Berkshire’s fabulous four-legged friends

PUBLISHED: 12:30 02 May 2014 | UPDATED: 12:30 02 May 2014

Amber at home with beloved Skeet. Photo: Naki Kouyioumtzis

Amber at home with beloved Skeet. Photo: Naki Kouyioumtzis

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We might choose to let sleeping dogs lie, but Maureen McLean finds that our favourite canine companions have pride of place in the family home

Queen Victoria and family in Windsor ForestQueen Victoria and family in Windsor Forest

Tales of past pets and their descendants, often still trotting around, form part of the family story when you are ‘doggy people’.

You may even know the names of dogs long gone before your own birth. Anecdotes about their adventures are woven into the thread when relatives get the family photo album out and find some noble shot of “Beefy – great gran’s favourite retriever, but he hated the postman” or “That’s little Girlie, she had the litter that eventually led to your Yorkie being born.”

From formal Edwardian poses of the gathered tribe to Sixties girls in their mini skirts, you will see the family dogs, frowning or grinning alongside their human companions. And surely the ultimate example of this must be the Royal Family, and the assorted Corgis, dorgis and other breeds which have shared Her Majesty’s life since childhood.

The Royal relationship with dogs goes back centuries, although one of the best examples is the present monarch’s great-great grandmother Queen Victoria, and it’s worthy of comparison when you consider the numerous dogs she doted on during a long reign.

It all started with Dash, a King Charles spaniel Victoria received when 13. She gave him presents and this most loyal of breeds adored her back, regularly featuring in her girlhood diaries. Dash was still with Victoria when she became queen in 1837, and the first thing she did after coronation was get back to Buckingham Palace to give Dash his bath.

Dash died in 1840 and was buried in the grounds of Adelaide Cottage in Windsor Great Park, complete with an inscribed marble effigy recording ‘His attachment was without selfishness’, ‘His playfulness without malice’ and ‘His fidelity without deceit’.

Those words may give a clue as to why the Royal Family enjoy the companionship of dogs so much. A dog’s loyalty is unquestionable (apart from the odd bit of cupboard love!) and they are never obsequious or fawning. A royal dog can throw up or ‘have an accident’ on a palace carpet as easily as one in our own homes, and show the identical guilty panic.

Queen Victoria’s dogs over the years also included Skye terriers Dandie and Islay, greyhounds Nero and Eos, collies Sharp and Noble, a deerhound called Hector and Pomeranians Marco and, finally, Turi, the latter resting on the monarch’s bed as Victoria’s life came to an end.

Back to the present day, and the Queen shared her love of corgis with the world when the pets appeared as the London 2012 Olympics scene stealers. James Bond actor Daniel Craig was shown inviting her to join him in a helicopter ride to the stadium, but it was the corgis’ ‘tummy rolls’ that had us all laughing.

Since then, one of the corgis shown, Monty, has died aged 13. So this leaves her majesty with corgis Willow and Holly and two dorgis, Candy and Vulcan.

When Amber set her sights on a new pet

Many of us will have experienced children who start that constant begging for a pet dog. Sometimes you can distract them, But in the case of Amber Hill, youngest ever winner of a senior World Cup in skeet shooting and now Britain’s Number One, we are talking a determined young lady.

Her mum Jo recalls: “Amber has always loved animals and after our dog Duke died was constantly asking for another one, to no avail.”

When Amber made the England ladies skeet team aged just 12 she found a new way to continue the campaign, proposing that a dog should be the reward if she won one of the last two competitions of the year.

“They were the British open and the English open, where she would be competing against the senior ladies. I didn’t think she would be able to win one of these that year, so I bet her and thought my bet would be safe,” says Jo.

As an added incentive, Amber’s grandparents agreed to pay half towards the cost and Jo’s only condition was that the adults would decide which breed of dog was chosen, and where it came from.

Jo takes up the story: “The day came for the first competition and I began to worry slightly as she was shooting well. To my surprise, you guessed it, she won both competitions.”

And so it was that a Golden Retriever puppy arrived and Amber instantly named him Skeet. “The first day we brought him home Amber was so excited she sat him in the trophy she won and took photos of him.” They have been inseparable since and Skeet dotes on Amber, now 16. Jo concludes: “He fits into the family well and is very spoilt, going shooting with her some days, which he loves. He’s even got a collar with cartridges heads on.”

