Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Nell


This is Nell, our 8 week old golden retriever puppy who came to live with us on Saturday. Her presence in our house is something of a surprise to all of us, as I've never liked dogs. When I was younger my grandparents ran a farm in the north of England where my father had grown up and, having bumped our way down the track to the farmhouse, our arrival into the muddy yard was invariably met by their excitable border collies. There were two fundamental problems with this: the first being that I have always had an overwhelming dislike of mud and the second was that one of the dogs had always been referred to as being 'nippy' and so I would attempt to be escorted into the farmhouse clinging to my father's leg in sheer terror, while my father seemed equally determined to loosen my limpet grip, no doubt slightly embarrassed by what his family may make of his rather wet town-dwelling daughters. I often implored him to park as near to the farmhouse as possible, but that rarely happened and running the gauntlet from car to front door (they were outdoor working dogs so once inside we were safe) was so traumatic that, once inside, my sister and I would settle down for the weekend in front of the fire in the sitting room and work our way through my grandmother's large stack of Bella magazines, the pages of which seemed to be filled solely with the sordid details of lives gone wrong (true life stories of murders, affairs and other awful things) that were both shocking and fascinating to young teenagers whose normal reading fodder didn't expand far beyond Judy Blume. We would rarely venture out of the confines of the farmhouse until it was time to dash back to the safety of the car two days later.


I have happily ignored the existence of dogs for most of my life, although, as our children have grown up, over the last five years an increasing number of family friends began getting dogs and I slowly became aware that my husband seemed to have a dog magnet in him and once in the company of a Labrador his whole face and demeanour seemed to change into that of a joyfully happy, grinning lunatic. My daughter was the same. My husband's campaign for a dog has been a long-running, but subtle one, run with low expectations as to the success of the outcome.


But more recently several things happened to change my stance on dog ownership. Firstly, since my husband has worked from home for the last 18 months I've become increasingly aware of how much a dog would benefit his life, both in terms of daytime company and a reason to get out at lunchtime - he is a naturally outdoorsy person and his life-long compromise to me is that we don't, and never will, live in a remote part of Scotland. Then at Christmas, we came home from an afternoon spent with his favourite chocolate Labrador and he mentioned in passing the feeling of having a dog-shaped hole in his heart...he is not normally prone to such sentimental comments and I was left privately mulling how comfortable I felt with being the wife who happily ignores this hole. Finally, some friends with a puppy asked us to look after it for the day. They deposited her in our house and at the start of the day I felt only a detached curiosity about her, but by the end, I could see a unique personality, rather than simply 'dog'. When they came to collect her at teatime, our clever (but devious) friend Polly noticed that I had fallen in love with her puppy's dog bed, which she'd recovered with a Liberty Tana lawn fabric, and insisted that she leave it with us in case we ever got a dog of our own as she claimed that her puppy had nearly outgrown it. Combining Liberty prints with dog paraphernalia is possibly the most underhand ploy I've ever come across and my husband owes a lot to Polly (Nell can be seen in the bed in the photo below).


Anyway, one evening I surprised my husband and myself by agreeing to the idea in principle if we could find a breed that suited all of us. A lot of a dog's nature will be down to the dog as an individual, but I felt if we picked the breed carefully we had a better chance of owning a dog that suited our family. We spent hours every evening researching. Our children just wanted something that was 'sooooo cute', which meant their needs could be relatively easily fulfilled. I wanted something that was not known for showing signs of aggression toward other animals and people and that had a calm nature once the puppy phase was over. I also wanted a dog that was small, didn't moult and wasn't prone to chewing furniture. My husband wanted a dog that was highly intelligent and trainable...and he wanted a dog that felt substantial, like a Labrador. Our research concluded that there is no breed that meets all those criteria, particularly as it would be hard for even the most eager-to-please dog to be both small and yet large at the same time.


Eventually, I compromised on the lack of smallness, the moulting issue and the possibility of having my house eaten, where a golden retriever fails miserably on every count, and my husband compromised on...erm, nothing, because a golden retriever fulfils all the other criteria perfectly and really if you're going to fulfil your dreams then you may as well do it with the dog you really want rather than compromising (initially he would have been equally happy with a Labrador, but that was ruled out by me on the grounds that they tend to be livelier than Golden Retrievers and I am a creature who craves calm). It helps that I had always liked the kind faces of the Golden Retrievers that I saw in the street even in my dog-fearing days.

