Of hope found

Of hope found, Simone’s story.

Chapter One.

I felt a sudden draught from the hall door. I rushed from the kitchen to say “Hi Dad” and stopped dead. I had, in my distress and despair, forgotten, for just a few moments, that he was no more. Never again would Dad turn the key in the front door lock, never again would he hang his hat in the cupboard under the stairs, never again would he sit in his chair, to the left of the fireplace, and switch on the TV to watch horse racing or an old, favourite, black and white film. Dead, cold in the ground, in his coffin; dead since March 11th 2004. Dead to the world, an expression so casually uttered when someone is sleeping soundly, took on an entirely  new meaning for me; dead to me, to my sister, to our Mother. Dead. Four letters meaning never to return, gone, no longer in existence. Dead, like the dead weight on my heart. It was now late September, we were living in France but I was home again to spend time with Mom before she returned with me for a holiday. She needed to get away, away from the familiar surroundings and the daily reminders of a marriage that had lasted over fifty years. Mom thoroughly enjoyed her time with us, exploring the countryside, having relaxed meals al fresco and revelling in the sunshine. All too soon, though, she was back home in Ireland. Fortunately, my sister lived a short drive from Mom. I had kept my grief at bay while Mom was with us but it came rushing back at me, like a runaway train. The grief turned to depression. I had lost my hero, my childhood protector, my confidant, the person I loved most in the world, gone forever.

Try as I might I could not pull myself out of the dark depths of loss and, although to outward appearances I looked fine, my husband knew better. Two years, friends told me, you will be fine by then.  How can anyone put a time span on grief? Two years? It was hard enough to cope with each day and, for the next fourteen months, I trudged through life. One foot in front of the other, the trauma of losing Dad never far from my mind. I have always loved dogs, have lived with them for most of my life but never, for one moment, did I think that it would be a dog that would pull me from the dark pit. My own dogs recognised something was wrong and did what dogs do best, they gave me their companionship and there was solace in that.

Chapter Two.

It was December 2005, two weeks before Christmas, when I first saw the Great Dane. She was a shivering bag of bones with soulful eyes. I was shocked. I had never seen an animal in such terrible bodily condition. Every rib and bone was clearly visible and she had no muscle mass. I approached her enclosure and spoke gently to her. She seemed to take comfort from my voice although I doubt she understood me as she was a French dog in a French Dogs Home and my French accent was terrible. It was my job as a volunteer to walk the dogs and to spend some time with them. I had seen many dogs in very poor bodily condition but none quite as horrific as this, yet she had not totally lost trust in people. The staff at the home did their best with what little resources they had but it was never enough and it broke their hearts. There were too many animals; the staff never had enough money and never enough time. The endless round of feeding and medication took up the staff’s day so volunteers were important as they had the time to devote to the animals, a precious commodity. A kind word spoken with a soft voice or a gentle caress would soothe a fearful animal. A walk round the compound was a blessed relief from their cold pens in the biting cold of a French winter close to the Pyrenees. This was food for the soul. 

Chapter Three.

I finished the afternoon’s walk with the dogs and came home but I remained haunted by her image. I knew I could not offer her a home. It was impossible as we had two large dogs, one male, one female and five cats. Another of our female dogs had recently died. Clara was a German shepherd, another rescue dog, and she died in October from cancer of the liver and had left a huge gap in our lives. Our two dogs were content in each other’s company although they missed Clara but the household seemed complete. Zoë, our German Shepherd/Arctic wolf cross was, without doubt, in charge of the household. Jake, our Old English sheepdog, or Bobtail as the French prefer, was a happy, contented dog that did not care one way or the other.  

The weeks went by. I continued my voluntary work at the dog’s home. I walked the Dane every chance I had and got to know her. She was a favourite at the home. Her gentleness and quiet demeanour endeared her to everyone. She dominated my thoughts and conversations. I asked all my friends if they wanted to adopt a dog but no one wanted such a big animal. Each week I watched her gain trust and slowly gain much needed weight. Each week I dreaded going to the home. I knew I would be heartbroken if she had  been adopted although it was exactly what she needed. I was being selfish and knew it. The more time I spent  with her, the more I fell in love. Each week I came home and spoke passionately about her to my husband. I dreamt about her. She was in my every thought. I told the staff at the home that I would love to adopt her but it was impossible. I became more and more miserable until my husband could take no more of it. We discussed the possibility of taking her but worried that the wolfdog might not accept her.

Chapter Four.

Meanwhile the Dane continued to improve and gain strength and her personality started to shine through. She was gentle, quiet and well mannered. She would allow the other dogs  to play with her but would take no nonsense when they became too boisterous. She dealt with this by giving a soft, low growl all the dogs understood and there was never a problem. She gained confidence; her eyes began to glow, her coat shone. She had been a breeding bitch, ignored and not fed. She came to the home as a cruelty case. She was a Mantle Dane, black all over, as though she  wore a black blanket, but  her chest was white and she had white markings on her toes. Her muzzle was already grey. She was beautiful. She was very strong and pulled on the lead so it was almost impossible to walk her. She definitely had not received any training. She practically adopted the most abused dogs and pups that came into the Dogs home. They snuggled up between her massive paws whilst she cleaned and groomed them. She was free to move about the home and greeted everyone who came seeking a dog to adopt. Everyone was interested in her but not enough to adopt her. Most thought she would be too expensive to feed (she cost just a little more than a German Shepherd).  In France, the Great Dane is known as a Dogue Allemand, meaning German Mastiff. Her manners, though, were French. She was impeccably behaved. She was named Nenette, a name generally given to small dogs. It was very much tongue in cheek as she was the tallest dog there! All the staff adored her and at coffee break Nenette was, of course, included. We shared cakes with her and she just loved the little Madeleine cakes, a particular favourite with the French.   

Chapter Five.

It was now late January and, if anything, I had become more smitten with her. I still dreamt nightly of her and she was always in my thoughts. I had never wanted  a dog as much as I wanted her. We spoke daily about her and, finally, my husband agreed to go to see her. No promises, just a visit.

As we approached the dogs  home she was sitting outside, observing the world. John thought she was a lovely animal. We took her for a walk and he saw she was all I had said. We still had the serious obstacle of our wolfdog  ( not particularly fond of female dogs)  but we discussed taking her home and keeping them separated. First, we had to know if she could live with cats. As the home also took in cats this was easy to arrange and Nenette just ignored them. The following day we brought Zoë to meet her. We walked them together and that went well, no sign of  bossiness from  Zoë.  We decided to adopt her and in early February 2006 went to bring her home. I was overjoyed; my dream came true. The staff at the home showed no surprise, we think they were taking bets on how long it would be before I adopted her.

