"As I was preparing to enter the hospital today to receive my three-weekly blood transfusion, I stepped outside the house door and saw a beautiful black labrador being walked by its owner. The sight of this dog instantly brought my mind back sixty seven years to a black dog I once knew.
The first dog I ever bonded with was when I was six years old. Our family had migrated from Ireland to West Yorkshire and my father got a job down the pit. Living in a small cottage we had insufficient room for a pet, but a kindly neighbour in her late 70s who lived close by, used to allow me to take her dog for a walk. The woman, whose name I cannot recall, lived alone and wasn't mobile enough to exercise her dog, which had initially belonged to a friend who had died shortly after getting the pup. She had owned the dog, fed it and let it sleep indoors for around four years, but during the day, the dog would be allowed to roam outdoors from morning until evening.
I will never forget that dog; it was the very first animal I had ever befriended. He was a black labrador with a kind face, a compassionate tongue and he'd never worn a collar around his neck. Also, he did not have a name; presumably the owner considered that calling the creature 'dog' was sufficient enough inducement to instruct it.
For around four years I took the dog walks daily and spent more hours in its company than I did playing with my younger siblings. During earlier years in my new country of England, the dog was my closest friend and over the next four years we became inseparable. One of the dog's favourite activities was to swim in a local stream. After getting fed up of calling my friend, 'dog', I eventually named him 'Blackie.' I picked this name, not because of the colour of his coat, but because of the colour of my father's face when he came home from the pit at the end of the day before he washed in the tin bath.
Shortly before my tenth birthday, my family were lucky enough to move into a brand new council house on the nearby estate of Windybank. Our new house was half a mile away and because we had no money to pay for a removal van or insufficient furniture to warrant one, we did what most large, working class families did in those days; we made a number of journeys back and forth by foot, using one's shoulders and a borrowed hand cart to convey our belongings!
On the day we moved house, as I walked back and forth to the new property, Blackie repeatedly followed. Knowing that I could not take him with me, I shooed him back each time he doggedly pursued. I have cried many times in my life, but cannot ever say that I cried as much as I did that day to shout at and push away a creature with whom I had bonded so closely and deeply loved.
As we entered our new house on the estate, the family rejoiced. The new house had three bedrooms and a bathroom as well as an inside loo and an outside loo which didn't have to be shared with the neighbours. Given the choice, however, I would have have gladly stayed in the old, overcrowded, one-bedroomed cottage where four siblings slept beside each other at the foot end of my parent's bed; at least until Blackie had died.
Blackie was the first real animal friend I can recall. After we had moved houses, I missed Blackie so much that for the first month, I had to strongly resist the urge to see him again. This was almost impossible, as each day, being the family member whose task was to run errands, I would be asked to visit Harry Hodgson's Grocer's Shop to get bread and other food items for the family. Despite this shop being over half a mile distance from our new estate house, it was only one hundred yards away from our old house. We had used it since coming to England as it offered its regular customers credit. Harry Hodgson and his wife would allow us to buy this week's food from next week's wage packet. For the next ten years of my life, my family lived on tick; always one week behind in the payment of our bills. It was a way of life shared by many families of the day, especially large ones, and no shame was ever felt so long as the bill was paid on the promised date.
I eventually arrived at the kindest decision I could make regarding myself and the dog I had come to love; not to look for him again the next time I passed our old house. The thought of seeing Blackie's face once more and then having to shoo him away again, was just too much pain for me to contemplate.
Eventually, about four months after moving house, I gave way to my temptation to see Blackie again, but when I went to visit the owner I found the house empty. After making inquiries with the surrounding neighbours, I discovered that Blackie's owner had since died and nobody knew what had happened to her dog. It was presumed that Blackie had been placed in the dog pound and later 'put down' after he had been found wandering the streets with no collar or identity tag.
Over the years ahead, the very first black dog I owned I named 'Blackie'. In my mind I loved this dog as though he was the very reincarnation of the first dog I had befriended and met along my path of life. I trained him and he lived his life throughout, faithful and obedient to the letter, never once wearing a collar. After Blackie came another two black labradors, bitches which I named Abbey and Etti. Although I was of Catholic faith and not of Hindu following, deep in my heart, I always believed that Blackie, Abbey and Etti were each reincarnations of the first 'Blackie' I ever knew! I don't know if they have rivers and streams in doggy heaven, but if they do, I know what 'Blackie' will be engaged in right now!" William Forde: October 7th, 2015.