“Millie sit.” “Good sit.” Poised on her back haunches, her head drops and ears flatten as she focuses on my every move. If I twitch a finger, she begins to stand. “No, sit!” “That’s a good girl.” I stay still as an old oak, slowly moving my palm out in a stop position towards Millie and give the command, “Wait.” Her head tilts. I say it again before throwing her beloved toy about twenty feet away. As I begin to turn and take a step in the direction of the lifeless tug toy, she lifts her rear and I quickly must utter “Eh, Eh, Millie SIT.” “WAIT!” I take a deep breath. “Good wait.” Millie tightens the coil of her body’s spring. Moments later, I release her from her wait with an enthusiastic “Okay!” And off she runs, full pelt towards her toy.
Every day our training regime includes work on sits and waits. As often as not, Millie does not want to abide by these commands, viewing them as optional. Naturally, I disagree. “What’s the point?” our little teenage puppy must be musing. She is a party girl who is simply on the move and wants to have fun. She loves to bound across the ground, run through tunnels, jump over obstacles, and return as quickly as possible with her toy for a good game of chase or tug-of-war.
When her toy is not to mouth, she’s happy to follow after and catch leaves, snowballs, or Sam’s tail. Anything that moves is fair play. It isn’t possible to sweep the floor or rake leaves without Millie pouncing on the broom or rake. Fortunately, her chase impulse does not apply to birds, rabbits, sheep, horses or cattle. We don’t know about cats.
As a gentleman dog, Sam is happy in his senior years to have a nice slow walk, preferably without hills, followed by a meal and a snooze by the fire. Even as a younger dog, he was never one to pursue anything, except cats. So imagine the surprise to all of us when Millie started spinning and twirling around the kitchen channeling her inner Stevie Nicks singing “Just like a white winged dove” as she followed the latest discovery, a butterfly. “Ooh Baby, Ooh, said ooh.”
It’s January and cold outside, so what’s this butterfly doing inside? During this time of year, we daily light the wood burner in the morning and cover the veg beds at night to keep the frost off the plants. This is not the time of year for a butterfly. While Small Tortoiseshells can turn up almost anywhere, from city centres to remote wildernesses, they do like it where nettles grow. We have nettles in abundance, but not in the kitchen. So hibernating in the barn, the wood pile, or one of the outbuildings makes sense. But our kitchen?
It’s too cold to implement our usual catch and release approach which we utilise regularly with moths, bees, butterflies, bats and birds which find their way inside during warmer months. Sadly, we don’t have any flowering plants inside for this butterfly to find nectar. It’s lifespan is significantly reduced by choosing our kitchen as its launchpad. To calm and distract Millie, the dogs and I head to sit by the fire while Roger places a small ramekin filled with sugared water and a ball of tissue paper near the window where the butterfly has settled. The least we can do is feed it while it makes its home inside our house.
Armed with glasses of wine, Roger joins me and the dogs by the fire. Sam has found a comfortable spot and drifts into a deep sleep, perhaps dreaming of his younger days when his back legs had him jumping over stiles. But Thoroughly Modern Millie has sneaked out of the room unnoticed until we hear a gentle clinking of ceramic on stone. Getting up to investigate we find Madam in the window, drinking the homemade nectar.
The Small Tortoiseshell may be one of the most common butterflies in the UK, but it is also the national butterfly of Denmark. Sure, it is mischievous and disobedient of Millie to be in the window, but more shocking, and perhaps treasonous, is that she ate the butterfly!