I cannot remember how many times my sisters and I asked our parents if we could have a dog.  Eventually they gave in and Lottie, a golden cocker spaniel, arrived and really became my sister Lucy’s dog. Lottie had many adventures chasing squirrels and pigeons in Hyde Park with Lucy flying off in hot pursuit and eating picnics (not ours) in Kensington Gardens, utterly impervious to our mother’s frantic calling of her name which the entire of the Park must have heard.

I have continued the tradition today and still have a spaniel or two. They still fly off in happy pursuit of life but are quite good at returning and even sort of walk to heel.

However, I also have Labradors, the first of which I bought when my son was two years old from a dear friend, Jo, who lives across a few fields. I hoped they could go grow up together and indeed he was a great family dog.  Now, his daughter Bella is well over 12 years old, a bit creaky and slow but infinitely precious.  She has a dignity and intelligence that needs little more than a look to pass between us and, if I say off to bed, she heads for the stairs, although these days she sometimes needs a little help getting up them.

Bella with me on the stairs

Bella adores Karine, another friend of mine who owns Bella’s daughter Finse, and likes to go and see her for a little bit of TLC. Rather wonderfully, Jo now has one of  Bella’s puppies Molly so I have returned the favour. Other girlfriends have other puppies. Whilst Karine and I are already related through one generation of our dogs, Finse too has had puppies so the bonds are ever strengthened. Needless to say, not all the puppies are leaving Highclere.

Labradors adore water and whatever the weather can never resist lying in muddy puddles or rushing headfirst into a pond or lake. They actually have webbed feet and a coat which just lets the water slide off, although the inside of your car may retain the smell of their love of water. Part of their breeding heritage is the St John’s Water dog from Newfoundland Canada, a vast rugged coastal province.  This was brought back to England and crossed and bred by two Englishmen to become the Labrador we know today, although still so named in honour of their Canadian home.

They are wonderful family dogs, loving our company, looking for direction and appreciation and, given their love of food as well as people, very trainable. They are trained as guide dogs and police dogs and even to warn of epilepsy and to research suggested cancer too.

Above all, though, they are amazing family dogs. They are always loving and reassuring. Recently Karine and I have been visiting a very ill mutual friend, taking beloved Finse along too, for those last few glimpses of life.  They are wholly non–judgemental  but give life and smiles. We thought we might take a puppy or two to the Harvest Festival Service here at Highclere next weekend golden puppies at a golden time of year.

The puppies give so much pleasure, growing every day, trying new tricks, climbing new mountains and chewing more shoes. Some of them are now beginning their lives with new families and will give their love and very surely be given it in return.

Freya and I