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The year was 1977 and I was arrogant enough to think I could do whatever I liked. I had never flown so high in my self importance but one person constantly questioned my omnipotence. Her name was Jenny and she was my wife. I knew what she would say to my request, this eyes of blue and five foot two, love of my life. "No, and a big firm "NO," at that," and it frustrated me beyond measure that she had the audacity to decline that which I so desired. Did she not realise it wasn't in the script for anyone to say, "No," to me? That it wasn't the done thing. "No," was a word verboten, forbidden, taboo, it was not a permitted word within my circle. However, love changes everything and, as I adored my little lady, I accepted that she alone could say "No" to that which I craved. But on that day she stunned me ... she actually said, "YES!"
"YES," meant that at last I was going to have what I'd never had, my very own Dog. My wife had finally agreed that it was the right time for us to have what I'd always wanted, and her only condition was that we should get it from an animal rescue centre. The very next evening we returned home from such a place and with us was a thin and rather wretched looking creature. We'd been told that he'd been abandoned and the centre's experts judged him to be about three years old, the same age as our daughter, Kathryn. He was a short haired dog of the Lurcher breed and, unusual for the type, he was coloured white. He was a much larger animal than I had envisaged, but it was Jenny who was attracted to him, so that's who she chose. I think she saw something special in his frightened and puzzled looking eyes. "What shall we call him?" an excited Kathryn kept asking. "Winston," I decided, "and, as he's a lurcher, we'll call him Winston Lurchill." The abandoned dogs worries were over for Winston Lurchill Tuffs had found his home!
I once owned a copy of every Elvis Presley LP released in this country, and there was one obscure song that I changed the words to after Winston's first night with us. The new words are still sung by us on the odd occasion and they relate to the gift Winston gave us out of gratitude for adopting him. They are ......
Beware of a dog called Winston,
Yode e yode e aye.
Don't let him in your Kitchen,
Yode e yode e aye.
He went poop on the Kitchen floor,
Pooped and pooped, till he could poop no more,
Why he did it, we are not sure,
So beware, of a dog called Winston!
There were more verses and we as a family sang them countless times to our dear Winston. I remember that on that first morning, after his unwelcome gift was cleaned up, we went out and bought a giant wicker basket for him. We threw a big bone in it to entice him in and soon he was nervously gnawing on it. As I got close to his basket he growled and bared his teeth and that, I told him, was not the way things were going to be done. I squatted in front of him and, tapping his nose, said "Bad dog," and I removed the bone from his mouth. I truly looked him in the eye and lectured him for a few minutes in a firm voice he was in time to come to understand. Then, in a gentler voice, I told him what a wonderful life he was going to have with us and, as I patted his big head affectionately, I gave him back his bone. I swear that was the only time Winston ever growled at me, other than when we were playing. Obviously he could not understand the words I had spoken but, without doubt, that clever dog understand voice tone and how to respond to it.
It was once suggested to us by a dog expert that if Winston had been abandoned, the reason may have been because of the vivid white colour of his coat. Lurcher's are usually used as hunting dogs, and a white dog can be seen too clearly for that purpose. However, whether he was lost or abandoned was not important, we were just thankful for the good training he'd obviously had before coming to us. He responded well to the affection we showered on him and good food soon removed his thin and unkempt appearance. He didn't like it at all when Jenny gave him his first bath, but that was something he grew to accept and, perhaps, enjoy. Words like bath, car, stop, paw, sit, walk, basket, no, up, you can, lay down, bad dog, and good dog, he seemed to know, and his reaction differed appropriately with each of those words. "Walk," was his favourite word of all and any words spoken that started with the letter, W, would make his ears prick up. My friend Chris Bushell, who loved Winston, would delight in saying words like Wwwater, Wwweather, and Wwwine, just to see his reaction. If he actually said, "Wwwwwwwalk," all hell would break loose, and our intelligent dog would go mad with excitement until his promised walk began!
Getting to know Winston was like getting to know any new addition to ones family. We found out his various likes and dislikes and how a full moon would make him a little strange, we also found he liked to piddle on picnic blankets, other people's! The first time this happened was during his first summer with us and it was on a beauty spot called, Pewley Downs. I think our dear friend Colin Bowbrick was with us. I'd made sure Winston had done his business before allowing him to wander at will over the downs. I always kept him in my sight and, if I thought he was to far away, just one call from me would ensure his hasty return. On that beautiful Sunday afternoon I noticed some people sitting on a picnic rug who started shouting angrily at Winston. I called him back to me and then, with him leashed by my side, I went to investigate the reason for the picnickers disgruntled manner. "Your f*cking dog just pissed on our picnic rug," one of the two angry men shouted, he was understandably somewhat peeved. I could see the tell tale evidence clearly and of course I apologised. There were six of them gathered there, two men, two women and two young children, both of the men were becoming overly animated. With their abuse in full fowl mouthed flow and their arms gesturing aggressively I made a suggestion. This is what I said ........
