Alistair was desperate for a dog, as children often are. My parents knew that they would be lumbered with the hard work if we got another dog when we were too young. So they waited. Every Christmas Alistair would tell them that he wanted a dog, and every Christmas he got told no. My parents started discussing whether or not we should get one after a while, but it was definitely a decision that wasn’t going to be taken lightly. My aunt was pregnant with my twin cousins at the time. They lived in Cambridge too, not very far from us, so we had to take into consideration the fact that there would be two babies wandering around should we get a puppy. My family has always had that is regularly filled with guests. Again we had to make sure that we got a breed of dog that could cope with visitors. It had to be good with pets, good with children, like people and not be too possessive. It also couldn’t be a small dog. My Dad isn’t overly fond of small dogs. It also couldn’t be rescue. My Dad is also quite snobbish about dogs and wanted a purebred dog. Plus we couldn’t risk a dog possibly being stressed by the way our household is run or having behavioural issues we may not have been able to cope with.
My mother and I researched online what breeds would fit our criteria. At this time Dad was working as a postman. He came back from one of his rounds talking about a dog he had met that morning. The dog was friendly and, upon meeting my father at the door as the owner signed for something, went off, picked up a toy and proceeded to present it to my father. The dog was a beautiful Golden Retriever. As Dad was talking I was Googling whether Golden’s would fit our criteria. Good with people: check. Good with children: check. Good with other animals: check. Easy to train: check and check again. We began to look for breeders, following recommendations that we’d found online, ensuring we didn’t buy from a puppy farm or someone who had no history of dog breeding. We finally found someone in Essex whose dog had had a litter. My mother had insisted that we were getting a bitch, because they were less likely to mark the furniture. Plus my Dad couldn’t bring himself to get any male animals of ours neutered. He had initially had hopes of breeding the dog. My mother and I didn’t try and argue him out of it, certain that he would change his mind after one season. We were right.
My mother rang the breeder and had a conversation that shocked Alistair.
“So you’ve still got a bitch for sale?”
Queue large eyes and a shocked expression as he turned to me
“Did Mom just say bitch?”
“Yes, Alistair, that’s what a female dog is called”
Thank goodness he didn’t have free reign over the naming of the dog. What with his history of naming animals we could very easily have had a dog called Bitch.
They did still have a bitch left. We were told we could pick her up in a couple of weeks. Those couple of weeks were spent excitedly trying to figure out a name for the dog while buying things for her. We wanted to go for something that matched the colour of her fur, but nothing too obvious like Goldie. Bailey would have been perfect (as in Baileys the drink) but that was more of a boy’s name. We went down to Essex, me, Mom, Jamie, Alistair and our second cousin Lara who was staying with us for a while. Mom went in to pick her up. Out she came with this tiny ball of fluff in her arms and a carrier bag of food. She sat on Lara’s lap and promptly fell asleep. We carried on thinking up names until we hit upon Tia Maria. Tia for short.
That first night with the puppy was interesting. Mom had laid down the rules: she was not to be allowed on the furniture, not to be allowed upstairs, she was to learn to sleep in her bed (which was for a full size dog. At the time it dwarfed her) and nowhere else. We went upstairs to bed. Tia started howling. Mom and Dad decided to sleep on the sleeper couch downstairs. She continued to whine and whimper in the most heart breaking of ways. It must be incredibly confusing to be taken from all you know, removed from your mother and siblings and end up in a place that looks and smells very strange. Mom eventually lifted her up onto the sleeper couch. She snuggled up between my parents and went to sleep.
It was obvious that someone was either going to have to sleep downstairs for a while, or Tia was going to need to sleep upstairs in someone’s room. We were also trying to toilet train her as soon as possible, which was made difficult by the fact she had a bad tummy for the first few days. She learnt pretty quickly she wasn’t to go inside, but she really couldn’t make it. Alistair and Jamie shared a room. My parents obviously shared a room. I was the only one in a room alone, who wouldn’t disturb someone if I had to get up in the middle of the night and take the dog outside or clean up her mess. So she became my roommate for a while. I’d hear her whine, I’d rapidly get up, whisk her outside and hope I managed to catch her in time. Inevitably I didn’t and I’d have to clean her bed up. This would go on several times throughout those first few nights until her stomach settled down. Luckily it was during the holidays, so it didn't matter that my sleep was broken.