Over the next few weeks  the two girls slowly came to, if not accepting each other, then at least tolerating each other. They had a couple of minor squabbles but nothing serious. Less and less separation was necessary until, by August, they had learned to live and let live. The Dane continued to gain weight and blossomed. She slowly began to trust us and she was a constant joy to me. I walked her daily and eventually we were able to walk both girls together. Jake, our Old English sheepdog, took no notice of her. The cats had already made their position clear, they were in charge. The Dane hated rain, although she enjoyed her walks if it was just a fine mist. She refused to go walking in the snow; she would go outside only for the time it took to pee etc. Summer times she would only lie in the shade; it did get very hot, 30 degrees plus. She preferred to lie on a sofa with the shutters closed and keep cool. We fed her four times daily on a raised feeding dish. She put on more weight and her ribs were well covered. She gained muscle and her coat gleamed. She was shy to begin with but gradually her true character and personality shone through. She was a big softie and we knew she trusted us when she started to lean on us.

She now weighed 63 kgs, an increase of 15 kgs! Finally, she was the proper weight for her size. She came everywhere with us, to the airport to meet friends, lunches at friends` houses, dinner at our favourite restaurant. Restaurant owners in France happily accept dogs in the restaurant as long as they are well behaved. She was. She caused quite a stir because of her sheer size and everyone she met fell in love. Everyone wanted to touch her but she remained aloof, she was a Great Dane, an aristocrat, and she would hold her head high with a very regal manner. My French improved dramatically with so many people stopping to ask me all about her. She carefully observed our every move, she so wanted to fit in. She learned not to beg for food from the table. She learned many English words whilst I learned them in French. Once she understood that pulling on the lead was not acceptable, she was a joy to walk. She was such a smart girl. She also, after a time, understood me in English and a smattering of German. She was fast becoming trilingual. We renamed her Simone; it suited her, a soft sounding name for a gentle dog. She responded so well to this sound.

Chapter Six.

In 2007 we returned to Ireland along with all our animals except Jake who tragically died a few days before we left France. He suffered a stroke whilst in the garden, stumbled into the sitting room to be with us, and quietly died just a few minutes after the stroke. It came unexpectedly and we were heartbroken. He had forced his way through our garden fence in Ireland many years before and he never left: yet another abandoned dog that had found a home. We were glad that he had chosen us. After months of careful planning all documents were in order, pet passports and all vaccinations up to date. Kennels were booked on the ferry, the animal trailer repaired and, finally, we arrived safely in Ireland after an uneventful but pleasant trip. Simone loved our new home with fields stretching down to the river. She thoroughly enjoyed her walks in these foreign woods. Such different scents, no wild boar and no bears (a bear had once come over the Pyrenees from the Spanish side and ended up in the woods where we walked, a journey that took him four days. He was safely captured and returned to his own area).

In May of 2009, Zoë, our beloved special girl, died. She was 14. She had lived with us since she was a small  bundle of fluffy puppy. It would be impossible to replace her in our hearts so we did not even try. Simone appeared to grieve for a few weeks and then decided life was good, she now had all our attention and was a happy girl. Simone lived life to the full. She enjoyed slow walks in the woods and she loved to meet and greet other dogs. Most people who met her thought she was a wolfhound! Everyone who knew her loved her; she was aloof with strangers, but so gentle when approached. She had the most endearing trait; she would tilt her head to one side and her enormous ears would flop, she would then throw her head from side to side and prance like a circus pony. This was Simone’s invitation to play. When Simone played, she forgot to put the brakes on! If I did not step out of her way in time I was flattened by 63kgs of flying dog. She reminded me of Dumbo the elephant! When she put her front paws on my shoulders, she towered over me. She was strong enough to flatten me if I did not brace myself. She never slobbered, unlike some Danes who constantly drool. The only drawback to having such a giant of a dog occurred each evening when the stove was lit, she would lie directly in front of it and it was almost impossible to add more wood, she was nearly as broad as she was long. We bought an oversized sofa so that she and I could share it. Had Ireland held a competition for the loudest snorer, Simone would have won. The cats, in their sneaky way, tried to steal food from her bowl. She wasn’t having that. She rumbled at them from deep in her throat and they backed off. It never stopped them trying though. She frightened the Postman when first he saw her by placing her front paws on the sidewall by the gate. She was curious and just wanted to say Hello. He, of course, refused to get out of the van. Eventually after introductions on both sides, he happily continued to deliver letters. She had a tremendous deep bark, which panicked any passing dogs, a good thing as it kept them away from our cats. 

Chapter Seven.

Simone was now ten years old. She was approximately five or six when she came to live with us. She developed stiffness in her gait, just age. She had a course of Cartrophen injections which greatly helped but, at the age of eleven, it was clear she was getting worse. Then one day she was unable to get up and we knew it was very close to the time when she would be unable to walk. She did manage to get up with our help but it happened repeatedly over some days. It was time to let her go. She was distressed, incontinent even though she was receiving prescription medication for it and her eyes were dull. No way would we let this wonderful dog suffer, not even for another day. She did not have the energy or the will to continue so, with breaking hearts, we made the arrangements.

On the 28th of March 2011 when she was eleven to twelve years old, Simone was euthanised. Her back legs no longer supported her although, in all other health respects, she was fine. Catherine, the most kind-hearted veterinary nurse, one of Simone’s best friends, and Eamon the veterinarian arrived. All was calm and quiet so that Simone felt no panic or fear. It was a peaceful and dignified death. We were with her to the end and, before she left us, the last thing she knew was our touch. 

She died as she lived, with dignity. We were blessed beyond words to have owned and loved such a wonderful dog. It was all so hard to bear but Simone’s well being was paramount. She knew that we loved her; she felt it everyday in how we spoke to her and how we touched her. She loved us and we considered ourselves well blessed to have known and loved such a dog. Perhaps in the future there will be another Dane but there can only be one Simone, my first Dane, and my beautiful girl.

 It took me over two years before I could bring myself to write this in her memory and two more years before I could mention my Dad in the story.  To honour Simone we adopted Hugo, the Great Dane/Boxer cross, in August 2013, from an Animal rescue.organisation. It seemed a fitting tribute  to Simone. A dog needed a home and we could offer that. Hugo is totally unlike Simone, he may never be dignified. Perhaps he will always remain so and retain his puppy-like ways but he is very much his own dog and not a replacement for Simone. That Great Dane, through her gentle ways, brought light and laughter back into my life. A dog, yes a dog, lessened the grief and how I wish my Dad could have met her. He would have loved her.

 I hope that you enjoyed reading this; it was not meant to make you sad. It is a celebration of Simone’s life and of life in general, including my Dad’s, and Simone’s legacy lives on with yet another (well, sort of) Great Dane in the household. He too is treasured and loved. With grateful  thanks to the  Animal Rescue for giving us the opportunity to bring Hugo into our lives. Hugo is a very handsome, debonair boy but he has yet to master, if he ever does, how to look aloof. His best friend is Faye, the Greyhound, (since dead) yet another rescue dog. They are both happy, contented dogs, as dogs are meant to be, even if they do share their home with cats. Jezzie the GSD joined the household much later and made herself very much at home, she too is dead but those are stories for another day. As for Dad, it was his love for all animals, his passion for justice, that instilled in me my love and passion for justice for animals. That is his living legacy and for that, Thank You Dad.  If love is all that remains, the love, then and now, for Dad and my Mom, also dead and  for my sister, thankfully very much alive and Simone and all those long gone and buried, then that is enough. Love makes us strong, love can bring us to our knees and lift us up again. Love is something felt deep within us, given and received. It touches us and leaves its unseen mark. Bones may crumble, flesh dissolve yet love holds true. Photos and memories may fade but hearts hold tightly to love. Broken hearts mend, surgeons repair and replace hearts but only love can make a heart completely whole again. An emotion, yes, but one so valued, so precious and, within that timeless emotion, lie all those we have ever loved. They live within, and we carry them always.


