The Picture That Started A Book
By Dave Thomas
October 12 2017
For years we had a Retriever, a golden-haired, lovely faithful dog that kept us company for 14 years. We got it as a cast-off from some Vet friends we had because it had a skin infection that made it unshowable. So the breeders asked the vet if he could find a home for it. When we saw it we felt so sorry for the little semi-bald thing and said yes. Treatment, creams, ointments and injections cleared up the problem after weeks of care and attention. But underneath that long silky hair as it grew again, the skin remained wrinkled and imperfect. It would never be a prize-winner.
But we didn’t care. That dog brightened our lives for all those years and kept us company in the way that only dogs can. It never grumbled and never had an unkind thought in its head in all the time we knew it. If I came home from a day at school, fed-up and weary, this dog looked at me with its friendly eyes, wagged its tail and waited for the evening wa
In rain, hail or snow, without fail we walked for an hour up the road to ‘the ridge’, an old dilapidated park that had become an overgrown trail in suburbia. He could run and chase and I could walk off the effects of the scruffy little school where I was head and get rid all my thoughts about moaning teachers and kids who ran home before school finished and kicked teachers on the shins. And this was a time when Burnley weren’t doing too well in the late 80s until the 91/92 promotion and then the next one… but then there was relegation… and then it was pretty dire till Stan turned things round. But, there’s nothing like a dog for getting rid of stress. By the time we’d walked back home the problems had gone, or at least I’d figured out the answers, and managed to forget the latest Clarets horror show wherever it had been.
The saddest day of my life was when the time came to take that dog to the vets to say goodbye. After 14 years his time had come. He couldn’t get in the car, he couldn‘t walk 20 steps up the road, he could only stagger a little way round the garden. His legs were a mess. His day was done. That’s the tough part of having a dog. The saying is true; a dog isn’t just for Christmas, it’s for life. But their lives don’t last too long and the end can be heart-breaking as this one was when a dog is such a part of the family.
When it was no longer there, for days I swear I could still hear its feet padding round, its body thump on the floor when it lay down. I could swear I saw it romping round the garden in the distance and then it would fade into the bushes. I kept its collar for a long, long time in a drawer and there’s still a lovely picture of him in the snow that hangs on the bedroom wall, lying on the ground, looking at the camera, with an orange football beside him. He was noble, faithful and a constant companion. I took him on school trips in the minibus we had and the kids took turns in holding him on the lead. It’s many years since I had to lift him in the car and take him on his final ride in the car to the vets. The poor thing wagged his tail and thought he was going to the park. The tears ran down my cheeks as I drove the last mile or so.
I think about him still. It was only a couple of years ago that I cleared away his old collar with his name tag. Dogger was his name. And we said we would never get another dog.
For a while we didn’t. And then one day as I was in the kitchen at home, I’d finished teaching by then, I saw Mrs T come into the back yard pulling something along on the end of a lead. I stared at this black, hairy thing on four legs. It was clearly a dog but there was no telling what breed it was, the hair was so long and unkempt. It came in the house and on close inspection it appeared to be a Scottie, or at least something resembling a Scottie.
“I’ve brought it home to show you,” said Mrs T and went on to explain that at the school where she worked, just round the corner from home, the school secretary had brought it in to see if anyone would like it. Julie she was called, the secretary that is, not the dog, and her two children were both asthmatics. Apparently the family doctor had advised them to get rid of all hairy pets.
So this mutt stood there looking bewildered and bemused, and Mrs T stood there waiting for me to say something, the gist of which was but I thought we said we weren’t going to get another dog. There was a bit of a silence and then this dog did something that made me have a think. On the floor in the corner of the kitchen was a large basket that was full of washing ready to go to the washing machine. The dog eyed it and by this time it had been let off the lead and had been sniffing round the place so that when it found the washing basket, it kind of perked up and hopped in, wagged its tail, and settled down and looked so at home it was untrue.
It was pretty clear that this dog could not lie in the washing basket all day but out in the outhouse we still had Dogger’s old huge wicker basket. I brought it in, and finding the old blankets we used to use, piled them in, and then tipped the hairy thing out of the washing. It looked at me as if I was the worst person in the world, and then saw the wicker basket all heaped with the blankets. Without further ado it hopped in that as well and closed its eyes and looked like it had been there forever. It was at that point that me and Mrs T looked at each other, both thinking the same, that this dog was meant to live at 115 Victoria Road.
So, sometime in the late 90s, a dog that we said we would never have, appeared in our lives again. And this one was quite the opposite of the elegant, dignified and gentlemanly Retriever. This one had been loved by its previous owners but had for much of the time been left to itself. Thus, it wandered round the lanes and tracks of Adel, wandering wherever the mood took it, snuffling, digging up people’s gardens, chasing cats, pillaging and foraging. It had therefore developed a streak of independence (a strong instinct in Scotties anyway) and wilfulness the like of which we had not experienced before. Luckily, with our large garden to wander round, it never missed the open spaces of Adel, but walking on a lead was unknown territory, doing as it was told was unheard of behaviour, coming back when it ran off was a no-no. We feared the worst, that it was too set in its ways, that it was un-teachable.
