My Life With Animals

My love of animals started when I was growing up in England. My Dad was not really receptive to having animals in the house. However, I presume that at some stage my Mum persuaded him that it would be good for me to have a furry creature as I remember I had a hamster called Jingle Bells, and a rabbit called Sandy. Dear Jingle Bells did a disappearing act one day – bending apart the bars of his cage and escaping. The suspicion was that he was aided by either my eldest brother or my Dad, but neither owned up and this will remain a mystery for all time now. Sandy, on the other hand, I believe, made his own escape. He was housed in a run in the garden. He had all the creature comforts that a bunny could want but one day (or night) he dug under the wire of the run and escaped too. I can remember searching the streets for Sandy and searching every cupboard and nook and cranny in the house for Jingle Bells, but we never saw either of them again. So I can say that my first foray into keeping animals wasn’t all that successful.


What I really wanted was a dog, but my Dad was never going to allow that. I knew that there was an elderly couple across the road from us who owned a beautiful dog. I had seen them walking her up the road. She was only young and I was five years old and I decided to ask them if I could take their dog for a walk. My heart was in my mouth as I walked up to their front door and knocked on it, feeling so small and not knowing what they were going to say. I couldn’t believe my luck when they said they were happy for me to take her for a walk. Her name was Lassie, and this was the start of a beautiful friendship and the beginning of my love of Golden Retrievers. Below is the only photo I have of Lassie.

Lassie was not actually a purebred Golden Retriever, but a Saluki/Golden Retriever cross. She had the build of a Golden and the beautiful golden colouring, but her feathers were very long, more like a Saluki. I have to give thanks to Claude and Dorothy (Lassie’s owners) for allowing me the chance to walk their dog – I know that if a 5-year old child came to me to ask if they could walk one of my dogs I would say no.


As I grew up I did everything with Lassie. I walked her after school every day, took her out for whole day walks at the weekend, sometimes to the beach, sometimes up the South Downs. We would get lost and walk miles but eventually find our way home. Claude and Dorothy had a grand-daughter, Alison, who used to come and visit with her parents about one Sunday every month. I used to sit at the lounge window and hope every Sunday that this would be the day they arrived, and when they did, Alison and I went for hikes even further. Alison was more of a tom boy and daredevil than I was and I enjoyed her company. She had two Jack Russells and so we would go walking with the three dogs. I used to love having Lassie or one of the Jack Russells on a lead walking round the streets. I can’t explain the feeling, it was like being privileged to have this dog trotting along with me. When we got to the beach, park or Downs the dogs would be let off the lead and we would go wandering, in the bush, sometimes through a field that we knew we shouldn’t be going through with a dog – what if the farmer saw us? We used to walk in the snow as well in winter. I remember that Lassie had a lot of fur between her toes and under her paws. When we walked up the Downs in the snow, ice balls would form in the fur under her paws and I would have to stop every so often to break the ice up and pull it off the fur. Then we would carry on for a bit longer until I had to do it again. We went far and wide and had some great adventures.


I think one of the greatest thing about dogs is the fact that they are so happy to see you. Every day that I went to Claude and Dorothy’s to take Lassie out, she would go wild with excitement seeing me. Claude used to take Lassie out a couple of times a day, but these were more sedate walks and I like to think that she enjoyed the adventure that she would have when we went out together.


Sometimes I used to take her into my home before or after a walk. My Dad was at work every day and my Mum didn’t mind Lassie being in the house for a while. I know that there were occasions when Lassie was in the house when Dad was there, so I think he realised that I had a friend that could go back home at the end of the day but that he was prepared to tolerate in small doses. I do remember that he never patted or greeted Lassie. He acknowledged that she was part of my life, but (although he didn’t dislike animals) he just wasn’t affectionate over them. One day Lassie was round our house and Dad was home. Dad and I were playing and we were standing facing each other and I had my hands out and Dad put his hands either side of mine and clapped my hands together. We did that a few times and it is the only time that I saw Lassie try to protect me. She obviously thought my Dad was attacking me because she jumped up and tried to separate us.


I can remember grooming Lassie. I didn’t have any equipment at all, but every so often I remember that she had all this fluffy fur that would start to come out in clumps. So I would take her into the garden, lay her down and then “pluck” the fur out with my fingers. I used to love the transformation from a slightly paler looking fluffy dog to a tidier, darker golden coat again. Lassie was very patient and didn’t seem to mind me doing this. She was the most beautiful dog and I will never forget her.