We eventually found what sounded to be the perfect breeders after a week of phone calls. I happened to ring to enquire if they had any puppies on the morning they were born and I could hear their funny newborn yelping noises in the background and it seemed like serendipity. We met our puppy's mum and all fell in love with her and were able to visit the puppies several times over the next eight weeks until one would be old enough to come home with us. In those eight weeks I sent myself on a crash course intended to leave me understanding and liking dogs more than I ever had before. I watched dog programmes obsessively on iPlayer (The Secret Life of Dogs and the series, Extraordinary Dogs); I began reading my husband's puppy training manuals at bedtime; I spoke to my dog-loathing mother who assured me that it was absolutely the right decision and that she felt we would all fall in love with her; I ran nearly every worry I had in my head past Kate and my other dog-owning friends and to every worry I received reassuring answers; and I began trying to work out which breeds certain dogs might be when I saw them in the street and looking at their faces to try to see what it might be about them that their owners had fallen in love with. And it worked, because I actually began smiling at dogs, in the way that I've always smiled when I've passed a newborn baby in the street!


And now Nell is here and it doesn't feel anything like as foreign as I'd expected it to feel to have her in our home. She is sweet-natured, gentle and mostly (unexpectedly, as she is only 8 weeks old) calm. She runs in such a ridiculous, puppyish way that it's hard not to fall in love with her. Even her awful doggy breath does not deter me from cuddling her. My husband is thoroughly happy. She seems drawn to be by his feet and when he's not here she seeks out a pair of his shoes to lie on. And of course, our children adore her, because she is 'soooooo cute'.


And just in case you were wondering, our cat who lives on our daughter's bed still lives happily on our daughter's bed with little change to her life and our other cat who we had worried may either attempt to eat the puppy or leave home, has actually been nothing but curious, coming and sitting nearby to watch her while she plays and silently padding around her to get a closer look when she sleeps.

I think by nature I am still very much a cat person, but as Jacqui (a fellow cat person, who owns a dog) said to me recently, you don't need to be a dog person, you just need to be a person who loves your dog. It's a relief to find that, just as everyone said I would, I do feel rather smitten with Nell.

Florence x

49 comments:

  1. You are so brave and kind to your family! My Mister has a "dog sized hole" too, and we've done all the research and watched all the programs as well. But unlike your lucky family, we just can't bring ourselves to commit the amount of time in the week to truly give a dog the great life it deserves. So despite actually living in rural Scotland, our busyness and lack of time prevents us from "living the dream."
    I look forward to more lovely posts about Nell, and so become a puppy owner vicariously through you.

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    1. If you have somewhere close enough, you could always home a trainee guide dog for evenings and weekends? They go out in the week with the puppy-walkers during the day so you'd still get the benefits without having the time commitments during the daytime in the week :)

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    2. I should say, Nessa, that it's a slightly different decision for me as my husband is home all day and was willing to commit to 100% of the responsibility for Nell (although I think I'll naturally want to be more involved than that). Your life sounds lovely, despite being dogless (I know my husband would think so anyway). x

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    3. She is lovely . We both love dogs, especially husband, but we really can't have one - it's a shame as we live in perfect dog walking country. We shall enjoy seeing Nell grow up.


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  2. Your children are right-sooooo cute! It's amazing how quickly they get under your skin.
    We acquired our yellow Labrador, Angel, (our second family dog) when my husband was made redundant. She constantly makes us laugh and has raised him out of the doldrums brought on by unemployment. She is now the biggest 'numpty' that ever thought she was a lapdog!
    Here's to many fun filled years with Nell.

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    1. That's so lovely to hear - I'm pleased for you she was just what your husband needed.

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  3. She is a cutie :)
    I was sat reading through your post (on here - not your actual 'delivered through the letterbox' kind!) and thinking, "but a retriever doesn't fulfil ANY of those requirements!" It's a good compromise though - is she a flat-coated (not so hairy) version?
    I've been trying to persuade my husband for years to have a dog (our cat died last summer so we are pet-less, aside from the four sheep). He's not a dog-person at all though and I don't think I stand any chance of winning him over - not even with a Liberty covered dog bed!

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    1. I'm so sorry to hear about your cat. Although your sheep are presumably crying out for a border collie to herd them, no?

      I'm ashamed to say I have no idea if she's flat coated or not...once I'd progressed beyond a certain level of acceptance with hairiness it seemed pointless to split hairs (ahem!) with him over her having to be marginally less hairy. x

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    2. Our sheep are very tame and come when they are called. It's more a case of trying to fend them off than needing to round them up. I have told them that they are NOT helping my 'This Family Needs a Dog' cause (because I too thought of the whole One Man and His Dog idea!) but they don't listen...

