When I was born in Wolverhampton, Mom and Dad were living in Oxley Street, just off the Waterloo Road. We must have moved very soon after my birth to 71, Dunstall Road.
From what my memories tell me and from putting them all together, I think that we must have moved because the house next to Gran’dad and Gran’ma Bayliss, at 73, became vacant. Oxley Street houses were rather small, I think, and the “new” house – three-bedroomed! – would have been a great improvement on cramped conditions.
The people who’d had the house before us were Mr. and Mrs. Gamson. And the first dog I remember living with – well, almost living with – seems to have been inherited from them.
Her name was Trixie, a mainly black, rough-haired mongrel with white on her chest and paws. She was kept permanently chained up to the metal downpipe from the main-roof’s guttering and had a home-made wooden kennel. The chain rattled on the downpipe every time Trixie moved.
I reckon the reason for her being constantly on that chain was that she had never been house-trained. She did escape a couple of times – I don’t know how – and ran into the house so happily.
There was not a hint of any sort of nastiness to friendly Trixie. I remember lying on the top of her flat-roofed kennel a few times and her jumping up and licking my face with a lot of love (and wetness).
I did not get to know Trixie well, and was four when she was “put to sleep” at the vets’. Whether that happened due to illness or old age, I do not know. There seems to have been no photographs taken of her, but my memory recalls her well.
* * * * *
It seems that, not long after Trixie’s demise, we went into Wolverhampton and, at a pet-shop in the street which continued on from the very Edwardian-styled Central Arcade, bought a puppy.
She was a smooth-haired mongrel: mainly a chocolate-brown with a white blaze and bits of orangey-coloured fur on her on her face, and white neck, chest and paws,
She was probably a birthday-present for me. I was asked to name her. Mom – and sometimes Dad – would read me a chapter of a book each evening. It was called “Sally the Sealyham”, and I loved hearing about that fictional dog.
So my new pet was named Sally.
Not very big, Sally was sweet-tempered and gentle. She never wanted anything more than to lie in one of our easy-chairs and go for the occasional walk. She enjoyed chasing cats, but not in a vicious way.
Once, Whiskey – yes, a black and white animal – my Nan and Gran’dad’s cat from next door wandered into our house. Sally shooed him out by sticking her nose under his bum and giving him a shove through the door.
Our walks mainly consisted of a stroll up to the top of Dunstall Road and back. Sometimes, we’d go down the road to the Australian Inn on the corner of Staveley Road and back. Once or twice, I would walk her right round the block: Dunstall Road, Staveley Road, Francis Street, Waterloo Road and back down Dunstall Road. She just trotted along on these walks, but was quite content with just being in the yard of our house or going into our little garden.
For some reason, on all our walks she insisted in walking in the gutter.
The only times I recall her being anything like aggressive – and both of those times were in self-defence – was once when her claw got trapped in the wooden gate of our yard and I tried to free her; and once when I put my face near to her when she was sleeping on “her” chair and she woke suddenly and nipped my nose.
One of the endearing things about Sally was that she knew when Dad left work, four miles away, in the evenings! I don’t know how. As he left, she would go and lie by the door, waiting for him to arrive. If he was a little late leaving work, she would go to the door a little later. Uncanny.
It was a sad day for me when she had to be put to sleep. She’d lived with us for about twelve years, if I remember rightly, and I don’t know why Mom and Dad made their decision. Probably she was suffering from old age. Gran’dad Bayliss took her to the vet in his three-wheeler petrol-driven invalid-carriage and I helped her into the tight space and bade her goodbye.
Sally and I had grown up together and I cannot describe my feelings at that moment, at that time.
* * * * *
I was set to be called up into the British army in my late teens. The house was empty of dogs at that time and we – all three of us – felt a bit “empty”, too (I cannot explain it any other way), without one. So things sort of conspired to fill that gap.
We’d been going on holiday to Devil’s Bridge for a few years by then. We’d got to know a fair few people in the area over that time. And I’d been pondering on what to do to provide company for Mom and Dad while I was off doing my National Service.
Out of the blue, Tom Evans, Dolcoion – our farmer friend in Rhos-y-Gell – mentioned that the Williams brothers over by the Hafod estate had just had an unexpected litter of pups turn up on their farm. They could, he told us, find homes for a few of them, and those dogs would become trained to work with sheep. But there may be one for whom they had no future home.