We grew up together, Lassie and I. As she got older I sometimes only went and sat with Claude and Dorothy for a chat and didn’t walk Lassie. Sometimes I would take her just up the road and back as she began to have problems with her legs. To be quite honest, although I knew she was old, I don’t think I ever thought about her dying. One day I went across the road and knocked on the door as usual and Claude came to the door. One look at him and I knew something was wrong. Lassie had been put to sleep earlier that day. I remember my Mum and Dad were out that evening and I didn’t want to go back to an empty house, so I went to another neighbour that I knew well and stayed with them for the evening until my Mum and Dad came home.


The one thing I regret is that I was never given the chance to say goodbye to Lassie. I would have liked one last cuddle and one last promise to love her forever and one last kiss on that beautiful head of hers. However, I am sure she knows that. She gave me the greatest gift of all, the love of a dog – thank you Lassie.


In the meantime, whe
n I wa
sn't walking Lassie, I was always up the local stables riding the horses, mucking out and as I got older, teaching other people to ride. I broke my arm while riding on the South Downs one day. We were in a field near Cissbury Ring - the furthest away from the stables that this particular 1 hour ride would go, on a Saturday afternoon. While we were walking through the field some idiots let off a gun to shoot at the pheasants. Well, the whole ride took off at a flat out gallop. I was only 9 years old at the time and I was riding the fastest pony that we had. His name was Dr Zhivago and he was very strong. The horses were all galloping on the very hard ground as it was middle of summer. The Downs are made of chalk and it is not very pleasant to land on. Zhivago was going flat out and I dropped one rein and pulled his head round and even put my fingers through the ring of the bit but I couldn't slow him down. We were coming to a very sharp bend in the track and at the speed we were going I thought he was going to go down and probably fall on top of me and so I made the decision to get off at full speed gallop. Of course, in hindsight I should perhaps have stayed with him, but then worse could have happened if he did fall at the corner. I took my feet out of the stirrups as I didn't want to be caught up in them and then got off - no easy feat when the horse is going so fast. I hit the ground and I remember putting my head up and hearing the thunder of feet, so I put my head down again while another horse galloped on past me (remember that there were probably 20 horses bolting as fast as they could at this stage). Then everything went quiet and I waited. I got up and suddenly realised that my watch on my left arm was in the middle of a very big dip in my wrist. I had broken it. I also had a small stone lodged in the corner of one of my eyes, probably when my head hit the ground. I started to walk back to the stables with one of the other ladies who had stopped her horse and was picked up by a farmer part way down the track and bounced very uncomfortably down the track to his house where he called my parents. Apart from that one accident, working with horses was great fun and allowed me to be around animals even more which was all I wanted.



Once I finished school I started work at a racing greyhound kennel in the Sussex countryside. My Dad got me the job, so although he hadn’t seemed to actively promote my love of animals, he was responsible for helping me start my working life with them. This was probably more because he was a betting man and loved to go to horse racing at Fontwell Park and the greyhound racing at Brighton. This gave him an excuse to go to lots of greyhound meetings because he would have to come and pick me up at the kennels after a race night, so he and Mum used to come to the meetings when I was working. Not only that, but he became friendly with the trainer I worked with, George Curtis, and George would give him a tip for a bet each night.


I used to work one or two nights a week. On work days I would start out from home at 6am and walk to the station, catch the train to Portslade, wait on the corner of the road for a van to come and pick me up along with all the other kennel hands and then drive to the kennels for work at around 8am. On a day when I was working the evening race meeting, we would stay at the kennels after 4pm which was our usual finish time and wait until it was time to load up all those dogs that were going to be racing and then get in the back of the lorry with the dogs and travel to the stadium. We would then have to unload all the dogs, walk them round to get a urine test, weigh them in and put them in their kennel. Then we would have a meal and then start the evening’s racing. We would have to get each dog out of the kennel for its race, have it identified, put a jacket on it and then see it off to the race. Some nights I would work as a walker, walking the dogs on the track in front of the crowd and then putting my runner in the trap ready for the race. Then we would have to run to the other side of the track where the finish was and catch our dog. On days where I worked the evening race meeting, we wouldn't finish until about 11.30pm and by the time we drove home it would be past midnight. Quite hard if I was working again the next day and had to be up before 6am.

