Some animals come into your life and forge a place in your heart. That happened to me when I was only young and got my first pony. Tim was a sweet-natured, Welsh Mountain, 11 hands 3 and ¾ inches high. Don’t forget the ¾ inch! I went to Pony Club to learn to ride but in reality it was Tim who taught me everything about riding and much more besides. On him I learned all the gaits, walk, trot, canter or tanter as I called it because I was only small and unable to pronounce the word. I would be out in our top field riding Tim and whenever he broke into a canter and felt me losing my seat he would stop until I had righted myself again. Some ponies would have then given a little buck to help me on my way but not Tim. He was no angel mind you. I remember the time we were in a show pony competition and placed second, and the judge positioned the line-up near a show-jumping fence. Tim decided that the brush fence looked too tempting and took a bite out of it. Subject matter for a Thelwell cartoon! Thelwell was a British cartoonist who specialised in portraying children and mischievous ponies.
Animal Friends in the Netherlands
Since living in Holland there has been only one pet I’ve grown to love: Rakker. A Jack Russell, small of stature but with a big personality. A very handsome chap he oozed self-confidence. He had that indefinable element that makes us warm to people and animals, charisma. Like Tim he had a touch of mischief in his personality. He would happily let you know when he needed a stroke and nudged your hand if he felt it had nothing to do.
When I saw his profile photo on Oopoeh, (dog and dog-sitters matching site) I could tell Rakker was good-natured with a healthy spark of fun. Joanna, his owner, had written a charming piece of text as if it were Rakker speaking and that appealed to me too. An appointment for all three of us to meet was soon made in June 2016. It was a rainy day and by the time I had cycled to Joanna’s apartment I was soaked through. Rakker offered me the opposite end of his rope to play tug of war with. I was a bit tentative of his teeth so close to my hand. Jack Russells can sometimes be nippy. We went out for a walk to the nearby dog exercise area, het Stenen Hoofd and I threw a ball for him. Ah, chasing and retrieving the ball was his passion. The energy and fun he radiated was a joy to see and back at the apartment Joanna and I drank a cup of tea together. I tried to stroke Rakker but he kept shifting away. Joanna assured me that he was an affectionate dog but that he needed to get to know people first.
Hey, give me a stroke or a Polo Mint
I saw some similarities with Tim and Rakker’s characters: the playful nudging when they didn’t get enough attention, focus on the possibility of titbits, the love of a good cuddle, but I have to say that Rakker was much better at recall! Tim was caught as a colt on the Black Mountains where he was part of a wild herd. My sister, Chris and I had to come up with inventive ways of catching him. When all else failed I would lie on the grass pretending to be ill and then he would come over to investigate and see if he could help. A quick grab of his forelock and we would have him! Both animals gave me self-confidence. I was a shy little girl, who wouldn’t say boo to the proverbial goose but on Tim I was, ‘the girl in the red ribbon’ (I always wore a red ribbon around my ponytail) who was a whizz at gymkhana competitions. (With help from my big sis.) And while walking Rakker, I even felt safe taking him out for his walk in the park after nightfall. I thought, Rakker is with me, nothing can go wrong!
When one loves a pet there comes a moment when you have to say farewell. This happened so quickly with dear Rakker. He was eleven years old and in fine health we thought. A lump appeared on his upper back, and after a biopsy, malignant and fast-growing lymph node cancer was diagnosed. There was very little we all could do apart from make sure his last days were peaceful and that he received much love. It was painful to see Joanna’s grief at the loss of her dear friend. Some animals can never be replaced and so many memories are inextricably linked with their lives. I miss the happy sound of his paws running up the stairs when Joanna would bring him to us on Wednesday mornings. His smile, he would pull his top lip back in a sort of gummy smile when he greeted us, and a cuddle in bed with him in the mornings if he stayed the night. Farewell dear Rakker and Tim. Maybe you will meet each other on the other side and realise you have a mutual friend…