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..!)


Scott from Oregon said...


My sister had a border collie mix named "dude" that had about fifty "tricks" he would do for the pleasure of others.

He did "bang" too.

My favorite one was when anybody sneezed while at my sister's house, he ran over and pulled a tissue from its box and gave it to the person with the dripping nose...

He could also tell the difference between an "elephant" and a "monkey" in his toy hamper.

My poor brother has him now, and has no clue how much dude knows.

(But learned the hard way about how sneaky and smart Dude is, when he lost a prime rib dinner that just "disappeared"...)

TechnoBabe said...

Great life story. What a dog! With you at work and so smart too. I like the photo of your New Year celebration and the good news that came from that celebration!

Carol @ TheWritersPorch said...

Loved this story Shrink! You are an awesome writer! :)

Akelamalu said...

Oh Bessie reminds me so much of our beloved dog Guinnes! He was a border collie cross and the funniest, most intelligent dog you would ever meet. We got him from some friends who owned a pub and he was black and white - hence his name.

I so enjoyed reading this Shrinky. :)

Leslie: said...

You've taken me back to when we got Star, our brindle boxer when she was only 7 weeks old. I could do a post on HER - maybe I'll do that one day. I still miss her and she's been gone since 1997. *sigh*

Mushy said...

Lovely piece...thanks for sharing.

chewy said...

Wonderful story of Bessie-Boots. Your blog is going to the dogs. (wink)

PRH....... said...

Dogs have been a part of my life since I was a pup, and my kids have had to share the house with an Airedale or 2 since they were born....

Hard to lose them....but worth the joy and challenge they bring to one's life.

smiles4u said...

What a delightful story! XX Lori

Artful Kisser said...

It's so lovely to see these photographs. Your Bessie reminds me so much of my Jock. I really do believe border Collies are without a doubt the most beautiful natured dogs on the face of the earth.

Shrinky said...

Oh Scott, this made me laugh! What a neat trick with the tissues, I have never heard of that one before. Yup, Border Collies are the brainiac's of the dog world. My golden retriever, Jake, is gorgeous and I love him to bits, but compared to Bessie, he is as thick as a plank, bless him!

Hi TechnoBabe, yeah, my eldest is mortified we know the exact hour he was conceived - giggle.

Hello Carol, it was fun to take a trip down memory lane, I'm delighted you enjoyed the walk with me - smile.

Akelamalu, what a great name for a dog! He sounds to have been pretty special too - I can never understand those folk who are not into animals, they miss out on so much.

Hi Leslie, oh yes, please do a post about Star! No matter how long they may be gone, as with people, we always miss and remember them, don't we?

Hi Mushy, thanks for stopping by, it's good to see you!

Hey Chewy, (laughing) what do you mean GOING?? It's been there all the time - wink.

Hi Pat, yes, I dread the day when we will have to cope with losing Jake. Despite that, he completes our family and turns our house into a home, he brings so much joy and pleasure into our lives, just as Bessie did for me when she was around.

Hello Lori, cheers, thanks for that!

Shrinky said...

Hi Artful Kisser, I see I've been preaching to the converted here (smile). Yes, they would seem to be, wouldn't they?

Nancy said...

Loved this story. Your little Bessie Boots was quite a lady, and I can see why you adored her. What a ham-bone! LOL!

Shrinky said...

Nancy, yeah, they broke the mold after making her, she was a one off!

Suldog said...

Lovely, lovely dog. I'm more of a cat person - sorry - but a good, loyal, funny dog (which Bessie certainly seems) is priceless. God blessed you with her. And her with you, of course.

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Dearest Carol,

Bessie was absolutely beautiful!!! How could anyone resist her? I adore dogs, and so this wonderful story completely captivated me...I had a miniature schnauzer...his breeder was located in the countryside southwest of London...and he went everywhere with me as well...and "Bang!"...oh, my goodness...I taught him that same trick!! It must be a trick for posh, Brit dogs as I've not seen an American dog who is able to do it ;-) Your writing and your pics bring Bessie to life...and I feel as though I knew her and loved her...loved, loved, loved this post!! You are such a terrific writer! ~Janine XO

Debbie said...

Now that is a dog anyone, including me, could love! What a face.

Fletch said...

Of course I enjoyed the post. So much so that it triggered a memory that is now linked to this post for eternity . . . or at least as long as these blogs continue!

Shrinky said...

Hi Suldog, oh, I am a cat person too, I even have one - used to be two - sigh. Poor Jess has never quite been the same since she lost her sister, and she's getting old now, 12 in human years, Lord knows how old that makes her in the feline world. She doesn't care too much for our Jake, but she tolerates him.

Oh Janine, a friend of mine has a little Schnauzer, he is as bright as a button and is three times more as crafty, and he has us in stitches half of the time. He hates getting his paws wet and literally has to be DRAGGED out if it rains!

Ah Debbie, he was she was my first and most loved child! (Wink)

Fletch, you old sly dog, now my ears are burning! (Trotting off pronto to check what's going on..)

~Babs said...

What a wonderful story!
Just look at that face!
Border Collies are SO smart,,,,we have had two Shelties now, and as I'm sure you know, they are very intelligent also. I thought I would die myself when we lost our first sheltie at 15. It will be the same with the one we have now.
We swear we won't have another, as it just hurts too much to lose our furry children,,,but we are very weak when it comes to the homeless ones. So it could happen,,,

Shrinky said...

Oooh Babs, I had a Sheltie when I was a kid, and you are so right, they are so loving and bright. And yes, like you, I've sworn NEVER AGAIN will I allow my heart to be broken by losing another pet. Jake is only five and has many more years left to come - my children have never really had to deal with loss yet, I dread the day when they must.

Sandi McBride said...

What a wonderful story about a beloved member of your family. She is a stunner, that Bessie. I can remember watching a Man and His Dog when we lived there. I was always fascinated with the herding adeptness of both master and worker...beautifully written.

jay said...

Awww .. I can feel the love, Shrinky! Bessie sounds like such a great dog!

I dunno, people might say that you turned her into a circus act, but you and I both know that you can't let BCs be idle. They have such active minds that she probably loooved being taught tricks, and being allowed to perform them too!

What a great companion she must have been.

Shrinky said...

Aw, thanks Sandi, there are sheep dog trials held every year in the field, just across the river at the bottom of our garden. I have a birds eye view, it's always a delight to watch, they are pretty amazing, aren't they?

Jay, there can never be another Bessie (smile), yes, she was the dearest of friends.

Merisi said...

Where would we all be without our dogs?
Thank you for sharing the story of your beloved Bessie-Boots with us!

Shrinky said...

Hi Merisi, how lovely to see you again! I do believe a family isn't quite complete without without a faithful hound, but maybe that's just me?

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