We got it shampooed, cut and styled at the local dog parlour. The transformation was stunning. This was a Scottie that now looked like a Scottie, and accepting that it would never come to heel, or do as it was told, that it would always be stubborn and uncooperative, and reading that, anyway, this is how all Scotties are as a rule; we adjusted to it, and he to us. We learned that these are not lap-dogs, these are not dogs that will bring a stick back when you throw it (at least this one didn’t); these are not dogs that can walk by a thrown-away, half-eaten bag of chips in the gutter; these are not dogs that will walk beside you in the park in a calm and faithful manner. And in the house these are not dogs that you can train to ignore a plate of biscuits or cakes on the coffee table when you leave the room.
In short, these dogs are little buggars, but then I read something that put it all into perspective, that “these are big dogs in a little body.” They are “characters.” I saw him in a different light.
Walking the Retriever up the road felt like walking a real dog. Walking this one up the road was like dragging a large lump of wood along. Never has any dog sniffed so much at so many things. Most dogs walk in front pulling on the lead. This one had to be dragged. The approach of any other dog set it into paroxysms of snarling fury. In the woody park we used to go to he caught no end of squirrels, the only time he ran anywhere. Then I read that these were dogs bred to work as rat catchers on Scottish farms. No squirrel was safe. Brian O’Neil used to be called the Bedlington Terrier. Scottish Terrier would have been just as good, except Brian wasn’t Scottish.
He was probably three when we got him and we had many a laugh, he committed many a crime, and was alpha-male and then some. In ’96 I’d finished with full-time teaching so there were hours and hours of walking along the canal idling the days away in between writing books and supply-teaching. If you’ve read It’s Burnley Not Barcelona you’ll see his name mentioned several times.
His most endearing habit was ‘rolling.’ His timing was perfect. If you dawdled along the canal and stopped to look at something in the nearby field, and he was off the lead, he knew this was his chance to slope off and find something nasty. This was usually goose or duck droppings. Before you could stop him he had rolled in it and plastered himself in the gooey mess. He’d look at me and wag his tail. At home it was fox poo in the garden he found with his radar like sixth sense. Then he’d come back in the house and before he’d even got one foot across the threshold you could smell the ghastly result. He’d look at me and I’d look at him. I’d scowl and he’d grin. He hated the hosepipe washdown, but it never stopped him from doing it over and over again.
But then, after near on ten years of aggravating us, he too began to go downhill. I noticed that dragging him along became even harder and this was because his legs were getting weak. It got to the stage where he too had to be helped into the car. It got to the stage where a walk of anything more than just a couple of hundred yards was incredibly difficult. And then something really serious, the sure sign of impending demise, he even began to go off his food. There’s a time when you know that you have to say goodbye to a dog. But for a little while before that there’s a stage of indecision; you think it will be alright, that the dog will come round. It was in that interim stage of indecision that we took him to the vets for an examination. It was halfway there in the car that it hit us. There would be no recovery and this was it. We knew the time had come. The vet was re-assuring saying that if the dog had no quality of life then it would be a kindness to end his suffering.
Putting a dog to sleep is not difficult inasmuch as the dog suffers no pain, has no idea what is about to happen, and it’s over in seconds. The injection is made; the eyes close, the breathing stops and then all is still and quiet except for your own muffled sniffling. And that was it; that was goodbye Scamper and we haven’t had a dog since. It was Christmas when it happened and the saddest thing was the poor thing never got the chance to lick out any of the dishes or have the turkey leftovers in his bowl. The gravy tin was his particular treat. He’d have both his front feet in it and he and tin would scoot and slide across the kitchen floor as he tried to get the last lick from every corner. For days afterwards I’d say Scamper would have loved this and that and the house seemed empty. Sad too that he missed Wembley 2009 and that magical promotion.
Since then we’ve never lost the habit of looking at other Retrievers and thinking isn’t that one just like Dogger. But when we see a Scottie we just have to smile. They’re almost the comedians of the dog world and Scottie owners are a different breed themselves. If I see someone dragging one along as it sniffs every lamppost and snuffles in every gutter, I can’t help but stop for a chat with them and commiserate.
So: it was when I saw the picture of Burnley legend Jimmy Adamson with his Scottie, my eyes popped wide open and I laughed out loud. The picture is part of the display in the Jimmy Adamson Suite at Turf Moor. I looked and thought well bloody hell Jimmy Adamson had a Scottie and it was as if I got some kind of kick up the backside to get this book done that I’d kept putting off for quite a while. It was something like a year ago when I saw it and Jimmy’s grandchildren were trying to remember what the dog was called until Jennie remembered it was called Sandy. I wondered was it like ours; did it drive Jimmy round the bend; did it run off at every opportunity? But did he find it such a pal as we did ours?
I’d like to think that Jimmy, who died some time ago, will approve of the book that’s done. It’s a story of football of course, but also of love, heartbreak and tragedy. It’s a story of how three men; Adamson, Harry Potts and Bob Lord, once so close and warm towards each other became estranged and by the end never spoke to each other. I’d like to think that those Leeds supporters who abused him so badly will see him in a different light. And above all I’d like to think he’d be chuffed to think that I had a Scottie as well. If we were still here we could talk Scotties, compare notes and Scottie horror stories. I looked out of the window of our house one day to find Scamper trying to bury a dead hen under a rhododendron bush. The lass next door kept a few hens and this one had obviously got out. Alas it must have met the Scottie doing its rounds.
“A big dog in a little body,” never was a truer word spoken.
The Adamson book is still available now from Amazon or Pitch Publishing: ‘Jimmy Adamson the Man Who Said No to England.’
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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2017:10:13:13:32:03 by Dave Thomas.