Following on from my post yesterday, which describes the various dogs I have known when I was a youngster growing up in Malaysia, here is Part 2, which chronicles the dogs I had when I lived in Europe and lastly in Australia:
I went to England to study when I was 23, and subsequently spent the next 7 years working in the UK. Whilst there, I moved around so much that I never had time to keep any pets. (Though a ginger and white female cat did adopt me).
It was only in 2004, when I was living in Spain, that dogs reappeared in my life. Jasper, a stray, came round one evening, and he was a friendly little thing, but my then partner forbade me from keeping a dog, as he felt it would attack my then infant son, Jack. So, poor Jasper was turfed out into the streets…but luckily, a gypsy neighbour that I called “Mr Hat” on account of the black fedora hat he always wore, took him in, along with his dozen or so Podenco dogs. Jasper had a great time running around with them, but he always came up to me for a cuddle whenever he saw me.
On the eve of my leaving the south of Spain for the north of Spain, after selling my house, Jasper followed me and Jack through the streets of Ronda to the restaurant where I was meeting a friend for a farewell dinner. I was touched by his gesture. In retrospect, I wish I’d asked “Mr Hat” if I could keep Jasper for myself, as I’m sure he would have been a faithful companion.
My next port of call was Cangas de Onis, in Asturias in the north of Spain. There, I had a huge female dog, named Lucky, who was a Mastiff. The Spaniards call the breed “Mastin”. Lucky, unfortunately, was not very clever and never learned the recall cue. One day, after escaping from the house, she met Yakob, my neighbour’s Alsatian, and a few months later she gave birth to 12 puppies. That was quite an experience for me. Luckily, I was able to find homes for all of them, one local lad who worked in the supermarket came to look at one and ended up taking three home.
After living in Asturias for 2 years, from 2005-2007, I packed up everything I owned and with the help of my new partner, Charlie, travelled to Ireland to live with him. Sadly, we had to surrender Lucky to the local dog shelter, as we could only bring my cat, Murphy, on the ferry from Cherbourg, France to Rosslare, Ireland.
Charlie had kept border collies before, and now wanted a new dog, so we went to the local dog shelter and Charlie decided on a standard black and white collie, which he named Joey. Joey was very independent, and not the affectionate dog I would have preferred. He was a good watchdog, though. To me, Joey was more Charlie’s dog. He would go out in the van with Charlie to where he did odd jobs as a labourer/bricklayer/builder. When Joey was home, he’d spend his time rounding up and herding the chickens that we bred. Thankfully, he never hurt or killed them.
In October 2008, Charlie and I loaded up several cages with chickens, to bring to a livestock market in the small nearby town of Drumshanbo. This market was known locally as a “horse fair”, because it was mainly a horse and cattle auction venue. I remembered seeing a family with children walking around the market, and the children had 2 little dogs tied to the end of ropes. One dog was a white, somewhat like a West Highland terrier, the other was a mixed-breed brown dog.
Later, as I sat in Charlie’s van eating some freshly-cooked chips, I noticed that the 2 little dogs were running loose around the market. It was nearly closing time, so my son Jack and I, aided by said chips, caught the 2 dogs in our arms and went around asking if anyone had lost their dogs. No one came forward to claim them. We put them in one of the chickens’ cages, and people came round to look at them. Some of them asked how much we wanted for the dogs, and when we explained the situation, and said that the dogs were free to good homes, they didn’t seem interested.
Anyway, those 2 little dogs came home with us. One of my friends wanted the brown one, so I dropped it off at her place. The little white one became Scruffy, my faithful terrier friend. I still have Scruffy, and he’s about 8 years old now. He wouldn’t hurt a fly…well, yes, he would. But only flies. And mice, as Scruffy’s a champion ratter.
Sadly, things didn’t work out with Charlie, so I moved out on my own. I took Scruffy with me, of course. In June 2009 I met my husband, Geoff, and in 2010 as work dried up in Dublin, he decided to try his luck once more in Australia. He already had his Permanent Residency status there, from a previous jaunt. He tried to persuade me to leave Scruffy behind, saying there would be plenty of dogs in Australia. At first I concurred, but then I watched the film “Hachi” at the cinema, starring Richard Gere, and changed my mind immediately. No way would I leave Scruffy behind, to wonder what had happened to me for the rest of his life, like Hachiko. And so Scruffy came with me to live in Australia.
We found Shelagh through an ad on Gumtree, she was from a litter of 7 puppies. I saw her parents through the living room sliding door, and they looked nothing like the “English Staffy cross Mastiff” they were advertised as. To me, they looked like Pit Bull Terriers.
As Shelagh grew, it became apparent that she was indeed very much a Pit Bull Terrier. After a naughty start in life, where she chewed her way through an entire set of wooden dining table and chairs, and ate half a kitchen wall, when she was a year old, she changed overnight into the most perfect dog in the world. She has the most beautiful temperament, and is best friends with Scruffy, who was her nursemaid when she was a puppy. I couldn’t ask for a better dog.
In looking back over the years, I realise just how much of an impact my father had on the various dogs in my life. How he had decided which dogs to keep and which to get rid of, purely based on their gender. Back in Malaysia, we always lived in fenced-off properties, so the dogs we had never had to be taken for walks outside. The standard Malaysian way of keeping dogs was to tether them to the outside at the front or back of the house while their humans were out. Then, when the humans returned home, the dogs would be let loose to roam the perimeter of the property. Dogs were used primarily for protecting the home, and were not really considered as pets or family members. My father frowned upon the idea of keeping dogs inside the house, or even providing them with blankets so they didn’t have to sleep on the hard concrete floor. As a consequence, all the family dogs I knew while growing up, had calloused elbows from sleeping on the floor. My father also had an aversion towards taking the dogs to the vet when they were ill, or even to give them regular flea and tick treatments. I remember using tweezers to pluck big, fat ticks off the skin of my dogs.
I know my father meant no malice, and his actions were from ignorance and arrogance. It has made me more conscious of how I treat my own dogs.
(Tomorrow’s post: Part 3)