Simone in Ireland, snoozing with Mimi the French cat and Mai Tai the Siamese

At home in Ireland

A Sumo wrestler

Chapter One.

Sumo is a Japanese style of wrestling and Japan’s national sport. It originated in ancient times as a performance to entertain the Shinto deities. Many rituals with religious background, such as the symbolic purification of the ring with salt, are still followed today. In line with tradition, only men practice the sport professionally in Japan.

The rules are simple: the wrestler who first exits the ring or touches the ground with any part of his body besides the soles of his feet, loses. Matches take place on an elevated ring (dohyo), which is made of clay and covered in a layer of sand. A contest usually lasts only a few seconds but, in rare cases, can take a minute or more. There are no weight restrictions or classes in sumo, meaning that wrestlers can easily find themselves matched off against someone many times their size. As a result, weight gain is an essential part of sumo training.

Well, no other name was more suitable than Sumo for a very large, bulky, male dog. Although, when I first saw him in the kennels, what impressed me most about him was not his size but his docility and sweet nature. I was there dropping off my other dogs and cats before going to London to spend some time with my husband John. Usually John would return to Ireland each weekend to us so this was a lovely change for me. Our dogs were soon settled in their kennels and the cats in the cattery and I had time for a chat before heading for the airport. There were also other dogs, dogs looking for homes and, right at the end of the block, in a large, open run, on a sunny day, stood a magnificent dog, one that took my breath away. He was standing stock still, looking at me, eyes unblinking, fixed on me. His entire being was concentrated on me. He looked, for all the world, like a bronze statue, with the sunshine glinting on his coat of golden orange hue. I was transfixed, hypnotised by those eyes and, like someone in a trance, found myself walking toward this big beast. Not a muscle quivered, no movement from him, just the stare. I had never been looked at like that by a dog, almost as though I were being judged. But for what?

The stare was not harsh, nor was it an inquisitive look, but it was certainly a searching look.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as the saying goes, and so I asked if I could meet and greet the giant.

Chapter Two.

The door to the run was opened and I followed the man in but stood further back to watch the dog’s reactions to him. From a statue-like pose to a whirling bundle of sheer energy in two seconds, the dog sprang at the man, hit him with his full weight, on the chest, and they both grappled with each other. They danced around that run together, the dog on his hind legs, dancing to music only they could hear. Meanwhile I was watching all of this; this very large dog and equally very large man, behaving like two children in a playground. They wrestled, they jostled, until the man was out of breath and the dog’s muscular body was rippling in the sunlight.

“Would you like to say hello?” I was asked. I needed no further invitation and moved forward, slowly. The dog turned his attention once more to me and I could not fully read his expression but his eyes had softened. Whatever he read in my expression must have been enough for him to allow a soft touch on his warm fur. Unwanted, too big, too powerful, yet here he was, quiescent, under my hands. “A lovely dog”, I said, “are you keeping him?”. “ Probably”, was the answer,” very difficult to find a home for such a powerful dog”. Such is life, people do judge by first impressions and anyone who had seen this dog was scared of him. Later that evening, in a Chinese restaurant in London with John, enjoying dumplings and duck, I mentioned meeting the dog. I saw John’s head drop a little, raise up, look at me with a questioning look and ask if I had made a commitment. Well I hadn’t, not fully, you understand, rather a vague hint, mumbled, that possibly, just possibly, I might be able to give the dog a home. No more was said and we enjoyed our meal.

I returned to Ireland the following midweek and my dogs and cats came home. John was home, as usual, on Friday night, to a joyous greeting by our animals and on Saturday afternoon, before he took the dogs for their walk, he suggested we go to the kennels to see the dog. That super smart dog took one long look at John, decided that the final decision was his (John thought it was his) and both man and dog agreed to give it a go. A few hours later we arrived home to a cacophony of barking but stopped before we reached the house. I walked the rest of the way, got our dogs, and we walked back toward the car. John and the dog, named Sumo by John on our way home, got out of the car as we approached and the introductions were made. A lot of sniffing, a lot of circling by all dogs, no growling, no snarling, just a meet and greet and that was it. Our own dogs were always welcoming to any new arrival,

He had yet to meet the cats!

Chapter Three.

It was vital, for all concerned, that Sumo be OK with cats. He summed up the situation rapidly. As far as was known of his background he had not even seen a cat so it was with great trepidation that we slowly, ever so carefully, let him see one cat, on a windowsill, outside. He didn’t even blink, he acknowledged its presence by turning to look at us, then back to the cat then back to us. He almost shrugged as if to say, so, alright, I need to coexist with that. It didn’t bother him either when he saw the other cats. He literally ignored them, they were of no importance to him.

That was the beginning of a new life for this dog named Sumo, simply because he had the bulk and power of a sumo wrestler, yet was light footed, athletic and perfectly balanced, just like them. Sumo, in the years he lived with us, seldom barked, there was nothing wrong with his vocal cords, he just never felt the need.

His eyes were his best means of communication and he used them so expressively. He always had such a serious expression, studying the situation, a need to understand. For the following six months he studied me, John, the dogs and the cats. He studied the routine, the daily comings and goings, he sat, quietly watching everything and, at times, he worried me. I wondered what he was thinking, what did he make of us? What were his expectations of us? Were we living up to those expectations? He worried me because I was, mostly, unable to read him and that presented a problem to me. Not being able to read him meant I was never sure what he might be considering. Would he find me wanting, would he not accept us or his new home? I needn’t have worried, that was just Sumo’s way of coping with a world he had very little knowledge of. Gradually, very slowly, his body posture relaxed from always held stiffly to a slight slouch, a slight loosening of his stiff muscles. Even with the dogs he held himself aloof, he watched them play rough and tumble games but would not join in. Zoe, our Wolf dog, made the breakthrough by falling head over paws in love with him. She sat, practically goggle eyed, at his side and followed him whenever he moved. Soon, they were sleeping side by side and, once that occurred, all the dogs were now sleeping together in a big hairy bundle of dogs.

Chapter Four.

