I have been a skinny, lanky, sullen girl until about the age of 14. That was, when I first became my own dog. Before that, I remember, I used to play with my grandmother’s old dog, a mean little twat; it was a little Fox Terrier by the name of Hella. I’ve always been a bad eater, there was no food my mum could please me with at dinner time. I found a much more interesting way to eat: underneath the kitchen table, together with Hella, out of her dog bowl! In those days, there was no fancy dry dog food but the rests and scraps from the dinner table. I don’t recall if this dog ever had seen a vet or had been wormed but this food sharing did never result in me being ill from it.
Later in life, Hella was long dead, I brought every stray dog I could find in the village to my grandmother’s house. On one occasion, this had been an old shepherd dog owned by a shepherd driving his sheep through the pastures of our village. This dog was filthy and flea ridden and my grandmother brought him straight back to his rightful owner – who had a laugh. Funny enough, all the dogs I’d picked up, always willingly followed me.
At the age of 14 now, I became my first dog, a mutt, a Heinz 57. Where I grew up in those times, nearly 50 years ago, dogs were not kept on a lead. Sometimes, they were on a chain in a farm yard but, most of the time they just did their job and the rest of the day they were lying dozing in the late afternoon sun or barking and snapping at the heels of passers by; I always felt sorry for them but thinking of it now, there was nothing to be sorry for. Their life was more integrated in social village life than now and most of them seemed to be quite happy. They had their place in rural society, just as everybody else. I don’t remember ever one of them suffering from diabetes, Glaucoma, hip problems or even depression. No, they lived a natural life in relative freedom as part of their family and, after all, they had us, the children of the village. Of course, wherever humans are involved in animal life, there was cruelty from time to time. But this seemed to be solved by a word of the priest, occasionally by the municipal administrator or by some old lady threatening with a broom in her hand to ‘leave the poor animal alone, or else!’
After a childhood with dogs, it seemed only natural for me to buy a dog when I first moved to England. After researching and discussing which breed would suit us best and go with our life style, we decided to buy a Cocker Spaniel.
Our Ben arrived after chosing him from a litter of black and white Spaniels on a nearby farm. How little did we know about shady breeding practices, about inherited diseases or about how some breeders are tempted to make a quick penny regardless of health checks.
Dog breeding is a good business because dogs are very patient and self sufficient, even in the darkest backyard shed; not all breeders, fortunately, are bad. Most people are breeding dogs for the love of a certain breed, as a hobby, in a responsible and caring manner. But, you have to know one from the other.