The Dog in Fiction
Dogs are very popular with writers. Think of fictitious ones like Heyer’s Italian Greyhound, Tina, in The Grand Sophy, Bulls Eye the fighting dog belonging to Bill Sykes in Dickens’s Oliver Twist and Timmy, the fifth member of Blyton’s Famous Five. Even Conan Doyle’s “gigantic hound”. We love them all.
The Dog in Sarah’s Life — Willow
Many writers have dogs of their own (some, like Liberta’s very own Sophie, have cats, but that, as they say, is another story). I must hold up my hand. I have a dog.
First things first, let’s get something straight. Willow is a dog. Yes, yes, I hear you say, we can see that.
He is a male dog. He looks so elegant, even pretty, and being called Willow, it is no wonder that many people think he is a girl.
We adopted Willow as a rescue dog when he was just over three years old. We thought it would be better to keep his name than change it to something more, er, butch, such as Bouncer or Max.
Adopting Willow was one of those serendipity moments that happen, sometimes.
Terriers — a writer’s kind of dog?
We had owned dogs before — a beautiful but shy Alsatian when we were first married. Then, when we moved with the family to the Yorkshire moors, we thought a Jack Russell would be the best type of dog for the environment.
Well, Scamp was certainly good for the moors. He was small, hardy and fearless, but that proved to be a bit of a challenge.
He would fight any animal who challenged him, no matter what their size, or go walkabout if you let him get more than a few yards away. And he had a tendency to nip anyone who called him a nice doggy.
Scamp was not as fierce as Wessex, Thomas Hardy’s terrier, who would attack strangers when they arrived at the Hardy’s home, often ripping their trouser legs. Not quite, anyway.
Scamp did not quite go so far as to bite the hand that fed him — yours truly — but he attempted to nip almost every other member of the family at some time. Not seriously, you understand, just enough to let them know who was boss.
Unlike Camp, Sir Walter Scott’s terrier, who was said to be “gentle as a lamb among children”.
A Terrier’s Instincts?
Hmm. Scamp couldn’t help it, he was a terrier and the killer instinct was very strong.
Even when he was playing at being a lapdog, which was rare, you smoothed him at your peril. If human fingers moved anywhere near his head, his lip began to quiver as he strove to behave. The vet had suggested we clean his teeth and we did try, believe me, but the bite reflex was just too strong.
Scamp was, one might say, a Character. If had been human he would have been described as curmudgeonly. He lived to a ripe old age and was much missed by the children, who had learned from him that one should always have a healthy respect for animals.
Willow is a different kind of dog : no terrier he!
Willow is very different. For a start he is a whippet. A large whippet, and a little too big for most of the whippet jackets on sale (and with his thin body and short coat-hair, he really needs a jacket in the winter).
We had been toying with the idea of getting another dog and a rescue animal seemed ideal. After all, we would be saving a healthy animal from being put down. We had no children at home now if there were any temperament problems and we had space for a dog to run without always coming up against neighbours or their pets.
So we brought Willow home and he settled in like the proverbial duck to water. We still had the large dog bed we had used for Misty the Alsatian, which is perfect for his long legs. He soon communicated that it was not his idea of paradise. What he likes is a cosy duvet where he might snuggle down and be covered up, thus protected from all the draughts and chill winds that blow through double-glazed, centrally-heated houses 😉
He is a sight hound, which means that although his sense of smell is excellent, he hunts by sight — IF he sees a moving target, that is. We have been in the field and there have been rabbits playing within feet of us but he just hasn’t seen them.
He is also a sprinter. He can run very fast for short periods of time but in between he likes nothing better than to rest. He is also very gentle, loves company and is very social with other dogs. His big advantage is that if he meets an aggressive animal, he can outrun it.
Dog Heaven — according to Willow
Willow would like the world to think he is a gentle obedient creature whose only joy in life is to please his masters. We know different. We have had him for several years now, and he has completely taken over the family, without any effort at all.
He requires a very small diet. Indeed, the vet described this breed as living on air. He shows little interest in his food.
However, if he gets the chance to steal crisps, biscuits etc he will do so. His long snout will find its way into waste bins. If there is something edible in anyone’s coat pocket he will root it out.
I have always thought myself most unsentimental about pets. They are animals and have their place, but it is several notches below human beings.
Willow has undermined this excellent philosophy. He has his night time bed in the kitchen, where he also stays if we go out without him, but he has duvets placed strategically around the house where he can relax.
Willow, the ideal Writer’s Friend
I take him out in the morning for about forty minutes. That’s me walking/running (mainly walking), and Willow sprinting and coming back for treats. Then we go home and I sit down to write while Willow sleeps. For hours.
Mid-afternoon we might repeat the exercise (!) before his final evening walk, after which he settles down on his duvet in the lounge and sleeps until we go to bed. Then he retires to his box in the kitchen and, um, sleeps.
Willow is ten years old now and when the dreaded day comes he will be sorely missed.
Although I doubt we will erect a tomb for him, as Lord Byron did for his beloved Botswain. But you never know.
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