Today’s song is ‘Old Shep’ This song was written and composed by Red Foley and Arthur Williams in 1933, about a dog Foley owned as a child. The dog, which was poisoned by a neighbour, was a German Shepherd called ‘Hoover’. Foley first recorded the song in 1935, and again in 1941 and 1946.
The song was later recorded by many artists including Hank Snow and Elvis Presley and became a country classic; Hank Williams in 1942 and Elvis Presley in 1956. Others to cover the song included Johnny Cash, The Everly Brothers, Pat Boone and Clinton Ford, to name but a few.
On October 3, 1945, (at the age of 10 years), Elvis Presley sang ‘Old Shep’ for his first public performance. This was a singing contest at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show. Dressed as a cowboy, Presley stood on a chair to reach the microphone. He came in fifth place, winning $5 and a free ticket to the fair rides. At sixteen years of age, in 1951, he again performed it for a talent show at ‘L. C. Humes High School’, where he was a student, and won an encore for his performance. Elvis' released his cover version in 1956.
There is a wide held belief that men and women who have never parented children (whether through choice or circumstance) find their child to love in the form of an animal, with a cat, dog and horse being among the nation’s favourite pets. I would go so far as to say that the emotional bond which they have with their pet is every bit as strong as any mother or father could have with a child of their own. Like any good parent, there isn’t a thing that a loving owner would do for their pet if needs be.
I have known people sleep with their pets in their bed, on the covers, stay up and nurse them during the night if the pet was in distress for any reason, spend vast amounts of money on them in vet bills, give them their own special funeral, and mourn their loss for decades after they have passed away. When I lived in Canada 55 years ago, I would often pass one of the many pet cemeteries that had started to mushroom across the American continent from the 1960s onwards. I have even witnessed pet funerals with a cortege procession! Many people will get the same breed and look of dog in succession over their lifetime as a pet owner, and each time they look into the eyes of their current dog, they will still see the eyes of their very first dog staring back lovingly at them. And I will never believe that pets do not take on certain physical characteristics of their owner. How many times do we see both dog and owner side-by-side and half believe by their shared resemblance that the same mother gave birth to both of them?
I even know people, whom if given the unenviable choice of having to choose between the life and death of a human and a dog (each of whom risked certain death and there is only a split second to save one), that their automatic response (following their frozen pause) would be to save the dog and let the human die.
During the 1990s, one of the children’s stories I wrote was called ‘Midnight Fighter’. Like most animal books, the story was a huge success with children; so much that it was one of a few dozen animal stories I’d written to be selected for audio recording and radio transmission to primary schools across Great Britain. FREE ACCESS to the story with a musical backing track and professional read can be obtained through: http://www.fordefables.co.uk/midnight-fighter.html (any child between 5-11 will love it).
I remember that this was the most-costly audio tape to produce of all the audio tapes that were produced for school radio (almost £8,000 twenty-five years ago).
Incidentally, should any reader of mine want to read about the most popular dog story I ever wrote, they should look up ‘Tales of Bernard’ which is sold in either e-book format or hardback. The book is ideally suitable for 5-12-year olds plus any adult dog lover. They can be bought from https://www.lulu.com/, Amazon or www.smashwords.com by accessing: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/353568
The story of ‘Midnight Fighter’ was based on a true story about the twin foal of a ‘Quarter Horse’ born in the stables of a Mirfield farm. Being both rare and dangerous for any twin foal to be born to a mare, one foal was stillborn and the other was left with severely damaged legs that indicated it would never be able to walk properly or run. The foal’s mother had Laminitis and was unable to provide milk for the surviving foal. The vet recommended that the owner immediately have the foal ‘put down’.
Faced with this dilemma (especially being a busy farmer on her own with no time to bottle feed the foal for the first few months of its life every four hours, and run her large farm), an infant teacher from Huddersfield (who was the female farmer’s girlfriend), said she would provide the necessary cover. The teacher was just starting her long six week’s summer holidays and agreed to stay with the poorly foal the entire summer. This involved sleeping in the foal’s stable with her 24/7 and bottle feeding her with milk every four hours. Within the six week’s school holiday period, the foal managed to survive but was still damaged in the legs. Still, the owner refused to put it down until she had exhausted every avenue. The owner then spent over £30,000 over the next eighteen months paying for treatments and two operations on the foal before finally realising that it was more humane to have ‘Midnight Fighter’ put to sleep.
This story is entirely true, and I was privileged to have a top photo graphist take snaps of ‘Midnight Lady’ and myself before she had her two operations on her legs. Afterwards, I supplied the photographs to Mary Jackson, who was perhaps the most distinguished horse painter in Yorkshire, and Mary painted me a beautiful painting that holds pride of place among all my paintings.
Being a children’s story that was suitable for 5-11-year olds listeners and readers, I knew that the chances of the ‘Midnight Fighter’ emerging from her operations would be very slim, so I wrote the story and gave it a happy ending while the foal lived, and before its first and final Christmas it would ever know. The book raised tens of thousands of pounds for cerebral palsy charities.
The true story of ‘Midnight Fighter’ did, however, reveal the extraordinary lengths a person/couple will go to and the amount of time and affection they will lavish on an animal they love. I have resisted singing today’s song until well into my second year of daily singing practice as it makes me so sad to sing the story and I always cry, whether noticeably or inwardly whenever I hear or sing the song. I hope that you enjoy my rendition ‘Old Shep’.
I dedicate today’s song to dog lovers Diane Howard and Denise Gibson plus all my other Facebook friends who are dog lovers.
Love and peace Bill xxx