This week’s post is from Craig Gowans. We served together in the Army in Germany and I worked and socialised with Anji Gowans who is great fun (and also barking mad!) Craig gave me loads of information and anecdotes regarding his time as a Royal Military Policeman, which helped shape the first book in my ‘Unlikely Soldiers’ series. http://smarturl.it/m202d6
Here’s the story of the Gowans family K9 pal, Skai.
Skai is a Border Collie originally from Holland. Her Dad is actually a Dutch National sheep dog champion, which is pretty cool! We got her in January 2007 and so she is now 12 years old, although you wouldn’t think it!
Border Collies are famous for their herding abilities and working with farmers and shepherds to herd sheep and goats all over the world. Watching them work is really impressive as they operate on commands using whistles. But why whistles? Well it’s simple, a whistle carries over much further distance that voice. So when they are working across large distances and in bad weather, they can still understand exactly what the shepherd wants them to do.
Having Skai as a member of our family has been and continues to be tremendously rewarding; her love is undivided and she is always there whenever we need her for a hug, or just to talk to. Sometimes she even helps our youngest daughter with her university work! Skai is a people person, but sometimes can get a little close to your feet if you are in the kitchen (so my wife says!)
Skai has a myriad of facial expressions, like a human I suppose, some of them do make us laugh. Whether it’s serious herding mode, elegant and beautiful mode or just ‘what are you doing Skai?’ mode, you can almost tell what she is thinking by the way she looks. And if you are lucky she will give you a squinty look, which we all now means ‘I love you’.
Skai loves to herd, she just cannot help herself and I genuinely think it is all that matters to her from waking up, to going to sleep! Being from working stock it is literally part of her DNA where she has an unbelievable urge to watch and herd the cats! She follows our 3 cats and literally every single waking minute of every hour of every day she stares at them! Just waiting for them to move. When they do, off she goes ‘Come by to the left, away to the right’ lol it really is non-stop. The cats will go round the coffee table and Skai will go the other way to herd them, when she gets there she just stops and stares. Poor cats think this is normal as she has always done it.
The cats are used to her, but for visitors who don’t know Skai, they find it funny. But to Skai, it’s not funny, it’s serious, she’s working!
Skai loves to go for her walkies and is very obedient off the lead and listens to verbal commands and whistles. We have the ‘Wrekin’ hill near us and she loves to go up there for a walk with us, always good for photos too, all the smells and long grass and heather are just what she likes.
Skai has seen all of our four children grow to adults and met their children too! She is a true part of the family who brings us all happiness and lots of love. She has been with us since we lived in Germany with the Army and moved to five different homes in total. Skai is getting into her twilight years, but there is literally no stopping her. She is really healthy and just won’t slow down (It is the Collie way!).
I hope you enjoyed reading about Skai, she really is quite special to us. I will leave you with my favourite picture of her at the top of the Wrekin, if you look closely you will see those ‘Squinty eyes’ I mentioned earlier.
What a beautiful dog and a lovely story. Thanks Craig.
This week Jill Stavrou-Shaw tells us about life in Cyprus with Snoopy.
Snoopy was a Daddy’s girl, she never forgot the man who stopped his car and rescued her. She was the only puppy left alive from a litter of 3 who were abandoned by the side of the road in Cyprus. She was only weeks old, far too young to be taken from her mother, and even the vet didn’t expect her to survive. However, with his advice and several weeks of bottle feeding at home this little white puppy, who looked more like a rat, slowly started to turn into a bundle of curly white fur.
She was a Cyprus poodle apparently? To her newly adopted family she became “Snoopy”.
Snoopy’s new human Dad always felt completely responsible for her and never having had a dog before, and Snoopy never having had a human either, they made things up as they went along. Life, work, family and Snoopy all now had to be juggled. Snoopy’s human Mum worked away a lot, so that left lots of Dad and dog time; the bond between them grew and they became inseparable. The best part of each day for Snoopy was when her human Dad came home from work. She would sit on top of the sofa looking out of the window. Her joy at seeing him erupted into this yapping, crying, bouncing bundle of flying fur who couldn’t wait to be scooped up into his arms and kissed and cuddled.
Snoopy’s human Dad thought her delight to see him was just about being fed and walked and having someone home again for company but for Snoopy it was so much more, this was the human who had saved her. They both were beginning to learn what unconditional love was really all about.
Snoopy loved to sun bath, crazy really for a dog with so much fur? She would happily snooze in the sun for hours; her short bursts of activity were all saved for her Dad. Walks to the park were tolerated as cuddling at home was far preferable. Drives in the car were much better but sitting in the basket on her Dad’s little motorbike and having a drive around was simply amazing. This special treat was usually saved for the annual trip to the vet, the delight of this mode of travel soon made her forget about the horrible but necessary jabs and potions a dog had to endure to stay well.
