“This is Prune. She’s no good for me”. A scraggly dog with a scar under her eye and jet black fur bounded over to us, tail wagging, brown eyes friendly. Minutes before, we’d pulled up outside a suburban bungalow in the middle of a quiet Belgian neighbourhood. This surely couldn’t be the place, we thought. But it was, and that little house was to see a lot of us over the years. Suzi’s birthday was last week and its been just over six months since Prune’s operation, so I thought I’d look back over the last six years (wow, where did they go) and pay a little tribute to my two irreplaceable girls.
Maya and I wanted a dog for the longest time. Originally we’d longed for a puppy (as little girls do) but realised that wasn’t going to work with our long school days and limited experience. In the end mum found a breeder with a fully trained adult dog (but who was still only a year old). It seemed like the perfect solution. On that August morning all those years ago, Prune chose us as much as we chose her.
Being new dog owners, we’d visit Prune and Rony once a week that summer to learn her very specific gun dog commands. She could sit, walk at heel and we’d take her round the block to practice. We’d fuss over her and Rony would tell us that one pat on the head was enough. We’d take her to run free in the heath nearby, she’d jump into the Suzuki’s boot gamely. That summer, rabbits were dying all over the place and Prune made use of their demise to hone her killer instinct. I’ll never forget that sultry afternoon; Prune running through the long grass, a dying rabbit clenched in her jaws as she shook the life out of it. Did she come to us when Rony called, like she’d been trained to? Like hell she did. It must have taken Rony almost an hour to get her back. Standing there as a light drizzle fell from the summer skies, I wondered what we’d gotten ourselves into.
We went for ‘training lessons’ each week to master the commands and learn how to use a special whistle till Prune came home with us on August 20th 2011. I can’t believe that was almost six years ago now, and that Prune is almost eight. From the first day it was clear that Prune’s no ordinary dog- she has her own very unique personality. From the way she looks you in the eye as she eats something she’s not supposed to, to how she will just turn around and sit down on walks if she doesn’t want to continue (the infamous ‘squat’). There’s the way she ‘snarls’; her lip half curled up, showing her teeth when she’s really happy (or really scared). Her ‘snarlies’ are legendary- her party trick that is truly her own. Sometimes she curls up her ears so she resembles a goat, or spreads them out (saucepan ears). Or she gives us an ‘itsy bitty paw‘, one of the few commands she actually listens to.
She goes everywhere with us. We’ve dragged her shopping, to every x-country race we ran, on every holiday. She’d leap into the Audi, always excited for a car ride. She charms the pants of everyone she meets, wherever she goes. At a race in Frankfurt, Prune was there faithfully at the finish line, waiting in the mud and cold November rain. A couple came over to fuss over her and asked how old she was. Two years, we said. Oh, how they wished their field labrador was two, she was already eight now. Wow, we thought, lucky we had such a young dog with years ahead of her. Funny to think we’re in their spot now.
Prune’s been on holidays with us all over France- she’s an expert in Chateaus, a connoisseur of la cuisine francaise and has seen enough small French towns to publish an AA guide. Austria, she’s been there too, wearing her funky red coat and purple socks to protect her feet from the grit. Rony laughed; “they’re fine till minus 15″. Holland- her ears flapping in the biting North Sea wind as she explored the beach for the first time. She’s seen more of Europe than many people I know. Prune likes shopping, she always used to come along to help us pick out shoes in Belgium. She has some cool accessories of her own too- her camo collar for hot days, a reflecting coat to wear on dark winter evenings, a pink coat she wore to cover her under-belly after surgery. We’ve tortured her with x-mas hats, reindeer antlers, scarves and sunglasses, pained her nails (Rony’s idea, that one), raced her up the drive, played baseball, walked miles together.
She likes affection on her terms, not unlike a cat. She hates being squeezed or excessively cuddled (both of which we are guilty of) but will tolerate it, especially if it involves a snack at the end. Prune loves it when we scratch her ears but it has to be just the right spot or she’ll wander off. There’s always been a saga with her food- she’s a real fussy one. Skinner’s Rough and Ready is deemed dull and tasteless- she’d much prefer eggs, chicken, rice…pretty much anything else. We’ve hand-fed her out of desperation, stood around breathlessly whilst she ate, no one daring to move. Instead she’ll find something unsavoury on a walk and take great joy in devouring it as we beg her not to. And every now and then, to prove that she’s not just a soft-touch, she’ll kill a pigeon.
