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What's So Special About Cocker Spaniels?
Birds of a feather, they say, flock together. So too it seems is the case with dog lovers. Most of my friends enjoy the company of dogs even though, due to various constraints, many do not keep one as a pet. Why are dogs considered to be man's best friend? What is it that makes them so lovable? I think what has always bonded us humans to dogs is that they are large hearted, adaptable and forgiving, loyal to a fault, and their affection is boundless. These are common traits amongst dogs of generally all breeds, even the crossbreeds and mongrels.
Each breed does have its own peculiarities in terms of size, coat, ears, temperament, disposition and abilities. In cross breeds where, for example, a Labrador might have been mated with a German Sheperd or a Beagle with a Terrier, it is easy to recognize traits of the two different parents in the pups. In the case of mongrels, who are a mix of many breeds it is very difficult to recognize the characteristics of any breed. Yet mongrels can sometimes be the most devoted, hardy and low maintenance pets.
Unless one wants to enter his pet for dog shows, where every physical characteristic is carefully checked to see if it meets the laid down standard, purity of breed and its pedigree is not of as much importance as its basic training. Nobody, not even an avid dog lover, feels happy around an ill mannered or foul tempered dog.
I am fond of all types and breeds of dogs, from the very big but gentle and adorable Saint Bernard to the tiny but sometimes rather saucy little Chihuahua. But, despite my love for all breeds and belief that all dogs make excellent pets, there is one breed with which I have always hit it off best and about which I have the fondest memories right from childhood days. And that is the English Cocker Spaniel.
Shortly after marriage, my (ex) wife and I agreed that our home was incomplete without a dog and our first ‘child’ should be a puppy. We were posted in Mathura, a one-horse town about three hours out of Delhi. During the week, we would go through advertisements for sale of pups in various Delhi papers and then, over the weekends, we would drive down to see the ones that we had shortlisted. On one such visit, a tiny pup, all of three or four weeks, came charging towards me, his yet undocked cocker spaniel tail wagging nineteen to the dozen. He clambered up my shoe and reached up my leg with his forepaws. In doing so, he lost his balance, toppled over and fell down backwards. But he scurried right back up the shoe to make his second gallant attempt at ascending my leg. I bent over and picked him up, placing him on my open palms at eye level to have a closer look at him. No sooner had I done that, he sprinted up along one of my arms and was about to slide off and fall. But my wife was alert. She caught him just in time and held him in her hands, His tail was still wagging furiously, even as he was squirming and barking in his little voice as if to say, “Let me go – I need to investigate you guys.” I looked into his eyes and they were the softest, yet liveliest and naughtiest pair of dog eyes I had ever looked into. I think my wife and I both decided instantaneously that he was going to be ours. That is the story of how we acquired our first pet, a golden cocker spaniel, who we named Bonzo.
He was followed by Sandy an orange roan, and now, since the last five years, we have had Fido, a liver roan. Yes, you guessed it, both cockers.
Recently, just last month, my eldest son who was completing his final year of the bachelor's course in Aviation and Space Technology from a university in Kiev, Ukraine, called to ask if he could bring along with him a small pup. Apparently he had been serving as a volunteer at a clean and friendly animal shelter located close to his university and he had fallen in love with one particular pup.
This was about the time when Joe Biden had made the famous remark to the Ukrainian President during a vist to the latter’s country that Ukrainian women were the prettiest in the world. I reminded my son that we live in a flat (apartment) in the middle of congested New Delhi, and keeping two dogs would not be easy. He agreed but sounded quite heartbroken. I also thought to myself that the young man is only asking to bring along a pup, and not one of the pretty girls that the US Vice President was so smitten by. So I asked Anup what type of a pup he was wanting to adopt.
And he replied, “Papa, he’s a golden cocker spaniel. I’ve named him Chester. He looks just like Bonzo and you’ll love him.” That settled the matter: How could one say no to a cocker? Now, we have two of them, one aged five years and the second seven months.
What is it that makes cockers so special? I mean the original English Cocker Spaniel, not its more recent American descendent which also is recognized as a separate breed. In all fairness, there is something special about the latter too. He’s such a charmer. While the English Cocker is a handsome dog, the American one is more glamorous, almost effeminate.
Legend has it that there was a cocker spaniel aboard the Mayflower when the Pilgrim Fathers sailed to America from Southampton in 1620. He must have been a fine companion for the first settlers in the New World.
Over the years, Americans changed everything they had got from the British. In the case of the cocker, they made it a little smaller, changed the shape of its head, increased the length of its neck and induced the growth of a lot of coat. Trust the Americans to make their Cocker a bit of a showman, a dazzling version of the hardy English Cocker Spaniel, who was bred essentially as a gun dog. Thankfully, the nature and temperament of the two cockers remain unchanged.
Getting back to the question: What is so special about cockers and why do I love them more than all other breeds? One friend suggested that I must have been a cocker in my previous life. I countered that by saying that I might be destined to be one in my next. And, later, when I gave it more thought, I realised that cockers are probably happier than most humans.
But, more seriously, while searching for an answer, I went through the breed standard yesterday and it became quite clear that the cocker is a happy-go-lucky dog who spreads joy and good cheer around him. Could one ask for a better quality than that in a dog or even a human? Here are some extracts from the breed standard which repeatedly emphasize the merry trait in this special breed:
General Appearance: “Merry, sturdy, sporting ...”
Characteristics: “Merry nature with an ever-wagging tail ...”
Temperament: “Gentle and affectionate, yet full of life and exuberance.”
Eyes: “... with [an] expression of intelligence and gentleness but wide awake, bright and merry ...”
Tail: “Must be merry in action. [If docked] Never too short to hide, nor too long to interfere with, the incessant merry action when working.”
So here is my prayer: Dear Lord, please make me a cocker spaniel in my next life. I don’t care whether my master is a grim faced retired colonel with a moustache on his lip and a swish stick in his hand or a stunningly beautiful 36-24-36 bombshell, so long as I am allowed to be happy and make others happy around me. An occasional run in the open countryside or undergrowth of the woods, would of course help.