One day when I was little, I remember walking with my mother across the road to the mushroom farm to buy goat’s milk for our Siamese cats. This was nothing new, but on this particular day two huge dogs appeared out of nowhere bounding towards us, barking their heads off.
Strangely, I don’t recall feeling frightened, but they gave my mother a real scare. She scooped me up into her arms as the dogs leapt up at us before the owner called them off.
Not a pleasant experience, but it didn’t stop us from owning dogs as family pets in the years to come. In fact, after my parents split up and I moved with my mother and brother to Suffolk, we adopted a gorgeous German Shepherd called Simon.
I adored Simon, but he was disobedient and hard to handle when we took him on. By then fourteen, I took up the reins thinking that I could soon train him into the calm, obedient dog I believed him to be.
After a few ‘lessons’ and to test my training thus far, I got the bright idea to take him for a long walk through a waist-high field of barley, letting him off his leash and then calling him, expecting him to return obediently.
You are probably not surprised to learn that this aspect of my training failed miserably; not only did Simon take off for hours ignoring my frantic calls, but he didn’t return home for two days.
Local farmers congregated on our doorstep threatening to shoot him if they caught him worrying their sheep again, and so Simon’s days as a young German Shepherd running wild and free through the Suffolk countryside came to an abrupt end.
I asked my brother to take this photo with my Kodak Instamatic. I wrote on the back: “Sherri and Simon in the field at the back of our house in Suffolk, July 1974″. (c) Sherri Matthews
It seemed that my dad and his new wife also acquired a dog. One, hot summer’s day during the school holidays, we set off for a day out to London Zoo in Dad’s latest toy, a British Green MG Sports car. Crammed in the back between me and my brother sat their massive German Shepherd, Bilbo Baggins. It was chaos and I loved it.
My love for German Shepherds will never wane despite one unfortunate experience for which I blame not the dog, but the owner.
When my middle boy was just a baby, my ex-husband (EH) got the idea that we needed a companion for our lovely dog Bonnie, a cross Labrador/Collie. We had always harboured the dream of owning a German Shepherd and one day, EH saw an ad in the local paper:
‘Free to good home, German Shepherd, good with children.’
The dog was two years old and the owner, a young woman, was moving to San Francisco and couldn’t take him with her. We arranged to meet her at her local park, EH told me, because the dog wasn’t keen on men and might not like the idea of us going to meet her at her house. This news made me nervous to say the least, but EH said it would be fine.
But it wasn’t fine. We got to the park and spotted the woman with her dog sitting by her side beneath a shady tree. As we approached and only about twenty-five yards away, the dog stood up to alert, snarled and bared his teeth as the woman tried – and failed – to control him.
That was enough for me. I yelled at my six-year-old son to turn around and run while I swung the stroller holding my baby boy around so that I could run too, but I wasn’t fast enough.
EH tried to placate the dog – “It’s alright boy, we won’t hurt you…” – but this made the dog even more angry and it lunged towards us. The woman, who was timid and barely spoke above a whisper, didn’t hold the long-running leash firmly enough and was unable to rein her dog back in before he managed to sink his wonderfully sharp teeth into my lower right calf.
Not only did the bite hurt, a lot, but the dog ruined my favourite pair of jeans which I had only just been able to wear since losing my baby weight. That really annoyed me, once I recovered from the shock and pain of the dog attack and of course, immensely relieved and thankful that my boys did not come to any harm and far worse hadn’t happened.
Finally and as a postscript, I return briefly to that trip to London Zoo. In the 1970’s, the zoo boasted of its most famous attraction: none other than Guy the Gorilla. I couldn’t wait to see him that day, but at first he sat quietly in one corner of his cage, minding his own business, ignoring his visitors.
My dad, in typical fashion, began to make gorilla-type grunting sounds to try to get Guy’s attention. One or two, then a few more, and suddenly, much to the amazement and delight of the now gathering crowd, Guy looked over at my dad and got up on all fours.
With huge head and body, he shuffled over to the front of his cage and looked squarely into my dad’s eyes.
For a moment nobody dared move, a hush fell upon the crowd, all eyes on Guy. Dad whispered to me and my brother out of the corner of his mouth, “Watch this,” and he grunted again and this time Guy grunted back. I couldn’t believe it. Then Dad went a step further: he grunted while he beat his chest in feigned gorilla action.
Guy looked, blinked and slowly rose to his full, magnificent stature. With deep, brown eyes locked on my dad’s, he beat his massive chest and the pair of them carried on like that, back and forth, for several minutes. The crowd went crazy and I’m sure I saw a grin on Guy the Gorilla’s handsome face.
There was no doubting who was the star attraction, but to me that day, my dad was the leading man. Quite what Bilbo Baggins thought of the show I’ll never know, but for me it was one of the best moments of my childhood.
Thank you again to Irene and Norah for inviting me to join in with the five Photos, Five Stories challenge: ‘Post a photo each day for five consecutive days and attach a story to the photo. It can be fiction or non-fiction, a poem or a short paragraph and each day nominate another blogger for the challenge’.
Dear Irene recently lost her beloved Zach, a most handsome German Shepherd. She shares his story and how he came to be such a ‘faithful friend’ in her moving tribute post.
Finally, for today’s challenge, I am nominating new blogging friend Melinda from purpleslobinrecovery. No obligation Melinda, but if you do decide to take up the challenge, I set only one rule: Have Fun!!