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Monday, 17th December 2007

ou all know the classic homepages, pictures of the family and associated pets along with a list of hobbies and an email address asking people to write in. Actually I have never seen such a site (this one skips the pictures of the family and has 200 plus pages dedicated to my hobby, imagine that), I expect they exist on the basis of, 'if it can exist, it does exist.' How experts look down at such do-it-yourself soap-operas but if that site puts in a 'slap-a-spice-girl' cool status is instant.

Well this page is dedicated to my canine pets, my hairest of companions deserve there place in cyberspace and there will be no slapping them.

They say Britain is a nation of dog-lovers. This statement is made in one of two ways. The first is the traditional, twee-sitting around the fire sort of way where they mean it and the second is as a voice-over as we see harrowing scenes of abandoned and mistreated dogs. You can taste the bitterness and irony, well you could before that metallic taste of tedious cliche over-rode all this and the remote control loomed large.

Unfortunately like a lot of 'first-born' he was not too hot at sharing his toys

I have been lucky enough to have a canine companion since the day of my birth. Indeed like a lot of would-be parents I think mine had been practising child-rearing techniques on the family dog before I came along. So I had a brother called 'Chippie' and I suspect he had a brother called Franklyn. He was a Daschund which although had a pedigree suggesting he was a toy he had not read it. Instead he had inflated to vast proportions and was all the more loveable because of this.

Before I arrived Chippie had an earlier companion, a plastic policeman. Unfortunately like a lot of 'first-born' he was not too hot at sharing his toys and promptly ate the policeman to stop me playing with it. It made him rather ill but it was not as grisly as the day he consumed my fathers man-sized handkerchief. That was a bad day when that re-cycled. Enough said?

Anyway Chippie had to share even more when my brother came into the world. The dog was a major part of my life for the first eight years after which he said his farewell, dying at the age of 12. Quite old for a dog who lived life on the edge to the extent this beast did and he was very ill and had to be put down. His death was made all the more miserable because of that terrible decision but we could not let him suffer anymore. First time anything I loved died. I miss him.

You do not see many daschunds now which is a great shame but there was only ever one Chippie and there will only ever be the one. Great memories. Dachsunds apear on a good many cards as there are quite a number of varieties, however Godfrey Phillips, Our Dogs [1939] size M is a good set of cards in general and so fitting for my Chippie.

Wills, Dogs [1937]

Chippie did not spend his life in doggie isolation, we had a Bassett-hound called 'Ruin' for a period of time. He had come from a pet-rescue, in the days when getting dogs out of pet rescues was more important than telling the new owners the truth about the animals. I cannot remember who named the animal but it was suitable. The dog ate everything, many a dinky toy disappeared into Ruin and it was just not on. It was about this time that Chippie ate the handkerchief in a valient effort to save the families remaining property no doubt. Ruin had to go before he did himself any more harm, childrens toys having not grown on trees for the most part were not good dog chews.

Bassett hounds are found on a good many cards and this version by Wills, Dogs [1937] is as fine as any of its type..

After Chippie's death there was a suitable period of mourning where none of us could ever imagine another dog in the house.

Eventually though it was determined the family was not really complete without a four legged friend and cats, goldfish, hamsters etc were just not fitting the bill. We had large gardens and they were wasted without a dog.

There followed a period of intense dog-owning. An Afghan hound seemed like a good idea at the time and was great fun, again collected from the animal rescue we knew how to ask the right questions and so a well-adjusted hound entered our lives. A ten minute romp in the garden meant a three hour session with the dog comb but nobody seemed to mind much, not least the hound who just saw it as more attention I suppose.

The hound was only a temporary addition to the family as his dog years were short but he burnt bright and had a lot of love to give even if he was as daft as a brush. My favourite Afghan card is front and forward as card 1 on the series Players, Dogs Heads by Wardle (unissued). A large series of cards which has a watercolour effect. Perhaps I like it because it does not show anything more of the coat than the head.

The brief time we spent with him made us all realise we did really miss a dog on our lives and the time spent with them far outweighed the downside of the fact they live a lot shorter lives than humans.

Wills, Dogs Heads by Wardle (unissued)

We were not prepared for how short though.

