by JEAN NORFOLK
The gift which I am sending you is called a dog,
and is in fact the most precious and valuable possession of mankind.
If I had known
who his father was, I might never have had William in the first place, so
I’m eternally grateful that, to begin with, I was totally in the dark as to
the nature of his paternal origins, otherwise I would have denied myself the
opportunity of spending fourteen of the richest years of my life with him.
coincidentally, was named Prince; so I guess William, either intentionally
or unintentionally kept the “Royal” connection going. Prince was a dog who
was allowed to roam freely wherever he wanted to, from morning to night. He
stayed outside guarding his patch and seeing off all intruders until he was
called in at bedtime. He was the most unattractive, mangy looking mutt you
could ever wish to meet, yet somehow there was something in his character
and the quizzical way he looked at you, that tugged at your heartstrings and
endeared you to him. He would fight any other dog he met, no matter how big
or how small, and he bore the scars to prove it. The mere sight of another
dog was enough to set his hackles rising and any canine that dared encroach
on his territory was speedily dealt with! If ever there were a bitch on
heat, Prince would quickly see off the opposition and be first in line to
offer his services. If I had been told that one day I would actually own one
of his offspring, I would have said “Never in a million years!”
into the world on 31st December 1990, so I never had a problem remembering
his birthday. His previous owner told me that he arrived just before he and
his wife went out to celebrate on New Years Eve, and I remember thinking
“What a lovely time to be born!”
For me however,
William didn’t enter my life until some weeks later, on the day I looked
after a friend’s dog. Eighteen months earlier, my own dog Susie had been put
to sleep and I vowed that I would never have another one.
I can’t recall
a time when there wasn’t a dog in my life. Right from childhood I have
always loved animals, especially dogs, and they have always been part of the
family. Losing Susie had been so painful, I was determined that I would
never risk going through such heartache again.
As I walked
past William’s (then) home with my friends’ dog, the man who lived there
came out to me as I passed. “Got yourself another dog then?” he asked.
“No, I’m just
looking after him for a friend” I replied.
“Well I’ve got
a ten-week-old puppy if you want him”, he said, “come and take a look.”
“No” I said,
shaking my head, “I’m not having another one.” But I went with him anyway,
after all, there was no harm in just looking at the pup was there?
“His father is
a black Labrador from over there,” he said, indicating the housing estate
across the road. It wasn’t until some weeks later that I discovered exactly
which black Labrador! By then of course, it was too late.
encountered William’s mother several times previously whilst out walking
Susie, and I knew that she was a quiet well-behaved dog.
The man went
indoors and returned with a black bundle of fur in his arms. “We call him
William”, he said, “and he’s just starting to respond to his name, but you
can change it to something else if you decide to have him.”
absolutely beautiful! I reached out my hand to stroke him and he immediately
locked his sharp little teeth around my fingers, refusing to let go. I shook
my head resolutely and said, “No, I’m not having another dog!”
still missed Susie dreadfully, I was just beginning to appreciate the
freedom I now had to do exactly what I wanted to do with my days instead of
being tied by the limitations and demands of owning a dog, which are many
when you live alone. For three or four days I agonised as I tried to push
the image of that lovely bundle of black fur out of my head and my heart,
but I couldn’t. Finally, I picked up the phone.
“Have you still
got the puppy?” I asked, half expecting my hopes to be dashed. I almost
shouted for joy when the man said “He’s still here, and he’s yours if you
“I’ll be there
in fifteen minutes!” I said.
I remember the
man’s wife thrusting William into my arms and saying shakily “Here, he’s
yours now.” As I hugged him for the very first time I realised that after
months of heartache and lonely “freedom” my life was now once more
inextricably linked with that most beautiful of creatures, a dog. My life
was no longer my own - it was his.
An hour or so
later when puppy and his possessions had been deposited at my home, I was
left alone with him. He came with a knitted rag doll and a ball along with
his bed, which was simply a cardboard box with a couple of old jumpers in
the bottom. Up until then, this little pup had shared his life with his
mother, and half a dozen children, the owner’s grandchildren, who visited
regularly. Consequently, he was a puppy who was used not only to the
presence of his mother, but the undivided attention of a group of adoring
kids, who like him were always eager to play.
At that time I
lived in a flat with a shared garden, and he must have come down to earth
with a huge bump when he moved in with me. At first he found it hard to
adjust to the quiet of the flat, and the sudden curtailment of his freedom.
Previously, he had had a large garden where he was allowed to run free. Now,
unless I went outside with him, he was confined within the flat.
went, he followed me, constantly hankering for my attention and wanting to
play and biting me whenever he got the chance! I saw a different side to his
character though on the very first night he spent with me. I placed his
“bed”, now with a soft woolly blanket inside, next to mine, and I slept the
whole night through with my hand inside the box, comforting him as he
whimpered and whined for his mother and the familiarity of his old home.
There was no biting now; he was just grateful for contact with me. If I took
away my hand, he cried again so what could I do? I remember the feeling of
stroking thick soft fur and the sweetness of feeling whole again in the
company of a dog, albeit at that moment a very small one! It didn’t matter.
He was mine and I felt that warm sense of completeness that only a dog can
I had told his
ex-owner that I had no intention of changing his name. He responded to
William and it suited him. He was black and beautiful, and if I had gone
through a list of a hundred doggie-names I couldn’t have come up with
anything more perfect for him.