Just over a year ago in May 2023 one my Labradors gave birth to six tiny puppies. It is a beautiful part of life to observe. From the initial surprise of the whole process, Stella’s natural instincts meant that as each puppy emerged she carefully nuzzled it, cleaned and gathered the tiny mewing creature to her, encouraging it and then took time off whilst yet another puppy made its way into the world.

Sitting quietly on the floor by her, I would lean forwards to pick one up and check it before placing it by her. She would give me a look and pick up the puppy herself putting it where she wanted it. I did try to be patient and respect her views of her situation. Stella never left them, she took no time out at all, just as besotted by her babies as I was.

Later we lifted the puppies and repositioned Stella and her babes in a whelping box. Stella is a beautiful kind and clever dog. That is always what I am looking for and had found a wonderful mate, a dog who was also gentle and intelligent – as well of course as being handsome!

The puppies first relationship was with their mother and life for all of us settled into a good routine. As the puppies grew and Stella was happy to leave them for longer we could spend time watching them, stroking them and talking to them.

They were utterly magic weeks. The puppies watched us and learned, listening for the sounds of voices and exploring the grassy lawn, rolling each other over and snuggling on top of each other, familiar to the touch and smell of their siblings.

After eight to ten weeks, in nearly all cases, a human comes along: removes the puppy from its mummy and replaces themselves with the mother – Stella for example – as a point of love and guidance. Undoubtedly anxious, the new relationship is not one voluntarily chosen by the puppies, but, they adapt and bond with their new family. It was a huge tug for me – they had been part of my life as well as Stella’s.

Whilst four of the six puppies did go to new homes – of course two did not. Poppy and Isla stayed with me and their mother. The last year has just been joyful because I have been so aware that I share them with Stella – we both love them, wake them, play with them, and say goodnight each evening.

They know their names and pick up new requests and games with enthusiasm. Poppy adores her mother, trying to kiss her and nibble her ears every morning although also determined to kiss me and other humans as well. Isla is more shy and more independent but besotted with tennis balls. For some reason they both like sitting on things so I have adapted the dog cages which now have layers of bedding on top to spread their weight, it is the top bed in a bunkbed I suppose. Apart from finding tennis balls entrancing, Isla, however loves sofas: every sofa is hers and not mine.

I try to sit first and then she curls around my shoulders along the sofa back whilst Poppy prefers to lie across my knees. Each of the dogs has its own preferred place and if that works for them it works for me, if not always for Geordie who can be presented with no sofa space.

Stella enjoys her space away from her puppies but then runs with them, teaching them and being chased by them. Poppy does push the boundaries with her mother and sometimes Poppy never leaves her alone.

However what is so nice is when Stella’s mother Finse comes to visit, Stella is the first to say hello and give her a kiss (a lick). Without doubt they are aware of their relationships, even if they do not label them in our language. Sometimes I think it rather nice not being labelled.

Our life and the relationships between me and between each of them is evident through our actions: one of trust, one of respect, of loyalty, of clear communication, of consistency, we are all loyal to each other, we all share a love of food, and I am so grateful to them for unwavering love whatever I look like and and I do love them all equally.