On this thoughtful and reflective day, when our little Prince George is to be baptised, I shall introduce you to Andy, about whom I have begun to gather memories as the dog that began a lifetime’s love of canine companionship. Perhaps little George’s early years will be similarly brightened by his friendship with Lupo, the family cocker spaniel, and help him to love our species as dear old Andy did for this household and one lonely girl in particular. Andy was a Cairn Terrier, and was born a very long time ago a long way from here – near Moretonhampstead on Dartmoor in Devon. In this picture he is getting on in years, as his eyebrows suggest. He lived only ten years and his death, when it eventually came after a long decline, was the moment when everyone realised that not having a dog in the hole he had left in their hearts would be unthinkable. Rather as in Uncle Noggsy’s case, though in a different kind of way (as I will one day explain) getting him was the most amazing bit of luck – the sort of good fortune upon which the innocent stumble and find themselves blessed. Andy was the first dog the family ever had and no one knew much about which breed to get, let alone where a breeder might be. Actually, the elderly woman who bred him lived a reclusive life, dedicated to her beloved Cairns, in a remote house in the middle of moorland. Recommended by a family friend who had bought a puppy from her, one day there was a spare one, but he was three months old and by then utterly used to life on the land. What a little tike! What a character! Anyone who knew anything about dogs would have run a mile from this challenge but experience is a great teacher and encountering difficulties has its advantages. Difficult to train, recalcitrant and fiery (the opposite to the golden retriever, but remember, he was a terrier), snappy and noisy at times but, for all that, a loving, cheery pal and engaging companion who loved listening to music on the radio and walks – the longer and wilder the better. His independent spirit shines through in this old picture, I think, even though by the time it was taken his breathing was troublesome and his heart giving out. My word, there were some memorable times with him around: he bit the paperboy, which brought a visit from the police; chased rabbits into brambly undergrowth on the local downs and wouldn’t come out, eventually making his own way home along a main road; took off down the cliff overlooking Redgate Beach – rabbits, of course, once again – and had to be pursued and stopped from falling off into the sea by a visiting uncle. It is said that everyone has a Haile Selassie story and even this little Cairn Terrier had his: Andy had the privilege of wearing out one of the great man’s young relatives on a day of mad running about, covering miles of ground, delighting in each other’s company – neither had ever met such an energetic spirit before! Only on the following day did Andy himself sleep off the exertions, for once unwilling to trot in any direction. During holidays, Andy would return to wuthering heights on Dartmoor where his regained an even more profound freedom to run riot and chase as many rabbits as he liked. When Andy could no longer gasp for breath, no longer clown around by dashing though every room in the house jumping over people’s legs in corridors; when his little tummy was swollen with retained water and he just lay on the bed waiting for some help, the vet came round and with a peaceful passing a pall descended on the home he had previously loved and lit with life. For some the grief was expressed in hours of deliberate digging, making the deep,deep grave ready for his little body. For others there was utter sleeplessness, the kind that dwells on an image which bores like a maggot into the skull – here, of that little body lying under so many feet of earth, as the orphaned Yuri Zhivago imagined his dead mother. Andy’s death brought forth the first cries and tears of inconsolable grief she had heard a grown man utter. Who ever would have thought a mere dog could mean so much? Our dear Andy.
Barnaby, who is Uncle Jonny’s great-nephew, has wonderful relatives and an extended family of lucky girls of all ages whose home is in a quiet Warwickshire village, not far as the crow flies from the magic of the Malverns. His own mother, Annie, still lives with one of her daughters – Barnaby’s litter sister Molly. Together with the older girls, they all enjoy that special security and warmth which comes from nuzzling up on a daily basis to those we know and love best. This lovely picture is of Rosie, Barnaby’s half sister, who as a pup herself used to jump in and out of the whelping box when Barnaby was small, fascinated by the tiny additions to the Tilldawn family. Rosie would fuss round Annie when she was still carrying Barnaby and his brothers and sisters inside her. You could see she would be a super mum herself one day. She had her puppies towards the end of last year, to a very handsome and special sire.
Rosie was four when she gave birth to her only litter to date: old enough to withstand what happens to your body and feelings when you are the only one who can respond to ten wriggling healthy little fellows and it’s your job to care for them patiently, lovingly, until they are good and ready to make their way in the world. Although she may have another litter one day, it won’t be soon. One day we hope Barnaby’s sister Molly will have her own babies and that we might bring one into the Dickens Dogs family. That will be when the time is right – for Molly, who is soon to be four herself. I am thinking about Rosie because other dogs are not treated with such respect: their rights and needs are ignored, their bodies are mangled and exploited because of people’s greed and cruelty. Dogs deserve gorgeous lives. We heal others but can be healed by them in turn; true heroes, who look our suffering in the face and do something about it. We have signed a government petition against puppy farms, have you?