This is a photo of me and my two dogs from the mid-1990s. We were in Wales and the weather was hot. People who knew us in the 1990s and most of the first decade of the 21st century will remember Megan and Gifford. They were, with their honorary big sister, Kit, a bunch of pretty cool dogs.
Meg was a typical collie cross, all nervous energy and well honed wimpiness. Gifford was quite extraordinary - he's the orange one in the photo. Giff would fill an entire book. He was Elvis Dog.
When they died within 6 months of each other our lives felt pretty shattered; we had had them both for 16 years and everything was empty for a while.
After Giff died, we got Meg a new friend, a little ball of fluff from Battersea dog's home who was originally called Tess, but as Tess was the name of the exterminating vet, we opted for Ness instead. Ness showed her true colours the moment she met Meg; she bullied her, despite the age and size difference.
Ness is a nasty piece of work, yet the most timid creature on the planet. She is a lovely dog to look at, but see her pernicious side and you'd wonder how this dandelion seed of a dog could possibly rule the roost.
Ness is in charge; she is top dog, yet while she growls, bites and generally bullies the other three dogs now, she is also terrified of the following: the fridge, the hoover, the bin men, fireworks, trumpets, the washing machine, duck's farting, the phone ringing and thunderstorms. She'll curl herself around your legs like a cat if something happens she doesn't quite understand. The other dogs take no notice at all, Ness panics for all of them.
You watch her when they're out on a walk and you would seriously wonder why one of the other dogs doesn't just bite her head off. Meet a big shaggy dog while we're out and she turns into the biggest tart on the planet. Rolling over, showing her belly and running around like she's a puppy (which, incidentally, she hates and are the only other things she shows aggression towards when we're out). Ness is 5.
After Meg died, the wife and I did something really stupid; we went to the dog pound and came home with two unknown quantities. The first, Lexy (originally Roxy), came into the house, got bullied by Ness and then settled into a routine that would eventually have us get a dog whisperer in. Lexy decided she was in charge and subsequently, made life hell for a while.
It could be argued that we got her because of the resemblance she bore to Gifford. After a couple of months, I wanted rid of her. She was aggressive, bad-tempered and wilful. But the behaviourist sorted out the problems and as the years have gone past, Lex has turned into a really chilled and sorted dog. I don't know what it is about orange dogs, but they seem to develop traits that are most un-dog-like. Lex is a cross between a Bassett hound and a rottweiler; she has dodgy legs from not being reared properly when she was a pup. She growls pleasure. She would have died had we not brought her home. I'm really glad we did; the hard work has paid off. Lexy is 6.
The other half of the duo from the dog pound is Marley, originally Roly and who we should have called Kali, after the goddess of chaos. Marley is retarded.
I know that's not a politically correct word, but I'm sure as I'm talking about a dog I can be excused. Marley wasn't really much trouble when we got her; she was a stray and scavenged for everything. We thought she was older than she actually was, mainly because she's just about doubled in size since we got her.
We talk about Ness having a load of white noise going through her head, especially when she zones out in a fit of rage at Lexy; but Marley has proved, categorically, over the last four years that she's as thick as the shit she often rolls in. Rules don't stick in her head. Nothing you can do to her in punishment is worth her constant disobedience, but even that is wrong... Marley is a totally lovely mutt. She loves me to bits and is totally devoted to me and seemingly hates upsetting me, yet she is incapable of not going a week without getting herself into some situation that has me pulling my hair out in dismay.
She's also as soft as the other kind of shit she likes to roll in, but she has a hate for at least dogs we know and they have to be separated. Some days she's as passive as a passive thing and other days she's try and dominate or fight other dogs; she always seems to do exactly the opposite of what you want. If she isn't getting lost, going off scavenging in bins or rolling in shit; she's fighting, stealing food and charging at people and other dogs like she's going to attack them. She is completely unpredictable, a massive bag of energy with a brain that displays classic schizophrenic tendencies, especially when she is outside in warm weather. She's currently in a period of continuous mischief and if she carries on she'll be bloody lucky to see her 6th birthday!
The final piece in our dog puzzle is the man of the pack. His name is Murray and while Lexy has slowly morphed into a surreal and female version of Gifford; Murray could be Meg reincarnated. He's a bit of a poof (and I mean that in a not homosexual way).
He is the lean, not so mean, running machine. He doesn't stop. Despite him being a real motley mix of breeds, the collie in him is dominant and subsequently he herds. He does everything in circles and he's scared of his own shadow, yet fiercely defensive. people just automatically think he's a collie.
Like Meg he's also overlooked. Most people are drawn to Ness or Lexy because of their strange looks, or Marley because she is a striking dog or because she's causing havoc somewhere. Murray tends to hide behind our legs and do his exploring in bursts. Only once has he ventured more than about 50 yards away from us and he panicked.
The reality is that while Ness victimises the poor bugger, he's actually pretty much in charge. He's the boy, you see. He came to the house as a 6-week old puppy and the three girls mothered him, so now, he gets away with murder and they all submit to him (well, in Ness's case she will play on equal terms, which is an achievement). Murray is 4.
Having four dogs is quite a job. They operate as a pack. A pretty crap pack to be honest, but you can see them looking a bit like dogs before man domesticated them. However, the four of them would struggle to catch a wounded rabbit and would probably starve to death without us around.
For years I wondered if they'd ever mean as much to me as Meg and Giff and the jury is still out; but while they won't ever replace them, they just compliment them. Life is never going to be easy while we have them; booking holidays is a nightmare, because they go with us and we'll probably never get the chance to go away for the weekend on our own and even if we did we'd worry.
I wouldn't have four dogs again though...