A dog we had
England 1953, I was twelve years old, I came home after being away in hospital for four years, to be told we now owned a dog. I hadn’t been home long, when I heard the back door bang against the wall and the kitchen door pushed open. In he came. His name was Sooty.
He was a medium sized dog, all black, skinny and built for speed. He came up to me wagging his long tail and sniffed me as if to say, “Who are you?”
His mother was a Manchester terrier, I was told. But who his Dad was, nobody knew. I think his Dad must have been a Greyhound, for no matter how much Sooty ate he never got any fatter, and boy could he run.
I don’t remember there being any cans of pet food in those days, dogs and cats got fed the leftovers from meals. Also owners didn’t walk their dogs, they were just let out to roam.
Sooty was the chief stud in our area. He knew every female dog for miles around, and when these females were in the mood for his intentions he would be sometimes missing for days, but we knew he would be somewhere patiently waiting at someone’s front gate for an opportunity to seduce the bitch that lived there. He would return home eventually and stagger through the door, Mom would feed him and then he would collapse and sleep for a day or two.
He had a mortal enemy in the next street, a German Shepherd dog whom he hated bitterly. Whenever Sooty met this dog he would bark loudly and call it names. He never fought this dog, he wouldn’t have stood a chance if he had, it was twice the weight he was. Instead he would run like hell.
I can see him now, tearing round the corner of the street, the big dog in hot pursuit. Sooty never ever got in to top gear, but the German Shepherd couldn’t catch him. They would turn into our front path with the other dog just a few yards behind. At the bottom of the gate leading into our back yard was a hole. Sooty could crawl on his belly and get through this hole at what seemed 50 mph. He would then stand on the other side, panting and grinning as the Alsatian crashed in to the gate. It fell for it every time,
Sooty would then swear at it through the hole and the other dog would swear back. As they were barking at each other, I used to sit there on the yard and imagine what they were saying to each other:
“I’ll get you next time, you black bastard!”
“You’ll have to move faster than that, you German idiot”
Eventually the bigger dog would leave and Sooty would wait a while before crawling back under the gate to check out the street to see if it had really gone. He would then come to me, wagging his long tail and grinning, as if to say ‘Wasn’t that good? I enjoyed that”
He had this trick of coming up behind women and pushing his nose up their skirts! Mum was always telling him off about it, he didn’t do it to her, but if she wasn’t around, he would do it to any woman he met.
One day at school during a PE lesson or ‘Games’ as it was called then, I was standing, bored against the goal post. Being the worst soccer player in the class, I was always relegated to being goalkeeper.
Suddenly something hit me in the back, I turned round and to my horror saw it was Sooty, jumping up me, wagging his tail and so pleased to see me. As the school was three miles at least from our house, how come he was here?
He couldn’t have followed me, as it was nearly lunchtime I had been at school for three hours.
“Clear off! Go home” I said.
What a waste of breath, he didn’t take a bit of notice and just stood there grinning at me.
I looked up to suddenly and saw the opposing team storming down the field towards my goal. To my horror and embarrassment, Sooty ran onto the field, barked at the leading attacker and took the ball of him! Sooty ran back down the pitch pushing the ball towards the opposing goal posts. He was accompanied by jeers and shouts of dismay, and the teacher blowing his referee whistle frantically.
“Who’s bloody dog, is this?” roared the teacher, after the ball had been recovered.
I tried to look as if I hadn’t met this dog before in my life. But Sooty came and sat my side, with his tongue hanging out and a grin on his face.
“Is it yours, Gamble?” the teacher roared again.
“Er… Yes, sir” I mumbled.
“Well, get him out of my sight, take him home.”
“Yes sir, thank you sir” I eagerly replied. This was a chance to get home earlier for lunch. But it took me longer to get home, I had to use my scarf as a lead and wheeling my bike in one hand and Sooty pulling me in the other. It wasn’t easy, Sooty was not used to being on a leash, so he pulled me all the way.
I became a working ‘man’, leaving school at fifteen. I would be strolling with my mate’s through the streets of Long Eaton in the evenings. This was a small town about three miles from where I lived. I would be swaggering along with my mates, all thinking we were tough guys, combing our greasy Elvis type haircuts reflected in the shop windows. We were looking for girls to impress.