"I repeat I'm sorry, but the milk has been spilt, so to speak. All I can do is apologise again and offer to pay for you all to eat out somewhere." I then explained there was a superb Chinese restaurant nearby and, taking out my wallet, I offered them sufficient cash to pay for a good sized meal. As I held out the money, I began explaining that Winston was a rescue dog and was new to us, but the men stopped my flow with some more needless profanity. As the abuse continued, and one of the women told them to shut up, I closed my fist around the cash and said clearly, "Last chance." When they continued to rage I pocketed the money and said, "The offers withdrawn," I then told the jerks that they should set a better example to their kids. As Winston and I walked away, I smiled, for I could hear the women berating the two chaps. I felt completely justified for I'd tried to be fair. However, Winston had a few more, Do's and Don't's, to be taught!
I was once sitting in a pub garden, with Winston on a leash, when the landlord asked me not to bring the dog again. He explained pleasantly that he had several cats and, as lurcher dogs were known cat killers, he'd rather not have him close. I still used the pub, for I liked the landlord and his beer, but of course that comment about 'Cat Killers,' remained at the back of my mind. I didn't think it was in Winston's make up to hurt anything, and this was put to the test a few weeks later. We were walking along some ancient and picturesque track close to Albury church and Winston was happily off his leash. Suddenly a rabbit bolted out of some bushes and Winston was immediately after it. As fast as the rabbit bolted, Winston was quicker, and soon we saw the poor rabbit cornered. Jenny and I raced to try to save the poor creature but, no need, Winston let it go unharmed. He'd caught up with it, but obviously didn't want to hurt it. The 'Cat Killer,' line sprung to my mind as it did again, years later, when my children found some baby kittens.
We were living in Wales by that time and I'd found a dead cat run over on the road outside our house. A day later I was searching through an old unused shed at the end of our garden, when the children heard a faint meowing. We investigated and soon found a litter of four tiny motherless kittens. Of course, I said I'd try to save them and, to the children's joy, three months later all the kittens had survived. I was a hero Dad, for they'd watched me hand rear them as I'd patiently fed them milk with a tiny syringe. They'd also seen me carefully introduce them to Winston and heard me tell him he must never hurt his new playmates. Obviously they'd all been named, and they were, Beauty, Duke, Rat and Cringer. The trouble was nobody in our village wanted the trouble of a pet cat and, in truth, it was a cost we couldn't afford. But somehow we did, for we had no choice, and Winston the supposed cat killer, had four new lifelong friends.
Shortly after this I enjoyed an evening in the Lock and Key pub, which is about ten minutes walk from my home. I left the pub around midnight and saw a young, black and white, cat sitting on the wall opposite. She meowed at me and accepted the fuss I made of her but then something odd occurred. When I began to walk home, she came with me, walking by my side, and making some, please fuss me again, noises. I attempted to shoo her away, but she'd have none of it and continued to follow me. Despite all my efforts, she was still there when I opened the front door and she too tried to enter. I grabbed her and put her outside and quickly closed the door. I know it sounds unlikely but, eight hours later, when the front door was opened, the cat was still waiting there. She was given the gentlest of shoves with my foot to discourage her as she again tried to come in, I said a firm, "Go away!" She didn't, and just a few hours later we found her at the back door. We found it fascinatingly funny, for the cat just wouldn't leave.
She wasn't a stray, for she was obviously well fed and looked after. Jenny and I made enquiries amongst the people who lived near the pub, but no one was missing a cat. I soon found that when I fed our four cats, the new cat would be there too. She showed no fear of Winston at all and one day I found her at the dogs bowl, eating his food. Winston looked at me and if it's possible for a dog to look puzzled, he achieved it. I decided this interloper was a cat version of the american hobo that lived on its wits, and so that's what we named her, Hobo. She had obviously liked the look of our home so she'd decided to adopt us and she and Winston became firm friends. Winston's basket was soon to see the two of them sleeping together, and someday's, if Hobo saw fit, all the cats would be allowed in. She was without doubt the 'Top Cat' of of the house and even Winston was sometimes unwelcome in his own basket. Hobo would just lay and glare at him and, following this evil eye treatment, a couple of clouts from her paw would see Winston give in. He'd sigh, get up, and leave the basket. The so called cat killer would then look at me as if asking for help. If I removed Hobo, as I sometimes did, Winston, would scoot back in to reclaim his lost territory.
Before I finish this tale of our much loved animal companions, I must tell of the blood and mayhem night that our home endured when Winston finally lost control. It was all the fault of Chris Bushell and this is how it happened. Chris was once again teasing Winston with the Wwww game that he loved to play. He'd been through the Wwweather and Wwwine list of teases, marvelling at Winston's reaction. First he'd chuckle at his excitement, and then laugh at the dogs dashed hopes of a walk expression. When Chris finally did say, "WALK," all hell broke loose for when Winston started to wag his tail, he did so with such force that somehow the tip of it split open. Winston was not aware of this but, as his mighty tail crashed from side to side, blood from the wound flew everywhere. Into our narrow hall he ran and, as the tail thumped against both walls and staircase, blood continued to spatter over everything, the carpets, the furniture, even over us. . It took all my force to put his leash on and pull him outside so that Jenny could look at his wound. When Chris and Sue took him for his walk a few minutes later, our faithful hound was sporting a white bandage prettily tied to his injured tail. The rest of us commenced to play, 'Spot the Blood,' as Jenny began the big job of clearing up. Winston's tail never fully healed from the above experience!
