I am not even sure if I ever shared this story before, so forgive me if you’ve already had to endure through our conversation…
And those who’s only discovered this blog or the book and are still innocently interested in my past, here is a little chunk of it. The one that inspired my love of dogs and brought me here.
I was 11, or even balancing between 10 and 11, when my need to hug every dog turned into a real love for them. I wanted one of my own, plastered every wall in my room with photos of beautiful canines, lost count of glue sticks used to make albums and collages.
And then there were books.
The books were my everything. I borrowed them from my friends and was slowly building a dog library of my own. It wasn’t a simple task considering that any good dog book was “deficit” and each book shop would have a couple of copies at most. I still remember running around town asking sales people in every shop if they were expecting new arrivals. If the answer was positive, I’d walk to that shop every morning before the opening to ensure that the precious book would be mine as soon as it hit the shelves.
I succeeded a few times. My parents also contributed to my collection with some precious finds that I still treasure. I even brought a couple with me when moving countries. And almost every afternoon after school I’d stay at my friends for a few hours, too. It was our ritual – get home, have lunch, do home work and then listen to the radio whilst reading. She’d focus on classics and I would enjoy two special dog books she had, but was not allowed to land to anyone.
When I turned 12 my parents finally agreed to get a dog. We chose the breed together, but the rest was up to me. So come September I ventured out to find a course at the Kennel Club brunch (to be honest, the name was different, but it’s easier just to refer to it as the Kennel Club) and signed up for the lessons.
It was intense, but I loved every second of it from the moment we entered the room saturated with not-so-romantically-fragrant scents of dogs and dog gear to the evenings I walked back home with one of my tutors and her beautiful collie.
The course was fantastic! It was such a perfect way to learn puppy care, nutrition, anatomy, physiology, psychology, training, showing and even breeding. To be fair at that point I felt ready to do it all – and sincerely knew I could!
Back then we lived a simple life that had no internet, no google, no commercial dog foods, fancy toys or pretty dog wear. Even a proper brush was a rarity. If it wasn’t for my cousin who brought me one from Germany I would have no slicker brush at all! I remember him asking me if I’d like something special from Germany… and instead of asking for toys or clothes, I said “please bring me a dog bowl and a brush…” He did. All in pretty packaging. He even gifted me a dog collar – too big for my puppy, but it didn’t matter! I proudly displayed it for years next to my poodle’s medals and a few other treasures.
Each collar and lead were found by chance, either through friends or coming across one in a pet shop.
The food had to be prepared every single day – I had the recipes, the quantities and lists of additional supplements. Since everything was “deficit” my friend and I stalked the local pharmacy for months before our dogs arrived to make sure that we could buy sufficient quantities of calcium supplement. At some point we were asked why on Earth we are buying packets and packets of those tablets. “For our dogs!” we said honestly and with great pride (we were 12, remember?) The truth backfired and we had to find another pharmacy, quite a journey away from our homes. But it didn’t matter.
The dog bed, toys and everything else was DIY’ed, and it felt so exciting!
I even dreamed of becoming a vet… In fact, I wanted to do something else, something that would now be called “a dog coach”. But this profession was non-existent, so a vet was the only person who could work with dogs – and I wanted to be one.
Unfortunately, the dream had to be filed indefinitely because it was as unrealistic as me being an astronaut or a pilot. You get the idea, basically.
In the passing of time filled with two schools (I studied music) and dog courses, a phone call came out of the blue. There was a puppy in Moscow and the breeder thought he’d be perfect for us. My parents gave me the money, a lot of money in cash – and I took the bursting envelope to the club trying to look as casual as I possibly could!
And then the puppy arrived. I remember carrying him hidden under my fur coat, his smell, the weight of his bottom in a palm of my hand and how tiny his silver paws were when I first saw him.
He changed my life forever… Even though I went down a “normal” route of studying economics and English in University and working all the jobs I loved, the passion for dogs has never left me. I am glad things unfolded the way they did – everything but Oscar’s departure, happened as a course of life that comes with no regrets whatsoever.
But it was Oscar who made me realise it was the time for the U-turn and getting back to that 11 year old me… He showed that the life without a cocker spaniel is just an existence. After he was gone I suddenly remembered a chat with Kinder who said something along the lines of “knowing your true path and passion starts in the childhood…” Those words and the tears of losing my baby suddenly connected and I felt a spark, that much needed punch inside my heart that defibrilated me back to life.
The books came out, the manuals and course materials were added, I studied, read and leant as much as I could to build upon the base I’ve started all those years ago and continued topping up through the years of living with dogs. I don’t think the process of learning will ever stop because you’ve got to move with your experiences and science, but it is a joy to use this knowledge because it does not only make me feel complete, it makes my boys – and many other cocker spaniels out there – happy, too.
And that’s the best feeling in the whole world – to see your dogs smile…
Photo source: my old course notes, books and newspaper cutouts from the late 1980s-early 1990s, photographed by me