He was blonde haired and had big brown eyes. To be honest, he gave quite sloppy kisses too. But it was love at first sight and there hasn’t been one like him since. His name was Ben and this is our story.
I woke up on my seventh birthday and as is tradition in our family, jumped onto my parents bed to open my birthday presents. As I started opening dog related gifts like a shiny new red leather collar and matching lead, I was happy with the thought that our family dog, Billy, who my dad rescued from the RSPCA, was getting some nice new things. But at the same time I wondered why they were also my birthday presents. My dad went downstairs and came back clutching the largest present of all. Unwrapping it slowly, I revealed a lovely wicker basket dog bed. I was thoroughly confused about our dog being spoilt this way and seeing the look on my face my Dad then told me we were taking a drive to Nottingham. “Whyyyyy?” I enquired. “To collect YOUR dog”, he replied.
Now, at 7 years old you don’t ever truly own anything, especially if like me all your clothes were handed down. So when someone says you are about to get a dog, of your very own, it is possibly the great day in your little life. I wasn’t the most outgoing child and my parents would probably say all I did was smile that day. But none of us would know then, what a difference it would really make to me, for the next 16 years.
As we made our way to Nottingham in the car, just me and my Dad, we talked about this new puppy. He was a pedigree, which sounded pretty fancy to me. Especially when I found out he had a daft name to go with it. Lord Bisto of Switch. The breeder was having a laugh with that litter! We collected this ball of white fluff and popped him in one of those big plastic tubs you tidy away toys in, to keep him safe. He promptly threw up all over the back seat and I was smitten. A similar scenario that repeated 20 years later with my own dog, Lupo. We got him home and named him Ben after my Dad’s first Labrador that I didn’t get a chance to know properly.
He was the cutest thing I’d ever seen.
I took as much responsibility as a seven year old could for looking after Ben. I’m sure I conveniently played the child card when toilet training wasn’t going well. I would take both dogs on the lead to the garden first thing in a morning. When I came back to the house one day to see my Mum in her home office, I was covered in mud. Ben must have had a growth spurt over night and had dragged me across the grass, so it was time for my parents to take over! Luckily I grew as fast as Ben, and soon took him everywhere when out playing with my friends in our village. We’d spend all day splashing in the Beck, investigating the local farm pigs and walking for miles. I’d brush his coat and trim the hair on his feet, like the pedigree dog owners I watched on Crufts, while he just lay there and enjoyed the attention.
Billy and Ben (I know), would make a great escape together if the opportunity of a door left slightly ajar arose. On one particular occasion, Billy came back at 3am, plonked himself on the front doorstep and proceeded to wake the whole street up by howling until we let him in. In the morning we got a call from the farm at the other end of the village to say Ben was there, cosy in front of their fire and cuddling up to their female dog. This was in the days when neutering wasn’t that popular. Poor Ben was done soon after that though.
As a nine year old, I was mad about horses but didn’t have one of my own. That didn’t stop me making Ben step up to the plate. I’d put up makeshift jumps in the garden and we would race round a course I had designed. Even using a picnic table like the one they have at the Crufts agility course, making him stay for a few seconds, then leap off. He loved it! We would take the dogs to local woods in winter where Ben pulled me along in my sledge on the snow. Unfortunately he was the only Retriever in the world that didn’t like swimming. Preferring to wallow like a Hippo instead.
My family moved house when I was 12, and this was to be the first move of three that Ben would do. Unfazed apart from disliking certain flooring. Preferring to stay in the kitchen with his head poking round the door to the living room, so he could still see us every evening. I spent my evenings teaching tricks like roll over, by using pieces of his evening meal. He had the patience to perform for me everyday, and it got to the point where he would rollover by himself when I went to get out his food.
It was at this time that I got my first horse and Ben would come with us to the stables, and then out on rides with me in the local woods when my horse was kept at home. When I got too far away or near a main road, I’d say “go home Ben!” and off he’d trot. That level of loyalty and training I haven’t been able to come near with Lupo. Retrievers really are the perfect first family pet.
I like to think Ben had a good life with us. But along with all the lovely family time, he went through losing Billy, his first companion and then us turning his world upside down by bringing a Bernese Mountain dog puppy home, called Jake. God knows what he thought when this pup grew to twice his size. We have a lovely video of Jake hanging off poor Ben’s ears, he would tolerate a lot. Which is another good trait of Golden Retrievers.
The time came for me to go away to college and then University and it was during my placement year spent in Nottingham, poignantly for Ben’s story, that I got the call every dog owner would dread. He was 16 years old, and had been slowing down for quite a few years so we knew it was coming, but that didn’t make it any easier to here he had passed away. My now husband was with me at the time, and had to console me as I sobbed. He loves dogs as much as I do, so I married him! Going back to my parents house and Ben not being there was awful, but we were all happy he had such a long and brilliant life with us.
You never forget your first dog and how much you loved them. I hope my daughter has the same relationship with our family pets, as I was lucky enough to have with Ben.
This post is an entry into the Tots100/Swell UK competition.