Our best friends

In praise of Suf­folk dogs — where would we be with­out them?

EADT Suffolk - - UPFRONT - WORDS: Jayne Lindill N IM­AGES:: Sarah Lucy Brown

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

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