My dog history

I often think that loving dogs and needing them in your life is an inherited trait.

My maternal great grandfather was a well known breeder and judge of Bedlington and wire haired fox terriers so my Mum grew up surrounded by dogs. They were kept in kennels in the back yard of a two up- two down house in Newcastle. Once my Mum had married my Dad, dogs were off the agenda. However, as soon as I was old enough to articulate things we started owning a variety of pets. We started with Dutch rabbits and then moved onto hamsters after my brother and me saved up pocket money to buy a cage and its occupant.

However, what I really wanted was a dog. Any type of dog would do. My Mum favoured a small terrier as that was what she was used to. I would stand outside the local pet shop (Kynoch’s in Falkirk, now a restaurant) and watch the litters of puppies frolicking in the sawdust in the shop window. I remember one litter which particularly attracted me were little black and tan collie crosses with pointed ears. Another time there was a litter of Shetland sheepdogs in the window so that became my desired breed. And then there was a friend’s Cairn terrier and another friend’s Schipperkes. And so it went on.

Eventually, having seen an advert for wire haired fox terriers in a magazine, my parents took me to see some puppies. Once there, it was apparent that this was not a breeding establishment. In a run down shed we saw a Labrador puppy, a Bullmastiff, a West Highland terrier and a Beagle all housed in small pens which were the size of rabbit hutches. This was 1969 so there was little known about puppy farmers and no pre -purchase advice available for prospective owners. We took the Beagle home! We called him Fergus. He was twelve weeks old so of course was at the end of the critical period of socialisation and we had no idea what his mother had been like or even where he had been born and reared. In addition, it would have been hard to think of a less suitable breed for a family of novice dog owners. While he was a beautiful looking dog, he was virtually untrainable. A few months later I had the ignominy of being asked to leave a dog training class as he was so disruptive. I was twelve. I spent hours poring over my “Sherleys” dog care book and when he developed a cough (due to being transported to kennels at a young age and mixing with other dogs), I convinced myself he had distemper. We spent a lot of time at the vets surgery in those early weeks as he recovered from his cough and then developed a skin problem and a lameness. These visits to the vets triggered an interest in treating sick and injured animals so a few years later I returned to the same practice to get some work experience.

Fergus was a much loved pet and family member but resulted in a lot of stress as he took any opportunity he could to run away and if a flock of sheep was involved so much the better. He was aggressive towards any dog we met although never showed aggression towards humans. He hated missing any social gatherings and if he was shut in our kitchen he learned how to open the serving hatch and stand on the sideboard waiting for a response.

I was very fortunate to be able to study veterinary medicine at university which I started in 1980. During my first summer vacation, I worked for an animal shelter caring for stray and unwanted cats and dogs. I loved it. Inevitably, a little cross breed puppy came home with me. Ben was a cross bred collie, quite small and very sweet. He had to be coaxed to eat as he was only six weeks old when he was taken from his mother. I relished this role and took care of the puppy until the day I left to go back to university leaving him with my poor Mum. I’m not sure if she ever forgave me. He became the most destructive puppy imaginable- chewing carpets and a three piece suite. His favourite trick was to rip the wallpaper off the wall in our hallway. I was pleased to see him in the holidays but he was always my Mum’s and brother’s dog after I left. Further issues followed as Ben and Fergus never saw eye to eye. They would exist in a sort of fragile truce which would blow up into a full blown fight over resources (usually food). A particularly nasty fight happened at my 21st birthday party at home where one guest offered Ben a piece of cheese cake. My Mum ended up in A and E.

Once I had qualified as a vet, I needed my own dog. I lived on my own in a flat in the East End of Newcastle and as my boyfriend (later my husband) only visited at weekends, I was desperate for the company of a dog. But what sort of dog? I thought about a Labrador as I have alway loved them but my boyfriend’s family had just lost a much loved Labrador and I felt it was too soon for them to encounter a puppy of the same breed. By this time, I had been in practice for six months and had treated a wide variety of different types of dog. I loved treating Golden Retrievers. Their smiley faces and wagging tails endeared them to me. Then, one day I treated a rescue Golden which had sarcoptic mange (scabies). It had lost all of its hair and its skin was inflamed, sore and infected. The poor dog must have been in such pain and yet it licked my face and let us bathe it in a special wash every five days until its hair grew back. That clinched it! I started looking for a puppy and was introduced to a local family who had just mated their pet bitch. Both parents had been hip xrayed (elbow scoring was some years away at this point) and the mother of the puppies had a wonderful temperament. When I went to see the litter ( there was one bitch left) the mum, called Elsa, wagged her tail so much she knocked my cup of coffee over. This must have been a frequent occurrence as she nipped into the kitchen and came back with a cloth in her mouth.

Hazel came home with me when she was eight weeks old and so started my life long love of this breed.