Little by little, day by day, Sumo revealed himself to us and what a revelation that turned out to be. This massive, built like a tank dog, liked wine! As soon as John opened a bottle he was by his side, drooling profusely. If I didn’t place newspapers under him we would have a stream indoors. He certainly had his preferences; any wine with even the slightest hint of oak was not acceptable. He would, to his delight, have a quarter of a teaspoon of wine that was fruity in taste or had a hint of spice. But oak, he would sneeze and sneeze and sneeze as soon as the bottle was opened. Boy could he sneeze, his sneezes lasted for fifteen minutes and made his eyes water. He also, like most dogs, liked chocolate but, again, only certain types. Just a sliver was all he ever received (we are aware that chocolate is poisonous to dogs mostly because of its theobromine content, which dogs are unable to metabolize effectively) and he would never even look at doggy chocolate, let alone taste it. But it was the wine that would send him into raptures of bliss, he almost certainly had never tasted wine before he came to us but this was a dog developing discerning tastes.

Chinese food and certain Indian foods were also to his liking, a tiny piece and he was ecstatic. He had a penchant for crisps, a taste he developed when my parents came to visit as they always brought a few packets of crisps for the dogs, as a very special treat. I didn’t have the heart to discourage them. My Dad got such enjoyment from watching the dogs form a circle in the kitchen, sit in unison and wait while each got their share. Sumo would even wag his tail!

During the summer when my parents were with us, we would have tea in the garden and Zoe, the wolf dog, would have to be watched otherwise there would be no sandwiches or cakes left on the set table. Not one of us thought of watching Sumo, gentle, mild mannered Sumo. Sumo could be trusted with a roast left to cool but Sumo liked cold beef sandwiches and Sumo helped himself to a plateful. My Dad saw him do it, called me to the window and whispered that he takes one at a time, eats it and comes back for another. My fault, for putting temptation in his way. Sumo saw me watching him and for the first time in the months he had been with us, his expression changed from serious to mischievous and he literally romped around the garden, with a sandwich in his mouth. What a joy that was, he had finally accepted that he was home, safe, and could relax, at last. All my worries were for nothing, this dog had had to learn that people could be nice, he could now trust again. From that day on, his eye expressions were completely different, softened, and I could read his thoughts, they were so visible now. A happy dog sat before me and a firm friendship, of hope, of trust, of love and loyalty, was born.

Chapter Five.

Now that he knew his life had changed he set about discovering for himself all that life had to offer. He loved his walks, running free through the fields with the dogs, or just sleeping by the fire or relaxing in sunshine. He still didn’t bark but he invented a game, a dangerous one for birds that flew too low in the garden. He would take an almighty leap, grab a bird, in full flight and, if I wasn’t there to rescue it, play with it, no malice intended, I don’t think he realised that he could kill them. Not nice but that was part and parcel of Sumo. He would, on occasion, stick his head in the hedges (which were fenced behind) to see if there were any bird nests and if there were, raid the nests. I put an end to that by netting the hedges on one side, still allowing the birds to get in from the other. His stare, that fierce looking stare, was to my advantage. Our home was well off the beaten track and would often have men calling to sell farm instruments, although we didn’t have a farm. One look at Sumo, sitting staring at them, and they quickly got back into their vans and left in a hurry. He never barked at them and that was scarier still, to them.

Then the unthinkable happened. My glorious dog, my soft hearted, silent, gentle boy, having eaten his dinner, went for his usual stroll in the garden and made a decision that would have fatal consequences. He disappeared from the garden. He had found a weak spot in the fencing, gone through and had leapt over a hedge at the bottom of the garden leading to the river, when he had never previously attempted to leap anything. He shouldn’t have gotten over it but he did. I saw him and called him. He came back twenty minutes later, but the damage was done. He had not been chasing sheep, there were no sheep, he had not been chasing cattle, the fields were empty of cattle. Had he, perhaps, seen a pheasant in the distance? Had he made a spur of the moment decision to hunt the pheasant? I will never know but how I wish I could change the past. Those twenty minutes cost him his life and left us bereft. When he came home I could see him swelling in front of my eyes. He tried to vomit, but couldn’t. He became more swollen, visibly twice his normal stomach size, and nothing could save him. He died even before we could get him into the car. We took him to the vet and he carried out a necropsy (an autopsy on a human) at our request, to determine the cause of death. We didn’t know then of the awful condition called bloat, which, if not immediately treated, results in death. It is something every dog owner needs to know so I will add some details at the end of this pitiful story. I stood in the vet’s surgery, not wanting to believe Sumo was dead; I stood like a statue, seeing him, in his statue-like pose, those three years ago, when I first saw him. Now all that was left was just a broken dog, with his guts spilling out onto the veterinary table. Silence, just silence, unbearable, empty, soul destroying silence. In silence we carried him back to the car. In silence we drove home and then the dam broke. The terrible reality of what had happened hit us. The tears fell as John dug the hole. They fell faster and faster as I wrapped his broken body in cloth and the earth fell on him, shovelful by shovelful. With each deafening shovelful of earth another part of us died and, in that grave, we buried a part of ourselves.

Looking back through the years, through blurred eyes and salty tears, I can almost see you, Sumo, sitting by John’s feet, drooling a stream, tail wagging a mile a minute, in expectation of a sip of wine. I can see you close your eyes as you taste it and find it to your liking. I can see you in the sunlight, stretched in the garden, eyes closed in bliss, happy and secure in this world. Sitting in a circle of dogs, waiting for crisps, waiting for your opportunity to snatch a sandwich but mostly I see you, asleep by the fire, when the day was done, the world was quiet and we were all together.

Sumo only had three years of living with us and before that one year of living who knows where. Only four years old, not enough time to discover what the world had to offer this mastiff type dog, this soft as melted butter dog.

Sumo and Clara the GSD were both adopted from the SPCA local to me and I was fortunate to be able to have my animals kept equally safe and cosy within that man’s care when I was away. Many years later in France Sweet Lucille would suffer the same fate with the same consequence. We still, to this day, have no idea why it happened or what she might have done while in the garden to cause it.

Happy days in the garden with Zoe the wolfdog.

What Is Dog Bloat? Bloat happens when a dog’s stomach fills with gas, food, or fluid, making it expand. The stomach puts pressure on other organs. It can cause dangerous problems, including:

No blood flow to the heart and stomach lining.

A tear in the wall of the stomach.

A harder time breathing.

In some cases, the dog’s stomach will rotate or twist, a condition that vets call gastric dilatation volvulus. It traps blood in the stomach and blocks it from returning to the heart and other areas of the body. This can send your dog into shock.

Symptoms Bloat usually comes on very quickly. At first, your dog may show signs that his stomach hurts. He may act restless. Drool. Have a swollen stomach. Look anxious. Look at his stomach. Pace and try to vomit but nothing comes up. As the condition gets worse, he may collapse, have pale gums, have a rapid heartbeat, be short of breath, feel weak.

If you think your pet has bloat, get him to a vet right away. If dogs don’t get treatment in time, the condition can kill them.

Causes Vets aren’t sure what causes bloat, but there are some things that raise a dog’s risk for it, including:

Having one large meal a day

Eating quickly

A lot of running or playing after he eats

Other dogs he’s related to have had bloat

Eating or drinking too much.

Any dog can have bloat, but it’s much more common in deep-chested, large breeds, like Akitas, Boxers, Basset Hounds, and German Shepherds. Some are at a higher risk than others, including Great Danes, Gordon Setters, Irish Setters, Weimaraner’s, and St. Bernard’s.

