Teddy the new border collie’s first week has gone surprisingly smoothly. When he arrived in the dog bus from Romania after travelling for four days he wouldn’t walk, preferring to crouch on the ground, fearful. Now, just four days later, he is walking on a lead and playing in the garden. We haven’t had one accident in the house: he goes outside, which is more than I can say for Gracie, who needs a nappy at night but, as I whisper in her pointy ear: ‘Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us.’ Teddy wouldn’t come upstairs for the first two nights, but he now sleeps on the rug on the landing. We haven’t yet had a bark. I expect that is one of the joys to come.
I ask Stef, who runs the charity that rescued him, about his history. She says he was either caught on the street or dumped in the pound – horrible places: concrete cages open to the weather, dry kibble thrown inside, which the dogs have to fight over – by an owner who no longer wanted him, which seems odd, as he’s only about three and handsome. He’s enormous: a huge black face and speckled paws, like an owl.
I was nervous about telling my assistant Nic that I have another collie, as she has been there with me for all the trials and tribulations of the ones I already have. Dear departed Sam, who was a rogue. When I first rescued him, he would catch pheasants on a walk and eat them, given he’d been starved. I was surprised he could kill anything, as he had been tethered on a chain: his teeth were stumps where he had tried to chew himself free. Gracie, who never really got the hang of going to the loo outside. Mini, who would hare off at 40mph at the first opportunity: I would have to phone people in the village to head her off at the pass. And Missy, who still has a heart attack when I switch on the hoover.
My dogs have trained me. Even my cats trained me. Susie the feral cat, born on the wild streets of the Isle of Dogs, would only eat prawns at room temperature. Mini will now only eat human food from Marks or, at a push, Waitrose. Gracie now puts her front paws on the bed, as she’s too rickety to jump, so I’m prompted to lift her rump skywards: we then get the groan of pleasure as she snuggles in a pillow. When Sam got very old, he developed dementia, and became deaf and almost blind. He would be frantic, unable to find me, until I tapped him gently on his bottom. He would turn, cloudy eyes watery with relief. It’s strange how I have endless patience with animals. Whereas with my mum I was (shamefully) glad in a way when, after being bedridden for so long with arthritis, she no longer knew who I was. I could pretend I had been with her for an hour when it had really been less than five minutes.
My horses mostly do exactly as they please. When I get them in during bad weather – Storm Arwen was a case in point: the fence to their paddock blew down – they don’t wear headcollars: I just open the stable doors and they file in. I cannot stand horsey women who tug at their horses’ heads constantly or yell and slap if the poor animal merely stamps a hoof to get rid of a fly.
It’s weird why I’m so soft with animals and so intolerant of people. I admit with shame I shed more tears when my beloved rescued racehorse Lizzie died than when my dad passed away. I cried more when I lost Hilda, my ancient Romanian rescue dog, than when my mum died. I suppose it’s because I spent almost every day with them. My dogs sleep in my bed. My cats would snooze on my head. My animals look at me with only love in their eyes. When Sam could barely move, I would have to lift him on to my bed and he never complained once. He just enjoyed the fact he was in my arms.
And so here is Teddy. He will never be left. He will always be fed before me. He will be outdoors with me and the horses for hours. He will be my furry footrest as I write.