Occasionally I would see Sooty, loping along with his mile-eating stride. He would be on his way to a female/gate wait around, or returning from one. If he saw me, then my evening would be ruined. I would have to walk him home, thus ruining any chance of scoring that night.
I would try to hide, but my mates used to call him, so that he would see me. I would shout at him to go home, but once he found me, he wouldn’t leave my side. It was even worse if I was walking with a girl and he appeared. It was difficult for the girl to understand why I should suddenly jump over a wall and hide behind it.
The years passed by and Sooty slowed down a little. I don’t think there were so many black puppies around as there used to be. But he still went out on his two-day absences. He came home one day with one of his back paws torn and bleeding. My Mom bandaged it and he promptly gnawed at it and pulled it of.
So she bandaged it again and placed a baby’s sock on it and taped it up. He was annoyed at this, as he couldn’t get it off to lick it.
After a couple of days it was beginning to smell a little, so Mom said he would have to see a Vet. Audrey(my girlfriend) and I volunteered to take him to the P.D.S.A. This is a charity that treats sick pets, of owners who couldn’t afford Vet’s fees.
Sooty &; female friend
My teenage self, niece Carol & Sooty
We took him on the bus there, which was fine, as he liked traveling on buses. He had been on holiday a few times, traveling by bus, so he thought we were going to Skegness.
At the P.D.S.A the Vet was not very optimistic.
“We’ll have to amputate half of his foot” he said “How old is he?”
“Sixteen” I answered.
“The anesthetic could kill him, but we have no choice” he said, shaking his head with a sigh. “Leave him with us and if he survives we’ll deliver him back to you”
A few days later the P.D.S.A van delivered him home. The driver told us later, that he had the name of our street, but not the number of our house. So he thought as it’s not a very long street, he would let Sooty out of the van and the dog would show him which house it was.
Not Sooty, he cocked his leg and peed against the lamppost outside our house, then climbed back in the van!!
The driver had to drive to find a phone, to call for the house number and then return. He was not pleased, we laughed at that story for years afterwards.
I got married to Audrey and our house was maybe half a mile from Mums. Sooty was eighteen years old now, with a white muzzle, deaf and very dim eyesight. He found out where we lived. Mom continued to let him out whenever he wanted to go, although there was more traffic on the roads. There was a pedestrian crossing at the end of Mom’s street, to cross a busy road. I had seen him do this, so I know its true. He would sit at the curb at the pedestrian crossing and wait for the cars to see him and stop.
He would then cross the road, limping slightly with his bad foot, but a dog with focus. Whenever I saw him on the streets, he always looked as if he was going somewhere. Some dogs stroll around, sniffing and peeing. Not Sooty, he always looked businesslike and heading somewhere.
Mom let him out at six in the morning and he headed for our house. He would come to our front door and bark once.
He usually waited about a minute, if no came to the door he was of down the street for places unknown. As he was so deaf and blind, Audrey worried about him wandering the streets. So she had to leap out of bed, run downstairs and try to reach the front door before he left. If she was not quick enough, it meant she had to go down the street after him. It was no use shouting him; he was as deaf as a post. She would hurry after him, in her housecoat, to tap him on the shoulder. He would then turn round, wag his tail and come back with her, to stay most of the day with us.To avoid having to jump out of bed early in the morning, Audrey solved the problem by fastening a small bell to his collar. She would hear him coming down the street, as she slept!! and be at the door to let him in.
This also helped with the ‘skirt sniffing’ that he still liked to do. Audrey could hear him if he crept up behind her.
When we bought a puppy of our own, an Airedale bitch, Sooty was delighted. But I’m pleased to say that he seemed to look on her as a daughter rather than another female to seduce.
Eventually Mom hinted that she thought he should be ‘put to sleep’
He was getting unsteady on his legs and slept a lot now. I told her if she was going to do it, not to tell me until after it had been done………………
Sooty had a life that many of us would envy. He could go where he liked any time he chose, he had many ‘wives’ without having to support them, he never went to the doctors (apart from his paw accident). He lived 136 years in human terms, and he lived on the basis ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it’
What more could anyone ask?
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