This blissful life in the sun was to change when Snoopy’s human Mum and Dad had to go to England for a while, her humans were far more anxious about her travelling on a plane than she was. The suitcases, boxes and crates that had started to fill the house were confusing, but having tried to sleep in them all, Snoopy much preferred the suitcase full of her Dad’s clothes. If her pack were on the move then of course she would be going with them, she probably hoped the motorbike would be the chosen form of travel?
Snoopy was eventually temped from the suitcase to a crate with regular tiny treats of chocolate. Nothing else would work. A lovely old jumper smelling of her Dad was put in there for her to snuggle up to, she knew he was too big to fit in too, but she would have much preferred that. Seeing Snoopy sitting in her crate, being lifted by a folk lift truck at the airport to be taken to the plane was almost too much for her humans to bear. Thank goodness we were all on the same flight!
On landing at Manchester airport in the grey and rainy weather Snoopy’s humans were feeling a terrible mixture of emotions, their unspoken anxiety made even worse when suitcases started being taken from the plane on a conveyer belt, surely Snoopy would have her own fork lift truck here too?
Snoopy had now been away from her humans for hours, her human Dad’s need to be reunited with her was now exactly the same as her wait for him to come home from work every day. This was going to be emotional!
The drive to collect Snoopy from the cargo part of the airport seemed so wrong – she wasn’t cargo, she was family. We were mildly reassured by the “Flying Vets for Pets” signs. But we almost missed them as they were totally obscured by the driving rain that was now lashing the car. Maybe she would forgive us for not bringing the motorbike with the basket after all?
We finally found “arrivals for animals” and were met by a lovely vet who was here to hand over our precious cargo. She had clearly seen the anxious faces of so many humans who had come to collect their pets, she greeted us with a welcoming “You must be Snoopy Stavrou-Shaw’s” Mum and Dad?”.
We were slightly surprised at the formality of using our family name for the dog? but of course that’s who she was, Snoopy Stavrou-Shaw. Our voices confirming we were just that, were soon drowned out by that familiar happy, yapping and barking that greeted us every evening in Cyprus.
A delighted flying bundle of fur came running towards us. For the first time Snoopy seemed torn as to who to greet first, then we were both jumped on by the happiest overwhelmed Cyprus poodle.
Snoopy Stavrou-Shaw had arrived safely in England, the formality of her new extended name rather suited her, so we kept it. She was back with her pack now and looked rather smug as she sat on her human Daddy’s lap as we drove to our new home.
Jean Gill is an award-winning Welsh writer and photographer living in the south of France with two big scruffy dogs, a Nikon D750 and a man. For many years, she taught English in Wales and was the first woman to be a secondary headteacher in Carmarthenshire. She is mother or stepmother to five children and despite having had such a hectic life so far, Jean is a successful author, photographer, dog trainer and beekeeper. With Scottish parents, an English birthplace and French residence, she can usually support the winning team on most sporting occasions.
Jean shares Sherlock’s story in this week’s post.
Every morning Sherlock does a little happy dance when he sees me or my husband, John. His partner in crime, Watson, raises one ear and demands a tummy tickle. Watson is not a morning person. The detectives enjoy breakfast and a walk in the woods, followed by bodyguard duties, during which they watch over me. Their previous lives were not so idyllic.
Five years ago, Sherlock was named Rudi by the animal shelter that took him in, here in northern Provence. He’s a Gascogny Blue Griffon, a scent hound, and if you look up the breed, you’ll see that all the owners are men with guns. They’re so prized as hunting dogs that I get asked whether I’m hunting, when I take him for a walk. Little female me, no gun – they only see the dog!
If you know dogs, and people’s habits with them, you can work out much of a shelter dog’s story from his behaviour. Rudi was undoubtedly dumped by a hunter, to be replaced by a younger dog, better suited to hunting. He’d been in the shelter six months and was unlikely to leave alive because he was too big, too old, male, too black – all unpopular characteristics – and received wisdom says that hunting dogs make bad pets because they are semi-wild and run away all the time.
Luckily for Rudi, we wanted a big, beautiful (any colour), older male dog who could cope with our feisty female Pyrenean Mountain Dog, Blanche. I’ve worked with a top dog trainer, Michel Hasbrouck, so am confident that I can cope with dog problems but I don’t seek extra ones. When I adopt a dog with a past, I use my head, then give my heart. A forever home is just that. I hate shelters and Rudi’s was one of the worst.
When we met him, Rudi flinched when touched but showed no aggression. He ran away when called, typical of a dog who’s punished for previous disobedience when he does come to his human. He’d known only beatings. He was very chilled with Blanche when they were let off lead together in the enclosed wasteground that passed for an exercise yard at the shelter. And he looked me in the eyes, sad, passive and stubborn. I don’t expect love at first sight and didn’t get it but I knew I could create a bond. I’ve done it before.