Prune’s been a mother twice now. Her first litter was a large one, eight squirming balls of cuteness. Second time around- one. We knew him as Matti (his real name is Matt but somehow it got confused and we ended up calling him Matti and that stuck). We spent most of one Christmas camped in Rony’s garage, fussing over mother and son. Matti took himself very seriously, spending his time trying to escape his saw-dust filled pen, or playing with Mr. Chicken. Prune was happy for us to occupy the little guy so she could have a breather. She was a really good mum- all her pups went on to be champions and I’m sure Matti is a serious big boy now who thinks of his mum sometimes. I wonder if he learned any of her interesting habits.
When we had settled in England, we thought Prune could do with a friend. Enter Suzi, who I will embarrass for a minute by sharing her full name- Lovely Sue. It won’t be referred to again, I promise Suzi. Prune’s half sister, Suzi is almost three years younger and came to us scared and unsure. That first afternoon almost two years ago, she skulked around the garden, tail low, not daring to come close to us. We were devastated and thought we’d made a huge mistake, especially since Prune was not impressed with having company. But with time, patience and lots of love, Suzi blossomed into the most affectionate, kind hearted dog you’ll ever meet. Together her and Prunie get on like a house on fire, but I’m sure they wouldn’t know what to do without each other.
Suzi is much more ‘dog’ than Prune. She barks at strangers, isn’t scared of gunshots, prefers to be outside than in. She occupies herself in the day by napping, unlike Prune who chews her paws, or bothers us. She’s an even fussier eater than Prune, I don’t think she’s touched her proper food once with us. Instead she lives on log bones, white bread, cheese and other ‘delicacies’. She loves taking a piece of crusty white bread into the garden, to eat it slowly whilst she lies in the sun. Suzi hates the postman, the plumber, delivery people (men in general). It even took her a long time to trust dad, but she loves him now. If there are kids in the forest next door or someone rings the doorbell, Suzi will bark bravely whilst Prune cowers behind her. Prune is still top dog though, she will lead Suzi into all kinds of trouble, starting it then leaving Suzi to get the blame. That’s how they roll.
If they were flowers, Prune would be a rose; striking, beautiful but slightly prickly. Suzi would be a daisy; easily overlooked but as cute as a button when you take the time to notice.
Suzi has her own cute Suzely ways. She’s not as extravagant as Prune but she is still a unique little character. The Suzi nose is famous, as is her ‘scared face’ when she puts her nose ‘high in the sky’. Its because it took her a long time to let us cuddle her, but now she can’t get enough hugs. We often call her small dog, she’s not exactly small but compared to Prune she is, and she acts like a puppy either way. She loves bringing me my slippers, proudly carrying them through the house, wagging that worm-like tail of hers. She’ll touch her nose against my leg when we walk, just for reassurance. Though we got her as a friend for Prune, she’s irreplaceable; I was the first person she really gave a chance, and I’ll never forget that.
Suzi relies on Prune, and suffered as much as us when we thought we were going to loose her. Maya talked about Prune’s operation in her post recently and summed up how we all feel. I wake up each morning and check she’s still with us. Every time she coughs or sneezes or won’t eat I panic. I tell myself that each day with her is a gift, she wasn’t supposed to make it. You can tell that Prune is getting older, and surgery definitely stole a few years. She’s prefers to sniff sedately around the garden now, and lets Suzi do the manic running around. Its so peaceful in the evenings or early mornings, when they are both snoring quietly, lying next to each other on their cushions.
Its not that they both don’t irritate me sometimes. When its been raining for a month and they’ve decided to bring their muddy paws into the house for the fifth time that day after you told them seven times not to dig in the mud. Or when you’ve tried to feed them for an hour and they spit it all out on the floor. But they are small things compared with what you get in return. On cosy winter evenings they lie next to me when I watch TV and on those cloudless summer days we nap on the just cut grass together, and I listen to their gentle breathing. That thumping tail of Prune’s, that wet nose of Suzi’s on my bare legs, I would be lost without them.
My girls have taught me so much; Prune, about not giving up. She pulled through that operation, she showed the world what is possible when you are strong and believe in yourself. She gave me the strength to try to do the same. Suzi, about seeing the good in everything. Raining? She still goes gamely for her walk, head up, tail wagging. Every time she sees you her whole face lights up, like you’ve made her day. She’s made me realise we all need to find joy in the small things, live for the moment.
I know I’ll never be able to show them what they mean to me. They’ve been by my side through my darkest days, through my happiest times. I’ll miss them like crazy next year, and I hope they’ll miss me a little bit too.
To my girlies, thanks for being there always xx
Thanks to Maya for the beautiful photos