We went to see the brothers. And that’s where I spied Nans, a little Cambrian Blue puppy. I asked the Williamses if they would sell her to me as they’d found no home for her to go to. They said I could have her – Mom and Dad permitting – for nothing. Who said Cardis are mean?
But I insisted on paying them five shillings, just to feel that I owned her. So we returned to Wolverhampton with our new family member.
Mom and Dad were pleased when I said they could have Nans and that it might help fill the gap which Sally had left and the one I’d be leaving when I got my calling-up papers.
Nans – I gave that Welsh name – grew into a lovely dog. No hint of nastiness about her, and she was about the right size and intelligent enough to have become a good sheepdog. She became part of our family, as were all dogs before or since.
She was a very loving dog and was, I’m sure, a great comfort to Mom and Dad while I was serving my Queen and Country.
On my leaves, and certainly when I arrived back – demobbed – from Malaya, Nans welcomed me with a wagging tail.
Dad died in 1963, so she was a companion to Mom when I was out at work. Then, Mom died in 1967 and, as Rosie and I had moved away to Wednesfield, Nans came to live with us.
Alas, the dog had become overweight from being fed too many titbits and was getting old and slow. Her hearing was going and she couldn’t move very quickly. Then, Rosie was expecting Liz and was scared of tripping over the slow moving Nans.
We decided that the old dog should be put to sleep.
So many of my memories – of Wales, of Mom and Dad, of coming home from abroad, of bringing Rosie home for the first time – were bound up with that dog’s life.
Thanks, Nans, you beautiful girl.
* * * *
Next came Moey, the only male dog with whom I had or have since shared a home. We got him from a pet-shop in Wolverhampton and he would never respond to any sort of training.
We had to leave him alone at home sometimes when we visited Rosie’s relatives or went to perform in the folk-clubs. Though dogs were allowed on buses back then, there would have been nowhere for him to stay while we were out.
We’d return to find he’d chewed up carpets and goodness knows what else. He even found the coat of one of our friends who was visiting us and gave that a chewing, too. Neighbours told us that he’d barked incessantly until we got home. I believe it was his lonliness which made him untrainable and noisy. Our fault totally, then.
We’d called him Rough Moey after an old-time Black Country character, a dog-fighting man, famed in folk-song: “Down Sewerage Street where the smell ain’t so sweet, Rough Moey flopped down on his flat-bottomed feet . . . “
Moey was dreadful on a lead. He pulled and pulled and, when we let him off the lead, over the old pit-workings behind our Wednesfield house or along the local canal bank, getting him to come back was nigh on impossible. He would, somehow, manage to escape from time to time when we left him on his own in our back-garden. He found his escapes a great game.
When Liz was four, we decided to move house. Having been convinced – for racist reasons mainly – by a lot of people we knew, we believed that our daughter would “get on better” in an area where there were more white kids of her own age. We fell for that load of tosh and found a lovely semi in Cannock with a school not too far away.
Then the decision had to be made about Moey. To take him to a new home would mean him destroying chunks of it as he had done in the old one in Wednesfield. It would have been wrong for us to try to palm him off on someone else. He was still a young dog, but mad as a hatter. So there was really only one choice: let the vet put him to sleep.
I could not bring myself to take a young dog and request he be put down. So a friend of ours – Bob Stanton – did the deed for us.
We told Liz that Moey had gone. She did not take the news easily.
I cannot say that Moey was ever part of our Family. I did not get on with him in the easy way I had done with other dogs. He was never what I would call my friend.
But, when we left the house in Wednesfield for the last time, I was last out and looked round the old place and said “Cheers, Moey – wherever you are.” I think of him still, of course.
* * * *
Liz had just started school when we moved to Cannock. She loved all animals – still does. Then, our new friends, the Hill Family, had a dog who had a litter of pups. And Liz wanted one. Indeed, the Hills encouraged her to choose one and, on one memorable bus-and-foot journey from their home in Stafford back to Cannock, the sweet little puppy snuggled under Liz’s anorak.
As we came down Cemetery Road, towards Walnut Hill where we lived, Liz stopped. “She’s wee-weed in my coat!” she cried happily. And that was our real introduction to the pretty puppy who Liz named Samantha.
Sam was an easy-going, easy to train girl. Smallish, mainly black with a white chest and tan-coloured legs, she soon became a great favourite and part of our Family. Sometimes, though, I think she thought she was a cat.
We walked on Cannock Chase, free from her lead, and she never strayed. She was quiet and cuddly. I liked and loved Sam.