A wilderness in miniature

Directly facing the kitchen door, and adjoining the yard, a small field that has been set aside for local wildlife buzzes with life. Bees, wasps and a wide variety of insects abound, pollen and nectar is plentiful and the bees thrive. Bees feed on and require both nectar and pollen. The nectar is for energy and the pollen provides protein and other nutrients. Most pollen is used by bees as larvae food, but bees also transfer it from plant-to-plant, providing the pollination services needed by plants and nature as a whole. There is plenty of birdlife and, on a moon lit night, the barn owl is observed as it glides past, sometimes silently, at other times a long, harsh scream that lasts about 2 seconds is heard. It’s made mostly by the male, who often calls repeatedly from the air. The females give the call infrequently. A softer, more wavering version of this is termed a purring call.

The cats meanwhile are observing all of this and listening intently for the ultrasonic noises-squeaks so high that we are unable to hear them, squeaks of field mice and voles, but this is the time of the wildlife and the cats are indoors. The dogs are gently snoring having been down the fields off lead earlier enjoying freedom which gives them plenty of opportunities for sniffing, such an important part of there lives. A badger makes his slow and careful way along the tracks made by so many animals over the years as does the fox, generally much later. The rustling in the trees made by the crows as they make themselves comfortable and settle for sleep in their communal roosting usually indicates a disturbance as a latecomer forces the early birds lower into the trees. An avian slumber party now actually slumbers. The trees are in groups, not far from a river and, as dusk approaches the pipistrelle bats are on the wing.

Nature has bedecked this little field with seeds from the Sycamore, Ash, Beech and Rowan, Hawthorn and wild roses which line the rural road and they have taken root. Each species vying for sunlight, each managing to survive year on year. Each year another seedling pops up and finds a place to live. There are 2 entrances to the field, 1 for a tractor to cut the winter feed for cattle further down and 1 from our yard. There is an old farm gate that is our viewing spot as we silently watch from afar. The hustle and bustle of modern day living fades away until numerous cats made demands on our time as they scrabble at windows demanding treats. The blackbirds song fades as silence and darkness descends once again on this wilderness in miniature with its wide variety of flora and fauna.

Nature ‘s summer coat

Zoe, life with a wolf dog.

Ending a life.

Zoe entered our lives during a time of great sadness and grief. My handsome, loved boy, Jed, a German Shepherd, a stunning example of how to breed properly, had been euthanised three days previously at the age of eleven years and six months. He had been our constant companion from the age of twelve weeks but his hips had finally given way, to the point where he could no longer walk unaided. We managed for some time by using a towel underneath him to lift him and bring him in and out of the garden. He coped well with this and was not in the least affronted by his change in circumstances or lack of dignity. He trusted us to do what was right but he had reached the stage where he was no longer comfortable and was in pain; pain that was too much for him to bear; pain I could not relieve because, all those years ago, the drugs were not available.

I would like to say how brave I was on the day that needle was placed in his vein, the contents of which would end his life. I cannot say that. I was a wreck as I cried into the familiar scent of his hair knowing, but not accepting, that this was the final goodbye. But it was and we brought his lifeless body home for burial, home to be buried with the dignity that was robbed from him through ill health. His grave was piled with rocks as if, by doing so, I could protect him in death when I could not save him in life. The following three days were a blur of tears, of heartache and of loss. No more, never again, no more dogs, ever. My “pet” name for him was Precious Pup and I called him this throughout his life.

Memories flooded back, fun filled days of laughter at his puppy ways. Of pride as he grew into a magnificent adult, of a policeman stopping us and asking if we had thought of giving him to the force as a police dog. Little did he know that my Jed was the greatest coward on earth and that he hid it by barking at everyone he met. Loud barking, as though saying “ don’t approach me, no closer, she might have to bite you”. That was Jed, leaning into me, looking up at me, looking for all the world like the best bodyguard ever. That was Jed, but no more. He was no longer in my life. John tried everything he could think of to cheer me up. He suggested we get a Doberman, another Shepherd, a Rottweiler, whatever dog I wanted. We already had a Dobie but no matter what he suggested, the answer was always no. No dog, no matter how wonderful, could replace the bond between Jed and I. In desperation, to stem the flood of tears and heartache, John arrived home on the third afternoon with an advert he had seen. “Look, just look”, he said, “this will interest you”. He read it to me and my interest was piqued. There, on the page was the ad. Arctic Wolf dogs for sale. In actual fact the Mother of the pups was a German Shepherd and the father was the Wolf. That grabbed my attention. I had so many books on wolves, had read extensively about them, admired them, respected them but never considered having a wolf cross. What did I really know of such creatures? Nothing.

A conversation.

I walked round to the back garden and stood by Jed’s grave and spoke as though he could hear me. I told him I was thinking of getting a wolf dog, that this was not a betrayal, that he would always be in my heart, that I would remember him to my dying day. Could he forgive me if I went ahead with this? There was no answer but the rustle of the leaves in the trees. I felt, knowing Jed as well as I did, that he would not mind. He had such a big heart he would not begrudge a new addition. So I made the call and spoke to the breeder. Eleven pups, a healthy litter, three gone already and only two snow white pups remaining. The others had their Mother’s shepherd colouring. Four hours later saw us in a different county and there, in the most amazing set up I have ever seen, were eight bouncing, playful, full of life and energy pups. Their outdoor pen did not consist of a normal dog pen, that would not have been good enough for these pups, oh no. This was surrounded on all sides, under a covered roof, with protection to the front and sides, by hay bales, hay bales that allowed the pups to climb and play hide and seek, With ingenious toys hanging from the ceiling, simple toys made from plastic milk containers turned upside down, just a paw’s reach away, for the puppies. With a cosy, warm sleeping area, all covered in wool blankets and their proud Mother relaxing while her puppies played.

Two solid hours of watching puppies play and sleep brought me no further in choosing a pup. I had fallen in love with the white pups but which one? We were never hurried into making a decision and we were invited in for tea and to meet the Father of the Pups. Oh my, he was BIG, energetic, powerful, gentle and playful. A stunning, larger than life, Arctic wolf, a real honest to God Wolf, playing with me, and so aware of his strength; a strength he never used against me. He was huge, far taller and longer than a shepherd and he was named Bomber. Bomber as in running faster than the wind. It was clear to see how happy and well cared for he was, relaxed in his surroundings of a large, fenced garden, he was a confident boy.

A ball of fluff.

Lifting up one white pup then another, trying to decide which was whiter, which one I should take, was so difficult. There was nothing to distinguish one from the other. Both were female, both smelt of baby powder, that fresh, new baby smell. No closer to making a decision than hours before, I lifted each fat pup again and saw the honey shading on the right ear of one pup and that was it, it was as simple as that.

