Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The story of Dog Island

A very long time ago and very far away, in another life and another world, I was not a Dog Person.

I shall pause, for you all to pick yourselves off the floor, where you have surely fallen, laughing.

I am ashamed to say I rather looked down my nose at the Dog People. I liked to think of myself as marvellously liberal and tolerant in those days, but in fact I was a bundle of horrid prejudices. I associated the Dog People with those kind of leathery, shouty ladies, who wear quilted waistcoats and have voices that can carry over three fields, and have never had a moment of self-doubt in their lives. Either that, or, even worse, the kind of pink fluffy creatures who make feminists want to cut their own heads off, who carry teeny tiny little toy dogs in their absurd handbags.

I was a late-night racketeer. I went on lost weekends to Dublin and flew to Manhattan on a whim. I could never quite decide if I wanted to be a character out of Scott Fitzgerald or something from the Algonquin Round Table, but those were the kind of ridiculously narcissistic ideas I had of myself. (I was young, and idiotic; what can I tell you?)

Then I left the dirty streets of Soho and my beloved tranny bars behind (best lipstick tips ever) and moved five hundred miles north. It still did not occur to me to get a dog. I might be living surrounded by mountains and sheep, but my amour propre insisted that I could create my own little Round Table in the privacy of my own head, and that would not include yelling HEEL at the top of my voice.

Then, very suddenly, my sister moved abroad and I took in her two sleek, black, lab-collie crosses. The family returned after a year, but the dogs stayed with me. I had fallen helplessly in love, with a crash that could be heard as far as Inverness, and The Younger Niece, then only nine, pulled on the wisdom of Solomon and decided the dogs should live with me.

I still remember what she said. ‘You have to get up at seven to take them for their walks,’ she told me, sagely. ‘And I can come round and give them hugs whenever I want.’

That was how I ended up stranded on Dog Island, with no chance of a ferry home.

I did travel a bit at the beginning, but in the end they went everywhere with me, which is when I started taking all my holidays in Blighty, so they could come with. We took the boat to Colonsay, where they ran on the white sands, and gambolled in sea as blue as the Caribbean. We roamed the Lake District and even once went to London, where they chased the squirrels in Hyde Park and took their ease by the Serpentine.

I lost the marvellous Duchess on the night of my father’s funeral, in the bright sunshine of last spring. The Pigeon mourned, but rallied, and stayed with me until that awful morning in November, when we ran out of road.

They were very, very special dogs. They were raving beauties, packed with character and intelligence. They were funny and affectionate and thoughtful. They were loyal and true. The thought of anything matching them was absurd.

There was a moment when I thought I could never get another dog because nothing could come close. My heart ached and cracked and split. The house was silent and filled with ghosts. In the empty evenings, I found myself blindly looking at the internet, where there were puppies for sale and lost canines begging for rescue.

I grew angry. Nothing could meet the gold standard of my glorious ladies. But then I saw the picture of Stanley the Lurcher. He was a dog who needed a new home. Through no fault of his own, it said, rather heartbreakingly.

There was something in his face. I kept coming back to him. The seed of another dog life planted itself. I looked at other pictures, I investigated canines closer to home. Somerset, where he lived, could not be farther from my front door if it tried. But in the end, it was Stanley or bust.

I just happened to be going south, and Stanley’s foster carer turned out to have a family connection to my father, which seemed improbable and curious and faintly portentous, and it was only a few miles and some petrol, so off I drove, on a sunny morning, the fields glittering with floods, to meet him.

After a few moments, he came over and rested his chin on my knee and gazed up at me. The fosterers gasped. I looked at them in enquiry.

‘He never does that,’ they said.

That was it, for Stanley and me. I applied officially; the good people at the excellent Many Tears Rescue organisation gave me a thorough vetting, and decided I would do. So I bundled him in the car and drove him to Scotland, just one step ahead of the snow, and now he is curled up by my side, listening to a nice bit of Mozart.

He has met the horses and met the family and been introduced to the sheep. He and I are slowly getting to know each other. Every day brings a new thing. I discovered this morning that he does special comedy chasing of his own tail, and then hurls himself onto his back with all four legs in the air. I am very glad of this; I would be sad to have a dog that did not make me laugh.

He has boundless lurcher energy outside, but is calm and restful in the house,  happy to doze and dream whilst I write a book. He does not vamp for love, but is quite self-contained. There is affection there but it is not needy.

He gives me the amber gaze every so often, as if to check I am there, and then settles himself back to sleep. The rescue people said he was immensely sad when he came to them; he is not sad now. It sounds fanciful to say, but it is as if he knows he has found his home.

‘Ah, Stanley,’ said the Landlord, who met him yesterday. ‘You have landed on your feet. You have no idea.’ (My dog devotion is the source of considerable amusement to the extended family.)

So, that is the story of Dog Island, and how it got another dog.

I am never quite sure exactly why I tell you all the things I do. This blog is, in many ways, a complete mystery to me, a place of odd imperatives and sudden revelations. Today, that was the tale I wanted to tell, and now it is told.


Today’s pictures:

The light was extraordinary this morning. It went from bright blue to dun pink; the sky was clear one moment and obscured with blizzard the next.

