Tonight I want to talk about the dogs.... but hard to know which order to talk about them in... and is the one I choose first my favourite! I love them both for totally different attributes.
To solve my dilemma, it might be easiest to introduce them in the order they arrived in our lives.
Jessie was the first to arrive. As part of training our vet nursing students in anaesthesia and sterile theatre practice, each week, the polytech pays for a local clinic to neuter or spey a dog from our local pound with students helping. It has been a great relationship since we began it in 1999 and resulted in many dogs being neutered prior to being rehomed, often instead of being put to sleep. The lovely people who run the pound select suitable dogs. Sometimes we also do cats for rehoming.
Mid way through 1999, when the scheme was still fairly new, I was keeping an eye out for a small dog for the children. We had always had black labs, but this time I wanted something better suited for being a house dog. When I arrived in theatre one afternoon and saw the little 20 week old puppy in for speying I was mesmerised. She needed a home, and never returned to the pound, having met the approval of the family.
She wasn't an easy puppy, but as we had 5 acres she had plenty of room. She was fanatical about chasing rabbits, and challenged the fencing for the 7 years we lived there with her. The whole countryside around was her playground and if she escaped, we had to explore all her haunts and trek across paddocks to get her back - usually when we needed to be at work! In 2003, when she was toddling through a paddock next door sniffing for rabbits, the neighbour shot her. Yes, he had a small flock of sheep, which she always ignored, and he was perfectly entitled legally to do it, but he knew it was our dog, and I never trusted him again near the children or the dogs. He said he meant to fire over her head, but there were about 50 pellets in her leg and she nearly bled to death. We can still feel pellets occasionally under her skin as they work their way to the surface. She survived with intensive nursing and pethidine drips. It was one reason why it was eventually a relief to move away from there, and she has been a perfect town dog, even if we never get our power read properly unless we are home to shut her away from the meter reader... she is a great wee guard dog.
Saffy belonged to a casual friend. I met her when she was nearly three.
I saw her for the first time through a gate, when I called in to collect some things there and admired the gentle retriever wagging her tail at me. Some time later, the friend was transferred up north and needed someone to dog sit for a while. By then I had realised that Saff was in a home that didn't really want a dog. She lived outside all the time and needed a bath and a groom. So I offered.... and as expected, after six months she became ours officially.
The first weeks were not easy either. She has a dominant personality and she and Jess battled to be top dog. Things came to ahead one week when Jess was limping, so Saff attacked her, and my son was nearly bitten. From that day on we took proper control, and made Jess top dog. Jess was there first, a year older, and was battling against a bigger dog to stay at the top of the hierarchy. So now, she is fed first, goes through doors and into the car first, and has more privileges. Once Saff knew her place, the competition stopped, and in the last five years, they have been pretty good as long as we retain our recognition of their ranking. As you can see, they are not allowed on the beds! But occasionally they sneak on - and the children took this one day to prove it.
Someone once told me that one dog will have issues, but two dogs will have more than twice the issues. I agree. As well as two dogs eating us out of house and home, adding dog logs and grass burn to the garden, muddy footprints to the floors, hair to the furniture, and noise, they share their issues generously. Jess is scared of fireworks - and her anxiety has now passed to Saff. In her turn, Saff has wander lust. If we thought Jess escaping was bad, if they got out together it was party time - Saff would lead her off for miles! They would arrive home eventually, tired and wet and muddy, usually, but not always, together. Nowadays, Saff rarely gets out as we have great fencing, but if some idiot leaves the gate open she will risk the road to check out the rubbish along the lake front.
Saffy tried to die on us last year. She developed Auto Immune Haemolytic Anaemia. Sudden onset, no known cause, but she destroyed all her own red blood cells and collapsed. She had two blood transfusions. You find out who your friends are when you need their dogs blood! Many offered, and luckily two had suitable dogs. After these, and with massive doses of steroids, she gradually recovered, but will need immune suppressants for the rest of her life and is likely to die younger or develop cancer. At the height of her steroid dosage she could not stand and weed herself all the time. Her face became thin and skull like, and her hair became brittle and fell out. Gradually she has returned to normal, and this year we have been able to groom her again and she can manage walks. The illness has aged her, but she is still with us and enjoying life.
Sometimes I wonder why we have dogs. Then I see Saffy waiting for me at the gate, her blonde beauty, tail wagging and muzzle wrinkled into a smile; Jess squealing with delight running up and down.
I see them sleeping next to the bed and guarding the house at night; their excitement if you put on the "shoes" that spell W.A.L.K; sleeping peacefully near us on the floor as we watch TV. I remember the quiet companionship and how empty the house will feel when they have gone and it all makes perfect sense.