Then came the instructions, a certain type of food at a certain time, four times a day, she likes this, she does not like that. Don’t over tire her, make sure she gets plenty of sleep. She needs her rest, you need to play with her, she won’t pee in her space. You need to bring her in and out of the garden for regular pee breaks. This was not a pup that came with pedigree papers, she was not, and never could be, registered as a pedigree. She was just a cross breed yet the family involved in the breeding treated the pups with the utmost respect and had cared so well for them. They knew the personalities of all the pups, they made sure they were socialised and were in the best of health. A ball of fluff was placed in my arms, a promise made to keep in touch, to come back with her to visit so they could see for themselves how she was growing and that I was giving her the necessary care. I did, many times, and kept in touch all through her life. These puppies had been given everything that was needed to ensure their health.

A sleepy journey home.

She settled in my lap, once in the car, and promptly fell asleep. When we arrived home I handed her to John and went to tell Jed: silly I know, but it felt right. And so began the adventurous and challenging times of living with a wolf dog. Throw out all the books on wolves, nothing prepares you for life with one of these creatures. Smart, way smarter than any dog I had before or since. Staying one step ahead was difficult, she outsmarted me at every turn. I contacted her breeder who put me in touch with the man who had imported the Wolf. He, in turn, told me of a magazine, available only from the USA, published by a lady who had devoted her life to writing about, and living with, wolf dogs. I ordered it, spoke with the lady and her advice proved to be invaluable. Never think that you are smarter, try and think like a wolf and see the world through the eyes of a wolf. Oh boy, I thought, what have I done? What I had done was bring the most vibrant, most alive creature ever, into our lives. I read and read and read and learned and learned.

As I learnt the wolf was learning but we were learning about each other, in a positive way. I put my misgivings aside and got on with the business of living with a wolfdog. We treated her with great respect for her intellect and she treated us with great respect for her care. We named her Zoe, meaning freedom, and promised her as much freedom as possible. Zoe had other ideas. No matter how strong the garden fence was, it was no match for Zoe. We built a fortress to keep her safe. She would laugh at us, from the outside. Eventually, we came to an understanding. She was to stay on the inside, looking out, and we would take her to the woods for adventures.

Seeing the light.

The first sign of the wolf within the puppy dog came on a walk with Lucy, the Dobie. Zoe had been with us three weeks and was now twelve weeks old. Lucy caught a rabbit and, faster than a bolt of lightning, Zoe took it from our powerful Dobie. My jaw dropped, John was stunned. This was Wolf, not dog behaviour but she was only a puppy! No way on earth was she surrendering it either, to me or John. She growled but did not snap, nor did she drop the rabbit. The best thing to do was leave her be and hope she didn’t eat the whole rabbit. She didn’t, but insisted on carrying it in her mouth all the way back to the car. Once in the car she dropped it, forgot all about it, and fell asleep. That was a wake up call for us. Wolf, not dog, was mainly what we had so we had to treat her more like the wolf with the greatest respect for her natural abilities whilst refining ours to suit. The following is an extract from the American magazine which was kindly published after I submitted it.

She soon learned what was acceptable behaviour and what wasn’t. Life settled into a comfortable routine- that is, apart from a chewed sofa, cushions, rugs and any other item she could haul about. We provided her with plenty of toys, a pair of old shoes and a blanket to drag around. It is only recently that she has stopped destroying items that we do not consider to be hers. She has been obedience trained since she was four months old and comes immediately when called- unless she has caught a rabbit, in which case we wait until she has eaten it and then call her. Her training was carried out with love, gentleness and patience and has been so rewarding. Zoe has taught me a great deal first hand and I am constantly learning from and about her.

Constantly learning indeed, keeping one step ahead of her meant keeping my brain fully engaged and never taking my eyes off her. Not because she would harm the Dobie or the cats, far from it, she was so gentle with all and with people. It was because she was forever inventing new ways to outsmart me. John was working in London and flew home every weekend so she was my responsibility, and what a responsibility. She gave up eating, I took her to vet after vet after vet, all said the same thing. It’s just a tummy upset, she will be fine after a few days. She wasn’t, was losing weight rapidly, was dehydrated and was very ill. In desperation I took her to another vet, a two hour drive away, and told him what she was ( I hadn’t told anyone, I was scared someone might report her as a “dangerous” creature, take her and destroy her, (over my dead body). He simply suggested that I feed her a more natural diet, more suitable for a wolf, of fresh raw meat with the addition of lightly steamed vegetables and gave me a vitamin and mineral supplement to add to her food. Within days she was better. That vet never raised an eyebrow when I told him what she was, he examined her from top to toe, did numerous X-rays and blood tests and came up with the simple solution. He was smitten by her and his records showed that he had treated a German Shepherd. A true gentleman and a man of his word, I told him in confidence, and he kept that confidence.

Growing up wolf.

By the time she reached full maturity, at the age of two years, the first hint of what was to come appeared. She attacked the Dobie (female). It was meant, nothing peevish, a full blown, all out, meant to kill, attack. Lucy was shaken, her jaw was damaged, there was blood everywhere, she lost a tooth and Zoe did not have a hair out of place. From then on, and especially as we had at this stage two more dogs, a female GSD and a male Mastiff cross, she had to be separated at all times from the females. She never, ever, ever displayed any aggression toward male dogs or females, for that matter, when we were out and about on our walks. It was only the female dogs, at home, that she had a problem with. From the wolf’s point of view, no other females were to be tolerated within the home. There could only be Sumo, the male, and her. That was the natural order of things as far as Zoe was concerned, Sumo was hers. We segregated the dogs, the other girls were happy and Zoe strutted around like a Queen. It was a constant round of swapping dogs from one room to another, trying not to forget where Zoe was at any time and sometimes forgetting, which always led to a fight, with me in the middle, accidentally getting hurt.

But Zoe was what she was and could not change her nature. It became normal to live with a wolf, a wolf fiercely loyal, too smart, too clever, mostly one step ahead of me. We balanced out though, all I had to do each day was figure out what mischief she might get up to and be prepared for it. Playing with the sweeping brush became a game for her each morning. I would sweep the floors, she would grab the brush and run away with it. I kept a second brush in the cupboard and, while she was busy with the first one, got on with sweeping. Chasing games, which involved me running around the car after her, trying to touch her bum, were hilarious. I cheated, would double back, she would tuck her bum as high as possible and then I became “it”. I had at least two panic attacks each day when out walking with Zoe. The first one, usually, because she would wriggle down a rabbit hole and I would have to dig her out, easier getting in than out, and the second one, when she would insist on swimming in a large, round water container meant for the cattle. Fine, except the container was positioned between two fields and running directly overhead was an electric fence. Water, a wolf and electricity do not mix but she was well aware it was there, she could smell the current, and took care not to touch it.

New Adventures.

My life revolved around the care of the wolf and keeping her safe and keeping the other animals happy. We had so many wonderful years. She and the dogs and the cats came to France with us when we moved. She loved the woods, the great expanse of forest on our doorstep. The wild boar, the deer, the hidden but heard wildlife, were sources of amusement and of chase for Zoe. She lived her life to the full and the mayor of the closest village offered us his Mercedes in exchange for her! We never had to hide what she was while in France, everyone recognised a wolf when they saw one and we often overheard conversations, in French, “ C’est un loup de bois, dans le bois” said with great hilarity, (it’s a timber wolf, in the woods). A common mistake though, arctic wolves do not live in European forests.