She was very easy to train, as long as treats were involved and mastered a lot of things in the first two weeks. She still wasn’t great with toilet training until we got her a dog flap. At that point she knew she wasn’t supposed to go inside, it was just that she couldn’t always wait for us to let her out. My parents were a bit concerned about the security implications of having a hole in the door big enough for a person to get through, so they tried one of those automatically locking doors. Which worked for about a week and then stopped. It also meant that the cats had to wear collars, which they promptly lost. Outside in the back garden we had a load of outdoor toys that Jamie and our cousin Connor played with in the summer. Tia decided that those toys must have been left there for her. We had a video of her outside playing with the toys for the first time and it was both hilarious and very cute. There’s nothing quite like seeing a Golden Retriever prancing about with joy. One of her favourite toys was a foam baseball bat that she just loved carrying in her mouth. It was twice the size of her. She decided she was going to take it inside and keep it with her indoor toys. Running headlong towards the dog flap, proudly carrying the bat she was came to a sudden stop as the bat bashed into the sides of the dog flap. After trying couple of different angles she gave up and left the toy outside.
We very quickly realised that we’d made the right choice of dog. My cousins were around a lot. I spent a fair bit of my school holidays and weekends babysitting them for my aunt and uncle when they went out to work. By the time we got Tia they were crawling. Babies crawl fast. Two babies, one crawling towards the DVD player, the other towards the cat food, seem to crawl even faster. It was difficult to keep an eye on both of them, Connor and Jamie (who didn’t always get on), watch the puppy and do the housework and cooking I usually did during the holidays. I discovered very quickly that I didn’t have to worry too much about the puppy. She adored them. She would lie down on the floor, perfectly still, letting them stroke her, grab her fur and crawl all over her. I’d obviously stop them from doing anything that would hurt her, but it’s not all that easy to stop every tug of the ears or tail, or every bash of the hairbrush on a puppy’s back. She took it all with utter calmness. The only time I’ve seen her behave the same way was recently on holiday in Italy. She’d never been abroad before and she was in her element. Every night she’d head down to the entertainment area with the family and sit at my father’s feet. One night a two little brothers, around 3 and 5 came up to say hello. Each night they’d greet her and each night more children would gather around her. At one point she had 6 children, all under the age of 5, surrounding her and petting her. Once again, much like she did when the twins were babies, she lay there, very still and let them make a fuss of her.
She also got on well with the cats. By get on well with the cats I mean that they told her what’s what and she followed. My mother was briefly a childminder and one of the conditions was that she wasn’t to have pets in the kitchen. The cats were therefore trained to stand outside the kitchen door and go no further. Every evening they would gather around the kitchen door and either beg for food or wait for the food we were making. We never had to train Tia to do the same. Sasha was a grumpy cat who would moan at the dog if she got a little too close for her comfort. Pimms, on the other hand, would tell Tia where to go with a sharp smack on the nose with the paw. Alistair found it fascinating and declared that Pimms would make a great boxer. Tia would come close, Pimms would raise herself onto her back legs and smack her across the nose as many times as it took to get her to move away. I once got caught between the two of them. I discovered that, although those smacks with the paw weren’t soft, Pimms kept her paws retracted. This very quickly taught Tia a few things.
- Do not come within paws distance of Pimms. This meant that when the cats stood by the kitchen door, Tia would sit a few paces back. This taught Tia that there were parts of the house for people only and, barring the occasional “out” she never had to be trained to stay out.
- Pimms gets to taste the food first. It doesn’t matter that the cats got fed just before the dog, or pretty much at the same time. Every night Pimms would come up to the dog food and start eating it. Tia would have to wait patiently for her turn.
- Pimms will decide when Tia can leave the house. Pimms would take great pleasure in tormenting the poor dog. She would lie across the stairs, with Tia looking longingly either downstairs or upstairs, depending on where she wanted to go. The cat would then move halfway down the stairs before resting for a little bit. Tia would move down the stairs a little, back half of her body higher than the front, ears drooping forward and a pleading expression in her eyes. Pimms would eventually decide that she would move downstairs, only to place herself across the living room door for a while. It was obvious that she was teasing the poor dog, but Tia took it very well.
- No matter how much bigger than the other animals Tia was, she was never the boss.
The cats never really took to Tia fully. She was an imposter in their house. She, on the other hand, definitely liked them and wished they would play with her. This wish never came true.