It was my first morning of property hunting and I could tell that Rummage was properly bored with being left in the car while I went and did the viewings. So after a morning of seeing truly unsuitable rental properties I set off to find a place for her to stretch her legs. I drove up a no through lane in a quiet Dorset village and found a track leading into a field. I parked a little way before a gate outside a cottage set back from the lane and took Rummy out of the car. She frolicked ahead with delight and we set off into the field for a walk and for her to do her business. We carried on for a while to give her some exercise before coming back to the car. Now, at this point I should mention that Rummage did not like getting into the car! So when I went to put her lead on and pick her up to pop her into the car she skipped off. I took some treats from my pocket and calling her name very nearly got her back to me when she heard a dog bark from inside the cottage. Rummage’s little ears pricked up and she immediately ran through the garden gate and, as the front door was open, went straight into the house. I called and called and did a sort of hissing sound implying being cross, but to no avail. Then to my horror I heard the unmistakable sound of a metal dog bowl being pushed around a stone floor in the house. Scrape, scrape I could hear it on the flagstones as Rummage was obviously finishing off whatever food the poor dog had left. I was just about to go through the gate when to my relief Rummage appeared from the house followed by an elderly woman. I called out to offer my apologies. She was attired in a dressing gown and slippers and was saying”Shoo Shoo, Shoo Shoo” in an attempt to get Rummage out of her house. “Shoo shoo, shoo shoo” she repeated as she shuffled down the path. Her old dog appeared beside her and she said to me “Don’t worry dear Dawgs will be dawgs”. At this point I was full of gratitude and was about to grasp Rummage by the collar when the old dog woofed, whereupon a cockerel in the garden crowed. OMG this was too much for Rummage who shot past me and the woman straight into the garden and started chasing the cockerel. The old dog went after Rummage, the old woman shuffled after the old dog, and I bounced into action and ran behind all of them in my wellies in an attempt to catch my dawg! The cockerel ran round and round the garden as Rummage enjoyed the thrill of the chase. I was shouting for Rummy as well as apologising to the lady who could only say “Dawgs will be dawgs, dawgs will be dawgs.” After several circuits of the garden the cockerel decided to shoot through the fence and squawked its way down the lane. Of course Rummage followed. The old woman was some way behind me when to my complete and utter shock I saw that Rummage had grabbed the cockerel by its neck and was standing over it in the road. I turned to the woman and said in a rather shrill and anxious voice “oh I am so sorry I think she’s killed it”. “Dawgs will be dawgs” she said. As I got closer Rummy released the poor bird which, after a few seconds, jumped up and ran through a hedge. But the worst and most ghastly part was a sight I was completely unprepared for and will never forget ….as it stood up, the cockerel shed its feathers and there in the middle of the road like some glorious feather coat lay the cockerel’s beautiful plumage.
In hindsight I wish I had thought of taking a photo but at that moment all I could think of was catching Rummage who now, clearly enjoying the sport after a morning of total boredom, had set off after the cockerel once more. I found her trying to squeeze through a fence in hot pursuit of the now bald bird. I did a sort of rugby tackle and this time held on to her collar and collected her up under my arm. By now the poor woman was at my side and still kindly assuring me that dawgs will be dawgs and we started walking back towards her cottage and my car. “I am so sorry” I said. “I’ll give you my details so if you need to take him to the vet I will of course pay the bill”. “Take him to the vet” she chortled, “we won’t be taking him to the vet, he’ll be in the pot for Sunday Lunch.”
I had been recommended to take Rummage to a woman in Guildford who ran dog training classes. After my scare on Wimbledon Common I was, at the time, using a flexi extending lead which I found useful so Rummage could scamper around on a walk without actually running off. I duly arrived at the Training Venue and went off in search of the trainer. She was I would guess in her late forties, a buxom woman with a ruddy complexion wearing Tweed, and after exchanging pleasantries she commanded me to “Fetch your Dog”. No sooner was Rummy out of the car and the trainer saw the extending lead I was castigated for using something “which does not give complete control” and given a slip lead to use instead. We were then marched into a paddock which was fenced with pig wire. She turned to me with the command “Release your dog”. I faltered a bit at her abrupt manner, but I meekly asked if the paddock was secure as Rummage would find a hole if there was one. “Of course it is secure” she said “This is a dog training paddock, it has to be secure”. And so “I released my dog”. Rummage is an highly skilled operator and I don’t think it took her more than ten seconds to see the hole in the fence. She darted straight across the paddock and was through the gap and out into the drive before the trainer could actually grasp what had just happened. “Stay there” she barked at me as she tore off through the gate into the drive, shouting commands. Rummage was not listening to “Commands” she was having a great time rounding up the ducks and the guinea fowl that were conveniently grazing on the grass verge of the drive. She then herded them out of the gate and into the road. We were on the outskirts of Guildford on the busy A31 so this was a very dangerous situation and I was now terrified that Rummage would get run over. The trainer with her two helpers was racing down the drive and tweed skirt and jacket disappeared out of view. It seemed like a lifetime, but it wasn’t long before she returned, looking somewhat dishevelled, with Rummage gripped tightly under her arm. “You should have told me she’s an escape artist” she said through gritted teeth. Feeling somewhat empowered by her attitude I took hold of Rummage, popped her on her extended lead and looking the exasperated trainer straight in the eye demanded a full refund of her fee. Grudgingly she agreed and we never went back.