From a relatively large dog we went back to smaller versions of the same sort of thing. Two Chihuahuas, one because we loved him so, Duke and one because it was clearly having such a miserable time at the dog kennels we had to rescue her. Unable to stand she was called Bambi and was mighty neurotic (although once she got used to hard floors she did skitter about a fair bit). Not an ideal pet for children in one sense but valuable in the sense we now had a little life more fragile than our own and the idea of looking after and protecting something was instilled.

Duke was great, he was the first dog we had that actively, grinned when he saw you. Unfortunately he was with us a miserably short time. He escaped from the front door one day when the postman arrived and was not used to the traffic. It frightened him immensely and we could not recapture him before he was running on the road, terrified. It was inevitable a car had to hit him.

It did and there were many tears in the house. A headstone was erected at the end of the garden to commemorate his short but remembered life. Of all the pets I have known his death makes me the saddest, I never knew him and he had so much life left.

Now the neurotic Bambi was on her own and a companion was needed.

Chihuahuas are quite difficut to track down on cards, perhaps they were not in the public eye until later. However there is an example of the breed on Hornimans Tea, Dogs [1961] a series of 48 cards which somehow defies description. A series of photographs which have a 'pictures of dogs enjoying a holiday in a caravan park' type feel to them. Truly quite amazing and lots of fun for just existing.

A tiny little dog was fine for the children but I think Pa was feeling a bit foolish on the walks so it was big dog time. I suspect there was a certain amount of humour involved in the purchase of a Great Dane. A massive Great Dane, in fact only a few inches short of the world record, but so are a lot of Great Danes of course. A long pedigree of show-winning ancestors came along with this dog as did the fact as a puppy it had been attacked by an Alsatian.

This was the first and only time another dog ever got the better off Sebastian (the name came with the dog and shared the name with our gardener who had no teeth so made for excellent childish humour). Eventually the owner could not control the animal and it was going to be destroyed. Living in the country with plenty of land it meant the dog did not really have to see anyone else and given it was fine with children and bitches back home it came.

How wise the initial purchase was is open to debate but the dog was as good as its word, fantastic with children it was also marvellous with the feeble Bambi and she grew in stature in the absolute knowledge something the size of a small planetary body was going to chew up anything that looked like harming her.

An example of a Great Dane can be found on Gallaher, Dogs series one 1936 a nice set of bold cigarette cards which is in quite strong contrast to the Caption in Block, Caption in Script cards this firm also did which although strangely difficult to get hold off are very nice indeed.

Sebastian had to be walked at night and as children we had to form an exclusion zone around the dog warning other dog owners it was a good idea to put their pets on a lead. It seems amazing now but that is how it was.

Anyway Sebastian mellowed with age (it took 12 years for him to mellow, by which time he had pretty much the same dental structure as his gardening namesake). Both Bambi and Sebastian were inseparable for around about 14 years before Sebastian went to the great hunting grounds in the sky, thoroughly content with his lot I suspect. Bambi was no doubt upset but almost to old to know by then.

In the meantime we had acquired two corgi's. Most famous for being the Queen's pets these belonged to a senile old woman who had to go into a home and the dogs were going to be destroyed. So we gave them a home. Trouble was one of the dogs was very maladjusted. I am not quite sure how you define a dog as insane but one of the corgi's had that indefinable something.

Not much of a likeness to our dog but Godfrey Phillips, Our Puppies [1936] size M is a good picture of a sane dog and lets face it better than our blighters

They were both old dogs but we loved them and eventually the lunatic one learnt to live with us even if it could not stand the sight of anyone else. This led to one of the best shaggy-dog stories in our families memoirs.

The lunatic corgi was displaying signs of distress and repeated pleas from us children meant a trip to the vets was on the cards (for the dog not us). We phoned the vets to say we were coming in, the vet needed a certain amount of preparation time and we began our journey in the family van. Dog and children in the back of the furniture van on a rather dark night.

For some reason the police took an interest in the family vehicle and wished to pull my father over (we had been stopped a week earlier and been given a warning about a tyre showing distinct lack of tread, by the laws of physics it had to be showing less tread a week later). Things were different back then and Pa was in no mood to be stopped by the police because it would delay the emergency visit to the vets and probably get rather unpleasant if the police wanted to see what was in the back of the van (children and lunatic dog).

