The exasperated look on my mother’s face told my 7 year old self all I needed to know. She held up the magazine she was reading and peered through the gaping hole cut out of it. ‘Let me guess’ she said, ‘more dog pictures??’
I was obsessed with dogs. Still am. Always will be. As a child my bedroom walls were entirely covered in pictures cut from magazines, packaging, postcards, birthday cards, anything and everything that had a picture of a dog on it – not a drawing, a photograph. Had to be a ‘real’ dog. I poured over the pages of the Observer Book of Dogs and knew every breed standard by heart. Years later I discovered a copy of this little book in a second hand shop and was immediately engulfed by a huge wave of nostalgia at the sight of the grainy black and white photos on each page. (Obviously I bought it…) Then there was Skipper. A fox terrier dog-on-wheels that arrived on my 3rd birthday and rarely left my side for the next few years. I made my dad saw off the metal handle so Skipper looked more like an actual dog – it was the nearest thing I was going to get to an actual dog, my father was adamant about that. Skippers’s still with me, a bit battered and totally threadbare from too much love, but he currently sits on the shelf in my study and keeps an eye on me.
When Skipper couldn’t be taken out with us, I had my imaginary dog with me. She was a black spaniel called Sally and came everywhere with me, neatly curled up in the foot well of the car, or sleeping on my bed on holiday. I told my mother I really wanted a rubber ring to play with - it was actually for Sally. I saved up pocket money and bought a real leather lead and collar set for her. Skipper wore it on her behalf. Clearly I was a little bit obsessive about this.
I really, really, really, wanted a dog. The dream nearly became a reality when my parents eventually conceded to becoming puppy walkers for Guide Dogs, but this plan was scuppered at the last moment when our family was posted abroad for 3 years at short notice. I still remember the actual pain I felt when I heard this – I must have been about 10. I made them promise that on our return we would IMMEDIATELY get a puppy. Amazingly, my mother talked my dad into it and 3 years later a cocker spaniel named Whisky entered our lives. More about him and the string of dogs that followed another day. Suffice it to say that the gloss didn’t wear off – that absolute need to have a canine companion. One way or another I’ve always had a dog since.
More recently, I realised that the reason I was so hell bent on having a dog from such an early age could well have been my mother’s fault. It turned out that her parents had always had dogs, spaniels, flat coat retrievers, Labradors. My aunt had bred red setters. All the family photos from my mother’s side, going back to the 1920’s featured dogs. My mother confessed that she had always been desperate for a dog too, and had adopted stray dogs when they lived in Africa briefly in the 1950’s, one of whom met an untimely end falling down the outside toilet and drowning, and another had to be taken in the desert and shot when it contracted rabies. Back in the UK a Dalmatian named Shandy arrived in our home before me and promptly went mad and pinned my mother to the bed with its jaws, then shot up a tree and had to be dispatched in situ by a very brave vet. No wonder my father had refused further contact with the canine species for so long after that.
I don’t know what it is that separates ‘dog people’ from ‘cat people’ or just ‘other people’. My dad and my husband both like dogs, they live happily with them and tolerate their foibles, but they’re not ‘dog people’. They don’t smile at dogs in the street, cross the road to say hello to one or interrogate owners on ages, breeds, grooming recommendations and the like. They don’t go all ridiculous at the sight of a litter of pups on TV. And they don’t really get just how amazing, clever, trusting, honest, brave, and complex dogs are. They like them, but they aren’t constantly in awe of their abilities to scent, retrieve, guess your next move, understand erratic human commands and know when you need a cuddle. Dog people get this about dogs. We need to stick together and persuade the rest of the world where they are going wrong…
With this in mind, and after 40 odd years, my childhood passion has turned into an opportunity to share the love. From stage manager to bookkeeper, via a dog walking business and producing 2 children, the time has finally come to go to the dogs. Welcome all, to my world, the Sociable Dogs Training Company.