Once Upon

Once Upon

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Paws 4 Thought...

I have only ever once 'owned' a dog.

Before that.....my father had a Springer spaniel, Tess, for a good while, who he lovingly trained as a working 'gun dog'.
She inevitably became much more than this, and was a treasured constant companion to him. ( My father was that odd mixture of genuine, life-long nature-lover...... and shooter ). Many a long day was spent by them both in woodland, moor and field.
Tess happily lived in her specially built outdoor run and 'kennel'...a rather splendid stone-built affair, with sleeping platform, dining area and patio frontage, and Tess became the boundlessly energetic focus for additional long country walks and general doggy activity. The bond between Father and Tess was almost a cliche in its closeness. When he became terminally ill, she too reached the end of her joyous life, and however cloyingly corny it may sound, I like to think of them being together still.....Tess at my Father's heel.......

Later, as I plied my trade as an outdoor pursuit instructor, and my young family and I lived in idyllic rural surroundings, I decided that all would be complete with the addition of a four-footed furry friend.
A hill-farm nearby kindly offered a choice from a litter of Collie 'sheep-dogs'.....and the carefully selected prime choice canine came to stay. But not for long, sadly. An altercation with a passing land-rover put paid to the hapless pup. ( a witnessed event that still brings a jolt of grief).... another visit was made to the farm-yard litter, from which all had been found homes, and so the single remaining, unclaimed runt-puppy was 'chosen', and
as it turned out, this was a happenstance that was to prove to have the best of all possible outcomes.
'Jess' quickly became a member of the family. Over the passing months she patiently grew to accept the eye-poking, ear-wrenching, tail-pulling 'love' of two young children and as well as being a good-natured, bouncing affectionate pet, she readily and quickly accepted her 'training' by me, and in fact became so responsive and adept it was almost as if she was saying " yeah yeah, get on with it, I know all this already". Her natural instinct as a clever and obedient working sheep-dog was evident.

Right from the start,  she would accompany me every day 'out on the hill'.
At first,  as a small pup, riding on the top of my rucsac, and then as she grew, graduating to roaming free when released on command, but always within 'whistle-shot', or patiently and diligently rounding up the stragglers of my led group, or quietly padding at my heel as fellow mountain leader.
Her natural environment was the same as mine, and I shall ever picture Jess flowing up, down and across the hillside, fur, ears and tail breezed back, running tirelessly through heather and gorse, regularly glancing in my direction for orders, or trotting behind me, weaving her way as she shepherded me and whoever else on our way.
Several years of this wonderful, faithful symbiosis was steadily forged between us......and it became the unquestioned norm that Dad and Jess were always out as one. Shaggilly-coated, deeply brown eyed and kindly energetic, ( Jess, not me ), she became the ideal in complete doggy-ness. We all accepted Jess as Jess.
When we, as a family, were obliged to relocate to a more urban environment, Jess's life changed as much as ours, yet she quietly and happily adapted to her more sedate existence, becoming more the home pet as she grew older. On occasions, however, she showed her natural propensity for wide open spaces, by taking herself off for a bit of a prolonged wander in the local fields, being returned by neighbours, or, on one noted occasion, after being arrested and detained at her majesty's pleasure as a vagrant, by the local plod.
Jess became a joyfully smelly and serene old lady of a dog in her final years, much loved and cared for by my now more grown up family, as she padded about the house and garden in constant companionship, habitually warning the postman that he was on her turf, yet tail-waggingly welcoming visitors.
My wife and I had parted company by this time (quick, call Jerry Springer)..and so my contact with Jess became somewhat lessened.....a sad fact, amongst others, that I keenly felt.
Good old Jess eventually shuffled off her canine mortal coil at a grand old age, at home, her head resting on my daughter's lap.

As I said at the start, I have only ever once 'owned' a dog......

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