Pictured left is me with one of the greyhounds, a female whose racing name was Clountie Comment. I can't recall her kennel name.


Those were good, fun days. I learned to love greyhounds as much as any other dog. They don’t look that cuddly, but in fact they can be. I used to sit in the kennels with them sometimes when we were waiting for something to happen. They all had their own personalities and most loved contact with people. They make lovely pets. I had a particular favourite called Deneholme Deluxe. His kennel name was Sam. He was a cheeky dog and obviously just to my liking as I had a special bond with him. However, he wasn’t the best racing dog and his owners knew I liked him and I can recall some suggestion that I might like him as a pet. But I couldn’t do that as my Dad wouldn’t let me so he was sent to Portsmouth to run there. I don’t know what happened to him in the end. I hope that he finished his racing career and found someone to give him a lovely home for the rest of his life.


I had a couple of stints of working with the greyhounds, but eventually I had to give it up as I got such bad hayfever that my doctor warned that I might start to get asthma if I continued working with them. The kennels were in the middle of the Sussex countryside and in June and July I could hardly breathe every day. I would sneeze my way through the day and twice my Dad had to come and pick me up and take me home because I had collapsed. So I gave up the dogs and started the boring and unsatisfying career of working in offices.


 Of course, I have had some good office jobs over the years, but in reality, none are as rewarding as working with animals. I had been to New Zealand a couple of times and met a man that I was to marry, Rob. We got married in England and stayed there for about three years before coming to New Zealand to live. I was pregnant with my first child, Nigel, when we left England. We stayed with my brother briefly before getting ourselves a flat. I wanted to have a pet of my own still, but we were not allowed pets in the flat. However, we did a really naughty thing and purchased a budgie, called Budgie! He was with us for a while but ended up with some kind of problem where he lost all his feathers and died.


At this stage we had two babies and were looking for a house of our own. We found one and moved in. I was so excited to at long last have a house of my own where I could have pets if I wanted that on the day that we moved in, once the main move was completed, we made a dash into Wellington to the SPCA to get a kitten. We found a lovely little chocolate-coloured tortoiseshell kitten and took her home with us.

We called her Maddie and she was a cutie. She grew up with our kids and was never any trouble. She was always at the gate waiting for us to come home. She did spend the days in or outdoors, whatever she wanted, but I always left her outside at night. I don’t know that I knew a lot about cats and I thought they were night hunters and would like to be outside at night. In hindsight, I feel a bit sorry now that I shut her out most nights (although not all) as I see other cats that are happy to be curled up snug and warm at night. Also I wouldn’t let her in the whole house. She was allowed in the kitchen, dining, conservatory and lounge, but not the bedrooms.

Maddie lived to be 15 years old and never had anything wrong with her.

When she was a kitten, we had the three vaccinations done but then nothing after that. She was always healthy and as she never went into a cattery, I didn’t think she needed vaccinating. However, when she was 15 I started to think (and I wish I didn’t think so much) that it might be a good idea to have her vaccinated as she was getting older. She was the sort of cat that didn’t really show her age. She looked the same at 15 as she did at one. She didn’t have any grey hairs and she always only ever weighed two kilos, not a big cat. So I got her vaccinated. Three months later she was dead. I can’t help thinking that if I had not had her vaccinated she would have been alright. Its probably ok to vaccinate if you have vaccinated them all their life, but for me to have got her done when she hadn’t had a vaccination since a kitten was probably too much for her. One evening, Nigel was sitting next to me on the couch and we were watching t.v. together. He was 17 years old. Maddie jumped up on his lap and curled up to sleep. Then all of a sudden she made a strange noise like the sucking in of breath quite loudly and she moved, then was still. Nigel thought she had just sneezed but I thought there was something wrong and touched her. I said I thought she was dead - and sure enough she was. She had just jumped up on his lap, curled up to sleep and died. Poor Nigel was gutted but I believe and have always told him that it was an honour for him as she chose him to be the last place to live.


We had three boys by this time and when I was at home I decided that it would be good to finally have a dog. I wanted a Golden Retriever but was probably very naïve and didn’t know about contacting breeders etc. I thought you just looked in pet shops for dogs. So I started to look but there were never any Goldens. The dogs were all cross-breeds and one day I went into the pet centre and found a puppy that I thought was quite cute. I took Rob along to have a look and he, being the easy-going fellow that he is, was quite happy to purchase this dog.

