Saturday, November 28, 2009
It was love at first sight for me.
She was nothing more than a bundle of fluff when I first carried her home, seven weeks old and missing her mum, I wrapped a hot water bottle in her blanket, and placed a ticking clock underneath it on that first week, in hopes of simulating a beating heart for her. She finally settled in to sleeping each night in a basket by the side my bed. I lived alone, and she instantly became my trusted confidante and constant companion.
I had recently started my own business, and things had got off to a good start. My first office was within walking distance to my home, and I already had four trusted staff in my tightly knit team.
Until she received her vaccinations, Bessie travelled to and fro in a basket to my workplace. Soon she was trotting on a lead there, and that set our routine for the next few years. It didn't matter I often had meetings or business that took me away from the office, little Bessie-Boots was firmly on the pay-roll, she put in a full working week looking after us all. Nettie, our office junior, was happy to have her contract expanded to include an hour each day walking with her on Wimbledon Common. That mutt and her spent many's a time together, whilst out Bessie never tired of catching a Frisbee, she was as quick as lightening, and could easily leap six foot in the air just to catch it. The remainder of the time she was perfectly content to curl up in her basket under my desk, just venturing out for the odd cuddle or treat.
That said, she had a sense for when things were not right, and there were several occasions when she rose to protect me. The nature of my work meant our door was open to the general public, and I often worked alone late into the evening - it was like working in a glass house, as the huge front window faced directly on to the street, and all who passed by could see in. It was where I hung our current vacancies and temporary contracts up, and as such, it was a necessary evil I had learned to live with. But in the winter I never knew who lurked outside, and after a few unsettling encounters, I did eventually have a panic button installed directly beneath my desk.
I never had the need to call on it, Bessie willingly took over that role. One low growl from her sent any would-be neer-do-well's firmly scuttling off.
In the evenings we would stroll on Putney common, and whilst Bessie ran with the regular pack, I would fall into conversation with the other dog-owners walking there. It was a little like belonging to a loosely formed private members club, and I struck up several lasting friendships that way.
This is where I came to meet Tom. He had three devoted Border-Collies, one of whom had won first place in the televised sheep-dog trials, "One man and his dog", a long-standing popular event where working dogs were put through their paces. Like Tom, Shadow was now getting rather long in the tooth, and also like his owner, he too walked with a limp. Tom was a fourth generation farmer, but having suffered a stroke, he had passed the farm on to his son and had retired with his wife to London. I know this sounds a strange place for a country lad to settle, but Tom was a multitude of contradiction; also a talented Jazz saxophonist, he had many contacts in the music industry, and enjoyed the life that the city offered. But his first love was always nature, and he had a gentle affinity for every living creature. I guess he must have been well into his seventies when we first encountered each other, and although he walked with the aid of a stick, he still set a firm pace for me to follow.
Tom was not really much of a people person, he was a dour Scot who preffered to keep himself to himself, and was only truly comfortable with his animals. We began to nod to each other in passing over the months, but rarely spoke. But Bessie took a shine to him, and she slowly began chipping away at his heart. It wasn't too long before he began to share the treats he had brought along for his own dogs with her. It was a natural progression for us to then begin to walk a little way together. It was during one of these walks that he told me of a vixen with a family of cubs he had discovered living nearby. She had an injured leg, and was he worried she would not be able to continue providing for her off-spring and herself.
He later up-dated me that he had taken to leaving tit-bits of chicken out near her den at dusk, keeping a distance back as he watched her come out to claim it. Gradually, he stood nearer, allowing her to gain confidence in his presence, and within weeks he was happy to report she was now accepting his offerings from his outstretched hand. He finally allowed me to visit with him there a couple of times, but only on the firm promise I stood well back and kept down wind. Bessie stayed home on those few magical occasions.
I wasn't too keen when Tom first suggested mating Bessie with his prize winning sheep-dog, I had never considered her littering pups.. but he slowly won me round to the idea. Her five babies came out strong and healthy, and each and every one was as cute as a button. Bessie was a natural mother. Both my sisters claimed a pup for their own, and they soon grew into adults as fine as their parents. Tom had found willing homes for the other three (actually, he had lined up six eager recipients, and was visibly disappointed when she went on to birth only five). Jess and Beaucie were much loved in their own right, and although they, as with my own little Bessie-Boots, have long since departed, they became a firmly loved part of my extended family for many, many years.
Other than to restaurants, Bessie came just about everywhere with me. My local pub always welcomed us with open arms, and many of the regulars there taught her tricks in exchange for crisps. She was keen and bright, and had a long repertoire of cute moves to keep you riveted. Point a finger and say, "Bang", she would drop like a stone, roll over with her paws in the air AND close her eyes! If you told her, "Don't look", she would lie down and cover her paws over her eyes. She loved the fuss and attention, and although some people might frown that I turned her into a performing circus act, I believe she enjoyed putting on a show even more than we loved watching it.
Every Easter, I would book a cottage away somewhere with friends for the week, Bessie always came along. If I went away for a long weekend break, I would only stay at a hotel where dogs were welcome. On any holidays abroad, either my little sis' or a friend would move in for my absence, I couldn't bear the thought of kennelling her with strangers.
One Easter she punctured her paw and got a nasty infection in it - the vet bandaged a poultice around it, and had me visit daily to replace the dressing. She was a trooper, ever the princess, she hammed it up to the hilt - every time anyone asked, "How's the injury doing, Bess?" She would lift up her injured limb and, head cocked, emit a soft, sad whine. She kept that act up years after the bandage was removed!
She tolerated my boyfriends, but vetted them too. Several romances fell foul of her disapproval. When I met my future hubby, he was completely intimidated by her. She would sit between us on the sofa, a low growl in her throat any time he attempted to put any moves on me. They eventually settled into an uneasy truce, but Bessie never entirely forgave him for dividing my attentions.
(Perhaps she is one of the reasons I was almost thirty before I married!)
He did give her her lucky break, though! He borrowed her once to star in a (of all things, Russian) commercial. I brought her along to this little studio in Soho, and she happily played to her audience. The guy standing with her only had his feet included in the shot, hence his non-farmer-like attire above the knee.
This last pic was taken in a hotel room in the wee small hours of New Years Day, and yes, as is rather evident, I'd just returned from a rather fine celebration of seeing in the new year. It was in the quaint little village of Abbotsbury, and I was was only a few months married.
(As it turned out, only an hour or so after this was taken, we conceived our firstborn..!)