For reasons I shalln’t go into here, it became time for us to move again. Liz was nine, which may have not been the ideal time to move from the area and her school and her friends, but what was to be was to be.
We chose – well, I chose, really – to move all the way to very-Welsh Wales, an area I had loved since a kid and knew pretty well. It must have been “the right time”, for it took no time to sell our home in Cannock and start buying the little terraced house in Pontrhydfendigaid where we’ve stayed to this day. And Sam came with us, of course.
The little dog settled in as if nothing had happened. Liz, too, was soon seemingly at home in her new surroundings and new school.
It was a few years before Sam had to leave us due to old age and general health problems. I will tell the story of that parting when I tell of our next doggie companion.
Miss you still, Sam Dog.
* * * *
Sam’s demise still left us with Penny. I once tried to write about dogs with whom I have lived, but can’t remember what I did with the unfinished article. Therein, the part where Penny came into our lives was entitled “The Coming of Plop”.
There is a reason for her nickname.
During our first Winter in Wales, I used to run a man to church each Sunday. My own journey passed very close to his home out in the sticks, anyway.
One Sunday morning, I’d picked him and a couple of his sons up and we were driving along the country road through Bethania and Penuwch. It had snowed and I had to drive carefully. Then, a little way ahead, I saw a blackish animal running the way we were going. I slowed down and we recognised the creature as a dog.
We weren’t near any houses, so I said I’d have a go at catching what seemed to me to be a stray. The others said we should keep going so that they’d be at church on time.
So I stopped, got out and went a few icy yards to where the dog cringed trembling under the hedge bank. It was instantly obvious that it was a stray: it looked half-starved, had ice matting its fur and a piece of tough baler-twine round its neck which showed that it had broken away from being tied up.
I picked it up, wrapped it in a bit of old blanket and put it in my car. Later that day, I would contact the Police and see if there’s been any report of a stray.
To cut a long story short, nobody claimed the dog and she was up at the vets’ at Tal-y-Bont where, if nobody claimed her, she would be put down.
Nobody did – so she came to live with us. And Sam took to her straight away.
Penny – I’d found her in Penuwch – was the most intelligent dog I’ve ever shared a home with. You could see her thinking things out, reasoning.
When she joined our Family, Penny was about three months old. She had been badly treated by someone. Not only was there the evidence of her being tied up somewhere, but her ribs on both sides showed clear signs of having been broken. And she was scared of people, especially me. We guessed some farmer had maltreated her. She was rather small to be a sheepdog, so perhaps that was his reason.
And she looked half-starved when I found her and never, ever put on any weight. Indeed, we were once reported to the RSPCA by a neighbour who thought we weren’t feeding her. Good, of course, that people care about such things. The RSPCA man could tell from the condition of her coat and the way she seemed settled with us that the report was false.
She really became Rosie’s dog.
She got the nickname “Penny Plop” because we had to be so careful to speak to her gently. If she thought we were speaking harshly – which we never did to her – she would pee herself and, often, empty her bowels on our carpets. She was easy and quick to house-train and would always ask to go out when she needed to. But, for most of her life, she would soil our carpets. We forgave her each time. It was not her fault that she was so nervous.
During Penny’s stay with us, Sam got old and frail. Liz was away at TheatreSchool in Maidenhead when we had to choose to have her dog put to sleep. Sad words on a long phone-line.
Sam, though, took the trip to the vets as part of her life. The little love simply made no fuss.
Penny – the dog who would have been put down had no-one claimed her when she was three months old – lived with us for seventeen years. She survived her pal Sam by a few years.
Old, frail and with a poorly chest, she apologised to me for the trouble when I took her to the vet. Yes, she really did that.
Penny Plop – I know you’re still “out there” somewhere.
* * * *
We went a little while without having a dog in our home.
Liz, having completed her course, went into holiday-camp entertaining. She knew a lot about stage-work and did a fair bit of backstage work at the camp where she worked. It was in Hastings, and we travelled down there a couple of times to see her.
She met a young man down there, a Londoner, and eventually went to live with his Family in London. While she was there, someone she knew was looking for homes for a litter of puppies. So Liz told us that we could have one.
We’d sort-of decided that, after Penny left us, we would remain dogless. But Liz was a bit persuasive. So we said “yes”, and the next time we saw her, we adopted a small, mainly black female puppy.
Now here’s an odd thing. During our dogless time, I had mused about having another dog. It was just musings, not desire. The picture of that “next dog” was of a smallish black one with the name of Gypsy. Those musings were long before the new puppy came into our lives.