She came to restaurants with us, to the airport, to friends get togethers, she came everywhere. Everyone wanted to touch her, it’s as though she had a magnetic force drawing people to her. She would walk, off lead, head held high, her plume of a tail gently waving. People driving by would often see a wolf, on her way back home with John, carrying in her mouth a rabbit that she had caught when hunting in the forest . The only things that gave away the German Shepherd in her were her tail, longer than a true wolf, the shape of her skull and jaw, broader and not as narrow, and her shorter legs. To all other outward appearances, she was a wolf. A child once shouted to his parents, when we were picnicking in a beauty spot in Ireland, “look Dad, it’s a Wolf ”. You cannot explain to a child that what he knows is a wolf, isn’t really. Out of the mouth of babes and all that. Years later we returned to Ireland and the animals came too. Everyone settled back into the Irish way of life. After all, Zoe was born in Ireland and probably howled with an Irish accent. While John was working in London I would have to hold the phone close to Zoe so he could chat to her. He would talk, she would listen, throw her head back and howl. On one occasion he put her on speaker so the entire office could hear. One Russian girl asked where the wolf was.” At home with my wife”, said John. She was horrified. All the more so when he told her I slept with the wolf on my bed. Some people still believe all those stupid faery stories about the big bad wolf.

A life well lived.

Fourteen years of a life well lived, Zoe’s way, of shared times, of great times, of friendship and of implicit trust. Thirteen years without any worries until she was diagnosed with heart congestion and then with a rare type of cancer. That strong willed, indefatigable wolfdog did what she did best; she lived life right up to the moment when she no longer could. She would jump into the car to be taken to the woods, walk five steps and would need to come home. Never admitting defeat, staring death in the face, defying death. But, on the day that was to be her last, though neither she nor we knew it, she struggled to move around, was sick in the garden and a shadow fell over us. John tried to prepare me, telling me we may have to bring her to the vet soon but I wasn’t prepared, I never am, and in the early hours of the following morning, before the sun was up, before the earth was warm, Zoe did things her way, as she always had. She tucked herself by the bottom of the stairs, where I had covered her with a blanket, and she quietly, peacefully, at just over the age of fourteen, left us, forever. We have never been the same since. She took with her part of the sunshine, part of the joy in life and part of us. But that would be Zoe, she became a very important part of our lives and she, being a wolfdog, gave us a glimpse of life on the wild side. A wild side partly tamed, but never fully. It was the untamed part that, if we are honest, we welcomed with open arms and missed so much. Thank you for the hours, the days, the weeks and the years. You stole my heart, you made me yours.

I gaze into the firelight and I see her shape blazing back at me, fiercely alive, living in fire, burning, on fire with life. This was how she lived, so alive, so alert, scanning the horizon, on top of a ditch, watching for movement from rabbits. She engaged with life, never an observer, always leading the way, always pulling at my heartstrings, always pushing me to go just that bit further. Let’s see what’s over there or there or there. Pushing me to the limits of my endurance and beyond, moving the boundaries, after all, boundaries are man made, making me aware of my own heartbeat, of my own life, to be lived fully, not as a watcher in the shadows but right out there in the open, revelling in life, and that is her legacy. When her life was snuffed out, like a candle flame, she took with her the light that shone so brightly and my heart was filled with sorrow. What will be, will be, is a harsh lesson and, in her memory, I filled my life once again with light and laughter in the shape of a dog in need. There was only one wolfdog, one Zoe and never will her like be seen again.

If Zoe were able to express herself in human terms, her motto would be, seize the day, take life by the throat, howl at the Moon, sing to the Sun and rejoice. For just over fourteen years she did exactly all those things and through her I saw life afresh. I can still hear her song, her howls echo through the years. It was a privilege Zoe, to know you and to love you.

Would I recommend a wolfdog? Decidedly not. A wolf is a wolf, a dog is a dog and I feel that’s how it should remain. They are strong willed, highly independent, fiercely intelligent and can be impossible to contain. They need constant stimulation, you need to be with them 24 hours every day, every year, all the years. Let wolves remain wolves and dogs remain dogs because, at the end of the day, Zoe was a huge responsibility. We were lucky, we had people to turn to for advice.

Zoe Born 22nd March 1995. Died 1st May 2009.

Remembered every day.

Breaking and entering

Chapter One.

11 O’clock at night, my husband is in London and my dogs and I are in bed, in our bedroom. The house is silent, apart from the click of the central heating system as it turns itself off. Crash, followed by another crash, followed by the sound of a yelp coming from outside the house; coming from the direction of the front garden where no dogs are meant to be at this time of night. A cacophony of barking erupts from my dogs and they, all four of them, rush downstairs into the kitchen. I follow and, with caution, peer out of the window while the dogs demand to be let out. I can’t see a thing in the inky blackness of a moonless night, so I turn on the floodlights. Nothing, no shadows, no fox, no badger, no cat, no dog. I do not go outside, much safer to stay indoors, under the protection of my dogs. Back to bed we go only for the crash to be repeated a second and a third time.

By now I am concerned that perhaps a neighbour’s dog is chasing one of my cats and it is crashing into the very strong fence erected to keep Zoe, the wolf-dog, inside being a good dog not outside being a bad wolf. I grab a flashlight and cautiously open the porch door, keeping my dogs by my side. Nothing to be seen but the dogs are in a frenzy, so something is not right. Any person attempting to break in would be long gone by now, it is crystal clear from the barking of my dogs that they are large dogs, not to be messed with. Now, with my dogs in a protective circle around me, we step outside and see where the fence has been forced inwards. Scratching my head in puzzlement, feeling wide awake, I send three of the dogs on a search of the garden, keeping my fierce looking Lucy, the Doberman cross, by my side. From the corner of my eye, I spot movement to my right, next to a discarded dog kennel that was here when we moved in; furtive movement, gasping breath and there, close to me, is a grey and white, nondescript, dog. The house is a couple of miles down a boreen, well away from the main road, so, for an unknown dog to reach here, it was most likely dropped here. I do not want another dog, thank you, four is plenty, but I can’t just leave it looking so forlorn. My dogs have visibly relaxed so this one poses no threat to us. I call it to me and lock it in the old kennel, there to remain while my dogs and I have a good sleep.

Chapter Two.

Bright and early the following morning, after a restless night wondering about the dog, we all get up, go outside, open the kennel door and out pops the dog. A stump for a tail, eyes covered by very long hair, ears, body and head hair matted tightly to the skin and dragging, close to the ground, sex unknown, but friendly. It tries to leap on me and then I notice the nails; two inches of curved, curled nails, digging into the flesh on the paws. First things first, fresh water followed by a very small amount of food, gratefully received. I leave it alone and feed my dogs and cats. One hour later, with the cats in the back garden, well aware of the stranger in the front, we approach this bedraggled dog who pathetically crawls on its belly to us, in total appeasement. The neglect is obvious, utterly horrendous, utterly uncalled for. It is male, skin red and raw, weeping and oozing from infection. No choice now, I seem to have acquired another dog. Into the bath, a good all over wash, no shampoo used as I don’t want to cause unnecessary allergies, and lo and behold, a proper dog begins to appear.