So it was that Pepper came into our lives. She was a real cross-breed, probably German Shepherd/Labrador mostly, but the speed that she had made the vet think that she possibly had some greyhound in her too. I remember the day I brought her home from the shop - she was this little pot-bellied puppy. But then she had a pooh, and I couldn’t believe my eyes – it was full of worms – ugh. So of course we got that fixed pretty quickly and she wasn’t such a pot-bellied puppy after that.


This was my first experience of owning my own dog and I made some mistakes and I did some things that I now regret.

Rob was a farmer’s son and so having dogs at the farm meant that they were housed outside. Pepper was kept in the kitchen as a puppy, but as she grew up we made a kennel for her and she was kept outside. She would have the run of the whole garden when we were at home, but when we were out we chained her to the kennel as we didn’t have any way of preventing her going to the front gate. We didn’t have a lot of money, three young children to keep and most things were pretty basic. Pepper seemed to be a happy dog but didn’t tolerate children too well. If they went to touch her she would occasionally nip them. This made taking her out to the park to watch soccer every week a bit difficult because kids would want to come and stroke her and I would have to have one eye on the soccer and one eye on Pepper to make sure that no-one came to her. She didn’t ever nip someone else’s kids as I was so vigilant.


Pepper was only allowed in our house in the evening and then she had to lay on a rug in the lounge. I wouldn’t let her anywhere else in the house. She used to go back outside for the night. However, as time went on I started to feel guilty about keeping this dog outside. I began to think about the fact that Lassie had been an indoor dog. I persuaded Rob to let me let Pepper inside if it was really bad weather or cold. She would sleep on a blanket outside our bedroom door and I had to say that compared with my Goldens, she was the quietest thing. My Goldens snore, dream and grunt when they thunk down heavily. Pepper wasn’t like that at all.


I used to walk her for miles. She was an exceedingly fast and energetic dog.

In the end, to wear her out Rob would drop me and my bike and Pepper at Moonshine Park in Upper Hutt and I would bike down by the river all the way back home with Pepper running alongside. When we got home, Pepper would still be full of running and I would be knackered! However, it did mean that she was a bit quieter for a couple of days after that. I became fixated with walking this dog. I used to love to take her out. There is nothing more special than going for a walk in the bush or even just round a park and having this creature running with joy in front, behind, beside you, picking up any messages that other dogs have left and generally enjoying themselves. It is very therapeutic.


Mr Slattery

While I had Pepper and Maddie and my boys were young I also got some other animals. I think my lack of having them when I was a child set me up for just wanting to surround myself with them when I grew up. We had some guinea pigs, a beautiful grey dwarf rabbit called Munch and some canaries. In particular, my first canary was a boy called Mr Slattery. He lived to be about 12 or more. He couldn’t really fly towards the end but we put perches near the floor of the cage that he could jump onto and he seemed quite happy. We also let him out of the cage and he used to like to potter about on the carpet and sit in the sun. Later on I got some finches too.

Mr Slattery taking a bath

Mr Slattery loves the sun!

Phoenix would like to say "Hello" to Mr Slattery in person!


Munch, the rabbit, lasted for a long time too. She was 10 when she died, which I gather is quite a good age. However, when she was 5 she became ill with blood in her urine. The vet prescribed antibiotics but this didn’t clear it up. So she said that it could possibly be crystals on the bladder. To operate on this would cost about $150 and there was no guarantee that she would survive because rabbits are not very good under anaesthetic and tend to die. In those days that was a lot of money for us. However, I loved that rabbit and didn’t want her to suffer and so we decided to go for the operation and we would find the money somehow.


It was worth it. I got a phone call from the vet to say that Munch had come through the operation and that the problem was not crystals on the bladder, but an infection in the uterus. When she had opened Munch up she could see that the uterus was a ball of pus. She basically speyed her, taking away everything that she could including the ovaries. She said that if she hadn’t got it all out and the infection continued then we would lose Munch because she couldn’t cut anything more out. Apparently this infection can be caused by cats. The vet had asked whether we had a cat and I said yes. Munch and Maddie used to touch noses through the cage and its possible that that was the cause of the infection. We used to let Munch out into the garden most days when we were there. Maddie would take off because Munch would like to chase her and bite her heels. So although they seemed to have a friendly attachment when Munch was in her cage, it was a different story when she was let out.


