A Life Full of Animals - part one
I have never known a time in my life without animals, apart from the three years I was at college.
My earliest memory is of Bob the Collie, for whom my father laid a place at the table. There followed Sombre the Smooth-coated Collie, Ginger the cat, Punch the Springer and Judy the kitten.
As she aged and our children grew, we decided to get another dog, to ease the pain of Whisky’s passing, when the time came. Thus we acquired Biddy, a 7-month-old smooth-coated Jack Russell terrier, (JR) the long-legged variety now known as Parson Jack Russell. She had already been cubbing and never lost her penchant for searching underground, once disappearing for several hours and emerging mostly brown, rather than her usual tan and white. She was enormous fun, always seeking to ingratiate herself by sliding round on one shoulder in front of one of us and submitting. She was very much Barry’s dog, loving to huddle inside his jacket. When he wasn’t around, Biddy’s preferred companion was Gareth, particularly in the forest. She was expert at climbing trees.
After Whisky died, Biddy was lonely, missing her old companion and so we got Leo, a rough-coated, short-legged Jack Russell. He had been a stud dog and in our innocence we thought we would have no problem keeping him and Biddy apart when she came into season. How wrong we were! Biddy had five adorable puppies, and we kept Daisy and Sam. Daisy was a very pretty broken-coated girl and liked sleeping in the cat beds we suspended from the radiators, for by now, we had a cat, a beautiful brown Burmese.
Susannah, Gillian and Gareth with Biddy and her five puppies
Sam was also broken-coated and immensely strong for his size. He loved collecting logs, the bigger the better. He really was a big dog in a little dog’s body. He and Leo did not get on once he grew up, so Leo went to live with my parents. Sam’s life was short and sweet. Out running with Barry one day, he ran off and was knocked down by a car. He died unexpectedly after surviving a few days with the vet. He was six years old. Biddy had spent much time licking his ears and little Daisy was somewhat overlooked. Clearly, Sam was his mother’s favourite and she pined for him. We commenced our search for our next dog.
I had long wanted a Dalmatian and soon Cariadd joined our family from Wales. She was smaller than the JRs when she first arrived, but soon outstripped them and proved to be a good problem-solver.
Cariadd. Bethan, Biddy and Daisy
She specialised in carrying long branches, more like young trees, through small gaps and was the perfect running mate for Barry. She also had a terrific smile, which worried people who were not familiar with dog smiles. We were sometimes told, ‘Your dog’s snarling at me.’
Many breeds of dog smile, or snark, some with closed lips, others with varying degrees of tooth display and nose wrinkling. I must admit it can look quite alarming!
I believe that once you have two or more dogs you can never go back to just one. Dogs need dogs and the one that’s left alone becomes depressed. A ‘new’ dog, whether baby puppy or older dog, rejuvenates the survivor and rekindles his or her energy and enthusiasm.
When our last JR, Daisy, died, we had to find a companion for Cariadd, and this came in the form of Dalmatian Dominie, from Devon, four months old and a really big puppy. She was as soft as butter, a little dog in a big dog’s disguise. Cariadd, not noted for her maternal instinct, allowed the youngster to chew her neck and never grumbled at her. Dominie was not well coordinated as a puppy and fell in our pond every day for a week as she thundered over the bridge, but she grew into am athletic dog who could turn on a sixpence, giving any chasing dog a great work out.
We were very taken with our Dalmatians, delighting in their elegance and intelligence, and it was good to have not one, but two big dogs to which we could reach down a hand to be nuzzled. As Cariadd aged, and, sadly, dogs age too quickly, we decided to look for a third Dalmatian. Bethan had enjoyed building obstacle courses for Cariadd and was keen to try showing a dog. Dominie, beautiful though she was, was simply too big and Cariadd had never been keen on the show ring.
We thought it would be fun to have a liver Dalmatian, so green-eyed Buddy left his home in Cornwall to live with us. His eyes didn’t remain green. He was a handsome boy, devoted to Bethan. When we brought him home, Dominie’s expression was one of pure joy. We could almost hear her saying, ‘My puppy, oh, my puppy.’
Labradors are renowned for being greedy, but Dalmatians can match, if not outpace them. Ours all learnt very quickly that food was freely available on work tops and we had to find places they could not reach. Naturally, they didn’t attempt to thieve while we watched. We were careful about not allowing them ‘dangerous’ foods, like grapes or macadamia nuts, but even so Buddy demolished a chocolate cake and lived to tell the tale. Our grandchildren still laugh about that.
In the meantime, the cats were ruling the roost, and attempting to find a way into the fish tank for a tasty fresh snack. When they had a spat, as cats do, they would find a dog to curl up with. The cats never attacked the dogs, just each other. Sometimes, a dog would stand between two arguing cats, to calm them down.
Cariadd and 6 Burmese
After Buddy came seven-month–old Frodo, from Lincolnshire, a dog bred primarily for looks rather than temperament. He was always gentle and loving with everyone in our household, particularly Buddy, but reactive with unfamiliar dogs, not a good trait in a show dog. He became my Velcro dog and remained so until his death seven years ago.