", he had told her, but she took no notice. Whatever ancient ritual she was tuned into was much louder than his half-hearted command. So he allowed it. Let them work it out of their system, he told himself. Perhaps the fight provided the white dog with the only stimulation it had all day. He couldn't tell. Certainly all its pent-up frustration and boredom seemed to come pouring out when Ella came by, invading its territory and showing no respect.
"Better separate them" said a delivery man who was dropping a parcel off at a neighbouring house. "or they'll kill each other."
That was hardly possible, with the gate between them, but they did manage to injure each other and themselves. One time he heard the other dog whimper, a high-pitched yelp, and afterwards there was some white fur on Ella's cheek. Another time Ella managed to cut herself on a bit of wire that was sticking out from a corner of the gate. And a week later the white dog managed to grab Ella's lip and it bled profusely for an hour or so afterwards. It didn't seem to bother her. Pleased as punch, she left the gate and followed him down the street, satisfied with a job well done. One of her big floppy V shaped ears had got folded back on top of her head, and he gently flipped it down, so that, as she trotted along beside him, they flapped loosely, like miniature hairy angel wings.
He avoided the house the next day, crossing over to the other side of the street. Ella charged across the road anyway, and once again the dogs snapped and snarled at each other for what seemed like a long time as he fumbled with her collar, eventually slipping the lead on and dragging her away.
For a while their daily walks followed a different route. But a month later he absentmindedly set out in the wrong direction, and before he knew it Ella was tearing down the street and the two dogs were at it again. He let them be. For the white dog’s sake. Ella’s lip had healed, and as long as the gate was there they couldn’t seriously harm each other. So the snapping-snarling-barking match again became a daily fixture.
Then one day, Ella charged as usual, long before they turned the corner. By the time she got to the gate, bum in the air and forequarters low so that she could get her snout down to the gap, she should have been met by another snout and some bared teeth. But there was no snout, no teeth, no one to lunge at. Ella barked and sniffed, but no one came. She lifted her head and cocked it to one side, listening. She gave another short little bark, and waited. The bark disappeared into the noise of the traffic, without any answering bark to complete it. She cocked her hear to the other side, scratched at the gate, waiting expectantly.
He walked to the front gate, the house looked forlorn and bare, unoccupied. The shoes normally parked on the front porch were not there. Perhaps the residents had relocated, together with the dog. He hoped so, and that they hadn't just abandoned it. Either way, the snout, and its owners, were gone.
Unchallenged, now sole queen of the street, Ella reluctantly sidled after him. And if a dog can look mournful, she did.