The good news was that that operation was much simpler for the vet to carry out and it only cost $90. So that was a bonus. And on top of that, Munch made a full recovery and as I said before, lived to be ten years old. That was the most worthwhile $90 I have ever spent.


So we had a few years there where we had an array of animals. As the kids grew up I started to work a bit more and although only part-time, I didn’t replace the caged animals as they were a bit time consuming to look after. We also used to go back to England at least every couple of years and it was hard to get someone to look after those animals. Dogs and cats are fine as they can go to kennels and catteries. However, we were very lucky with one of our neighbours who loved animals. Maddie used to stay at home when we went away and our neighbour, Margaret, used to come and feed her and play with her and she also did Munch and the guinea pigs too. Pepper went into kennels.


At this stage we also got another lovely little kitten that we called Mo. I have to mention her here because she was so beautiful but unfortunately this story is too short as before she was one year old she was hit by a car outside our house and died before we could get to her. We have never forgotten her though.

Worst nightmare

Then in December 2001 Pepper went off her food. She was the sort of dog that ate ravenously. It didn’t matter how much food was in her bowl, it all went within about 10 seconds, and heaven help anyone who got near. I had tried over the years to get her to let me stroke her while she was eating or to move the bowl. I did have some success but would never have trusted her with the kids so guarded her while she ate – which didn’t take much time out of my day due to the speed of this process! I can’t tell you how scary it is to have an animal that you love start to get sick and for there to seem to be nothing you can do about it. For the previous two winters, Pepper had been allowed to sleep inside every night as my conscience had been getting to me and I had started to think that there was a better way to look after this dog at home. I also had her in the lounge during the day when the kids weren’t around and the weather was bad.


None of this prepared me for what was about to happen. I took Pepper to the vet and he did the usual process ... antibiotics first ... when that didn’t work he took blood tests ... when those came back with slight abnormalities he did another blood test. Pepper and I would walk down the vet and she would stop at the door to the vet in the morning and I remember thinking that this beautiful creature has no idea that this place is possibly going to be where she ends her life one day. All the days that these tests were taking, Pepper wasn’t eating. I tried everything that I could think of. She certainly wasn’t eating her dried dog food. For a while she nibbled a bit of wet food. I would offer her some of our tea, I would buy things for her to try, but mostly to no avail. I was watching this lovely, active but slim dog become even slimmer.


We went through Christmas that year with a bit of a struggle. We usually bought Pepper some doggie choc drops for Christmas, but this year she opened her present but wasn’t interested in eating. I was worried sick about her. The final blood test that she had showed the possibility of something wrong with the liver. One day the vet talked to me about the fact that if Pepper wasn’t eating, she would probably die and that while she seemed ok she could go on but there could be a time when it would be best to put her to sleep to speed up the inevitable. I talked to him about what else could be done. The fact was that at that time, Pepper was still enjoying walks and seemed quite energetic. I still to this day don’t know how she managed that with the tiny amount of food that she had had for a couple of weeks. The vet said that he could do a biopsy on the liver to see what was wrong with the hope that he would be able to find a cure. We were lucky at this time that we were in a position to try anything to save Pepper. So we agreed that she would go in for the biopsy on Monday.

That weekend Rob and I took Pepper to her favourite walks. We walked down the river and she gambolled along in front of us. Probably not quite as racey as normal, but still enjoying it. We sat down on the grass and played with her and just sat and enjoyed the togetherness.

Our last beach walk with Pepper - still as keen as ever!


But of course the good time had to end and Monday morning came. Once again, Pepper walked happily to the vet and waited at the door to be let in. I said goodbye and left her there for the day. The vet called later to say the biopsy had gone ok and was to be sent off and I could pick her up after 4pm. Well, who knows whether I would have done this if I had known what was going to happen, or whether I would have just let Pepper get to the point where we just put her to sleep without putting her through this operation. We can always have regrets in hindsight and wish for time to be turned back to see if another route would prove to be better. However, I made my choice and this is what happened to my beautiful Pepper....


Having not eaten for quite a while, the anaesthetic hit her pretty hard. She was so groggy all evening and couldn’t really move. I remember coaxing her for a short walk up the road in the evening to see if she wanted to relieve herself, but she didn’t. We literally only staggered two houses up the street and back. I thought she would enjoy being out in the air.