In 2010 I suffered the great loss of my last 2 dogs, Hebe a Chocolate Labrador and Meggie a Border Terrier. Only 2 years before that my older chocolate Labrador Flora, Hebe’s mother, went to the great kennel in the sky. So I was suffering monumental grief. We had always agreed as a family that as Hebe and Meggie had been together since Hebe was born they would die together. Meggie was 6 months old when Hebe was born and from the very beginning they had a strong bond and were inseparable. Meggie would hop into the whelping box and help Flora care for her 8 puppies. I used to breed chocolate Labradors and every so often would keep a female from the litter. Our first chocolate Labrador Hebe, whom we brought home as a puppy from a farmer in Derbyshire, had 3 litters in all and as Flora was a very sickly puppy I hand reared her and couldn’t let her go! She developed into a stunning working dog and I decided I wanted to maintain the line as the offspring were easy to train and had such good temperaments. She had 3 litters of puppies and as her mother Hebe died early from cancer at the age of eight, I kept a puppy from Flora’s last litter and we called her Hebe in memory of her Grandmother. Hebe (the younger) never had puppies so I never continued the line.
It was clear that at the age of 16 Meggie and Hebe (the younger) had lived a wonderful life and although still able to go on very short walks their end was nigh. On Mothering Sunday we went for our last family dog walk with Meggie and Hebe and we agreed that the following Saturday when all the family were at home we would take them to the vet for a dignified end. In London it is unusual for a vet to come to the house to put an animal to sleep unless extreme circumstances, so I booked our slot for the following Saturday morning. However, it did not turn out that way. On the Wednesday afternoon at 5pm Meggie had a fit. I rang the vet and having alerted my daughter in law to meet me there, I scooped her up and along with their bed put both her and Hebe in the car. I was beside myself. This was not how it was meant to happen. Other than my daughter in law the boys weren’t there and it was happening all too quickly. I wanted a dignified end for my dogs but in the end it was traumatic. The vet was very kind and thought that if he gave her an injection Meggie would be out of pain until the morning when the boys could come and say goodbye but then Meggie had another seizure and at that moment I knew what I had to do. I felt utterly bereft and long after they had gone could still hear Meggie and Hebe walking on the wood and stone floors in the house.
At the same time as Hebe and Meggie died, my Aunt, a sprightly 80 year old farming in Yorkshire, died in intensive care of a long drawn out bout of septicaemia after cutting her foot through her wellington boot, on a foot scraper. I missed talking to my Aunt and I missed the dogs and the house became a sad place to be and so I decided to sell and embark on a new life in the country. I didn’t want another dog straight away and was concerned that if I had another chocolate Labrador or a border terrier I would be forever comparing them to my old dogs. It was July and the house had not yet sold and I capitulated and my wonderful sons gave me a delightful border terrier puppy, 9 weeks old. I named her Rummage after finder her rummaging about in the flower beds where she used to hide her chews. The thing about having a puppy with no older dog to “bring it along”, resulted in my finding the training a bit of a struggle as I became “the old dog”. It is fair to say she was a very lively puppy and, for example, if I was sewing at the dining table she would race round the floor looking for any pins I had dropped. Careful as I was, she would always find one then leap on to a chair where she would sit and hold her tongue out for me to find the pin! She never swallowed one but I was always worried that she might. I procured a magnet and would do a sweep of the floor to ensure I had picked all the pins up. One day after a particularly stressful morning, having lost Rummy on Wimbledon Common for half an hour, I realised my training skills were sadly lacking and I decided to try puppy classes.
My dream of living the rural idyll was very nearly scuppered when my 8 month old Border Terrier Rummage had her own ideas of building a new life in the country. Having decided to leave South West London for the South West of England I rented a cottage in Dorset and Rummage and I set off one cold January morning for a week of property hunting.