One for my fellow dog lovers! Not so long ago I wrote a blog post which was basically a goodbye letter to my dear lurcher Skipper who died on 31st January this year. I had a lovely response and it got me thinking about all the other dogs that have impacted my life so I thought, in tribute to them and to Skipper, I would write this post.
First let me just explain something about me as a child. I was a dog lover from a very early age. I was totally obsessed by dogs. As a child, I begged and begged my parents for a dog but the answer was always no. We had a cat and that was all we were allowed. She was beautiful but very timid. Not really best buddy material. I had to console myself with my growing collection of toy dogs. There is a picture of me as a toddler playing with one of those wooden dogs on leads. I remember that I absolutely loved that thing. My Nan had one of those classic dogs on wheels that you ride on at her house. It went around the grandkids for years and years. Must have been an antique. I adored it and spend many hours riding up and down the path in the garden on that tatty old thing. Every birthday and Christmas as a child I asked for a new stuffed dog to cuddle. They all had names and their own little collars and leads I used to drag them around on. Remember Pound Puppies? I loved those! I was the same with TV. Littlest Hobo? Lassie? Benjie? I loved them all. I loved all animals and once I was old enough to read and write I devoured animal stories and then wrote my own. The first little book I ever wrote and finished was about some abandoned dogs. I still have it! I had a den behind my bed dedicated to dogs. Posters and stickers and books. A set of dog breed Top Trumps! I was a very strange kid.
Laddie – The first dog I ever remember was my Uncle Colin’s collie Laddie. We didn’t see my Uncle Colin that often but whenever we did, he would have Laddie with him. He was mostly black, if I remember correctly, perhaps all black. Laddie was obsessed with Uncle Colin, that’s what I remember most. He would bring him to my Nan’s infamous New Years Day parties and I would spend the whole time crouched next to him, giving him fuss. Sadly, he only really ever wanted fuss from Uncle Colin. My heart yearned for my own dog even more. I saw the way Laddie looked at Uncle Colin and longed for that love of my own.
Rufus – When I was around 8 or 9 my mum made contact with her estranged father and luckily they got on very well. He actually lived very close to us and I was delighted to discover he had a dog!! I expect the first time we ever met him I spent the whole time fussing the dog. Rufus was a tan coloured Staffordshire Bull Terrier. What I remember most was that he had his own ratty arm chair in front of the fire and he farted. A lot. I also remember my Grandad letting me take him for a walk and showing me very carefully how to hold his lead properly, so that the loop was around my wrist and my hand clutched the lead. I’ve never forgotten that. Or how happy I was that someone was letting me walk their dog! I was so upset when Rufus died of old age.
Gyp – I remember once when I begged my mum for the millionth time for our own dog she winked at me and said ‘never give up on your dreams’. I guess, looking back, she had decided by then that we would get a dog. Perhaps she had already found the litter of puppies. One day she told us we were going to get a new kitten. By this point we had three cats and some guinea pigs. I loved them all but still none of them were best friend/faithful companion material! We drove out to a farm to look at the kittens and in the farmhouse kitchen was a beautiful Border Collie lying in her bed with her newborn pups. I remember being utterly confused. But my mum explained, in what must have been a hugely exciting moment for her, that she had been joking because we were not there to choose a kitten, we were choosing a puppy! Our own dog! At last!! I was 10 years old. I can still recall that feeling of utter joy. We chose a beautiful boy and my mum named him Gyp. We collected him when he was 8 weeks old and I was probably the happiest kid in the world. I had a dog! I started trying to train him, using the books and leaflets I had collected over the years. The only downside to finally having a dog was that because my mum obviously did all his walks and gave him his food, he bonded to her and absolutely adored her. Collies are immensely clever and loyal dogs. He was great with us but it was my mum he didn’t take his eyes off. It was like Laddie and Uncle Colin all over again.
