"The first real friend I ever lost was when I was eight years old. He was a big black Labrador. In fact, he was never my dog, but I played with him daily and took him for walks on a piece of string across the fields behind our house. His owner was a widow who lived nearby on Roundwell Road, Hightown. She had been left with the dog after her husband died. She was an old lady who couldn't walk very far so I used to take my latest friend on his daily walks and pretend he was my dog. Just before the old lady died, so did her dog. I must have cried for over a week, and for a while, I resigned myself never to have another close friend, whether pet or human, just in case they too went and died on me.
My resolve never to have another close friend lasted less than a month. We moved to 'Windybank Estate' to occupy a newly built three-bedroomed house with a bath that didn't hang on the wall, but instead, was fixed to it. We also had two lavatories; one inside and one outside. I really enjoyed going to the lav once it dawned on me that we didn't have to share it with half a dozen neighbours! As soon as we moved onto 'Windybank Estate', Tony Walker and I became friends. We were in each other's company all day long at school and at play, and before long we naturally became the closest of friends.
The years went by and I'd reached forty-years of age and was on my second marriage and second brood of children before I finally relented and gave in to the demands of my children who wanted a Labrador pup. It was one of the best decisions I'd ever made. Of course, the children promised to take the dog walks if we got one and to share the responsibility for the feeding, cleaning and grooming of it. It soon dawned on me, that expecting them to keep their promise to help with the dog was never going to happen in a million years!
It fell to me to feed it, toilet it, train it and walk it after the initial 'love-in-period' by my children had transpired, and yet, I really didn't mind. After all, it was nice to have a creature welcome me home, do my bidding unquestionably and be at my side whatever my mood happened to be at the end of a hard day's work.
As my children William and Rebecca grew, we were to have three Labradors in succession. One was called 'Blackie'; named after my wife's first dog as a child. The second was a black Labrador called 'Abbey', as I was reading the first of Jane Austen's novels (Northanger Abbey) at the time, and the last was a black Labrador called 'Ettie', who was named in memory of my 'Adopted Mum' (Henrietta Denton), who took me under her wing when my real mother died.
As each of these three loving pets lived and died, my children grew and the heartache educated them. And while it was a fearful thing to allow oneself to love again that which death can touch, it pleased me immensely for William and Rebecca to have been a part of their lives and deaths. As long as 'Blackie', 'Abbey' and 'Ettie' lives on in our memories, they can never be truly forgotten.
When I first met my wife Sheila she had two Rough Collies, 'Prince' and 'Lady.' I am so pleased that she had me to comfort and share her loss when 'Prince' sadly died. In time, 'Lady' became as much my dog as Sheila's. She was the nicest and most gentle of creatures I have known and though Sheila was the mistress of both dog and house, both gracefully acknowledged me as being the 'leader of the pack'. My two 'Ladies' would rub noses with me and stroke my belly, whenever they required my attention.
People who think dogs have no intelligence and don't understand their surroundings know not dogs. I tell you most truly that after I discovered that I had a terminal illness, not only did Lady sense my change in temperament during my nine months of chemo treatment, but I swear she could smell the cancer in me. I know in my heart that she would have willingly licked it out and taken it unto herself, had the choice been hers to make.
In the Autumn of last year, Sheila went on a two-week break to Singapore to meet up with her school friends of 40 years earlier. Not being able to travel that distance with my medical condition, I stayed at home to look after 'Lady'. During the first week of Sheila's absence, whenever I took 'Lady' a walk, she appeared unsteady of foot. Then she started stumbling, and eventually collapsed and sat down on the road. Within days, all mobility had gone. With Sheila due back a couple of days later, I asked 'Lady' to hang on so that we could all say our final 'Goodbyes' together as a family. The last two nights of her life, I stayed up with 'Lady' as she slept in her usual spot by the kitchen table. When Sheila returned the following morning, we all cried and hugged before we took 'Lady' for her last ride to the vet, to relieve her from all life and pain.
I will never forget any of the dogs in my life, but will probably never choose to have another, given my medical condition. Now, over a year on since 'Lady' died, I still remember her; especially when Sheila sneaks up on me, rubs noses with me and asks me to stroke her tummy." William Forde: December 2nd, 2017