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  4. Nell is adorable. I was surprised to see such a post of it after the whole red setter issue. I'm glad though that you compromised for your husband's dog shaped hole and you all did your research. Most bad dog behavior is a product of lack of exercise. More daily exercise for the dog, you'll keep more of your house intact other than puppy teething, but I don't think that's going to much of a problem for you all.

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    1. I think when I wrote that post dogs were being talked of a lot in both our families!

      I think the exercise issue is especially problematic for bigger dogs in the first year as they can only have small amounts of exercise while they're young, because it can damage their hips. That's good to hear that she's likely to be less destructive once we can up her exercise level though. x

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  5. She's so lovely! The Liberty dog bed tactic was shockingly underhand, but I think it's wonderful of you to face your fear and let that dog-shaped hole be filled. x

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    1. Wasn't it! She apparently did it with no encouragement from my husband at all (although he does regularly visit their house for morning coffee, so I'm wondering if this scheme was cooked up between them!)

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  6. She is gorgeous! I've been trying to persuade my husband for years that we should have a dog, as I think it would be so good for our Aspie son. I shall look forward to seeing more of Nell!

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    1. That comes up a lot on the programmes I've been watching about dogs actually - you're right, it would probably be super for him, although it's a lot of extra work to take on.

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  7. I am not a pet person in general, but I love your story. You almost have me convinced I would do the same.

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    1. The idea of inviting an animal to share your house with you is a very odd one isn't it, so I can completely understand why some people wouldn't want any pets at all.

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  8. What a lovely post! Our Cairn Terrier puppy came to live with us a week ago, and we are just as in love. We met a Golden Retriever pup at the vet puppy party last night - she was so beautiful.

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    1. Oh goodness, what funny timing! I've just been to visit your blog - Hetty is gorgeous (that name was on our list too!). x

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  9. I am so much like you. I did not grow up with dogs but my husband did, and I was always loathe to get one. Then somehow we ended up with our Malti-Poo Lulu and she is now the love of our lives! They steal your heart very quickly. Your Nell is just gorgeous :)

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  10. I was like you - slightly afraid of dogs when I was little and didn't really give them much thought as I was older. I got my first dog at age 40 and am so sorry I waited. I was actually a little surprised at how quickly and by how much I became attached to her. Sounds sappy but a little piece of my heart was definitely dog shaped and opened up that day. Now I'm the crazy dog lady that talks about her dog (and wrotes blog posts abut her) and can't wait to get home to see her. Enjoy that adorable little Nell. I've never had a puppy and although it seems like a lot of work, it looks like so much fun!

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  11. I would love a dog (preferably a Basset hound). Trouble is, my husband hates dogs–runs a mile whenever he sees one, which inevitably means he gets chased by eager pups who naturally think he is simply playing games with them.

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  12. I have to chuckle. We recently adopted a dog as well, and I have been the one holding out. Not because I don't like dogs, but because I would be the one cleaning up after it. We finally settled on a border collie - more chuckling - and we love her. She is four years old and such a sweet dog! She doesn't jump on people unless invited to, tolerates whatever the kids get up to, and loves to chase balls/frisbees. As I am typing, she keeps bringing a toy to my feet for me to throw so she can bring it back. I am glad you are loving your puppy!

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  13. I think it's great for children to grow up around animals, where possible. As a child I told our family dog my hopes and my secrets, and he always had a sympathetic glance and tail-thump for me if I was in trouble for misdemeanors. I also felt very protected by having a dog in the house. Congratulations on overcoming your dog fears - I don't think you will ever regret getting Nell, (but make sure you hide your shoes!!)

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  14. She's so dinky! My husband was the one who wanted a dog too and was supposed to take over the responsibility for him. However, our situation has changed and I'm now home with the dog. Although I'm more of a cat person I wouldn't be without a dog anymore. Aron was with me when I was ill, he made me go outside every day which got me back to health quicker. He sleeps in my room every night (my husband works away and is only home at weekends) which is lovely. I think all pets have this ability to somehow worm their way into your heart. Aron is now 12 years old and I dread to think that he might not be with us much longer.
    Give it a few years and you won't be able to imagine life without Nell.

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  15. Hurray for the Teacakes and Nell!

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  16. arghhh Florence, she is sooooo cute. That is all.

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  17. They are a wonderful breed and great name too (my daughter's name lol) We had a yellow lab called Laddie and then a black one named Kane, I miss them both terribly, but I have a black cat called Myrtle :) Enjoy, they will bring you years of happiness.