Joey – At that point I think my mum became a magnet for any unwanted animal going. Basically, the flood doors opened and a menagerie was formed. When a friend at work told my mum her neighbours had an unwanted puppy they were going to dispose of, my mum agreed to take a look. The friend brought the puppy to work, so of course my mum could not say no. Joey was a small black and white Jack Russel Terrier. A little man with a big personality. And of course he was instantly and utterly devoted to my mum, just like Gyp…
Carrie – When I was 15 my sister and I were out walking when we spotted a tiny dog ahead, one so small we assumed it to be a puppy. On closer inspection we discovered a tiny Yorkshire Terrier in a horrific condition. It was an alley on another estate to ours, one we did not usually cut down, so I always felt like fate was at play that afternoon. The little dog was holding up a twisted and useless back leg. Her fur was matted and greasy. Her ears were bald and covered in black muck. She seemed to have no teeth, and a protruding tongue due to lack of a lower jaw. She had a lower lip, but it just sort of hung. I immediately picked her up and declared that we were saving her. No one who had allowed a dog to get into that state deserved it back. We did the right thing though and took her straight to the police station. They filed a report and told us no one had reported her missing so we could keep her if we wanted. We were overjoyed! We then took her to the vets who told us she was in fact elderly, not a puppy as we had assumed. Her back leg had been broken at some point and left to heal on its own. Her teeth had nearly all gone which was why the lip hung down. We took her home and of course Mum said we could keep her! After a few washes, some good food, and lots of TLC she blossomed into a beautiful little girl with soft, silky fur. I loved her so much. She would walk about on all fours but if she wanted to go faster she would tuck the twisted leg up under her belly and run on three. I called her Carrie and she was mine. She trotted into my bedroom on the first night, slept on my pillow and that was that. I finally had my own dog! I took her everywhere with me, usually popping her into an old army satchel with her head poking out because she couldn’t manage long distances. She came on sleepovers with me. Me and my friend even snuck her into shops so we wouldn’t have to tie her up outside. I only had her for 10 months. She died suddenly when I was out one day and we never knew what happened or why. I was devastated. It was my first experience at losing a dog, a best friend and I was gutted and could not stop crying for months.
Robbie – Luckily for me, the loss of Carrie was made easier by the presence of Robbie. A few months before Carrie died my mum’s brother’s wife asked if we could rehome another Jack Russel. Her niece had a new baby, post-natal depression and the 3 year old dog was not getting any attention. Mum said yes and Robbie came to stay. He was originally called Archie but I changed it to Robbie. No idea why, he just looked like one. He was a tall JRT, looking back now, he probably had some Staffy in him too. He was overweight but I soon walked that off him and yes, for the second time, a dog chose me. He was mine from the first moment he came into our house. He ran around the house chasing all the cats and pulling fur from their bums. He soon got used to them but getting on with Gyp and Joey was another matter. They fought and they fought nasty. I don’t know how we got through it but somehow we did. It never crossed any of our minds to give up on him or pass him on. He was never exactly pals with the other dogs, but the fighting did stop and he was always fine with Carrie. When she died I was so grateful to have him. He was a bundle of mad cheeky energy and very smart. I loved walking him around the estate and felt like I finally had a proper dog. Robbie even came to University with me and moved in with me and my husband who was then my boyfriend, into our first home. I still had him when my first child was born but when I was pregnant with my second he suffered a stroke out of the blue at thirteen years old. We rushed him to the vets and kept him going for a few weeks after that but he was never the same. His head was tilted and he would turn in circles. He didn’t want to go for walks anymore and he started to get a bit aggressive.. I had to make the decision to have him put to sleep and it was horrendous. I still miss him now. He was such a character.