When we went back to get him, I went to the pen and my heart broke. Rudi was lying beside a huge pile of restaurant waste in a dog-bowl and he’d given up. He saw me and gave just one bark. He knew I’d come back for him and he was up for it.
So we now had a hunting-dog, who’d almost certainly never been in a house before. He was petrified at coming up the steps and through the front door. But he wanted to be with me so in he came. He lay down – great! Then John turned on the TV and Sherlock bolted out the door as if monsters were after him, which of course they were.
After two days of quiet television, Sherlock relaxed enough to watch the football and now one of his favourite places is in front of the TV. Blanche was a huge help in showing her new friend the ropes and of course jumped on him occasionally – that was her leadership style. He suffered terrible nightmares for months and on one occasion, Blanche and I both rushed to find him because of the terrible noises. He was asleep. Blanche and I looked at each other, shrugged and left him to it.
Step by step, Sherlock became the dog he’s always wanted to be. He comes when he’s called, after thinking about it. He takes treats. Like most hunting-dogs he’d probably been trained to refuse food by hand. He loves being stroked and, when the grandchildren visited, he ran up and down the garden with them, so gentle. When he found his voice, even Blanche was impressed. He has the deep bay of a hound, not at all suitable for suburbia but, luckily, we are on the border of a French village, with a huge garden and good neighbours.
He has grown more confident but still has fears. One of our training successes was with regard to his fear of sharp noises that sounded like gunshot. We think that’s probably why he was abandoned – a traumatic incident out hunting that left him too scared to work. He had an extreme reaction to us popping the cork on the local sparkling wine, Clairette. So, purely for the dog’s sake, we did this most days until he grew used to the sound. Now, we can pop away without him even lifting his head.
I doubt that he ever had a bed. He now uses all of those available, as the mood takes him, and he also turns two rugs into dens. He is the sweetest and most civilised dog I’ve ever known, with no desire to escape whatsoever. He used to be petrified at the sight or sound of hunters. Now, he ignores them. That life was a long time ago and more than his name has changed. When we lost Blanche and adopted Watson, it was Sherlock’s turn to show the ropes to the new dog. And he did. To show his advanced level of house-training, Sherlock even taught Watson his favourite domestic activity: hoovering – or rather Dysoning. And the video is here to prove it! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5Q4xPrKLO4&t=
Watson looks sweet, doesn’t he? He is! But he was abandoned twice and spent most of 2017 in a shelter – a story for another day.
Great story, thanks Jean. If you would like read more of Jean’s true stories about dogs, you’ll find them in ‘One Sixth of a Gill’ (available free to members of her Special Readers’ Group http://eepurl.com/AGvy5) and in ‘Someone To Look Up To’. http://books2read.com/someone , on offer at $0.99/ £0.99.
Jean’s publications are varied, including poetry and novels, military history, translated books on dog training, and a cookery book on goat cheese. My favourites are ‘Someone to Look Up To’ and the Troubadours series.
If you want to know more, sign up for Jean’s newsletter at http://eepurl.com/AGvy5 for updates and a free book. If you review one of Jean’s books you can add a dog to Jean’s Readers Dogs Hall of Fame on her website. Contact Jean at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments or questions. She loves to hear from readers.
We go back to the seventies for today’s blog from my friend Andy who grew up in Llanbradach. After leaving school and working in a factory making helmets he decided he wanted out. With limited choices, Andy decided to join the British Army.
Here’s what happened.
Following basic training, I became an Airborne Supply Specialist, which involved pushing whatever it was out of Hercules planes with 16 Parachute Heavy Drop Company, RAOC. But my error was to apply for as many courses as I could, from Medic, to Jungle and Arctic Warfare. The course I coveted most was that of Dog Handler, which I knew would help overcome my fear of German Shepherds. When my application was approved, I was packed off to Melton Mowbray to the Royal Army Veterinary Corps where they trained both animals and squaddies.
The course was brilliant and I passed with flying colours. Unfortunately, I hadn’t looked at the small print when applying but now discovered: after passing the course you will be sent on attachment to the Army Dog Unit Northern Ireland for two years. It was the height of the so-called troubles and even when regiments went to some parts of Northern Ireland, it was only for six months. I wondered how I was going to survive six months let alone two years. But this was a unique unit as everyone was a volunteer and the unit has been served by every Regiment and Corps.
During my first six months, I learned so many things from my fellow members and the dog I was given. Guard Dog Sand was a cross between a Rhodesian Ridgeback and Labrador. We became a real team, patrolling HMP Maze, HMP Magilligan and on point on patrols in Co Londonderry and Co Armagh and also during riots.
At the end of two years I was promoted to lance corporal and asked if I would like to extend for a further two years. I agreed without a second thought and was sent to the Maze Prison to take charge of C Section of 20 dogs and handlers.
