Sunday, 31 January 2016

A Doggy Tale

Whether you are a farmer, a huntsman, shooter, or birdwatcher even, most people involved with the countryside will want or own a dog at some time, or in my case all of the time. When I went to work for the Kent River Authority in 1966 I was immediately among workmates who were all involved in various country pursuits, people who, because we were normally working on the sea walls and marshes, often brought their dogs to work with them. So, some days it would be a spaniel, some days a labrador but the dogs I envied the most were two Jack Russell terriers owned by a guy who is still a best friend all these years later. These were not just simple gun dogs, these were jack of all trades dogs, that were as hard as nails, that hunted rabbits, rats, stoats, etc., and I dearly wanted one. Unfortunately it was to be another frustrating seven years before that wish came true, when my wife and I finally moved out of our flat and bought our first house. New furniture, new carpets, new puppy, I think the list went and not entirely how my wife's list of priorities went!
The choice of course, was a bitch Jack Russell, the start of a continuous line of bitch Jack Russells that I have owned ever since. Jessie came into my life in 1973 and was to spend 13 happy years roaming the Elmley marshes with me.

Late the following year she had two puppies, seen below and until they reached eight weeks old and the browner one was sold, were nick-named "Whitey" and "Brownie".

I had decided to keep the white puppy and as she'd begun to get used to the nick-name "Whitey" that's what she became, daft as it sounds. They became a formidable team of rabbiting dogs, just as my era of rabbiting on the Elmley marshes was taking off and we spent the winter months through many years catching rabbits on what became the new RSPB reserve there.

In turn, Whitey had a litter of her own puppies one summer and we sold them all.

Jessie finally died, aged 13, as the result of a tragic accident in the winter of 1985/86 and so just Whitey remained as my constant companion when I became a Vol. Warden on the Swale NNR later in 1986. She enjoyed the marshes of the reserve and despite heading into old age, she enjoyed the regular pursuit of the many thousand of rabbits that there were there at the time. Sadly, just a year later she also died, aged 13, the result of stomach cancer. I was devastated but within a few days, was told of a litter of Jackos that were available in nearby Eastchurch and so a week or two later Lucy (below), came into my life, a real treasure of a good-natured dog. And on that subject, throughout all the years that I have owned Jackos and despite their much touted reputation for being yappy/snappy dogs, I have never found that to be the case.

Here Lucy stands on top of one of the old salt working mounds on the reserve one winter's day in all her physical pomp.

When Lucy was around eight years old my then wife and I decided that to avoid being dog-less when Lucy went into old age or died, we would get another dog while Lucy was still OK. My wife wanted a different breed and as throughout my childhood I had always had a thing about Beagles, that was our choice. Finding one wasn't that easy, especially in Kent, but eventually we found a litter for sale in Devon and so Nana arrived and became Lucy's new soul mate. Below you can see Nana taking it easy not long after her arrival, no doubt dreaming about what a high powered rabbit chaser she was going to grow into.

She and Lucy became a formidable pair on the marsh in pursuit of rabbits, although at times, her typical hound's nature became a problem because in the usual hound fashion, when she got her nose to the ground on the scent of something, coming back was not an option. At times in high summer, after she had disappeared into a neighbouring corn field after a rabbit or hare, the only indication of where she was, far in the distance, was the tidal wave of corn stalks moving through the field. Fortunately, when she was a few years old, the reserve's boundary was totally fenced in I always knew that she was contained to a degree. Beagles are the most gorgeous dogs, not only in looks but in nature, they are so emotional, loving and trusting and I find it absolutely repugnant that animal experiment laboratories use them for that very reason.
In turn, Lucy died when Nana was about eight years old and so we immediately set about getting a replacement Jacko and Midge came on the scene, once again sourced from the West Country. This now made Nana the senior dog and below you can see the young Midge and Nana asleep on my bed not long after she arrived. That was not a posed photograph, Nana would regularly sleep with one leg across Midge as though protecting her.

Midge (below) arrived in early 2003 and now, despite having just passed her thirteenth birthday, is still going strong and so far, is the fittest thirteen year old dog that I've ever had.

Which was not the case for poor old Nana, from the age of twelve she started to suffer with arthritis, which for the first couple of years was manageable with drugs. But over the last two years she really struggled with the lack of mobility. At times, because she still wanted to come out with Midge and I, I would take her, give a short, slow walk of a few hundred yards and then let her sleep in the car while Midge and I walked the reserve. Eventually, she developed an inoperable cancer behind a nostril which reduced her breathing ability greatly and we had to say goodbye to her. She lived to sixteen, a very good age for a Beagle and I still miss her greatly, her gently nature made her a very special dog amid all those that I have owned.
I seriously considered getting a second Beagle to replace her but was fearful that another could be what Nana had meant to me, plus, I had to consider the fact that my old legs would never be up to pursuing another long distance young Beagle round the reserve. So it was another Jacko and a real star came into my life - little Ellie. Below she is posing like some young upstart, with Midge, just after I bought her and a better replacement for Nana I couldn't of bought, and apart from when it comes to rabbits and mice, she is the most placid and friendly dog you could wish to own.

Below you can see the very first time that she came out on to the reserve with Midge and I and Midge showed her the way round some rabbit burrows, not that she took a lot of notice. Today she is four years old and it is very likely that she will have the honour of being the dog that accompanies me into my sunset years, it is unlikely that I will replace Midge when she dies.


  1. Interesting how you have almost stuck to one breed Derek, only moving over to Beagles.
    I have always had dogs and have never had the same breed twice My last few have been Yorkshire terrier, English bull terrier, pug and now Border terrier. But I really think I shall stick to borders now.

  2. I understand Jackos and their ways Pat, and because they don't breed true to type, it's almost like having a different dog each time.

  3. A lovely family history there Derek. It won't be too long before we replace our cocker.

  4. I'm glad to hear that Steve, you appeared to miss it greatly.
    They are such great companions.

  5. Beautiful dogs, all of them. I've never owned a dog, although I do like them. Good vet care is so hard to get in Belize that I am just can't bring myself to get a dog. We helped our neighbor week before last arrange emergency transportation to a vet 2 hours distant by boat. The road was flooded, so boat was the only way. The poor dog, which did survive, had been bitten in the neck by some large creature and blood was pulsing out. Not squirting, so it wasn't an artery, but definitely a large vein had been punctured. Fortunately we had an emergency clotting pack that stopped the bleeding. It was touch and go for a while. $150.00 for the boat trip, $350 for the vet care. The dog is good now, but still runs in the jungle.

  6. Thanks Wilma, and yes, if I lived where you live, then I would be forced into the same decision. It's awful seeing an animal needing urgent treatment and not being able to help it.

  7. Dogs are such beautiful creatures, but their comparatively short lives to ours, always leave us with sorrow. All your dogs though had a wonderful life rabbiting and running around.

  8. Thanks for your comment Thelma, much appreciated. Yes, my dogs have always had very energetic and healthy lives, from the outset I always swore that my dogs would never be just "walk round the block" dogs, otherwise I wouldn't have them.