Skipper – It would be a long 5 years before I became a dog owner again. During that time we moved around a few times, had three children and were not allowed pets in any of the rented homes we had. I hated not having a dog. To me, a home is not a home without a dog. When we finally got Skipper I was so excited, because I finally had a puppy that was mine to train and socialise. I’d not known Carrie and Robbie as pups and the other dogs had been very much my mum’s. Me and Skipper had a bond from the get go. We had ten years of long walks, gentle hugs, deer chases and injuries, stealing food and spreading rubbish and oh so much love. He was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy in February last year and struggled on until 31st January this year. He was the most gentle and loving and kind dog I have ever known and my heart still aches for him daily. I still expect him to come back. I still feel like he is not gone for good. Maybe that’s a good thing. He is still with me.
Tinks – After Skipper, I started fostering for a local dog rescue. My 15th foster dog was a tiny brindle lurcher pup the Irish rescue had nicknamed Tinkerbelle. We were never meant to keep her but she broke her leg when she was with us (she managed to climb up onto the worktop to steal some food and fell off) so she ended up staying a long time while the leg healed and of course we fell in love with her. Skipper tolerated the foster dogs but he was never that keen on most of them. With Tinks though, he was different. That was a sign. And on the day someone phoned up to ask if they could come and see her I realised I could not do it, I could not let her go. It would be like giving away my own dog. So we kept her and tried to come up with a new name but we never managed to agree on one, so Tinkerbelle stuck. Though she is mostly called Tinks. The smooth haired brindle pup evolved into a shaggy, grey blur. She probably has some Deerhound in her somewhere. I think she is beautiful. Inside and out. She has always been a an easy dog, In fact over the years she has been so good you could almost forget she was here. Skipper was so much more demanding of your time. She’s a gentle soul, silly and puppyish and funny and very loving. I adore her. She has stepped up since Skip died, almost maybe realising how much I need her…I feel like our bond has really grown deeper since he died. She’s just such a good girl and brings me so much joy.
Jesse – As a family, we started talking about getting another dog when we realised Tinks was very obviously missing Skipper. I like having two dogs as they keep each other company and enjoy playing together. Plus, as Tinks is nine years old now, the thought of something happening to her played on my mind. I could not bear it if something happened to her and I did not have another dog here to soften the blow and keep me going. I started looking at adverts and at rescues for another lurcher. We decided it really had to be a puppy again, as it wouldn’t be fair to expect Tinks to adjust to an adult dog when she spent so many years being pushed out by Skipper. The rescue I used to foster for no longer operates and the lurcher rescues have strict criteria about six foot fencing and young children. I looked and looked but it soon became obvious that the rescues don’t often have lurcher pups in and we wouldn’t be able to meet the criteria anyway, with a 5 year old child and fencing that is not six feet high. I do understand that criteria, but in all my years owning and fostering sighthounds not one has ever even tried to jump our fences, partly because they are surrounded by thick hedging and partly because after a few good walks most sighthounds just want to sleep!
I did feel guilty looking at breeders but also I very much knew what I wanted this time and I do think if people have done the research and know what breed would suit them, they should do so as long as the breeder is reputable. I wanted a dog like Tinks. Rough haired, some deerhound in, maybe some collie too. I wanted to know what was in the dog so that I could work with it better. Anyway, to cut the long story short I found an ad that seemed perfect for us. A litter of puppies with very careful breeding, mum a deerhound/greyhound/smithfield collie/bedlington terrier and dad a pure whippet. The pups were not due until March and would not be ready until mid-May which was when we had thought getting a new puppy would be a good idea. I spoke to the breeder and was put on the list. It was lovely to be part of the journey from the start, awaiting the pups birth and watching them start to grow and change.
We picked Jesse up last Sunday and a new journey began for us. It’s been a long time since we had a puppy in the house and I’m absolutely loving it. It’s early days to say what kind of dog Jesse is going to be but all I can hope for is a long, happy life with him. I am sure this little fella will have just as much an impact on me as the rest of the dogs in my life.
What about you? If you’re a dog lover, can you remember the first dog you fell in love with? What was the first dog you ever owned? Tell me about them, I would love to hear your comments.