Sometimes people say I "have a gift with animals". When they do, I shake my head. It is definitely less of a "gift" and more of the fact that given the opportunity, throughout my life I have always chosen to spend my time alongside, watching documentaries about, researching or reading about animals. My only "gift" is an obsessive nature paired with an overly emotional personality- not really much of a gift!
When I was nine my parents finally caved in and bought me a puppy. As soon as I could open my mouth to speak "Please can we get a dog?" was echoed over and over. I was fascinated and in awe of the creatures, something within me oriented towards them. I can't even explain it now, but loving dogs is so inherent to me that if anybody is so much as indifferent towards them, I find it hard to believe. No matter what I was going through, the one constant, the people I could always rely on, were dogs. Dogs aren't this golden aura of selfless godliness as portrayed in the movies, but there is something about them that is so honest and resonating. Dogs don't lie. I suppose that is why I have always idolised them so much.
My Grandmother's dog was my first idol- or victim, dependent on how you view it. Jessie was her name and she was a beautiful tricolour border collie. I made agility courses of flowerpots and bamboo sticks and traipsed her around the garden pretending we were seasoned Crufts veterans. I would make paper rosettes and present them in grand awards ceremonies attended by only myself and Jess.
By the time I was nine, Jess had taught me a lot about dogs already. She taught me the basics of canine care, husbandry and training, but most importantly she taught me to respect our canine companions. One time I pushed her too far, pestering her to play a game she didn't want to be part of, and I very nearly got bitten. So when I was given an eight week old border terrier puppy I thought it'd be easy. I was wrong. Hazel, I named her after her reddish-brown colour, was a nightmare. She attacked ankles, had no off-switch, chewed, dug up the garden, toileted inside and acted entirely how puppies do. It is an unsaid thing about puppies that a lot of the time they frustrate you, upset you and leave you wanting to pull your hair out. We tend to forget that when we reminisce about that puppy-dog smell, those oversized paws and adorable demeanour. My parents were desperate, they even called up the breeder and The Border Terrier Club of Great Britain for advice, which suggested we attended puppy school, advice which was of great interest to me, so off we went to learn!
Fast forwards almost a year, and Hazel was a model citizen (almost), and after winning a handful of rosettes at a local dog show, I had well and truly been bitten by the dog training bug.