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  18. I can so relate to to dislike of mud and farm dogs. We've been having a similar debate about a doggy addition to the family. The jury is still out for us.

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  19. Awww. Cute. I love dogs but as another cat person understand your reticence. I recently took on a guide dog pup to train for a year and am now totally won over. I still have my little old elderly cats, who ironically are both blind, and they seem to be coping ok. Enjoy the baby pup stage - our little one grows an inch a week...! Keely x

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  20. Congratulations all around, and especially to your husband! Looking forward to many more lovely pictures. :)
    By the way, when you take her in for her first vet check-up and shots, do mention her breath...if it is truly awful (as opposed to just awful to you, which would be perfectly valid but not necessarily fixable) it may be something easily improved with a change in diet or such.
    Love that puppers!

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  21. How wonderful that you have decided to share your life with Nell. She looks like a great dog. I think you will find that having a dog in your life can be so joyful. At the very least, you will never have to pick up any dropped food from the kitchen floor ever again. Best of luck with your new puppy.

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  22. You have so many years of heart-warming memories ahead of you Florence. Our golden retriever Holly loved us unconditionally for the fourteen years that we had her. As a friend said fondly when he heard that we had a new puppy, "Ah yes, golden retrievers. Fourteen years a teenager, six weeks of senility, then they drop off the perch." How I miss those teenage years.

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  23. She is going to change your lives, you will probably be the one that falls the hardest for her lol! As a child I couldn't imagine growing up with out the dogs we had...they are going to benefit your children in the most wonderful ways! I am so happy for your husband too! I love that you considered his perception, you have good intuition!
    One of the best commands to teach a puppy that will take him through his life is "leave it". If your interested the best puppy training for us was "clicker" training, its absolutely brilliant.

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  24. She is extremely cute at a distance and I am so glad for you that it has a happy ending. At the same time, I am entirely worried by your story as I am firmly in the 'no dog, ever' camp. I will have to hope that my family hear nothing of such enticements as liberty dog baskets.

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  25. Such a lovely puppy! I am a cat person, married to a husband brought up in a house full of Golden Retrievers. Left to my own devices, I would never have got a dog, but I love our dog very much - and she gets on fine with the cat!

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  26. I am wondering how much my family paid for this post! Liberty dog bed? That goes a bit far. :). Only If all the human beds are covered in Liberty first. Alas, several of us have allergies and asthma so I'll stand by my "no" vote. But no one knows how to work you over like your children do.

    Recently, my sister-in-law remarked how dogs are great for teaching kids responsibility. My answer? When we get consistent flushing from our kids, we'll up the ante.

    PS- so cute.

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  28. Oh my word! Nell you have just made the "dog sized hole" in my heart even bigger. We're not able to home a dog at the moment and it feels like our family is not yet complete. Before long you'll be wondering what life was without her :)

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  29. She is just beautiful. And as the years pass I know you will wonder how you ever lived without her!

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  30. This is the conversation I have been having internally for about the last 2 years as we try to make our minds up about getting a dog. So I am really pleased to read about your experience. I agree with your girls. Nell is soooooooo cute!

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  31. Oh, bless - what a little beauty. We have two golden retrievers, who are getting on a bit now. I have always been a dog person, but after being bitten by a police dog (I knew the handler - I wasn't on the run from the police!) I was a little nervous and wanted a gentle dog. They really are gentle dogs, too. They instinctively knew to be careful with the kids, even when they were being annoying toddlers or rambunctious preschoolers.

    These days we're having to face the decisions that come towards the end of their days - although I'm hoping that with a bit of luck, we might have a year or so left, despite having a few near misses in the last year. I'm not sure if we'll get any more dogs, though: I'm not sure that I can take this heartbreak all over again.

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  32. She is so very, very sweet! Congrats to your family! I'm a dog person, and have always wanted a golden. :)

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  34. She's absolutely adorable! You went about it in the right way, not rushing in to anything and doing research. It will be wonderful for your husband for company in the day and the health benefits of getting out with her, and I truly hope the 'doggy shaped hole' in his heart has been well filled. Looking at her sitting there, I cannot see how it can fail to be. Congratulations to all of you and I wish you many years of joy with your adorable bundle of fur.

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  35. I had two goldies..my last one lived to be 16 ..they were the most adorable dogs..unfortunatly we now have mobility probs so would not be fair to have another and not give it the walkies they crave...enjoy your new baby i am ssoooo jealous I would give anything to be greeted by my doggies you will fall in love with her and she will love you all her life
    luv
    linniexxx

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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x