The plan was to write about a few of my romantic adventures from my youth, but I guess I have to wait until my husband has passed on or I have.
So instead I will write about the real big loves of my life: my dogs.
You have to know that my mother absolutely forbade any kind of animal in the house. She probably already knew what I later was to find out, that the care more or less always fully lands on the person who does all the household chores. She was not having any of it. Once when I managed to tame a wild kitten who always came to the back of our garden, she pretended it was alright, but later when I was in school she drove it to the other side of the island, at least that is what she told me 20 years later. At the time she said that he had followed the call of the wild.
When I was about 20 and holding down a job, living in a bed-sit, I had a boyfriend who was crazy about dogs, but could not keep one in his student room. He asked me if I would be willing to get a small toy poodle puppy together with him. I thought about it for a micro second and off we went to the pet shop. In those days you could still actually buy puppies in a shop! They had one little male toy poodle left, who was so cute that even though my boyfriend admitted he could not afford the exorbitant price(1 month of my salary) I was willing to put up the money and we took him home. His name was Timmy after the Famous Five.
Luckily there was a vet living opposite me and I immediately went to see her in order to let him have a good check up. She took one look at the little handful of dog and said he had been taken far too early from his mum and was only 6 weeks old. He was too young to feed himself. But I was already in love and willing to spend the next months feeding him by scooping tiny bits of baby porridge into his little mouth. In order for him to get house trained I was supposed to keep him in a box overnight, but after a few hours of listening to him crying, I took him in my bed and he curled himself between my head and my shoulder and the bond was cemented.
I don’t know if you know the little dog on Asterix and Obelix, who was always somewhere in the background. That was Timmy. Present in almost all my pictures. He was so small, even as an adult, he used to either sit inside my jacket or in my backpack, when I cycled around Nijmegen.
The small downside was that I always had to peddle home during lunch to take him out. His friendship made up for that many times over.The boyfriend went, but Timmy stayed on. For fifteen years!
As I followed men to the UK twice when those ridiculous quarantine laws were still being applied to dogs, the poor thing was in quarantine for six months each time. I visited him every week, even the second time when I was 6 months pregnant with my first son. People said I was crazy, but I missed the little guy like mad. The first kennel was in Walthamstow , right at the end of the underground line. The second one was in rural Sussex called Lady Hay kennels. We got a brochure describing his arrival at the kennel and they just about not offer him a newspaper, but for the rest it was like arriving at a luxury resort. He survived all that and spend two happy years with us. His last years he was as blind as a bat, which did not stop him charging around to find his toys. As long as we kept the furniture in the same place everything was fine. I turned into a sort of Guide-human for the blind.
While expecting my second son, Timmy got very ill, mainly old age and cancer, so we had to say goodbye. I was a terrible coward and waited a whole day to finally let my husband take him to the vet to be put to sleep. I wept so much I was worried of miscarrying. Not being with my dog when they put him to sleep was a mistake I took great care never to make again. He was a symbol of my time as a carefree single girl and woman.
With my husband he had a love-hate relationship during the 4 years they suffered each other. When I was travelling for work, he would submit gracefully to my husband’s care but the moment I was home he made sure my husband knew his place. Not too close to me!
Quite soon after Timmy died I decided to get another dog, as I really wanted my children to grow up with one.
I went to the RSPCA and selected a beautiful border collie. She was about 3 years old and extremely obedient and willing to learn new things. I was very sad that one day, she bit my eldest in the face. Luckily in a quite gentle way, more as a warning. She was jealous of the attention I gave him. It would be too risky to keep her, so she went back and later found a lovely family with a teenage son, whom she adored.
I decided to get a puppy this time so there would be no nasty surprises. When Gerald was 1 year old and had learned to walk, we got Miss Tilly , a Heinz 52, with a bit of everything mixed in. She was the sweetest dog in the world. When she was young she thought it hilarious to run through the legs of the boys to make them topple over.
Gerald ,the youngest, and Tilly were some kind of a unit. The eldest was already in school and Gerald and Tilly became best friends. My mother-in-law used to say she could not tell where the dog ended and the boy started as they were always rolling about.This started his lifelong love for dogs and other animals. I named my son after Gerald Durrell, which has shown to be very prescient of me.
Tilly was our companion on many nature walks, which my husband organised practically every weekend. When we moved to a house next to the Ashdown Forest, she started to take herself for a hike there. The first time that happened, I nearly called the police for a search party, but after an hour or so madam showed up looking very satisfied with herself.
The picture on the right shows how she came all the way up two flights of stairs to find my husband in his study , to ask him to get the top of the bin of her neck. She had been caught trying to get something out of the bin.
She kept me very fit hiking up and down the hills in Sussex. It was a sad day when after 9 short years she got a bad kind of cancer and we again had to bring her, this time as a family, to the vet. My brave eldest son went with me , he was only 11, to hold my hand and support Tilly. I was a wreck for quite a while.
Right before we went to live in the Netherlands, we found life without a furry animal was not worth living, so off we went to a farm where they had two puppies left over from a litter of seven. The mother, a beautiful English Springer Spaniel had gotten herself pregnant by an unknown chap and as she had a family tree going back to William the Conqueror, these babies were up for sale for a price we could afford. The plan was to only get one female. When we saw her we were immediately smitten and agreed to take her. In the back of the bed sat this rather strangely looking puppy with a bobble on his head and Charley Chaplin feet. We all loved him at first sight too and against all my instincts we got both of them so the boys could each look after one of their own. That of course never happened. The first weeks I sat in the hallway making sure they did not do their business in the house. It nearly drove me mad. In the beginning I even slept downstairs, so they would not cry and I would be on hand to let them out. It was chaos!!! Add to that two lively boys of 9 and 11 and you can imagine how the training went.
Jack and Lizzy, named so by the boys, became an integrated part of the Campbell family and as the digital camera era had arrived we literally have hundreds of pictures of them. We were lucky to have them for 14 and 14 and a half years. Lizzy died soon after Jack of a broken heart I think. They were never apart from the moment they were born only to go to the vet sometimes. And then the other one would lie in the hallway staring at the door, waiting for their sibling to come home. The training was never a success and they staid wild and crazy until they died. My husband spent much more time with these dogs, as I was away a lot for work. They also kept the empty nest syndrome at bay for years. With them the nest was always full. They drove us crazy and kept us sane. God we loved those dogs.
Saying goodbye, we had the vet come to our house both times, was as hard as ever. Another two scars on the soul.
The scarring did not deter us from getting yet another puppy. This time I chose her from a Spanish charity who rescues puppies who would otherwise be drowned or just thrown away. The advert said “medium size” but my husband when he saw the baby photo with the huge paw already was weary. I just thought she looked like a child of Jack and Lizzy and just had to have her. Gerald and I, when she was 4 months old, went to collect her in Malaga bringing 3 more pups with us for three other couples who had adopted them.
They were all brothers and sisters. Apparently a mix of the Spanish Mastiff and a few other brands. Her name is Bonita and we did not change it as she sure is beautiful. She grew and grew into a giantess of a dog filled with an enormous amount of love and kindness. I have yet to hear her growl or bark at another dog even if they are being aggressive towards her. It seems to calm the other dogs down as we never have problems with other dogs. Another chunk of my heart taken by this big pile of fur. You cannot stay untouched by these loving creatures. At least I can’t.
She will be 4 this year and it feels she has always been with us continuing the unending love dogs have given us in the past and hopefully will give us for a long time to come.