We called her Gypsy – Gyp for short. And, more than any other dog I have lived with, Gyp became my close pal. She was easily trained and was never any trouble at all.
She came everywhere with us and enjoyed travelling. She lived in our home, from puppyhood to maturity, for some twelve years and . . . well, here’s the piece I wrote some three years after she left us:-
I knew but did not believe that your life with us was at its end. A phone call, then I lifted you into the car and took you, with your lolling tongue, to where we would be told it was best to put you to sleep.
I carried you across the car-park in the darkness. Your head hung over my arm. You had no interest now in this world. Your belly was hot on my hand. Yet your black coat still shone.
The girl, qualified and caring, said it was kindest to let you go.
We had to leave you. We could not bear to watch you go. Our goodbye to you fell on your ears, already tuned to another world.
I was half-a-mile away, manoeuvring gloomily round the big traffic island when the lethal injection was administered. I knew it, and believe I felt your passing.
After three years, another dog came to our home and we love her. We loved all of the ones before you. But you – you I love most of all.
Written whilst on holiday in Cornwall,
Wednesday, 2nd May, 2007.
Gyp left a track with her paws on the wide grass verge beyond the top of the Village Green opposite our home. I have walked that way with dogs ever since we came to live here. Traces of Gyp’s track, made over twelve years, is still visible, even after all these years of cutting – butchering mainly – the grass a couple of times a year with machines.
I see those traces every day and I talk to Gyp as I walk. She is there as much as she still visits our home occasionally.
“Requiem” says it all, I think.
* * * * *
And a year or so after Gyp had left us, we invited a rescue-dog – the second one, of course, because Penny came first – into our home and into our lives.
Our daughter Liz has a way of finding dogs which are perfect for us. She heard that this one was being looked after by a couple of girls up at Ynyslas. We were used to living in a dogless home by this time. But, somehow, Liz persuaded us to go and have a look at the animal, anyway.
To please her, we went to see the rescue-dog.
The girls welcomed us into their home and then called the dogs – they were looking for homes for five of them – in from the garden. The one we’d come to see walked in, looked at Rosie – and smiled!
Well, Rosie couldn’t resist that, could she? We took the dog to our car. She settled on the back seat and we drove home.
Initially, I referred to her as “Bess the Psychodog”, for she had an uncertain temperament. But at least she was house-trained and seemed to settle in with us pretty quickly.
And, like Penny before her, she became Rosie’s dog. Yes, she respected – and respects – me as “leader of the pack” but, even after the ten years she’s lived with us, she does not trust me if I get too close to Rosie without her canine-permission. Many’s the time I’ve felt her nasty, sharp teeth if she thinks I’m threatening Rosie – or any of the females in our Family.
We sort of pieced her history together. She was born on a remote farm where the farmer used to get drunk and bully (? beat?) his wife. It was difficult for me to pour myself a glass of lemonade without Bess trying to stop me with teeth showing.
Her second home had been with “an old lady” who went to live in a care-home and the two girls took the dog in and tried to find her a new home.
Slowly – oh, so slowly – Bess began to realise that she was safe in our home, and that it was going to be her permanent billet. It’s taken a few years to make her know that.
After ten years sharing a home with her, I can say that she is like no other dog I’ve known. Yes, I know each dog has its own personality, but Bess is a true individual. She makes up her own mind about many things and has taught herself many things which make our lives with her more comfortable.
Road-safety was one of those things: I can walk her off the lead on busy roads and she will sit and stay safely when she sees it as necessary without any word of command from me.
I suppose much of her intelligence comes from the fact that she was bred to be a thinking sheepdog: she’s a mainly black-and-white Welsh Border Collie.
Such had been her life that it took three months of being with us before she realised that she could run. She may never have had the space to practice before.
Three months later, she wagged her tail for the first time. She’s still not a wag-at-all-times dog, but does so when she’s really relaxed and feels comfortable with a situation.
As I say in “Requiem”: ‘After three years, another dog came to our home and we love her’. Bess is a very cuddly dog (if one can get her to snuggle up).
There’s only one fault – if it is such – of which we’ve not been able to cure her over the ten years she’s shared our home. She yaps, loud and long, if someone comes to the door, if one of us says “Whoops!” if we make a mistake of some kind, and every time the phone rings. We can live with that (we have no alternative!).
