It still feels surreal to process but Perfect cocker spaniel became the best selling book about English cockers on Amazon. And I confess I wasn’t ready for it. Seeing the word “bestseller” next to my book somehow unearthed all the emotions and tears I’ve carried inside. The book was never meant to be written for profits or fame. I simply wanted to carry the memory of Oscar into the future… Now I feel that I’ve made him proud.
It’s been a while since I’ve written about the boys. So today is all about Fred. In a scarf.
I believe this sort of diary post isn’t something of public interest, but I love this photo so much and I will never forget how we took it.
Initially, I wanted to photograph them together. But Fred, who has never worn any fashion gear before, really wanted a portrait. I wrapped him in my scarf thinking that the boy will protest or run away to play with it.
I was wrong. Fred was a pro! I think he actually felt proud sitting and posing for me. The camera clicked and clicked and clicked, but my beautiful spaniel stayed there motionless until I was happy with the shot.
He is fabulous. Just fabulous. And I love him to bits.
Photo credit: Fred photographed by me
I have tried to digest and get used to the sensation of seeing my book in magazines, but it’s still a pinch-me moment that feels surreal.
I feel proud for completing the mammoth task of writing and editing the book and sending it off into the big world for all to see. And then there is the other part of me that feels happy yet overwhelmed by the retuning heart-aching reminder of the very reason for writing Perfect cocker spaniel.
So I’ll keep the news short.
It looks beautiful. They’ve given me an entire page. And there is a photo of me and Oscar.
I did a happy little dance. And I did cry a little, too. It felt like an early Christmas present.
Fred fascinates me… Watching him is like getting through a mind-boggling puzzle where every little step in the right direction feels like a huge victory. Fred isn’t the easiest pup, he is… complicated. And I love it about my boy. He teaches me “stuff” about myself and I learn to see the world “according to Fred” in return.
Oh, the world… I think, in Fred’s mind the world is a very, very smelly place indeed. And that’s what makes it so captivating for him. The boy’s sense of smell is nothing I’ve ever seen in any of my dogs before. It’s like his brain is wired to follow the scent in the most sophisticated manner.
Fred sees through his olfactory. At home the pup loves to sit in the middle of the garden, nose into the sky – soaking up the scents and watching, observing, learning…
Every time we are off for a walk he runs out of the house and knows that a bird is hiding in a nearby hedge, somebody he likes recently walked down the street, the dog he isn’t keen on – has been for a walk already, some cat will soon appear from around the corner, the bunnies are hopping through the field and a family of daft pheasants has just been out for their wonky promenade.
We often let him lead otherwise he gets a little bored with the rest of the “pack”. We are too ordinary, even Coop… Once done, Fred glances back at me waiting for a praise and a little treat, which he’s been aware of (obviously!) since it got hidden in my pocket.
And then we smile at each other and continue our journey through the world that, according to Fred, is filled with a rainbow of smells.
Photo source: taken by me
Long time ago, somewhere in the midst of summer, I shared a little story about Cooper and Fred on the Country Life’s Instagram. Shared and forgot for it was in the midst of summer and how can one remember a little message when surrounded by fragrant flowers, mesmerising butterflies, endless fields and the sun that fills the entire horizon.
Imagine my surprise when I opened the mag yesterday and saw our names in it! They published the story on-line, too. Coop didn’t win it, no. He was chosen as the Highly commended, which I think would please him immensely regardless.
I loved the article. It was such a beautiful humorous read accompanied by the most charming illustrations by John Holder.
And the boys look amazing on-line… The Country Life team featured two of my most favourite photos that I’ve taken this year.
So many things to be grateful for. Feeling like a proud happy mummy right now.
Photo source: cover of the Country Life October 23 2019 issue via Country Life
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
I am grateful to my dogs for many things in life. I feel like they taught me a lot, helped me find my true self and even inspired my book. My spaniels are my life and I adore watching the boys every day, sharing their discoveries, little joys and moments of happy madness. Dogs have their ways of being here, creating their own world and travelling through it next to their beloved companions – us. And I think we can pick up a few habits from our beautiful cocker spaniels because it can transform our life – and the future as the time goes by, too…
Wake up with a smile. Because good vibes start with a simple stretch of a few facial muscles.
Kiss often! Kissing boosts dopamine and endorphins (for happiness), oxytocin (for emotional attachment), reduces levels of cortisol (the stress hormones), cholesterol and blood pressure, and strengthens the immune system.
Be outdoorsy! Get out early, breathe in fresh air, dip your
paws feet into the morning dew and run away from hustle and bustle of reality, mobile devices and city noise. “Walking is the man’s best medicine” – sharing it with the man’s best friend is as perfect as it can get.
Eat at set times and never skip meals. It’s good for your body and your mind. Your cocker eats “on the dot”? Join his schedule and you are likely to trim your waste line, reduce blood pressure and improve blood sugar levels.
Appreciate the power of quality sleep. You may be tempted to stay up till midnight and maintain your energy levels with so much caffeine it can easily replace your blood, but deep inside you know it’s not brilliant. Look at your cocker – he gets up early, goes to bed on time and never says ‘no’ to daily naps. This is what makes them more productive, ready to embrace every day, process information much better, and look beautiful.
Don’t judge people – love them unconditionally regardless of their status or appearance.
Don’t be afraid to love with passion – “there is always some madness in love, but there is always some reason in madness…”
Life is all about simple things. Happiness is not about having an expensive collar with a gold tag, a huge pile of toys or a palace to live in. Don’t overcomplicate – instead enjoy living the life you’ve got and make the most of it.
Photo source: me and the boys photographed by wonderful Elizabeth Clark / Pink feet photography