There were a few dogs who had reputations – Dixon, Jebel, Prince and a 108 pounds of a black German Shepherd named Sebastian. The history with this dog soldier was a horror story. He was sent to the Hong Kong police as a gift from the British Army. When taken out of his sky kennel he immediately attacked six police officers and was sent back to Melton Mowbray and then onto the Maze. He had chewed a Scot’s Guard handler, his next handler took four weeks to enter his kennel, and the same for the next. The following handler failed and the decision was made to destroy Sebastian. I found this too much and voiced my opinion and the reply came back from my Sergeant:
‘Thanks for volunteering Max!’
This frightened me more than going out on patrol but I took two weeks leave and stayed outside Sebastian’s kennel reading newspapers and books, talking, or doing anything I could think of. I spent days throwing tennis balls into Sebastian’s kennel hoping for some sort of interaction but nothing came, until day 13 when he picked the ball up and brought it to me at the front of his kennel. I told him to sit and to my amazement he did! This was a major breakthrough and was followed by an order for me to take Sebastian straight out on the outer patrol of the Maze. So I had to go in clip him up and walk out with him. It was like going into a gladiator’s arena and while I did so, 15 men (2 in full baiting suits) were on standby with hoses, brushes, and one with a 9mm handgun. With dry throat and a cold sweat I walked into this beast’s domain. I called Sebastian and he came running over to me. I found this most intimidating but I gave the command ‘sit’.
He did as told and I clipped the lead on Sebastian and we went straight out on the outer perimeter of the Maze. The smiles of my fellow handlers as I walked out was so rewarding; any doubts about me quickly turned to respect.
From that day on we grew stronger as a working dog team, being called out for cell clearance, riots and hard patrolling. As our successes grew so did our reputation, throughout Northern Ireland. I can honestly say this dog saved my life and the lives of lots of others on many occasions. I never once questioned his reactions and trusted him one hundred percent. We knew each other’s footsteps one for one. I felt as if I had a bulletproof Ready Brek glow about me and my partner Sebastian (you have to be a certain age to remember the Ready Brek advert).
We worked in areas such as West Belfast, Armagh, Londonderry, Forkhill and Crossmaglen. Time flew and my four years soon came to an end.
I was told to attend a meeting with the Commanding Officer and ordered to be on my best behaviour. I was marched into the room and carried out the normal army greetings of salute and standing ramrod straight as my whole body was on Viagra! I wasn’t sure why I was in there and suspected some sort of family emergency, but the CO’s tone was not that bad. I even wondered if it was good news and perhaps they had a sunshine posting in store for me. No such luck. The CO asked me to stay for another two years.
I grinned like an idiot when he read out our achievements and told me we were the Army Dog Unit’s best asset. I was chuffed to be asked to stay on and my ‘yes sir’ was the most enthusiastic and proudest I have ever said.
All Army dogs were trained to the highest standards and saved thousands of lives in their roles as search explosive dogs (known as wagtails), tracking dog (known as groundhogs), or guard dogs (called snappers or land sharks).
Sebastian and I grew stronger as a team and won many conflicts. It was a lot more than love that I had for this dog. I respected and trusted him and put my life in his hands on many occasions. He was a soldier as much as I was and a highly trained Army weapon too.
We were used for what the Army called hard patrols, where the dog team was at the front point of the patrol and would pick up the scent of anyone in front of the patrol. Then we were also used in riots for many tasks eg holding the crowds back, snatch squads, also close protection of VIPs, patrolling prisons and also cell clearance. On one occasion Sebastian and I were called to get two prisoners out of a cell. The remaining prisoners where locked in their cells and the prison officers had drawn back to the reception of the wing while Sebastian and I walked to the cell accompanied by two soldiers in full riot gear. The prisoners would shout abuse, spit, and throw whatever they could – including cups full of urine. This only heightened the dog up to switch on mode. The prisoners were hidden behind the door with weapons ready to attack us both. Sebastian with his nose and super hero sense walked into the cell and without hesitation turned to the left and nailed the prisoner holding the metal bed leg. The man dropped to the ground and yelled. Sebastian looked up at the same time jumping and grabbed the second prison by the upper arm. Both prisoners had given up in a matter of seconds. The sense of achievement from this result and many similar has never been matched since leaving Northern Ireland.
My six year tour was coming to an end as my final two months were spent training a new handler to take over Sebastian. The day I said farewell and thanked him for being at my side was one of the saddest of my life. It was only a few weeks later that I received a call from a fellow dog handler who told me of Sebastian’s sad end.
Every dog is a unique individual with its own skills and personality. I’ve always put my dog’s needs before my own and each one I have had or worked with has been loved with all my heart.
My Unlikely Soldiers series is about the British Army during this period. Check out this link for further information http://smarturl.it/m202d6