As she is as she is, when the time comes for Bess to leave us, I have decided that she will not be alone when the vet administers the final injection. I shall talk to my friend – not yet my pal – as she passes through, tough though it will be for me. And that is a mark of respect which I have never shown to any other dog.
* * * * *
Completed on Tuesday, 11 June 2013.
For My Friend
You left us. Suddenly, you were gone. Gone from our home and our lives.
We noticed that you were feeling unwell, but only for a few days before your passing. So we decided to take you to see the vet.
On the morning of our visit to the vet, we got ourselves and you ready for the trip. You asked to go into our garden a few times during those preparations. Then, on one of those wanders into our garden, you seemed to be taking a while to return. Often, when you had done what you had to do there, you would yap to tell us you were waiting to come in; you did that only if we were not at the back-door waiting to open it for you.
Such was your attitude to being part of our Family.
So, having noticed that you hadn’t returned, I went outside. There, right down at the bottom of our garden, you lay unmoving on the concrete path. I went to you, calling your name gently. There was no reaction.
You lay there motionless, though your eyes were open. Those usually bright, alert eyes did not seem to be seeing anything.
I bent and gently picked you up, brought you back to and through the house, and placed you on the back seat of our car. You had always regarded that back seat as your territory (along with other places in and around our home!).
There you lay, still unmoving, all the way to Aberystwyth. Usually, you made it your habit to sit up and look out of the car window – I like to think that you were making sure we were going the right way. On any trip, you did the same. And you really did know where we were going on our regular routes!
At the vets, I parked and went to ask if you could be seen in the car. The vet – a young lady – was very understanding. In a very short space of time, she came out to see you. She told us that you may have an infection, and that she could give us medication which may or may not help.
You simply lay there, unseeing eyes still open. Your heart was still beating.
Seeing the situation, the vet left us to decide whether or not it was time to put you to sleep. It took us very little time to make that decision – we knew and still know that it was the right one.
Tears streaming down my face, I went into the surgery and told the vet of our decision. As you were unable to walk and I felt I could not carry you, (you big lump!) I asked if the job could be done where you lay in the back of the car. The vet, understanding, said she would be with us shortly.
We waited but a short time for the vet and a nurse to come to you. All that short time, we talked to you. We feel you did not hear us, but we needed to do it.
The vet shaved a small patch on your left front-leg, and made the injection. Within moments, it seemed, she pronounced you dead. Our tears did not stop.
Vet and nurse placed you gently into a big sling and carried you away to the place where your body would be cremated. We simply sat a while, and then drove off, our sadness indescribable.
The vet had commented that you had been a special dog. She seemed to know that was the case, even though I had told her you were the eighth dog with whom I’d shared a home.
“A special dog” – yes that is what you were. And are. I’m sure that my little pal, Gypsy, helped you enter the next world, bringing with her the six other dogs I’ve lived with and loved.
It’s difficult to explain why you were “special”. I must try, though.
You were a dog of independent thought. You seemed to be able to perceive what was right – in any situation – and what was wrong. You came to us with many hang-ups which had put into your brain due to – from what we gathered – a puppyhood in a violent environment, where a drunken farmer would beat his wife and, for all we know, maltreat puppies.
That violence made you protective of women, girls and little children. At first, you would bite me if I stood what you considered too close to Rosie. You protected our grand-daughters in the same way.
Eventually, and after many years, those bites became nips. But you still did it to warn me.
It took a few years for you to realise that this was your “forever home” and that we loved you totally. This home became your territory, and you protected it against anyone who dared to come near our door – even the milkman and the postman. What a sharp yap you had!
During your nearly twelve years with us, you became easier and easier to live with. And we have many sweet memories of you and of things we did together. It took three months with us for you to realise you could run. And another three months after that for you to learn to wag your tail (a thing you rarely did all through your life).
Looking back, those nearly-twelve-years seem to have flitted by far too quickly. The suddenness of their ending leaves a gap in our lives. You are irreplaceable, though we may have another dog join us at some time in the future.
You became my friend, Bess, just as Gypsy became my little pal.
You and I disagreed from time to time – well, quite often – as true friends do. But our friendship held us close. It still does. Bless you, my friend. I can but hope that I am worthy enough to meet you again – and the other seven dogs I’ve shared a home with – in the sweet bye-and-bye.
I can’t express my love and admiration for you any further than I have done here.
Farewell, my friend.
Friday, 18th November, 2016.
Sally (and me!); Nans & Moey;
Sam & Penny;