Tuesday, 31 May 2011


This time last year this elderly lady came to stay with me for her retirement. Although she had known me for the whole of her adult life, it had been as one of a crowd ... she knew my scent and my voice, so when I collected her one early morning in late May, she was trusting, but very unsure of where I was taking her. Being bathed on arrival didn't help. But her first breakfast was her favourite raw meat and biscuit and so began the trust in this stage of life, gradually finding her place was as top dog in a household of none, and a companion in me who understood her needs and who spoke a language familiar to her.

Confidence grew indoors and out. Initially she believed I was emptying this little space to provide a dark shelter for her, but my priority was sorting out the stationery cupboard, which she turned into a game, the first return of her sense of humour.

The grass is greener over the other side of the hedge, and the scents stronger, and this day she discovered that front paws on the low wall gave her a little height advantage. One evening, out for the last piddle, she began the tone of bark that was calling my attention to something, but I only had vision, not her scenting nose, so I could make nothing of it. The following morning's walk along the far bottom of that field brought us both into the scent line of a fox, and I'm sure that, at that point, she looked round and up at me, saying: Told You !

This bush flowered for the first time yesterday which, at the end of May, is a whole month earlier in the summer than when I took the photo at the end of June last year. Then the fresh dusty concrete wheelchair accessible path held little scent, but owl droppings under the oak tree were always worth a sniff.

High summer passed quickly in a succession of her first discovering and then eating wild strawberries, gooseberries, redcurrants and finally apples. The berries being carefully and daintily picked off the bushes within reach of her teeth, the high apples waiting for them to drop. First the green hard ones, just testing really to see if they were ready to eat as they fell, then testing her patience until they got bigger and tastier, finally the excitement of finding a new fall each morning and getting to them before I did. Daily walks became, for her, slow progressions, as I stopped the Tramper at each location of blackberries along the hedgerows, her views across the fields stopped by the by-now high maize crop, her quiet waiting rewarded with a handful of the gathered fruits.

She discovered beer, in glass jars, left on the ground by the Morris Dancers one evening when we returned home from a long cool late walk, and found them in the pub car park. She was used to men standing around drinking and talking, but when they started jingling and jumping and flinging handkerchiefs around, she climbed up and hid on the Tramper footbed, safe between my knees to peer round the Tramper's front to see what all the noise was about.

Over the summer she got fatter, lost her trim waist, enjoyed toast crusts after my breakfast, vegetable leftovers from my supper and further supplemented her diet of meat, biscuit and berries with crumbs of anything dropped during food prep in the kitchen.

With the autumn came longer exercise, walking up behind her friends but never letting me out of her sight, secured by the extending lead to me, and secure in the knowledge that she would be going home with me to her comfortable retirement home.

An early fall of winter snow brought treasure to the surface - those forgotten apples that were covered by autumn leaf fall with their scent lost amongst all the other rotting vegetation. Now they were resurrected when the snow killed all distracting scents excepting those of the soft ruddy brown of well matured squishy apples - another feast.

Winter weather did not bother her and she shook off all attempts to put a waxed dog jacket on her back, even one memorable day when the temperature stayed at minus ten degrees centigrade all morning. That day I only managed to exercise her for twenty minutes on the Tramper down frozen lanes before I was seriously concerned at my fingers' chances of remaining attached to my palms. The gloves off just for a second to hand the camera to a passing villager who couldn't believe his eyes, never having seen a Tramper before.

During her retirement with me came something I hadn't expected, even though I'd had dogs before - the hound dialogue; over the months we passed from my use of words she was used to obeying (LEAVE IT !), onto her first days of learning: Go To Sleep; Toast !, and other such important information, through to one day I was thinking of calling her and she came back through the door and looked at me: asking, replying, as she did when I called her in the tone that was calling for fun, or an apple. What Mum ?

She died in January, at a very good age. Trusting still.


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