Our best friends
In praise of Suffolk dogs — where would we be without them?
As if we needed reminding, the past several weeks have reminded many of us just why dogs have long been known as our best friends.
As the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, and we switched on the television at 5pm to find out the latest damage and listen to instructions on what and what not to do to help stop the spread, our Labrador retriever, merely looked up at me with his big conker-brown eyes and pleaded for his usual early evening walkies.
His total oblivion to the crisis unfolding around the globe and reliance on us to provide all the normal things that make his world go round has been calming and reassuring. His wants are few – he takes little from us and, in return, gives us an immeasurable amount of affection, enjoyment, fun, occasional frustration and (usually) hilarious embarrassment.
For most of us, our dog is our companion – another member of the family or the other half of a couple. But for many people with disabilities or illnesses, their assistance dog is a lifeline, providing emotional and practical support. It’s well documented that having a dog in our life can be beneficial for our physical and mental health in so many ways. It was pictures of pets, especially our dogs, doing crazy, cute and laugh-out-loud things, that were the first pictures to flood social media in the early days of lockdown. My favourite was a sheepdog ‘working from home’ – sitting in front of a flock of sheep on computer screen.
As well as helping to alleviate stress, anxiety, depression and loneliness, there are all the benefits that come from exercising a dog. Daily walks outdoors are just so good for us. Playing with a dog – throwing a ball, chasing around the park – is a great physical and mental pickme-up.
And don’t let’s forget that dogs – domesticated by humans for centuries – have always been willing workers when we need
them, performing important tasks for farmers, police and armed services, Border Force, search and rescue among others.
Suffolk is a great place to own a dog with so much coast and countryside to explore together. We should always observe the Countryside Code, of course, only go where we’re allowed, never worry animals and always clean up. So, here’s our celebration of Suffolk dogs. who lives with our friends Astrid and Denis King (the composer of the theme to the Black Beauty TV series). Mabel, a year older, took Jagger under her paw. However, Jagger quickly grew into a small horse and Mabel was furious. Not only because she is now only the size of his head but also, she makes it clear, because she had been hoping for an intellectual equal and Jagger didn’t get any smarter. She is Miss Piggy to his Kermit – bustling on ahead, while he pads calmly in her wake.
Living by the beach, is paradise for a long-legged gundog but while Labradors fling themselves into any stretch of water, from a puddle to the North Sea, setters tend to paddle about and Jagger only goes in the sea if he’s following an attractive lady Labrador.
Never as well-known as their flamboyant, chestnut, Red Setter cousins, I have been asked ‘Is he a long-haired Dalmation?’, ‘A giant
Spaniel?’ during my life with English Setters – which sounds like the title of a sitcom.
Indeed, as a comedy writer, one of my setters, a tri-colour called Levi, starred in Second Thoughts, the long running, ITV comedy (which I wrote, with my husband Gavin Petrie), starring Lynda Bellingham and James Bolam. Levi played the family dog. The role was originally offered to Lynda Bellingham’s Border Collie, Star, who proved far too intelligent, whereas Levi obeyed directions like ‘dog lies on bed and won’t get off’, as only a setter can.
Levi was not only a TV star but also – as I discovered, when he
“My seven-year-old English Setter is called Jagger — because he was born on the day the Rolling Stones played Glastonbury Festival”
visited a lonely, elderly lady – a natural therapist and became the Pets As Therapy visitor at my local hospice.
English Setters love everyone. They are extremely benign, immensely sociable, both with people and other dogs. Too sociable. The one and only time I entered him in the Fun Dog Show at the Walberswick Fete, the category was ‘The Dog the Judge Would Most Like to Take Home’. As the judge approached, he leapt up, eagerly and landed two muddy paws on her silk blouse. No, she didn’t want to take him home! Jagger (like his namesake) has many fans and adoring (fourlegged) ladies in the village but in spite of his good breeding, it’s unlikely you’ll see him at Crufts!
to the police after his previous owner could no longer keep him.
Troy is a two-and-a-half-yearold Dutch Herder, an agile, intelligent and very controllable breed, that is used a lot in special forces and the military. Troy and Jon completed 13 weeks training together before taking up their duties in January. Troy is a ‘general purpose’ police dog, trained in searching and tracking which could mean looking for criminals, for missing people or property. He goes everywhere with Jon who says they’ve developed a “pretty incredible bond”.
“We’re dealing with risk and the risk of violence,” he says, ”and obviously look we look after each other, as well as our colleagues
LEFT: Jan Etherington spends time with her dog Jagger on Walberswick beach ABOVE: Sarah Lucy Brown’s photogenic cockapoo, Dudley BELOW: Jagger, the celebrity dog
LEFT: Denis King with Mabel, his Parson Jack Russell terrier, at Walberswick ABOVE: Jagger is the fifth English Setter Jan Etherington has shared her life with