This post has taken me a few days…..
Bruno’s parentage is probably unknown. He arrived here at Pietowers as a hillwalking replacement for my old dog Jenny who had been banned from hills by the vet, having refused to climb White Meldon near Peebles, due, probably to a chest pain. She was subsequently diagnosed as having angina and so, I had to have another dog.
So, on a visit to a local pet rescue centre where they let you choose a dog after taking one for a short walk, he was the first to be watching me closely and, apparently listening to what I said, and he was wagging his tail at me so hard I thought he might take off. So he was an easy choice. According to the vet he was a “Collie Cross” He had a much richer genetic make-up than that, though – a bit of everything, in fact. One individual recognised him as a “Cumbrian Dingo”.
I say that his parentage was “probably” unknown because the rescue centre I got him from had “lost” his file and, when we took him to the vet for his initial check up, the vet had seen this underweight, underdeveloped young dog before, several times. The vet declared that we “might have trouble” with this one and advised us on distraction techniques.
As it happened, there were no problems at all. He was a bit mischievous, and obviously driven by food when he discovered how to open the fridge and that it was full of delights. On the first occasion he only ate the bacon. On the second, he scoffed the bacon, marge, cheese, some ham and half a carrot. We put a child lock on the fridge.
Anything eatable left unattended would disappear and this included several mars bars, a plate of egg and chips, some very posh nougat intended for a TGO challenge and a few doggy mouthfulls of St Bruno tobacco. This lead to his second visit to the vet when I found him staggering around the room vomiting with his eyes rolling in his head.
His first walk was in the company of Jenny, and our other dog Tammy on 3rd February 2002. It was obvious from the start that this dog had a fear of being left behind and never wandered far away, always having an eye out for where I was and what I was doing. I never had to train him at recall and he was good at returning on command until the last few months of his life when he seemed to start ignoring me. I suspect that his eyesight wasn’t so good at this point.
His first fellwalk was on 19 February 2002 and we went up the Green Trod. During this walk, everything was new to him and slightly scary – he hated the wobblyness of Wynch bridge, threatened the stone sheep, threatened a hay bale, fell in the very cold Blea Beck, threatened the River Tees and developed a real fear of water. He also ate several pounds of sheep shit and during this walk and, I noticed, didn’t pee till he got back to the knipetowers garden some eight or nine hours after setting off. He wouldn’t drink water out of the beck either and he didn’t seem to recognise it as the same stuff that was in his water bowl. All of this was subsequently resolved on walks with Rothman’s Walking Club, particularly a walk across the sands at Lindisfarne where his fear of being left behind was stronger than his fear of crossing the deep and wide leads of salty water. It was during these walks that he also developed his friendly attitude to walkers in car parks, since he assumed that these people, all armed with tasty titbits , would be going on a walk with me and, therefore, had to be got “on side”.
It was on a walk during February 2002 – on Sighty Crag, that I learned a new trick – that was to guard my lunchbox well. I lost my ginger bun within seconds of opening the box. Maybe this was what the vet was talking about. He also clearly blamed me personally for the cold and squally closely packed hail showers blatting up the Solway Firth to give us a bit of a thrashing.
Bruno soon learned that peeing out on the hills was acceptable and that it was possible to quench your thirst in a beck or a puddle and that snow meant fun and he was quite quickly having a whale of a time on the hills – early walks took in Roan Fell at Langholm, Stainton Pike and Fleetwith Pike/Haystacks.
We also learned that Bruno’s determination to please had a pay-off in that all we needed to do to counteract any naughtiness was to look disappointed and say “Oh Bruno, what have you done..” and he would take himself on to the doormat and hang his head in shame. In fact, if he’s done something naughty which you hadn’t yet discovered, he would already be there on the mat, looking guilty. This was a clever strategy in that it was so funny that it was impossible to be really annoyed. Usually, he’d just scoffed something that he shouldn’t have done, or emptied the waste bin in the kitchen.
Bruno had a set of teeth that could easily break an arm or crush a hand should he ever be so inclined, so it’s lucky that he retained a fairly rosy view of humanity in general and assumed that everybody was full of good intent. This didn’t apply to any dog who was bigger than himself and here, he was always determined to get his revenge in first. This could be a problem on our local regular wander up the Deerness Valley Way – a very popular doggy walking route.
Bruno had one really useful skill. Using his nose, he could retrace his steps for mile after mile – to the point where, if I followed him, I would be able to spot my own bootprints. Presunalbly he was following his own scent. He could also follow obscure and intermittent paths in the thickest of weather. I used this skill several times and, on one occasion, as a back-up when I turned up at Greg’s Hut for a climb up Cross fell without a map.
Jenny died but Tammy soldiered on for a long time and she used to ambush Bruno at teatime. She would hover over her meal, not touching it, whilst Bruno wolfed down his in a few seconds. After he’d finished, he would turn his attentions to Tammy’s food dish, at which point she would attack him quite viciously. We developed a system of holding back some of Bruno’s kibble biscuits and, when he’s finished, we engaged him with a game of chucking the things down the hallway for him to hunt. To his final days, this was his favourite game and, in the end, it was the only way to get him to eat anything. When he finally couldn’t be arsed with it, it was a clear signal that it was time to go.
Bruno’s last walks were on Druridge Bay with Mick from Northumberland with his arty leg and three mini-dogletts and, finally, at Bollihope where the three or four miles down by the beck to Cowboy pass (aka the Forgotten Quarry) were more than enough for him.
Bruno’s decline and death on 30 May this year are well documented in this blog, so I’m not going back into this painful stuff.
At the moment, I’m waiting for his ashes to come back and the plan is to take these to a meadow in Halifax (yes, I know this sounds unlikely!) and use his ashes and the ashes of at least six other pets that we’ve collected over the years to start off a small copse of oak trees in one corner. We think that the meadow might be protected somewhat from development due to the fact that it’s been managed for sixty or more years – and probably more than that in the same traditional way as other meadows in the North of England – and seems to have similar arrays of wild flowers to meadows in Swaledale, Teesdale and Weardale.
My affection for this mongrel pooch should be obvious to anybody reading, not just this blog post, but the whole of the blog. There is a silent and empty space here at knipetowers and at some point, probably in late summer, I’ll be getting another dog. I just hope that the new one will be able to drive.