A trip down memory lane - 100 issues on

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When I realised that this month would see Issue number 100 of Waggy Tales, I took a dive back into my archives and looked up issue Nunber 1.

The date was April 2003 and the copy headline was ‘The Importance of Training’.

I suppose that training, for all its various reasons, has been the theme of these pages ever since and I do hope that they have been of interest, and even some practical use, to my readers over the last eight years and more.

This issue will carry pictures of some of the dogs which I have owned and bred and whose stories have provided much of my Waggy Tales copy.

At the end of WW2 when my father fulfilled his promise that, ‘after the war we will get a dog.’ he, acquired a Border Terrier, called Jock, who had been bred to work and was quite unsuited to urban life.

He was swiftly returned to his breeder (where he enjoyed long and useful years) and father paid £5 to another keeper whose labrador had had a litter by the shepherd’s working collie.

I was 10 years old when Sam joined the family and he taught me a great deal about dogs. In those days, no pet dog was neutered and it was a long time before I realised that two male dogs could meet without setting about each other in a way that gave me a timidity about dog fights which I still have.

Hybrid vigour was what father wanted, and that he certainly got. Sam lived to be 15 and, when I consider his wandering ways, I suspect that his descendants were many.

Skerrie, the Shetland sheepdog, was born in 1959.

He cost me £10 and came with a pedigree which a famous local Sheltie breeder read with complete disbelief.

Skerrie introduced me to obedience classes when I joined the ACTS in 1960.

He was not an easy dog, but I learned a lot as I worked him to Test A standard; I even did some track and search work with him but he was too small to manage the six foot scale jump needed to compete in working trials.

That same year, I acquired my first show dog in Fergus, an Irish Wolfhound.

Together Fergus and I travelled to Crufts by train and to many local shows where he was always in demand to tow some small child into the childrens’ handling class.

This has developed over the years into the national junior handling competition and now into the Young Kennel Club.

Fergus was the first of my dogs to wear a harness to which two collecting tins could be fixed and he raised a lot of money for various charities.

Most charities no longer allow dogs to collect in this way, but I still have several harnesses which I should happily hand on to anyone whose dogs could use them.

Fergus very sadly died at the age of five, but by this time I wanted to have a breed which I could show and after months of research I decided upon the English Setter.

John and I travelled to Wokingham to the famous Suntop kennels and there we bought a ten months old blue bitch called Suntop Songthrush, who would be the foundation of all the Farmacy English setters.

The breeder had called her Angel but we altered this to Lisa and we had eight years of joy from her before she succumbed to mammary cancer which was then impossible to treat. In 1967 I was granted my kennel affix and nine weeks after a round trip by train back to Wokingham - where Lisa was mated to a very beautiful Suntop show champion dog - the Farmacy ‘A’ litter was produced.

For the English litters, I worked my way through the alphabet but kept the letter J for any dog that I bought in. When I went to look at a litter out of a daughter of Farmacy Anamirta (known as Anna) I fell for one of the dog puppies, picking him when he was only a couple of weeks old. I registered him as James James from Farmacy, taking the name from AA Milne. James was to become my first, and only show champion dog when he took his title at Crufts in 1979.

He was a lovely character and starred in both the TV adverts which we did for Pedigree Chum dog food.

I bred my first labrador litter in March 1973, when the average price of a pedigree lab puppy was £18.

I was trying to breed sensible, trainable dogs; and from later litters we generally gave a puppy to Guide Dogs.

Four of six went on to be successful workers, which was always satisfying, as was one police sniffer dog and one who did well in retriever trials.

But mostly, they were much-loved companions and there are probably still a few around here who can trace their pedigrees back to Farmacy Brown Derby, for chocolates were rare in those days, or to his black son Farmacy John Joseph.

Derby was a charming, gentle character and the best stud dog I ever had. He loved to get his red harness on and to shake his cans as a thank you to any child who put in a coin or two.

I bought my first whippet in 1968 and she might have done all right in the show ring, had she not jumped a wall and broken her leg.

She was never sound after that, but she won a race once and I still have the little trophy that she got for it.

The race track on that occasion was in the Walker Park by the lighthouse in Torry.

It was a very cold day and, if truth be told, I think Cilla went so fast because she was heading towards the nice warm car. She lived to the ripe old age of seventeen.

Cilla was a house dog, like most of my Whippets, and in the picture she shares her home comfort with her friend Fancy and two of the setters.

Of course we did have other dogs; each a ‘one-off’ with a job to do. Scottie The Rottie was my first house guard dog and a wonderful character she was.

Then Topsy The Turvey my golden Tervueren Belgian Shepherd dog who could make guard dog noises if needed, but who tragically died at just eight years of age.

And Tib the Wonder Dog who introduced me to the joys of Border Collie ownership and who taught me most of what I know about sheep.

I hope you will forgive my wander down memory lane.

A few of the memories bad – like the Lab litter that took parvovirus; some of them sad – like the passing of much loved very old dogs, in my arms, beside the aga in the farmhouse kitchen.

But most of them are happy of my own ‘Dear Ghosts’

DEAR GHOSTS

I close my eyes, and they are here.

Come from that secret place where old friends sleep.

They stir at my call.

We are together now.

So many faithful friends.

Now we can go wherever memory takes us.

Up to the hill? Down through the woodland’s shady places?

They are here with me.

But dreams must end.

My dear ghosts melt and fade

Back to that kindly place where they will wait for me again.

Waiting, I know - until I come to them.