She had a bed right by my side of the bed so I could keep an eye on her. We had visitors staying that night – in the lounge – so my life was a bit of an upheaval at that time. But I checked on Pepper every few moments it felt like. It was the worst night of my life. I went to bed and Pepper, who was laying down would then struggle up and just stand. I would stroke her head and try and get her to lay down again but she just wanted to stand. She must have felt so awful, probably in a lot of pain, but such a quiet, docile animal here. This dog who loved nothing more than to run and run, standing by my bed with her head down. I was awake all night with her, just stroking her head. The longest night of my life. As soon as it was morning I got up to look at her. She was laying down at that stage and I know I knew... you know... that time that you dread, that time that you know you have to be God. She was laying on the blanket and the wound in her tummy was oozing slightly with blood. I had to get her to the vet. They don’t answer the phone until 8am, but I knew that the vet was usually there at 7.30am. I told Rob I needed to take her immediately. We carried her to the car and laid her in the back and I went to the vet. I had never done anything like this before and my mind was in a spin with a huge cloud over it. I was so relieved that the vet was there and he came to the car and looked at her. Her gums were totally yellow and he said that her liver had stopped working. We carried her into the surgery, laid her on the table and there I stroked her beautiful head and talked to her while she slipped from this world to a happier place.


I took her home and once our visitors had gone, we all said goodbye to Pepper and Rob buried her in the garden along with all our other “friends”. That was a hard day. The boys and we all put something special into that grave for Pepper to take with her – treats, ball, stick and a blanket to keep her warm. At least I got to say goodbye to this dog and to tell her I loved her.


Pepper loved nothing more than to be playing at the river, soaking wet and happy!

Pepper gave me something very special. She was my first dog and I made what I consider to be mistakes with her. The main thing I feel I failed on was that I didn’t keep her in the house with us as part of the family. This was on my conscience as time went on and was why for the last couple of years she had spent more time in the house. However, I felt I needed to make amends.

First Golden Retriever (Phoenix)

Over the next couple of weeks Rob and I went for our usual weekend walks, but they weren’t the same. There was no bundle of joy running ahead and in and out of the bushes. No-one to throw sticks in the river for, although we did throw some in after she died as we imagined Pepper’s spirit would be there, swimming after them and bringing them back. Even now I occasionally throw a stick in the river for Pepper. But walking wasn’t such fun now. We decided that we wanted another dog and this time I was determined to try and find a Golden Retriever as that was what I had really wanted all along. I still didn’t know anything about contacting a Golden Retriever Club. I didn’t even know they existed, so relied on scanning the papers. I started to buy Trade and Exchange, which I had never heard of but someone said I might find a dog in there, and almost straight away I saw an advert for Golden Retriever puppies. My heart was racing when I phoned up to ask if there were any left and how much. Yes, there was one bitch left but I would have to go over the hill and select it and pay a deposit as soon as possible.


My second son, Peter, and I went the following day. It was about an hour’s drive from us. There was a litter of ten puppies and they were about 4 weeks old. There were two female puppies to choose from as the other person who had booked one hadn’t arrived yet. So Peter and I cuddled these two little puppies and we decided on the lightest coloured one.
She had a band put round her neck with our name on and we went home very happy. We had been discussing names for our puppy and had looked some up somewhere. Pepper had died on 9 January and these puppies were born on 10 January. So Peter and I decided that Phoenix would be a very good name for this puppy as it was a name we liked and also we considered that Phoenix had risen on the 10th out of the ashes of Pepper. (I know Pepper was buried, not cremated, but the idea was there.)


And therein lies the story of how I finally got myself my first purebred Golden Retriever.


This dog was going to be treated differently though. I had learnt a lot from my mistakes with Pepper and I told Rob when I first got this dog that things were going to be different. This one was going to be a house dog, no kennel. She was also going to have access to all of the house, not just a rug on the lounge floor. I was going to make up to Pepper’s memory all the things I felt I did wrong with her.  


So we let Phoenix into our lives, and into our hearts. Its fair to say that although I was attached to Pepper, the boys never were really as they would get nipped if they tried to stroke her, and Rob, although he liked her felt that she was just a dog, probably because of his upbringing on the farm. They were all sad when she died, but the connection wasn’t there.


But this puppy was different. She was beautiful and gentle and just so, so cute. I took her outside to go to the toilet and said “do tinkle” as she went and she came to know to go to the toilet on cue. This was one of the things I had never done with Pepper and the reason I kept her outside – because I never knew when she had been and was always afraid she would go in the house.


