Oh for the love of dogs

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We are, it is said, a nation of dog lovers – they take over our homes and capture our hearts.

My husband and his dog came as a package when we married. A wonderfully proud little terrier cross (the dog that is) called Brad, he was a joy. I loved them both dearly. Two daughters followed later and we had an harmonious family. One day the telephone rang.

A friend: “An unwanted puppy needs a home and I have been charged with finding him one.” She subsequently appeared at the door with a bundle in her arms. That was how Chad entered our household. A sturdy Dalmatian cross, crossed it seemed with a rhinoceros, although the more likely breed was a bull terrier.

Brad eventually, in the natural progression of life, at 15 years old, passed away and Chad ruled supreme. I would have challenged Barbara Woodhouse, the popular dog trainer of the day, to bring him into line. Chad’s recall skills were unique. I was so proud as he came to me when I called him, only to stop within two feet of me. As I approached with the lead, with a toss of his head and a definite smile on his face, off he would go on another race around the field. He was an adorable four-and-a- half stone scamp with a huge amount of character.

Of course even huge characters don’t live eternally so, when, at the age of 13, he was no longer with us, we found, via the RSPCA, Sophie, a desperately insecure two and a half year old Doberman/Border Collie cross. She was frightened of her own shadow and desperately needy. We approached the RSPCA again and obtained Bessie, a terrier cross as a companion for Sophie. A strong, determined character, who became very protective of me. Gradually, as Sophie became more confident the two became great friends, we settled into an harmonious doggy household for a few years. Then the telephone rang.

Our youngest daughter in tears: “Mum, can you give another dog a home? My friends took in this puppy, as she had already had two homes, but they have three children and can’t cope, she needs a home.” And so Tilly, a feisty little 7-month-old Jack Russell crossed King Charles joined our happy throng. The first time I left them alone, still unsure of the harmony, I put a little barrier up between her and the other two. When I returned the barrier was down and all three were asleep on the old armchair, designated theirs, a three tier bundle – Sophie at the bottom, Bessie on top of her and Tilly a very happy topping to the threesome! Harmony once more for a few more years. Then the telephone rang.

Our eldest daughter in tears: “Mum, can you take another dog? My friend’s lodger has, against her wishes, given her little boy a Jack Russell puppy. The lodger said it shouldn’t have a long tail and put an elastic band around the tail.” The rest of that tearful conversation resulted in Annie, the most gentle soul, joining our happy band of doggy ‘children’ making the number four. That foursome started a new life with us in the Loire Valley area of France, we all loved and enjoyed the country life, the foursome a happy band together. Then the telephone rang.

Our friend in tears: ”Have you got room for another dog?” A French farmer, banned from keeping pigs because of his cruelty, had bought an English Setter for hunting. The dog was no good at it so he had tied it to a disused pig pen and occasionally tossed him scraps. The dog had escaped with a length of chain still attached to his scarred neck and found his way to our friends. After having the four girl dogs, I had vowed we wouldn’t have another boy who cocked his leg up anything upright. I didn’t particularly want one that slobbered, nor that needed lots of grooming. And thus Skape, who was all of the above, was transported to us and made our doggy band five. A pitiful sight, half the weight he should have been and terribly nervous. He was the most gorgeous boy; it took us four years of patience and care to gain his confidence and conquer his separation anxiety, but oh my! What joy he brought.

As time went on and Sophie, aged 18 years, followed later by Bessie, aged 16 years, passed away. Skape and Tilly, now becoming more elderly, were by then not such keen playmates for Annie, so we looked for someone younger for her and found advertised on a notice board in a supermarket, a three-month-old poodle needing a home.

After making contact with, and meeting where instructed, the advertiser, we slowly followed the car into the back of beyond and edged after it through an opening in wild hedging and a dilapidated gate to then approach, with some trepidation, a collection of burned out buildings, all the while, as we edged forward, watched by a line of children and lastly a woman, all of whom were just vacantly staring at us in a disarming fashion. The man we were dealing with opened a door of one of the old cars that were strewn about the place, saying, “Here it is” and out came a gorgeous little black bundle. And so Alice joined our family.

Eventually, Skape and Tilly sadly leaving us at 13 and 15 years respectively, taken by cancer, we were then left with Annie, now ageing, and Alice. At this time our French neighbours were trying to find homes for their Jagdterrier puppies. “Should we get a playmate for Alice?” we asked ourselves and, of course, we did!

We named the puppy Conny. Jagdterriers, we learned much later, are a German breed, bred for boar hunting, strong, sturdy and single-minded… oops! Conny tried to dominate little Annie by mounting her and Annie, bless her gentle soul, would just shrug, say nothing and walk away. Alice and Conny were great play buddies, just as we’d hoped.

We bought a camper van and took the three of them with us on a couple of local holidays; it was fun. Then Annie, at 15 years, was also taken by cancer. We went off in the camper for another holiday with Alice and Conny and all was well until I returned after a walk, Conny attacked Alice, drawing blood.

It transpired that, as Annie was no longer there for her dominance, Conny wanted to dominate Alice to get to me first, me being the pack leader in their eyes. Poodles are also very single-minded and won’t be dominated by anyone! The upshot was we were forced to sell the camper van, as we could not withstand the disharmony in such close quarters.

The fighting became so bad that we could not enter the house after any absence without blood being drawn. “You’ll have to get rid of one,” a friend suggested. Could you choose which adored child to put up for adoption? That was what it would mean to us. So what was the solution? We bought two huge dog cages, large enough to house a dog bed, a bowl of water and space to walk about a little. Thus for four years, until the demise of Alice, we operated a “one in, one out” system, which worked perfectly: each one knew when it was her time in and time out, both accepted it, they liked each other, liked being next to each other when both were in the cages at night and were happy with it. Once again we had an harmonious household. As my husband often quoted: “Nothing is impossible but miracles take a little longer.”

After 15 year old Alice passed away, we were left with, for the first time in over 50 years, a single dog, Conny, who has a wonderful, gentle nature – with humans. She coped with the long voyage from France when we returned to England as my husband became ill and she slipped seamlessly into her new life. Since my husband passed away in February last year she is my constant companion, she is now 15 years old, I love her dearly. I am asked many times “Will you get another dog when that day comes?” An unanswerable question at this time, I will know more when that time comes. Or maybe when I receive another phone call!

Image Credits: Jan Hook .

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