Some South Woodford scribbles from DD, our resident diarist, commentator and observer of all things local
Some years ago, I found myself playing a small part in a drama outside Sainsbury’s. A fellow customer with a large dog somehow trod on a sharp object and incurred a serious gash to her foot. There was a great deal of blood. “Can someone call an ambulance?” Paramedics were quickly centre stage. “Let’s get you to hospital straightaway.” “I can’t go without my dog,” she cried. This was my cue. “Don’t worry about your dog. I’ll look after him!” “We’ve just come from the vet!” were her final frantic words as the ambulance doors closed and they drove off. I hadn’t walked a dog for roughly 70 years, but he was on a lead and I was holding it. His ‘hangdog’ expression prompted me to make what I hoped would be comforting noises as we proceeded mournfully to Goddard’s Veterinary Surgery at the corner of Bressey Grove. Everything suddenly became more upbeat. We walked in to a hearty welcome: “Hi Charlie, what brings you back so soon?” (I was just ‘an extra’.) Yes, they would take care of him till his wounded owner came to collect.
I recalled this episode last week when a friend, Chris, described his own experience of visiting a vet with his dog, Harry. He reached the head of the queue at reception. “Name?” “Robinson.” “Not you! The dog!”
I had discovered my theme for the month. A celebration of Man’s best friend.
I encountered the elegant lady with the Pomeranian outside the International Supermarket. “My sister rescued him from a dustbin in Tenerife,” she told me. I must admit I had quite thought that the ‘him’ was a ‘her’, so perfectly preened was his luxuriant fur, like a lady leaving the hairdresser’s on Friday afternoon, all geared up for the social weekend ahead. He was sitting at his owner’s feet looking thoroughly aristocratic and expensive. Her husband emerged carrying his fruit and veg. Out came his iPhone and a proudly tender portrait of their gloriously pampered pet asleep under a soft blanket on the sofa. He might once have been regarded as rubbish but not now: an astonishing tale of rags to riches!
I spotted brothers Harvey and Thomas in the park romping energetically with Chester. “Because of Covid, all the family were at home for once. We all love dogs. So, it was an obvious opportunity,” explained Thomas. “He was only this big when we rescued him [holding out two arms to indicate his smallness, like an angler who has just landed a whopper, only the other way round]. He’s learnt a few tricks already, like how to high five.” An impressive demonstration followed. I had the distinct impression Chester had an indulgent sense of humour and strong thespian tendencies. “I gather some people are taking their dogs back as lockdown ends,” I commented. They both looked shocked. “Not us! No way! He’s our responsibility now and we love him.”
On George Lane, the owner of another rescued dog described the “amazing bond” so quickly established with all the family. “He’s a cross between a Jack Russell and a pug. We don’t know his past and he is still wary of strangers. I must admit he’s very spoilt. He’s already been away with us on two holidays this year. To Norfolk.”
Were 1,000 words going to be enough for this issue’s diary? My next encounter was with joyful Maya and her much-loved “middle-aged lady friend,” Marley. “The vet advised us,” she began: “Don’t buy a puppy. Buy a retired greyhound. Greyhounds can’t climb stairs, they don’t bark, they sleep all day. We took his advice. Marley used to race at Romford under the name Two-Tone-Marley. Look, she has the English racing dog’s single tattoo in her ear. The Irish dogs have two. But you asked what it is about walking a dog. You meet so many interesting people. You listen to different ideas and opinions. Views you might not share but you learn and you think. I’ve encountered actors, divers, people from the BBC, the armed forces. So many opportunities. Sometimes, I think to myself that we are like an urban episode of The Archers.”
In Broadwalk, Christine was walking with Betsy. “My grandson named her when he was four years old. She is a lovely friend, my life really, as I live alone. I love looking at the gardens on our walks. You’re not stuck indoors. You wander along at the dog’s pace. And dogs don’t answer you back!
Sally was strolling with her son’s dog, Snoopy. “So therapeutic! Dog walking broadens your horizons. There’s such vibrancy in his behaviour. He stops and sniffs,checks everything out; it’s his walk, not mine!”
So much that I learnt echoed what Adam, the vet in charge at Goddard’s, had said. How positive dog ownership was for mental well-being: social interaction, experiencing nature, helping youngsters to take responsibility for animals, switching off from the world. “Dogs will always love you,” he said, “if you give them respect, attention and care.” Exactly what my neighbour Hugh had said when I joined him briefly on his early morning expedition: “When I’m walking my dog, I’m sorting everything out.”
“I’ve wanted dogs for years but my wife refused,” was Saul’s opening line. “But during lockdown, I persuaded her and brought home these miniature dachshunds, Milo and Barney. They form a central focus in the family for showing love. My son, Zac, is autistic. He loves being around them, stroking them. Milo is helping him to be more independent and safe; we’ve trained Milo to stop at the kerb and watch out for danger. Now, he gives Zac a nudge when it’s safe to cross. As for me, out walking with them, I can shut off for half an hour, with space to think and relax.” “But what does your wife think now?” “She adores them, especially Milo. She ruins him. She makes him scrambled eggs and smoked salmon for breakfast.”
I can’t follow that.