Trixie was my first dog. Strictly speaking, of course, she wasn’t my dog, as she was part of the household before I was. She was my grandfathers fox terrier cross and he was the one who walked her. He was the one who she followed around and idolised. All the same when I see my arm round her, hugging her close, and the look on my face in the second photo I have no doubt whose dog I thought she was at the time.
Trixie had a very different life to my later dogs. She had the life of the farm dog which she would have been a few years earlier, living on scraps and sleeping in the wash house outside at night. She was always warm, well fed and comfortable but there were no frills. I don’t remember her ever going to the vets. When she became too old and frail after a long, healthy and active life, and failed to come out of the wash house one morning because she was too weak to stand, my grandfather announced “Her back ends gone” and she was shot and buried in the back garden. The half remembered love that I felt for her remains in my passion for fox terriers, a dog which my partner is, sadly, never going to allow me to have.
I was told that I could choose our next dog, but it didn’t quite work out that way. I wanted a Bassett Hound, but this suggestion was firmly turned down on the grounds that its ears would trail on the ground. To this day I still think that reason ridiculous but I was still only in my early teens so I had to accept it. Our Beagle Candy was a compromise. Her main passion in life was food and as she got older the Yorkshire puddings which she spent Sunday lunchtime barking for and sundry other treats made her fat. We told each other that her mother and grandmother had also been fat, which was true but it was still an excuse for the over indulgence which she was only too pleased to accept. With hindsight possibly the household continued to provide the scraps which our previous dog Trixie had always had, scraps which would have been more than enough to keep her going and my insistence that dogs had to have dog food might have been better ignored. I also insisted that dogs had to have immunisations and visit the vets when they were ill and my teenage stubbornness won out- combined with the fact that my mothers work in the fields potato picking had paid for our first pedigree dog and so she was seen to have value.
Candy was stubborn, affectionate and always ready to follow her nose. She would power her way through the privet hedge and set off on a scent and I would be sent out to fetch her back. She always followed the same route so this wasn’t too hard. I did try to train her, I really did, but she didn’t share my enthusiasm and we never got far. You can see a certain steely determination in her eyes in these photos, a look that I remember well. She was happiest down the river on long walks with my dad when all you could see was the white tip of her tail waving in long grass a hundred yards away.
Gemma was the first dog that I chose completely for myself. We spent a lot of time on our own together, I took her down to Holkham beach and Sea Palling regularly and I would walk or read while she explored. She was quite calm and well behaved but when she was out she loved to run around in circles on the sand making a massive jump each time she went past me and yelping for sheer joy. She did quite well at training classes but neither of us could be bothered with the attention to detail needed in order to compete. She used to run next to me when I was on my bike and we both loved going to rehearsals together and visiting friends. I used to brush her and put talcum powder in her paws and white legs to smarten them up first. She loved going in the car and I would always let her jump in even if I was just going down the road. My best memories of my time with Gemma come from the holiday when the photograph was taken. I packed a box full of books and we went up to Islay and the Lake District. Lots of walking, reading and exploring and perfect weather the whole time.
When Hal died at the early age of eight and a half I told everybody that he was my special dog. Many people who were older were immediately able to tell me about their special dog. There was always one who had meant more to them than the others, however much they had all been loved. Hal was special to me for many reasons, the main one being that his outgoing positive nature and his need to be looked after and admired helped me recover from a period of ill health.
He was extremely handsome. His father was Ch Paudell Easter Plantagenet at Kerrien and he knew that he was worth looking at. He expected everybody to notice him and they did. If I tied him up outside the supermarket I would always find him holding court when I came out and often being fed bits of ham or biscuit. Everybody knew him and people who were complete strangers used to walk past the front gate in summer, greet him by name and make a fuss of him. One elderly couple who were back in Filey after a gap of six years still remembered seeing him as a pup, asked after him and were thrilled to see him again. Hal had a strong personality- it has been called arrogance by one person who knew him well. He usually did as he was asked but it was always on his terms and it was always his decision. He saw no point in retrieving, for example, so he never did. In fact he didn’t exert himself much at all really. It takes about three years for retrievers to grow up, as people never tired of telling me when he was galloping around with someone else’s cricket stumps in his mouth while their game ground to a halt or parading up and down in the sea with a stolen ball, but after he left his silly teenage years behind he was very happy just following his daily circuit at a gentle trot and keeping an eye out for anyone who might notice his finer qualities. He was very fond of a dalmatian called Tilly and they would have loud dramatic games of rough and tumble which we sometimes had to explain away to anxious visitors when they thought they were watching a dog fight. He had a short list of male dogs who he absolutely detested, never for any good reason that I could work out, but he loved absolutely everyone that he ever met, and his social skills were much better than mine.
I still miss him.
Fern arrived very soon after Hal died, thanks to the fact that we had been planning to get a Field Spaniel as a second dog to live alongside him. Her relentless enthusiasm for me and everything that I did won me over. She decided immediately that I was going to be her life partner and has done her best ever since to make sure that she was right. She is probably the cleverest dog that I have had, eager and quick to learn and quite obsessive about finding any kind of ball. She has even dug for golf balls into the snow and can be sent through the pitch and putt course hedge on behalf of visitors to bring back balls that they have lost. It never takes long. We have a large collection of various kinds of ball in boxes which she keeps a close eye on. She is very aware of what is hers and loves her toys in a way that none of my other dogs ever have done. She also loves her soft bed. Her energy is astonishing and both visitors and locals never cease to marvel when they see her powering up and down the side of the cliff. “That dog should have been born a mountain goat.” Not that Fern is bothered what they say. She shows very little interest in anyone that she doesn’t know and she is far too busy to notice the attention that she gets. She would have been a terrific working dog and won a first prize for being the dog who learned most on the day and showed most potential as a working dog at a Field Spaniel Society working and health day in summer 2009. We are still hoping to work her but it’s not an easy world to get into without contacts. The trainer who worked with her at the open day would have taken us on and trained us but he is too far away. She loves her food, and she puts away a roast chicken dinner a lot faster than I can, but she will never be fat- she runs it all off too quickly.
Our second Field Spaniel will be coming back from the south Coast with us in early March. It will be interesting to see what Fern makes of her. For the first time I shall have two dogs and that will be a whole new story.