I can't wait for the new book by my friend and fellow Naked Author, Jim Born - The Scent Of Murder. OK, so I confess – the dog did it. I’m a sucker for a book (or movie) featuring a dog among the cast of characters, so I won’t miss this one, because I particularly like reading about working dogs, and brave dogs.
My family has always been big on dogs. The first time I ever heard my father weep, was when our dog, Lassie, was put to sleep. Dad told many tales about Lass and her mother, Bess. Bess was at my father’s side from the moment she laid eyes on him – but at that time she belonged to a gypsy, who didn't treat her well. Then one day the man saw Bess following my father along the farm road towards home, and said, “You might as well have that dog.” And that was that. Bess had found the love of her life, and he cherished her until the day she died. Later, when I was a child, I felt so cherished by the stories of how the dogs would guard me when my mother wheeled my pram into the garden – mothers did that in ye olden times; pushed the baby carriage to the far end of the garden so they couldn't hear the baby, then later, when you grew up, they told you it was good for you, all that fresh air when you were young.
My brother is equally silly about dogs – as a boy he would be in tears before the opening credits of Lassie Come Home had ended. I’m earmarking Jim’s book for him, because he has a thing for German Shepherds, Belgian Mallinois, those sorts of dogs. Anyone remember a TV show called The Littlest Hobo? I think it all started then. What a great story that was – not sappy, but a series of tales about a German Shepherd riding the rails.
If you look back at our family photos, dogs play a fairly large part in the story. There’s one of me, about six months old, being laid down to sleep on a coat in the hop gardens, flanked by Bess and Lass, who were “on guard” from the moment I was born. Then another – I must have been about two years old – sitting on a bench with one hand on my Aunt Rose’s Alsatian – that’s what German Shepherds were called in Britain then, because when the breed first came into the country, it wasn’t done to be a German anything, but a dog from Alsace was OK. And we have photos of my brother with Rex The Wanderer – our collie cross whatever, a gorgeous dog who just liked doing a bunk whenever he was left alone in the house.
While my dogs have been either Great Danes or Labradors – Labradors are a better bet, because, frankly, those giants go too soon – John, my brother, has remained faithful to German Shepherds and associated breeds. And what adventures he’s had with his dogs. His first GSD (who might have been a Mallinois cross) was an ex-Police Active League dog named Pal. Pal was to John what Bess was to my dad – at heel, never leaving his side. Then Juneau came into the picture, a massive, really huge pure white GSD, who – if truth be told – probably had a bit of draft malamute in her. Her paws were like dinner plates, and that dog had attitude. If she didn't know you, you were ignored completely. If she didn't trust you, you'd better keep well back. But she was a wimp about her feet. Touch her paw and she would go running to my brother, howling. Quincy was the third GSD in the pack, the runt rescue that no one else wanted, but he was the one who saved my brother’s life.
My brother is a bit like me – he never learned to swim properly, and sort of taught himself. I can’t tread water to save my life, and neither can my brother – we were raised in a rural area without access to townie things like swimming pools. During a picnic some years ago, my brother went for a dip in the river, lost his footing and began to go under, the water pulling him down and along. Quincy, who had not taken his eyes off John, leaped into the water and began to pull him up. Juneau followed, all 140lbs of white fur flying through the air to help Quincy keep my brother above the water. Pal took off to find my brother’s then girlfriend, who had gone for a walk – she ran back in time to splash into the water and together with the dogs, dragged John to safety. When their time came, each one of those dogs died in my brother’s arms.
Many of you have read about my dog Sally, who went to the big kennel in the sky some six years ago, and of course now we have Maya, our “challenging” rescue Labrador who became the most terrific dog in the world. This is Maya in her Christmas finery, and not terribly amused either!
And my brother has Hank and Shiloh. Hank is a Newfoundland and Shiloh is the only GSD with a temperament like a Newfoundland. Poor Hank was a rescue from a military family in Texas. His former owners took on a very large puppy knowing they would be posted to Europe within a year, and would have to rehome him– and for the life of me, I cannot understand why anyone would commit to an animal they could not keep. I have heard that communities that neighbor military bases are always having to take wandering dogs to shelters, where the owner has shipped out and just left a dog behind, with no home and no beloved person. But at least Hank’s owners didn’t put him in a shelter in their home state – Texas is not known for no-kill shelters. Instead Hank was crated, shunted onto a military transport plane and sent to Port Hueneme in Ventura County, CA, where someone took him to the Humane Society in Ojai, because it’s a no kill shelter. That’s where my brother’s wife saw him – and Hank came home. Their vet’s reaction when Hank went for his first check up was, “Wow, where are his pointy ears, John?”
But my brother wanted a GSD, so Shiloh, another rescue, came into their lives and took to being a “sibling” to a massive Newfie with a heart of gold. Shiloh goes to work with my brother each day, and Hank guards the house, sort of – he may be a big softie, but the “big” is very big, and a huge deterrent.
With this love of all things dog, I buy my brother a lot of dog books, and last year for Christmas I found the DVD set of The Littlest Hobo. He and Angella, his wife, loved Suspect by Robert Crais, featuring the inimitable Maggie (let me tell you, one of the very best character studies I have come across).
…. and now, of course, I’ll be sending them Jim’s book, The Scent of Murder, which I think is due out on April 7th. Oh, and I didn't write this post just to go on about the book of a fellow Naked Author (he will probably be surprised), but, as I said, I like books about working animals. I guess it’s that thing about love, loyalty and commitment – if a dog gives you the best of him/herself, you are cherished forever.
That’s me with my dear old Sally – as featured in the book “Cherished: 21 Writers on Animals They Have Loved And Lost” edited by Barbara Abercrombie.