The crazy world of wonderful Rocky

Royal Borough Mayor Andrew Jenner and Mayoress Julia have always been animal lovers. After their two beloved choccie brown Labradors passed away it was time to think about getting a new family pet. They decided to explore different breeds and their final choice was an English Bull Terrier. Andrew claims: “I wanted something in the house with a bigger nose than me!”

So off to Surrey they went to ‘Meet the Parents’. Puppy Rocky was picked out as their favourite. Rocky’s sire had won Best of Breed at Crufts so they knew Rocky was from good stock (he has gone on to qualify for Crufts and came second for his breed in the Royal Windsor Dog Show).

As a puppy Rocky’s character soon became clear. Unlike the usual slipper being chewed, Rocky preferred to sink his teeth into the radiator pipes, so they quickly had to get them all covered up. When Rocky was four months old, Andrew and Julia were having a party. Rocky got a sniff of the food but wasn’t tall enough to jump up onto the table so instead locked himself onto the side of the marble table with his teeth and they couldn’t get him off for ages. Interesting party trick…

Andrew’s research has found that Bull breeds have been around for a long time. Back in the 18th century in America they were known as ‘Nanny dogs’ and were often kept by families to protect their children.

Rocky is definitely a character. Julia has to shut the dishwasher door quietly as otherwise Rocky has been known to bound into the kitchen and try to get into the dishwasher to lick the plates. He can even be a bit like a cat having a mad moment where he races around the house, only stopping when he crashes into a wall.

Rocky is incredibly loving and in the evenings he loves to jump onto the back of their sofa and drape himself around Andrew’s neck. Andrew says: “That’s all fine until Rocky’s six and a half stone hears the woof of another dog on the television, at which point he launches himself onto the floor and my glass of wine usually goes flying.”

“We love Rocky to bits and would find it very difficult to have another breed of dog now. He knows when he has been naughty as his ears go down and his tail goes into a helicopter spin, but five minutes later he is misbehaving again.”

I got an insight into the world of Rocky at the family business Jenner’s Cafe near Boulter’s Lock in Maidenhead. Rocky wanted to get hold of the tennis ball Andrew was holding and promptly knocked him flying.

When the Jenners go on holiday back to their previous home of Australia, there’s no being shipped off to a kennel. Instead one of Andrew and Julia’s friend makes the reverse trip and flies from Australia to look after Rocky!

Labrador Lenny loves to have a chat on the phone

Bernadette Hewitt tells the story of her Labrador with a sneaky trick of joining in phone calls.

Lenny came into our lives 18 months ago from the Dogs Trust. He’d been abandoned and probably ill-treated, so was very nervous with strangers.

But as he gently put his forepaws on my lap that first time we met the decision was made, he was coming home with us. His confidence has grown and his black coat gleams now. Lenny has that Labrador masterly knack of carrying the biggest sticks – often three times as long as he is – hence his nickname ‘Lenny-the-log’.

Most of my time over the past year has been spent working on Olympic dressage gold-medallist Carl Hester’s autobiography ‘Making it Happen’ and hours in front of a keyboard are broken up by Lenny’s demands to play ball and, as Berkshire Life editor Janice found out, his joining in with phone conversations! With a habit of stealthily sneaking the front half of his body onto my lap if he feels a bit left-out, Lenny’s inducements to a five minute break in the garden work wonders for concentration and creativity.

Carl and I have been friends for years, so reminiscing for the book has been full of laughter and a few tears. But preparing an overnight bag for our weekly get-togethers was one thing that had to be done without Lenny noticing – that doleful face!

We’re lucky to have lovely dog-friendly pubs nearby, including The George and Dragon at Swallowfield, the Iron Duke at Stratfield Saye and The Elm Tree at Beech Hill; and Lenny’s very pleased to meet other dogs on these outings. The Wellington Country Park is a good walk on the lead and one of our favourite local walks is around Silchester, but having recovered from knee injury thanks to my therapist Debbie at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, and now that spring’s firmly established, we can think about introducing Lenny, to some new walks further afield in our beautiful county.

Making it Happen by Carl Hester with Bernadette Hewitt will be published by Orion on 8 May.

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