The first dog in my life was Bella, a black Cocker Spaniel. She smelled horrible (ear issues) in my memory. She died when I was 10. Then we had Shahn, a Working Sheepdog, who nipped our ankles if we weren’t careful. Two years later we had Kali, another WSD, who was incredibly soppy and would follow us around, getting under our feet and breathing her smelly breath on us.
When I was 18 my mother decided to get Afton, a pedigree Border Collie. She was a completely different kind of dog – a ‘proper’ dog. Beautiful to look at, a classic collie, and with a really super temperament. She loved to have things thrown for her – anything at all, she didn’t care. The classic was that she would bring visitors a tiny twig, or a leaf and carefully place it on their lap, then gaze at them patiently, waiting for them to throw it.
My mum wanted to breed from her and when I was around 21 she had her first litter. I was there for the whelping (the births) and loved it! It was so exciting. She had beautiful puppies, which we named after herbs and we kept Dill. Two years later she had another litter and we kept Rue.
I took on Rue once I had stopped work after the birth of my second son, in 1994. She was a sweet girl, but a bit neurotic. She didn’t like other dogs much, or men, or children. Typical collie. She was easy going, kept herself to herself. Undemanding but a bit boring.
My first puppy was Buzz, bred by my mum. It was 1997 and we had spent nine months trying to move house. We kept getting gazumped, or losing our sale, because our house was made of concrete and people couldn’t get a mortgage to buy it in case it crumbled to dust. (The mortgage company had clearly never trying to put up a picture). We were pretty fed up and there was this litter at home. My younger son to a shine to Buzz, so there we were, a two dog family. Soon to be followed by Woody, the cat.
Buzz was a right pain. He was as neurotic as collies can be, easily spooked. He would bark, irritatingly, to come in, or go out, or whatever. Incessantly at the doorbell. He loved the boys, and would run around while they played, but they didn’t play with him. We were brought up to have respect for our dogs, and they were always left in peace or put away if the house was busy. We occasionally stroked them, but they were never cuddled, or handled, or fussed. They were just part of the house, part of the furniture. Not really walked and certainly not trained.
I did do some training with Buzz and because he was a collie he was generally obedient, but didn’t really do much. It was while I had Rue and Buzz was a puppy that I learnt that dogs could talk. Not just bark, but actually communicate. I was sitting working at my desk and Rue came into the room. She said “You’d better come. That annoying puppy has done something naughty. I told him not to, but he did it anyway. It wasn’t me.” I was surprised that she was able to say all that, but she did and sure enough, when I looked, there was the chewed thing, just as she’d said.
Buzz had grown up with two small boys, but they never really paid him any attention. It was a shame because his brother Digby had gone to my friend, who also had small boys. Digby was one of the family and would lie on the floor cuddling with George, aged 2. He was a super boy and I think that was when I started to realise just how much dogs could vary and how important their upbringing was to the way they behaved.
I had seen red and white collies at Crufts and when I mentioned to my mum that I fancied getting one, a few years after Rue died, she put me in touch with a friend of a friend who had a red and white girl. I went from Essex to Southampton to see Sunny when she was three weeks old.
It was the first time I had been interviewed by a breeder and I was surprised, but pleased when I passed the test and was awarded with the puppy. I named her Sunshine, as she was born on Midsummer’s Day, June 21st 2006. She was the start of my journey as a breeder.