Pa put his foot down and left the road taking to a farmers field. This lost the police quite neatly but when we emerged the other side of the field, three police cars were waiting for us. The game was up. By now the police new they had caught a 'master criminal' and were itching to see the contents of the van. Ma & Pa desperately tried to explain they could not open the back of the van because there was a mad dog in the back.

All very suspicious.

The police insisted in the way they can do this sort of thing and Pa washed his hands of the whole thing and said they were going to have to open the back of the van because he was not going to be a party to it.

This they duly did. By now we were struggling to contain the ailing corgi and when a policemans face appeared at the back of the van the dog flew from our grasp and attacked the poor policeman. The police managed to pull the dog off their colleague and sure enough empty van but for two miserable children and a dog bed.

Needless to say the trip to the vets had a rather unfortunate ending for the dog that attacked the policeman, we got a police escort though. They were just making sure the story was as they had been told.

There is a lot of truth in the idea that little dogs do the most barking and so we ended up with a Pyranean Mountain dog. Large white and fluffy we ended up with two. They lived outside as the comparitive warmth of the house was not good for them at all. The general problem was there was never enough space for them and constant break-outs were the order of the day. Once out they could roam the town freely, large enough that nobody would dare confront them and good natured enough just to plod about without a care in the world. The dogs were well known and in a small town such behaviour was acceptable. Eventually a shop-keeper would phone and suggest it was a good idea we came and collected the dogs (the butcher was often phoning as the dogs had a habit of sitting in his doorway and customers dared not go in or our after that. Other times the dogs would be embarrasingly delivered back to the doorstep, all a bit embarrassing but stopping dogs of that size doing exactly what they want is not an easy task.

Eventually though the dogs settled into town life and became part of the in-crowd.

Players, Dogs Heads by Beigel

Feeding these animals was like stoking a furnace, two large bowls each a day (a bowl being basically a large washing-up bowl or waste paper bin type thing.) Grooming was a nightmare for these dogs also but generally things went well.

Amazingly placid it was great fun to watch the local bird population eat the remains of the dogs food and also steal some hair from their tails come nesting time. White and fluffy the dog's hair obviously made ideal nesting material and if there was not enough blowing about loose then it was plucked straight from the dog. Not that they seemed to mind, or notice the loss. Many generations of birds were brought up in the warmth of these dog hairs.

Although they tend only to live to six or so, these two broke the mould and reached double figures. I suspect due to the fact they lived exclusively outside and did not suffer any of the skin problems etc that overheating can cause them.

Strangely I have choosen the Players, Dogs Heads by Beigel (unissued) to represent my two friends in the card world. Again an unissued set that does not show the great coat of constant grooming but it does show a kind placid face and that is what these dogs were all about. Lovely.

They had a great impact on the family and after their deaths for a while there were no padded footsteps but eventually a Labrador named Sadie entered our lives. Once again a rescue dog she had a few problems settling in but became a good friend after the initial period. Well eventually we did not have a table or chair leg left in the house so she had to stop chewing the stuff. Players, Dogs by Wardle (full length) [1931] depicts this faithful hound.

Old by the time we got her she lived to the sort of age which meant nobody really knew how old she was but extreme age was a good guess. She remained as youthful as ever she had been, a very happy old age I should think.

Wills, Dogs [1915] over 80 years old and still got a less knotted coat they my beasties.

Now two Yorkshire terriers share my existence on this planet and great fun they are, brother and sister, they are still puppies although this breed seem to remain young for as long as you let them. Turn your back for a moment though and you can end up with cantakerous old maids but I am not planning on turning my back on the little monsters.

Hope you have enjoyed my trip through memory lane, I'm off to walk the dogs on the beach now and have a jolly good game of throwing the ball. It amuses me more than the dogs but they play along.

I choose, Wills, Dogs series 2 [1915] Large to represent these little animals, almost lifesize and the rich oil-painting style colours give the whole thing an air of gravity the things haven't really got. Mind you the dog on the card does not look a lot like my terriers who literally go through hedges backwards whilst on walks. Never mind I would not have them any other way.