A few years ago I spent a lovely weekend in England with an old friend who lives just outside the historic city of Bath.
It was beautiful weather and on the Sunday we went out along the local canal towpath, past barges and houseboats displaying colourful hanging baskets straight out of a picture postcard.
We took the walk not so much for our own benefit, but to exercise her two dogs – and it seemed everyone else in the area had the same idea. Almost every human being we passed had at least one dog on a lead, - at one point I asked her if it was some sort of bye-law in that part of England that every family had to keep a dog as a pet.
The English are mad about their dogs, aren’t they? There was further evidence of this in a brilliant TV programme the other night, The Wonder of Dogs, that examined various breeds and talked about their history, how clever some types are and what they were originally bred for - Corgis, for instance, who now have a very regal reputation, the most famous breeder of them being HM the Queen, were cattle herders and are still used for this purpose in the United States, so good are they at nipping at the heels of the animals.
My sister Alison and I grew up with dogs – we had several, (but only ever one at a time) and I remember each one, particularly the tears we cried when they died and how our father vowed ‘never again’ because we were so upset each time. For Alison, those tears were rivalled only by the disappointment she felt every birthday and Christmas when yet again she didn’t get the pony she had asked for.
That love of animals has continued into our adulthood, although it’s probably more apparent in my sister’s home where she has created a sort of menagerie into which all sorts of waifs and strays have been welcomed down the years, including dogs, cats, birds - and various reptilian creatures which to be fair, are more the fascination of her husband and son. Let’s face it, you can’t really cuddle a Komodo Dragon.
I looked after her African Grey parrot once when she went away, only to discover I am highly allergic to him. He now spends holidays at our parents’ home where his chatter is often more entertaining than what’s on TV in the evenings. But it’s Doberman dogs that I think have been Alison’s favourite. She’s had several. According to the programme, Dobermans (or is it Dobermen?) have the strength of a Rottweiler, the speed of a Greyhound and are hugely loyal. As a pack animal they make excellent guard dogs and will defend that pack – in this case, the family it belongs to. How wide that family extends though has depended on which Doberman she’s had – I well remember the painful experience of one of them biting me on the backside when I made an unannounced visit to her home.
A far cry from a previous one, Kerry, who was placid, affectionate and friendly. At night, Kerry would sleep outside my sister’s bedroom – exactly where you’d want a guard to be posted. Not only did Kerry regard me as family but, it seems, everyone else who came through the door as well. Including the burglars who broke in one night and stole several items and made off in the family’s two cars. Kerry slept through the whole thing. The wonder of dogs, eh?