This is what I see on the walk down to the horses:

5 Dec 1

5 Dec 2

5 Dec 3

5 Dec 4

And there is the little herd, waiting for me, knowing I bring love and hay:

5 Dec 10

Lined up for breakfast time:

5 Dec 12

The new rug technology really is amazing. They are toasty warm under all that serious kit:

5 Dec 13

And here are the trees:

5 Dec 14

5 Dec 15

5 Dec 15-001

The beech avenue:

5 Dec 16

Meeting the sheep:

5 Dec 17

5 Dec 18

5 Dec 19

5 Dec 19-001

5 Dec 20

5 Dec 21

Rather a lot of sheep pictures. But I love them so. They always make me think of Jane Austen, for some reason. There is a timelessness to sheep.

Stanley gazes at them with hope in his heart. I impress upon him firmly that he may look but not chase:

5 Dec 22

The snow starts to fall again:

5 Dec 23

If you look very closely, you can just see the snowy outline of the hill:

5 Dec 30

From the archive -

My darling old girls adored the snow. It turned them to puppies again. They ate it and played in it and it became them:

5 Dec 31

5 Dec 32

Snowing again as I am about to press publish. Swirling blizzard. Oh, I hope the electricity holds out.


  1. Lucky Stanley and lucky you - what a beautiful face he has. I'm sure you'll have lots of adventures together. Thank you for the wonderful snow pictures. London is grey and cold so they are the most tremendous treat.

  2. Tania, this could be written as if you have looked inside the part of my heart that will always be reserved for my two girls and committed it to virtual paper. I was young, stupid and unprepared for the ways in which they would, and have, shaped my life when I chanced across the inevitable fate of looking after the 'unwanted' ones. For 14 years they have been the constant in my ever changing, somewhat chaotic, life - through boyfriends, a marriage and now eventual happiness. I feel sorry for the people that don't give these amazing dogs a chance, who give up when things get tough - their loss, my gain. I'm lumpy throated as I know the we are also running out of road and my heart breaks at the very thought.

    I think your Landlord summed it up perfectly, Stanley has indeed fallen on his feet.

  3. Oh Tania, I am so happy that you adopted Stanley through Many Tears. My collie was a "Failed Sheepdog" who ended up at their rescue centre in West Wales, she had been abused and half-starved because she was terrified of the sheep she was expected to work. They do an incredible job of home checking and rehoming the dogs in their care. My home checker became a good friend, and regularly sees Katie. It is wonderful to have a dog who makes you laugh, each new day is a delight. How lucky you are to have found Stanley, and how lucky for him to have found you. Some things are just meant to be.

  4. Such, such lovely comments. Fingers frozen from doing horses so can hardly type, but had to say THANK YOU. x

  5. just wanted to say am ridiculously touched by that wonderful story, hurrah for Stanley, hurrah for Tania - and hurrah for snow!

  6. Dear Tania, you were always a dog person, you just did not know it yet. :) You only needed two lovely ladies to show you your true self.

    And it seems that you and the adorable Stanley immediately recognized each other. You two were clearly meant to be. There is no such thing as coincidence...

  7. Tania, another wonderful post, and could I suggest a pet passport. We bought our Breton beach house once they came in and the dogs loved it. They happily settled for the journey, didn't mind the ferry and loved the dunes & beaches, Our lives are now London & Brittany, in January when we get our new rescue Greyhound we'll get him a passport so he can come to France at Easter.
    I think there is no difference between dog island and heaven, just the best place to be.

  8. A great story and I read along with a smile, especially that Stanley makes you laugh.

  9. I love this post. I always wondered how you came by your lovely girls. I laughed at your description of dog ladies - I do know what you mean though. This is a fascinating post, not least for the insight into your former metropolitan lifestyle. BTW those lipstick tips must have been good as I have noticed from your photos that your lipstick always looks immaculate. Gorgeous photos, love that picture of Stanley looking longingly at the sheep.

  10. I too love this post. It inspires me to write an equivalent dog island post which would have been inspired by you. I can say categorically that I would not have got a dog had it not been for your girls. And now I have a dog. Funny how it goes.

    The beech avenue is as you know, my fave. I love it. I just showed it to the husband. You are so lucky to have that walk to walk every day, I am sure Stanley appreciates it. Lou x

  11. After reading your post a couple of weeks ago, about the crack in your heart that would not heal, when Stanley was still a case of what if and fingers crossed, I'm so happy it turned out well and he came home with you. Was rooting for you both - truly good news.

  12. I am going to admit right here that the photos of the empty beech lane tug painfully at my cockles.

    You had me howling at your pre-dog-days imagery of "dog owners". Too, too, perfectly hilarious.

    An organization called "Many Tears" makes me want to cry without ever having been there.

    You had Scott Fitzgerald and the Algonquin Round Table (neither of which I have a clue about, both of which I shall Google later)... I have "Withnail & I". Happily, animals of all kinds are welcome in Withnail-World so I need not abandon my delusions of decadent anti-grandeur for my critters.

    I'm all for adoption, of people and animals as well. No way would I ever buy a breed animal or have a child in a world where so many are already here with no one to take care of them. Just saying.

    Blog on!

  13. Just Googled Scott Fitzgerald. You meant "F. Scott Fitzgerald", I presume? Did you know that his full name was Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, after that bloke that wrote the Star Spangled Banner? Very cool. Love the Great Gatsby, too.

  14. What a happy tale. Just what I needed to read today and a prefect introduction to the Stanley chapter of Dog Island.

    So, so pleased you rescued this lovely boy. He has the sweetest face.

    The snow looks beautiful and freezing. And the girls... just perfect. :)

  15. I knew those girls reminded me of someone...

  16. You know something, I was never a dog person either growing up. It was only when I shared a house in my twenties and a housemate brought home a puppy that I saw the joy in Polly growing up, playing and offering us all nothing but love. Smitten ever since.


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