Sunday, 10 June 2012

London Loves.....Dogs

Some people are dog people and some are cat people. In my family we grew up with both. At our peak we had two dogs and four cats running around, not to mention rabbits and gerbils. By the time we left our old house on Nightingale Road, half way between Bounds Green and Wood Green, so many pets had come and gone our garden was very much a pet cemetery. 

In this edition of London Loves, I asked three London 'dog people' (four including me), to talk about their own dogs.

The Surtees family slowly graduated to getting a dog, first practising with fish (killed by the cats obviously), stick insects (released back into the wild once we grew bored and terrapins (god knows what happened to those). But from as early as I can remember we incessantly begged our mother to get a dog. She finally caved in when I was about 8 or 9 years old. On the proviso that we all take turns walking him in the evenings she drove us all down to Battersea Dogs Home and we came back with Frank. The staff there had labelled him cross Great Dane but he looked more like a Pointer than anything else. Immensely powerful, he could run for miles up mountains, over streams and swimming across lakes to chase sheep (literally). On the Parkland Walk - a disused railway line that serves as a nature trail running between Finsbury Park and Muswell Hill - I remember many summer evenings after school spent trying to get Frank to come back and to stop humping other people's dogs. He was neuteured but that didn't stop him. Fiercely protective and mildly insecure it took him a long time to shake off the mistreatments he'd endured before being rescued. Our second dog Smiffy was similar. Most rescue dogs have 'issues'. When Frank died we all went into a period of mourning which, for me, was truly depressing. Smiffy is dead too now. They both had nice lives. The sad thing about owning dogs is that their lives are so short and they seem to go from puppies to old timers in the blink of an eye.

In September 2001, about a week after 9/11, my mum returned from a week in Derbyshire on a residential course with the Association of Radical Midwives and as I walked into the kitchen to greet her I was surprised to find a tiny fluffy ball of black and white leapingng up the garden steps and immediately beginning to chew my toes. It was love at first sight. Her mother was a white boxer, her father an unspecified huge hound. We named her Poppy and in eleven years she's grown from this cheeky thing...

Into this...

Here, my mum Anne Surtees (main picture) talks about what Poppy means to her...

"Poppy is my sixth dog and probably my last dog. She started life in a deprived council estate in Derby. From being a tiny bundle of black fluff with a spattering of white she grew into a beautiful, sensitive, funny gentle giant. As I just wrote that sentence she knew I was thinking of her and came over to push her lovely face into mine, smiling with pleasure at me. I feel very lucky to have a dog like Poppy who is happy to do anything: walk for miles over hill and dale in sun or rain, trudge through snow, drive in the car for hours, live with cats, say hello to old ladies, sleep in a tent... Anything is fine with her as long as she can do it with me alongside her. She is my best friend who accepts and loves me unconditionally. My children say she is naughty and she does take advantage of her age and position sometimes. Barking at unsuspecting passers-by who come too close, wanting treats in her dinner and digging up my garden if I leave her alone for too long are just a few examples of her transgressions. Yet her cheeky grin and wicked tail wag absolve her every time."

My next London dog owner is Laura Roberts. Originally from the Rhondda Valley in Wales Laura now lives in East Finchley in north London with her boyfriend Ed and their dog Fred. Here's Laura's account of living with Fred...

"This weekend it'll be a year since we picked up Fred and brought him back to London. He was a gift for my birthday from my boyfriend. Our friends back home in South Wales show Beagles and often have puppies for sale. We'd been speaking about getting a dog for a while so I asked if they had any boys left in their recent litter. They said no but that we could have one from the next litter. Little did I know that my boyfriend had been in touch to ask them to keep Fred for us.  

I'd always had a dog growing up and seem to remember him being a lot easier to look after than Fred. Maybe I'm looking back with rose-tinted glasses, or maybe it's just that my parents did all of the 'work'. During Fred's first six months with us he managed to destroy half of my shoes, our bottom bookshelf of books, quite a few dvd cases and two handmade cushions. People say that dogs chew things because they're bored, because they don't have toys. It's a lie. Our living room looked like Pets at Home but all he wanted to chew was our stuff. He also took it upon himself to ensure that every last inch of our carpet had been wee'd on. We soon became quite well acquainted with the wonder that is a Vax carpet cleaner. Since then though he seems to have got a lot better - or maybe there's just nothing left to destroy. 

The puppy classes might've helped too. My boyfriend saw the classes as a sign of weakness - we were admitting that we couldn't train our own dog - so I took Fred there myself. It was six weeks of hell. The other puppies were all around three months old - tiny little things. Fred was this great, big, seven month old dog who looked like he'd been kept back a good few years for failing class. He spent the first class mainly facing the wall because that was the punishment for barking too much. Bad dog. It did get better though and we passed the course. Although everyone passed so I'm not too confident our certificate actually means anything.

One of the best things about being a dog owner in London is people's reaction to him - so many people stop and stay hello. Strangers even start talking to you on the tube if you have a Beagle sitting on your lap. Before we got him we didn't know any of our neighbours. Now - due to the many hours we spent outside encouraging him to wee away from our carpet - we know loads of the people who live around us. It makes you feel a lot more settled in your community. We walk him at least three times a day around the same route which means that quite often you see people on a daily basis - it's like being back in a village as opposed to being in a city.

The only trouble with having a dog in London (although this might apply to anywhere) is that he's a magnet for children. He's a friendly looking dog so most children aren't afraid of him plus, he's really good with them and will happily sit down to be stroked. Some children are very polite and ask before touching him but you wouldn't believe the amount of kids that come running up and grab at him before asking. It's fine because he's generally a good dog but not all dogs are and you never know, he could be having an off day. I wish parents would teach their kids that they should ask before touching a dog."

My final dog owner, Chris Hey, lives in Wichmore Hill and has recently acquired a Labradoodle (which, if you hadn't guessed is a cross between a Labrador and a Poodle). Here, Chris tells us about Molly the dog...

"We chose our beautiful labradoodle puppy because we wanted a gentle, affectionate and easily trained(!) companion in our retirement. After previously owning two much-loved rescue dogs we decided this time we wanted a dog that didn't moult. Molly quickly grew tall and weighs 26 kilos at 9 months, but she loves to run and play and we will make sure she doesn't get fat by over-feeding her. She is the most gentle, happy dog I have ever known and likes nothing more than being with people. She has never cried or whined, only barks at umbrellas, and is eager to do party tricks. She adores going to the vets  as there are more people there, and animals which she sees as a bonus! Her biggest sin? Infrequently, joyously, but unpredictably, ripping up plastic, wood, garden plants, tea cloths etc. in the blink of an eye. She is a comforting companion, a source of fun and a soft fleece to hug."