What could be more typically British than having a dog?
Even the Romans exported our hunting dogs to the rest of the empire, in the early years of the first century. You know every school boy’s favourite song about “One Man and his Dog” going to mow a meadow? It’s not one man and his kangaroo going to mow a meadow, is it?
Dogs are an inseparable part of Britain’s heritage. Having been used in the farming of sheep and cows, they have more recently been used to catch rodents and scavengers, find missing persons and lastly, of course as pets.
Our family has never had a dog. Neither of my parents grew up with dogs, and as a result,knew nothing about them. That’s not to say they were scared of them; they weren’t, but they attributed the bad press sometimes given to dogs by the media to every single dog they met.
When I was in Year Six, the last year of primary school, my birthday came, as usual in October and my parents hit a brick wall. Well, to be fair it was a metaphorical brick wall, but it was a brick wall all the same. They had hit reality; I was growing up, and had politely asked them if they could get me a Playstation for my Birthday. They were reluctant. As they were physically active, healthy eating parents, they decided that a Playstation was not necessarily something which they should place in the grateful hands of their eleven year old son.
To my complete and utter shock, though not totally to my horror, they began to research the possibility of getting a dog. Presumably the root of this decision, was a delayed reaction to my request the previous year, “could I have a dog – a Border Collie,”
This was the result of coming in close contact with several friendly, fun dogs.
When I had first heard overheard my parents discussing this issue, I was stunned, to such a point that I must have gone to school the next day in a semi-conscious daze. My mind was a whir, not quite registering anything I heard or saw, I was so preoccupied with the surprising state of affairs.
Bess looking on as my sister’s kitten/cat prowls around…
Then they told me. Yes, I was to get a dog for my birthday, and yes, that wasn’t for another week but they’d singled out a litter and did I want to go with them and choose which puppy I wasgoing to have. Tonight! I agreed in an instant…
The moment I arrived I knew I had made the right choice; a puppy was definitely as good as a Playstation, if not better! The puppies were about four weeks old and were more enchanting than anything I had ever laid my eyes upon before. After some deliberation, watching the loose skinned, little animals eating and wobbling round me, I chose my puppy. The one I picked was a brindled (a sort of brown-black) bitch, she had various white patches on her chest, toes and small belly.
It was when we brought her home a week later, that I fully appreciated how minute she was. She was so tiny that I could almost put my hand right the way round her fat little belly, she found my lap the equivalent of a sofa, with plenty of room to lay her limbs out in any direction. But I will skip the some of the details of taking a frightened, five week old, homesick puppy into our house and move on.
My dog, Bess has helped me learn more things about life, than all my schooling put together.
She has taught me many useful (and sometimes essential) skills, usually the hard way. For instance, one example which sticks in my head most distinctly is how she helped me cope with sleep deprivation, and still live on. In her early few weeks, she was desperately homesick, sometimes whimpering and shivering from the foot of my bed. Such to the point that eventually I was so tired, I slept despite this constant distraction; as a result I can now sleep through anything, short of a bomb, with a little more reaction than just rolling over.
At this point I should point out that our dog is a Staffordshire Bull Terrier or to those who are not familiar with dog breeds, the typical “bulldog”. Whatever connotations you have of this type of dog, almost certainly do not apply to Bess. The tabloid press, and to a less extent, the broadsheets, do their best to paint the image of Staffordshire Bull Terriers (affectionately known as “Staffies”) as child-eating, baby maiming, postman chasing dogs. This is not the dog I know, nor any I have ever met. Bess is quite the opposite, in contrast to being a lonely, human hating creature, she is one of the most socially adjusted beings (let alone dogs) I have ever met.
When my (half) sister announced that she was going to have a baby, there was some questioning of how Bess might react; might she turn against it with hostility, if we gave more of our attention to the baby than her? In the event, this was not exactly the case, instead of mistaking the baby’s arm for a chew, she took the child under her “arm” as if it was not only part of the family, but a child of her own. As Max grew older, Bess adapted games which he had seen me play with her, and made them more gentle so that she could play games with him; tug o’ war for instance, she changed so that she didn’t pull him off his feet.
A short video of Bess and Suki playing
In Bess’s regular dog food, a sort of muesli with added meat, there is one little bit which she has always steadfastly refused to eat. One day, Max was feeding her individual pieces of it, one by one, which she was dutifully eating. Max tried to feed her the one bit of the food which she could not stand; instead of bluntly refusing, politely she took it in her mouth, trotted into a another room, and once out of Max’s sight, carefully deposited it on the carpet, before trotting back for some more.This obviously gives evidence of how Bess, did not want to seem rude, or give bad impressions about not eating food when it is given to you; a crucial lesson at the time for my nephew.
When my sister announced that she was having another baby, we were not concerned, indeed, Mattie adores the ever tolerant Bess, unwaveringly. Even the arrival of a mischievous kitten who did everything to wind Bess up; she did not lose her cool, even going as far to play gentle chasing games with the kitten, much to everybody’s astonishment and delight.
With my sister now expecting twins, we have no concerns about Bess; She continues to take a central role in our family, though one which is strangely different from the one she played six years ago, as we brought home that shivering, homesick puppy.
She is now a steady, loyal, tolerant companion, who can help no matter what the task or the challenges.
We could all learn something from her.
Written in 2007 for a piece of GCSE English Language coursework.