We had met one of the other owners when we were picking Phoenix up, and we took their phone number as they lived in the same town as us. We got together quite often when the dogs were puppies and had such fun watching them play together. They were brother and sister, Jake and Phoenix, and loved each other.

One day they were round our house and it was warm but had been raining. We sat inside having morning tea while these two ruffians played outside. They got absolutely soaked and filthy, but boy did they have fun.


Of course, the excitement of getting Phoenix helped me through a difficult time after the loss of Pepper. I had cried every day after Pepper died and wondered whether I would ever feel the same again. Then, when we got Phoenix, I began to recover but still thought of Pepper all the time. But there were good times again with a dog and that was the most important thing. The soul was contented again.

Rob and I took to walking this beautiful creature and loving having her trotting along with us. However, as I am always thinking (and I wish I wasn’t) I used to think when I was out on a walk with Phoenix that I never wanted to feel that empty feeling again after losing a dog. I began to wonder whether it would be a good idea to have two dogs, that way if one died, you would still have the other one to keep you going. Poor Rob had to go through all my ummings and ahhings and he has supported me 100% through just about everything. I think he began to “fall” for Phoenix, as did the kids who had a much more hands on role with her – from Peter giving her the name to just the fact that they could play with her any time they liked because she wasn’t a nipper and just enjoyed people. My three boys are gentle themselves, although they have their moments as brothers do, but they seemed to know how to play with Phoenix gently.

A bond grew between her and the family and we let her into our lives totally. She has the run of the house, although we put her out in the run when we went to work. She was and still is only truly happy when she is with her people. Rob built a special bigger run for Phoenix with a kennel. She had lots of blankets and toys that she could chew when we were out at work. I worked part-time so was not out for the whole day. However, Phoenix seemed to become almost claustrophobic and didn’t seem to want to be in the run. She would tremble when we put her in and only be happy when we got home. One day I got home and there was blood in the run. I found that she had obviously tried to get out and climbed up the chicken-wire netting. Her back claws had obviously got caught and she had ripped several of the nails off leaving the quicks exposed. I had to treat her by bathing her feet and trying to keep the boys' old football socks on them for a few days until the quicks hardened.


After that Phoenix was not shut in the run but left in the back garden as we had fenced off the back of our property by then. However, if it rained, Phoenix would still not go into the kennel and ended up getting soaking wet by the time I got home. This would happen no matter what time of the year it was, so if it was winter and cold, she would end up cold and wet.


In the meantime, while we were out walking Phoenix and Jake at the river one day, we saw a lady walking on the other side of the river with what looked like three Golden Retrievers. I said to Liz, Jake’s owner, I wonder if she breeds them. Liz said she would call out, so she did. The lady said yes and gave her name to look up in the phone book. I was quite excited about this because I was definitely thinking of purchasing another Golden at this time. In the evening I got up the courage to phone this lady. Once again, when these obviously important times for me happen, my heart was in my mouth and I was very nervous, not knowing what this lady would say. However, I called. Her name was Sandy and I have never regretted making that phone call since. She was one of the nicest people I have ever met and I am still a good friend with her today. She talked to me that day about the importance of owning a Golden for the right reason, for realising the potential for inherited problems and the ability to be able to give your dog the best home and the best care. This was a far cry from the lady who I bought Phoenix off of who seemed to just want to get rid of the puppies as soon as she could. I had brought Phoenix home at five and a half weeks of age. I was led by the breeder who said that the puppies were ready. I now know that 8 weeks is a much better age for puppies to leave their “nest”.


Sandy wasn’t having any puppies at that time but said she would take my number and contact me in the future. Well, time went by and in fact I passed Sandy one day while I was walking Phoenix down the river. I only recognised her by the fact she had three Goldens as I had never met her up close. We had a little chat and she remembered talking to me on the phone. One of her dogs was pregnant but was having a few problems. So I kept that in my mind and I can’t remember whether I phoned Sandy or whether she phoned me later on, but anyway, we were in contact about a week after her bitch had had the puppies. She still had a puppy available to a good home as there were ten puppies in the litter and she had thought that I was a suitable owner for one. I was so excited about this. Another puppy to play with Phoenix. Yeah.

 was so good with her owners. We were allowed to go round at any time to see them. She would chat and chat about dogs and that suited me just fine as I was never happier than when talking about dogs. My boys and Rob came too and became just as excited about the new puppy. The boys loved to sit in with the puppies and have them jump all over them and try to eat their toes and loose clothing etc.