One last reminisce must be told of Winston, one that may have contributed to the leg troubles that would eventually shorten his life. Once again, the Bushell's were with us, and we were high in the hills in what is called Caio forest. Chris, Winston and I, were, as usual, walking some distance ahead of the others. I had discovered years earlier that whenever Winston saw a fence, he'd jump it, so I was keeping a watchful eye out for fences of any kind. However, this was an unknown track to us and we suddenly turned a corner and came upon a high safety fence and what looked like a viewing point of some kind. Before we could utter a word of warning we realised that Winston was charging at the fence with breathtaking speed. Chris and I could only look on helplessly as we saw him make one mighty leap at the fence. Up and up he went, higher than I'd have thought possible, and then my beloved dog was over the top and out of sight. A frightened silence came over Chris and I as we rushed to the fence and peered nervously over the edge There, a long, long way down, we saw a surprised, but unharmed, Winston looking up at us in a rather confused, but pleased with himself way. To our immense relief he was happily wagging his tail!
Whether the above hastened his decline I know not, but Winston continued to have a good life. When he was eighty years old, in dog years, he showed considerable interest in a female Jack Russell dog who'd moved in next door. But, in human years, his seventeenth started to give him troubles with his back legs. The vet told us this was a common complaint with dogs of the gaze-hound family and nothing could be done to deter such ageing. His decline was swift which in many ways was welcome, for he was a dog who'd loved to run. When he got to the stage where he was having trouble with his daily bodily functions we could see it was distressing him immensely, and Jenny and I agreed it was unfair to let him suffer. Having warned the children he could not live much longer, I arranged for the vet to come to do the necessary on a school day. Jenny made sure she was out and she went to a friends house with a promise from me to ring when the vet had been. Winston was laying on the Kitchen floor and, getting a cushion to rest my head on, I laid beside him. It was twenty five to nine in the morning and the vet was booked for nine thirty. I've often wondered what went through Winston's head as I laid with him for that last hour of his life.
I talked to him about the wonderful life he'd had since we'd adopted him all those years ago. I spoke of the stories of fun and adventure and, as I did so, I caressed his loyal old head and stroked his back. I reminded him of the people he'd come to know in his time with us, and said how they'd all loved him. I mentioned some of their names. Malc and Jan, Phyl and Lou, Danny from Switzerland, Kazihero from Japan, Martin from Ireland and all our other lodgers. I reminded him of my brothers and the walks we'd enjoyed, and, of course, I spoke of Chris Bushell, whose visits Winston adored. I loved that dog and, as I hugged him and stroked his big chest, I'll admit I was crying. I'm crying again now as I write this down.
When the vet came he was very understanding and spoke some kind words, but, for once, I had little to say. After he'd given Winston his injection, I couldn't speak at all. I had once again laid on the floor with my wonderful dog and I held his paw in one of my hands, as I stroked his back with the other. I saw his once mighty tail wagging for the last time and slowly I watched the life fade from those big, beautiful, trusting eyes. With tears streaming down my face I heard the vet say, "He's Gone." A little later I phoned Jenny and told her our dear friend was no more. It may sound daft to you but I went looking for Hobo, found her, and picked her up. I then told the cat who'd adopted us that her friend Winston had died. She was purring as I did so and I gently placed her in Winston's empty basket, somehow that helped.
We never wanted another dog but our cats continued to give us pleasure. Beauty's life was short for, just like her mother, she was killed by a car outside our house. Rat, so named because of his looks, just went away one morning and never came back. The others had long lives, Cringer, a surprisingly long fourteen years, as her name suggests she was a timid little soul and was the smallest of the litter. Hobo, aka, Top Cat, ruled the roost for seventeen years and was much loved, we were so lucky that super intelligent cat adopted us. Duke, the biggest of the litter, and named after John Wayne, lived for nineteen happy years. He's remembered as a big, heavy and rather stupid creature, but he was very special to me. To my knowledge, not one of our pets ever hurt anyone, certainly none of us. Fate had decreed they should all join our family despite the fact we couldn't sensibly afford the vets bills, yet somehow we managed. One day Kathryn and Morgan will read this and I'm sure they'll agree that every penny, was money well spent!
This post was updated on .
This is a story about the six, four legged members of my family. One of them we adopted and another adopted us. the other four fate sent to us for us to save and look after. I challenge you to read this Cosy memory and not find your eyes moistening with both sad and happy tear drops!
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