He is an Old English Sheepdog, or he was, once upon a time. What he is now is a shadow of what he should be. Fully dried, out with the scissors and clip away the biggest, stinking, vile smelling clumps of hair. What emerges is a dog that is way, way below his weight. Thin as a sweeping brush handle, but now clean, and the stump of a tail is moving. It is meant to be a wag but the tail has been cut very close to his bum, any closer and it could have caused paralysis. He is beginning to look like a dog, a proper dog, but it will be many, many months before he will look like an Old English. How he got here remains a mystery. The dogs would have warned me of an approaching car so I can only assume that he was dumped on the main road and found his way to us, all of two miles away. Still, he did. Did he pick up the scents of friendly dogs? Was it pure chance he found his way down? Or, was he driven part of the way and then dumped? If so, whoever it was at least tried to leave him where he would be found. If he did find his own way, that is the smartest thing he did, ever, during his time with us.

Chapter Three.

That was midweek. I did tell John who told me it would be wise to try and find him a good home. Ha, he already had one but John didn’t yet know that. Friday night, on John’s arrival home from London, the dogs, including the latest “adventurer” greeted him with their normal happy to see you, where have you been, are we going walking now, when, this moment, greeting. By Saturday morning, Jake, as I named him, had all four paws, with his nails clipped, firmly ensconced, under the breakfast table. So began yet another introduction to the cats; cats with a look of horror on their faces, a look that expressed their disgust at one more dog in THEIR home, and a still smelly one at that.

On Monday the groomer called to the house. Hours later and a sweet scented, closely clipped dog strutted his way about the house. Now all that he needed was care. A check up at the vets confirmed his starvation condition, otherwise he was fine. Over the following months he steadily gained weight and then was neutered. He was estimated to be a three year old but, due to the lack of correct nutrition, was a very small boned dog for his breed. He never did grow upwards but became very healthy. He had no understanding of dogs, none whatsoever. He hadn’t a clue about dog body language but somehow, through sheer willpower, managed to get along with our dogs and with every dog he met. They slept together, ate together, but never played together. He could not fathom what play meant and was always to be seen on the side-lines, with a puzzled look on his face.

Nothing bothered him and, in all honesty, Jake was not really aware of the wider world, he seemed to exist in his own space. A dog of perhaps an underdeveloped brain that probably had not been allowed to develop social skills with other dogs or with people and, when watching him, it was clear to see, it was true. It was true because he clearly never had interactions with dogs in his life, before he came to us. When John took the dogs for their three hour mad, happy, run free, times in the fields, Jake would go in the opposite direction, blissfully unaware of his surroundings, equally blissfully unaware of the position of John or the dogs, by now miles away. A short, sharp whistle, repeated twice more, would bring him galloping in John’s direction. The bemusement on his face was so funny, almost to say, where has everyone been? There was total harmony in the house though and he blended in perfectly. Jake was, in his mind, in his world, a very happy dog. He had company, food, warmth, love and exercise.

Chapter Four.

Years later, when we moved to France, Zoe, our wolfdog, on one of our afternoon games involving me chasing her around the house and she then chasing me, must have triggered something in Jake’s brain; triggered the play mode, and that was it. The biggest breakthrough was made that day. Suddenly I was obsolete, Jake chased Zoe, Zoe chased Jake and on and on it went for an hour.

Jake, by now exhausted, outmaneuvered the wolf; the wolf that had never, ever, been outmaneuvered by a dog. He leaped over a low lying wall and hid in the shrubbery. It took Zoe only three seconds to discover where he had disappeared to but she had been outmaneuvered. He played that game, daily, to the day he died. He was not an obstinate dog, actually he was, just a little, not an unruly dog, not a wilfully disobedient dog as he easily might have been judged by others. He was just Jake. My Dad would get so very upset when I mentioned ` dog of little brain` in Jake’s presence, but Jake was generally away with the faeries anyway and it mattered not to him. He was very lovable, loved to be stroked on his belly and behind his ears. He was very gentle with the cats and tiptoed around them. He paid them due reverence and was never hissed at or clawed. How he managed to break through the very strong fence I will never know, unless his survival instinct was so strong, strong enough to give him the strength needed.

Somehow, he managed it on the night of the breaking and entering episode. Either that or he had an invisible doppelganger that did it for him. I wouldn’t put it past him, he had an ethereal air about him, an almost, not of this world, dog. Whatever, however, he broke in and stayed.

Just before we returned to Ireland, on his nightly stroll in the garden, he had a stroke and, in his weakened state, did what he had done all those years ago. He gathered his strength, his dying strength this time, and managed to make his way into the hall. I ran to him but that obstinate spirit in him brought him, unaided, into the sitting room where John and I and all the cats and the dogs had been relaxing. We sat on the floor with him, we knew he was dying. We stroked him, he was calm, peaceful, no panic and a few minutes later, he took his last breath.

Stubborn to the very end, he died as he wanted, surrounded by us all, with the people he had chosen, even if it had meant breaking and entering.

I had such admiration for that dog, as did John. To be so determined, to go for what you want, ignore obstacles, force your way through them and then, when you have what your brain tells you is vital, a chance of survival, take it with all four paws. Jake in this photo is, as was normal for him, on the side-line looking on as Clara, the GSD and Lucy, the Dobie/GSD, play tag with Zoe, the wolfdog. The second photo is of Jake at his happiest, relaxing in a heap with all the dogs, in the kitchen, while their normal beds were airing in the sun, as I baked bread, and with Chillie Pepper, one of the cats, resting on top of gentle Clara.

What a happy dog you were Jake, how you made us laugh. You were the most amusing dog, gentle and charming. You forced your way into our lives and left us with memories of the many, many funny and endearing things you did. An Old English sheepdog, a Bobtail, as the French called you, and that was far more appropriate, for a dog with a stump for a tail.

Chapter Five.

Memories are like a gentle shower of rain on a summer’s evening, falling softly into a little puddle. As I write about my animals from long ago, the puddle of rain, or teardrops, becomes a stream. The stream becomes a river, a river that becomes a lake, a lake that flows ever onwards till it joins another river. This river of tears flows over the rocks and crevices of memory, above and below ground. Over time, the river of tears erodes the rocks. The once solid rocks of memory become blurred but the pictures in my mind, and in the photo albums, and the feelings, remain; remain as enduring as the day they were made; formed, shaped, like a rough diamond from a South African mine, and then cut and polished and set in solid gold. There they stay till time, and death takes all away.

Commonality.

Of quiet contemplation and of deep contentment, neither pro nor anti regardless of the subject matter. Living life as best they can without vitriol or hatred. Neither religious nor agnostic, animals live, love and give you their everything. Whoever you are, wherever you are, may you find the same contentment as the animals and one day perhaps we as humans will find commonality among humanity.