Those Dog-Gone Best Friends of Mine...

# "Well my dog wears a path on the same line... and lately I'm thinking I might take his advice..." # - Ben Folds

Bruce as a pup...
Spring is meant to be full of beginnings and possibilities, but every new beginning has to follow an ending of some sort and recently I've been reflecting on the loss of my parents' pet dog called Ebony...

She was actually not the only dog my family has had since I grew up and left the family home - there were a "Famous Five" canine companions, starting in the early 80s, and all had their own unique characters and led their own brand of anarchic adventures throughout the Allan household(s)...



..and Bruce as an adult
When I was but a twinkle in the old folks' eyes, they got their first loyal hound - a blue belton English setter puppy who they called Bruce.  I don't remember much of Bruce myself, so he's sort of a "legend" to myself (as he died when I was about 4) and my younger brother, but photos of him show that he was full of life and stories from my parents tell of his boisterous nature, swallowing bluebottle flies whole and eating £10 notes here and there (a small fortune at the turn of the decade into 1980!)  Overall, as with all the canine companions my family had in the house as I grew up, Bruce was said to have the nicest nature to be around, and I guess that sort of rubs off on you a bit being around animals like that - their silence and their quiet dependability leaves a long-lasting impression on you.


Falcor wasn't one of my pets 
but with a little imagination...
Simba was the next to arrive...  He was also an English Setter but the orange belton variety and he came along at just the time in my childhood when my imagination was developing and because he was such a huge hound I used to see him as the giant white flying dog from The Neverending Story as we went adventuring on long walks on local fields and places like "The Pond of Life" (but that's a story for another future post here on the blog).  I still remember one particular caravan holiday as a child when Simba took off up the beach at Amble on the northeast coast of the UK and we had no idea where he was heading to until we found him rolling around by a dead seal on the beach.  To this day, we have no idea why he enjoyed that so much, but we knew from then that he had a singular mind of his own (and unfortunately that our caravan was going to stink for the remainder of the holiday!)

Simba - it was a dog's life...
It was a really sad day for me when Simba had to be put to sleep.  Thankfully it was at home (as with all my folks' dogs, it was tradition to bury them in the back garden of our family home) but it was probably my first experience with death up close, because I can remember quite distinctly how fast he took to begin to turn quite solid.  Without getting too morbid, he was a true friend in my formative years as I turned from a young boy to an adolsecent, and to this day I still miss him.  I did, in my more dreamy teenage imaginings once pick out a star in the night sky for him after he died.  It's mainly visible later in the year, but if you ever notice a bright star just diagonally off the bottom tail of the Seven Sisters constellation, you're looking at Simba's star...

Oscar - always happy with his tennis ball
Oscar came along just at the time in my teenage years when I happened to be spending some time off school with a fractured ankle.  Up to this point, the pets we'd owned had mainly belonged to my parents and had more often than not imprinted themselves onto my dad (as leader of the pack) but because I was around the house for an extended period of time when Oscar arrived, he sort of imprinted himself on me more and became "my" pet dog, rather than just the family's.  Oscar wasn't an English setter like Bruce and Simba but quite the opposite in colour, being a black flat-coated retriever.  The lasting image I have of Oscar is that he'd always have a tennis ball in his mouth.  He just loved chasing and retrieving them, so much so that he actually broke a shin bone once jumping and falling badly for a ball that was bouncing down a hill.  He just loved to proudly bring back his catch each and every time.  It reminds me to this day that sometimes the simple pleasures in life are the best ones for keeping you going...

Apart from their first dog Bruce, the rest of my parents' pooches were "rescue dogs" as they felt this was a worthy cause to support with so many animals being abandoned and forgotten about in the UK.   And this scheme always worked out well for my folks, but with their next dog, Gunner, another flat-coat, we all realised just how much rescuing some dogs needed.  He had been a former police dog in training so had quite a backstory, having been attacked by Alsatian dogs during training (and he had the scars to prove it - a tiny bald spot on top of his head was the legacy left him from those days of fighting).  He never really recovered from that experience and even though he was just as good natured as his predecessors in our household, whenever he encountered another male dog during a walk or running around on the local fields, he'd take pre-emptive action and strike before they could.  It was the first time I'd really had to think about animals having a psychology and approaching pets from this angle, because in the house, when my dad (again, leader of the pack) was out, Gunner would cower and hide upstairs and creep his head around the top of the stairs if anyone knocked on the door.  But if my dad was actually in the house, Gunner would bark and snarl if the door knocker went, almost like a false bravado because his pack was complete...

Ebony as she'd have us remember her - smilling to the end...
And that brings us back to the fifth furry friend in the Allan household, who was was Ebony (also a flat-coated retriever, although more Newfoundland in her look and stature than the Irish setter cross breed of her heritage).  She came to my parents just as I was moving out of the family home and getting married, so I sort of got to know her more from afar than the other dogs.  This did mean that whenever I returned home to visit my folks I was greeted by a huge hound bounding out of the door to say hello.  Like all the dogs before, she really did bring happiness to my family, and I suspect that although at present my parents are without a dog, it won't be long before a sixth canine addition to the family makes an appearance, and will add their own mark and chapter to the story of the old family home in Westerhope.

Nowadays, I live out by the seaside and the nearby beach would be perfect to walk a dog of my own, which I may one day have, but until then, the past escapades of those faithful "infamous five" hounds will help fuel my never-ending quest for inventive, fun adventure stories...


(I've written many animal characters into the various short stories scattered across my Official Writing Homepage but curiously, considering my intimate history with my four-legged friends, to date I have yet to have a canine character as the main hero of a finished tale...  I did once sketch out a short story for my GCSE English coursework about a dog named Bracken but that's been lost somewhere in some cobwebbed box in my parent's loft.  Maybe one day I'll unearth it and dust it off for another viewing...)

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