Have you ever wondered why, of all the dogs in the world – of all the breeds and mongrels available – we choose a particular type of dog? Do we choose? Maybe we are chosen.
Often, of course, once we’ve had a particular breed, we stick with it forever. If you had a dog in childhood, the choice was made for you. Having said that, I’ve heard people say when their much-loved dog has died that they’ll never have another dog of the same breed because it would remind them too much of the one they just lost. I always advise people that if it’s the characteristics of a breed they love so much, then they shouldn’t change. Another dog of the same breed won’t be exactly the same (it will be like having a second child) but having the same breed, at least you know how a little of what to expect. If you knew and loved a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, you might not feel the same about a high-energy terrier and even less if you chose a crazy, albeit beautiful, Weimaraner.
I got to ponder the question of why we choose a breed after I returned from the Refuge de Flassans last year with a hound and a mutt. And the second time, a couple of months later, with another hound. I’ve never had a hound in my life before. I don’t even know much about them except that of all the hounds I’ve cared for at Pension Milou, all had good temperaments. But that’s not why I chose them. There were eighty plus dogs to choose from at the refuge, so why two hounds?
All this got me to thinking about the dogs I’ve owned – or who have owned me.
My mother had no time for dogs – she actively disliked them - which is strange when I think how important they are to my life. There’s a childhood photograph of me, aged 5, with a West Highland white terrier who belonged to an aunt. We seem comfortable with each other although I barely remember the dog.
Then, when I was about 8 or 9 years old my mother allowed us to have a cocker spaniel and Boots, a black puppy with white face and feet arrived. Our mother didn’t look after him though as she was never home – we saw her on weekends. The housekeeper, Elsie, more our mother than our mother, cared for us and our dog. One day, when Boots was about a year old, I came home from school and he’d gone. Elsie told us that our mother had sent him away to the country because he brought too much mud into the house. I try to remember Boots but there’s an image, somewhere out of reach, of a happy, playful dog. Sometimes, in my mind, I see him flying, floating in the air – do I remember him? I don’t know. What I do remember is the total horror and loss when I walked in from school (even young children walked home from school alone in those safer days) to find Boots had gone. I think a brick wall to feeling went up that day and perhaps I blocked out a visual memory of him too.
Just now I found a photograph of Boots and me. I’d completely forgotten this photograph. I must have blocked even the photograph from my memory. Funny to think, all these years later, that a cocker spaniel, Tasha, one of my doggy clients, and looking not so very different to Boots, is featured on the first page of the Pension Milou website. I didn’t think about that till this very moment.
The next dog, some years later, was Nicky, a chocolate coloured miniature poodle. Why a poodle, I don’t know. Perhaps Elsie chose him. Nicky was never well and had to be put to sleep soon after he arrived. After Nicky came Nicky 2 and he was run over and killed by a car. I remember that day. He was not much more than a puppy when he saw a dog on the other side of the road, ran across and that was that. I remember his warm lifeless little body sticking out from under the wheel of the car. From then on I closed my heart to a dog - until much later in life, that is.
There was another childhood dog, again a chocolate poodle but called Brumas this time. Two dogs called Nicky and both dying so young - Nicky 3 would have been tempting fate and anyway, perhaps all children called their dogs Brumas at the time? Brumas was the first polar bear to be born and successfully reared in London zoo and he (although really he was a she) got a lot of publicity at the time. Brumas, the dog, lived till old age but he was far more my sister Sally’s dog than mine as I left home very young and would only see him when I came back to visit.
It wasn’t until years later, when I was married to Peter and living in Ealing that we got to thinking about a dog. But not for us. We used to visit Peter’s godmother on occasion. She lived by the sea in Kent and had recently been widowed.. She’d always had a dog, either a dachshund or a poodle, and Peter thought it might be an idea for her to have a dog to help her get over her husband’s death, get her out of the house, be a companion for her – all the usual things. So I made a habit of looking in the pet section of the London Evening Standard but every time a dachshund or a poodle was advertised, they were always far too expensive for us. We had little money in those days.
The day arrived though, when it all changed. On that day, I found an advert for poodle puppies in Plaistow and the price was only £6. That was more like it! I took the tube all the way to the East End of London. The puppies looked like poodles to me – white – although some seemed to have little brown patches. Of course they weren’t purebred. The breeder offered half a pedigree but I declined as I left with my chosen furry bundle.
That night I discovered in myself unknown maternal instincts – I worried about this little puppy, tried to settle her, cuddled her, endlessly got up to tend her in the night. Next day, off we went to Kent to present our gift to Peter’s godmother. She tooked at the puppy and said, ‘Oh goodness, no. I don’t want a dog. I wouldn’t be able to walk her. At my age I’d be frightened I’d slip and fall on a wet pavement.’ We tried to persuade her, of course, but there was no persuading.
So that was how Poppy arrived in our lives and how I fell in love with a dog again.
I'll post the second part of this next week and tell you how Old English Sheepdogs came into my life and how I met the dog of my life, Milou, an American cocker spaniel. And perhaps I’ll answer the question of why we choose a particular breed and there again, perhaps I won’t.Why did you choose your breed of dog?