There were four bitches in the litter and I definitely wanted a female. As I was the last person to be a home for a puppy, I was to get last choice of puppy from the litter and Sandy didn’t believe in letting puppies be selected by owners until their were about 5 weeks of age, when a bit of personality was showing through. So we played with all the female puppies and wondered which one was going to be ours. Eventually the time came where the three other female puppies had been chosen, so we now had a puppy that we knew we were going to take home one day. We needed a name and by this time computers were around and it was quite easy to look up names on that. I decided that I would like a name that had something to do with the word “golden”. We eventually found a lovely name, Kula, which means “the golden one” in Hawaiian. That seemed perfect, Kula it was.

 The four female puppies in the litter - one is Kula!

So Kula joined our family and there was a definite change in Phoenix. Before we got Kula, Phoenix had been an only dog and although I took her for long walks every day, she would only run occasionally if we ran. Mostly she would be happy trotting along with us. At home, she would lounge around a lot of the time and play with us and the boys occasionally when we had some fun and games. However, once Kula entered our house, Phoenix’s life of leisure changed. She was fascinated with this puppy and wanted to play with her from the moment Kula arrived home. I have never known a dog who is so gentle as Phoenix. She tried her hardest to play with Kula gently, only occasionally accidentally treading on her. She allowed Kula to bite her legs and ears and they spent hours together playing. This new puppy meant that Phoenix had competition too, so she had to liven up a bit. Overnight she became much more animated. She was always on the lookout for where Kula was in the house and whether she was getting some attention from the humans or not. If Kula was getting attention, Phoenix would get up and bring a tug toy to us and barge in as if to say, “Hey, you should be playing with me”.


I started to do agility with Kula initially and then Phoenix. Phoenix turned out to be much more willing and keen. We did this for a couple of years and had some fun.


Once I had Kula, Sandy and I started to go for walks together as we lived fairly close.  We spent hours talking about dogs and other things. One thing that I mentioned to Sandy one day was that I would love to have puppies myself. I remember when I was young that one or two people at school had dogs that had puppies at home, and I was always very jealous and wondered what it would be like. Sandy guided me through getting Kula’s hips and elbows scored and eyes tested and when the time was right, we decided to have a litter.

We had a litter of seven puppies in February 2003, had great fun caring for them until they were old enough to go to homes and kept one, Shadow. Shadow has been the most beautiful family dog ever. She is a singer - singing for joy when she greets us in the morning or after we've been out and then singing when she meets people she knows. We have to try and tone her down sometimes as she is so vocal.  I got into breed showing with Shadow - many thanks to Jan Cook who helped me with guidance and support with this.

In April 2010 Shadow had a litter of puppies out of which we kept another beautiful female who we called Sherry. Sherry is an absolutely wonderful personality - she is busy and interactive and a fun dog. She is such a communicator and loves to stalk the family and the other dogs.

We are so lucky to have these four lovely dogs at this stage in our life. I can't imagine being without them although I am aware that Phoenix and Kula are getting on a bit now. Phoenix in particular struggles with being nearly blind now and also nearly deaf. She still loves her daily walks, although I am often found running off in another direction to go and get her when she has 'lost' us. She doesn't swim any more but loves to bathe in the shallows and roll in the grass.

We have these beautiful creatures for far too short a time. I am currently reading about the psychology of dogs and I believe we owe it to them to try and understand them better. I am interested in the science, what they have proved is the right way to live with and train a dog, not the myths of domination and punishment that has been promoted previously. I think dog training will alter dramatically in the next few years to the benefit of both human and canines. If you are interested in reading a book on the science of how dogs learn etc, have a look at this video by John Bradshaw and I would recommend you pick up a copy of the book In Defence of Dogs.


Thanks to my son, Nigel, who helped me get this website working and gave invaluable advice along the way.

Thanks also to my husband, Rob, and all three of my boys who have put up with my doggie talk and doings over the years. As Jeff says, "Just thank us for being second best!"

My thanks go to all the people in the doggie world who have been so supportive of everything I have done and who have guided me to help me realise my dreams. In particular I would like to thank Sandy for all her support every day and also to Jan who allowed me to use her beautiful boy, Jordan, on Kula and who has also helped me to trim my dogs for the show ring and give me show advice.  And more recently to Gaye who allowed me to use the lovely Gambler on Shadow to get Sherry.

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