All good dog owners will tell you without any hesitation that dogs have feelings, thoughts, intelligence and are filled with love. They ask very little from their owners – just the basics – food, water and to be cared for.
Cave life in Spain is just perfect for our three boys, just as much as it is for us. The grounds that we have surrounding the cave, together with the wonderful area around our land, are ideal for the boys to explore and enjoy. And they certainly do, with tails wagging, noses sniffing and a sprint down to the river, it has to be a dogs idea of paradise.
When we have the heat of the summer, all three dogs find the cave the perfect resting place as it’s cool and comfortable (until the local goats pass by or the bread lady’s van appears and then it’s a quick sprint outside to let them all know they are being watched). In the winter the cave is warm and cosy especially when we light the log burner on those particularly cold nights. Most dogs love to sit close to a fire so they can warm certain parts of their bodies! Anyone who dares to drive or trot down the track can still receive a stern warning from at least two of our boys. There has to be a special visitor or passerby for Barney to leave the warmth of the fire and go out to give them a what for.
Life was different for us when we lived in Cyprus. As the temperatures went up, the days and nights were far too hot to be inside just as much as it was outside. Aircons and fans were a must. If we did decide to venture out we would get dressed as late as possible because as soon as you considered putting on clothes you were wet through due to the high humidity. It was definitely no fun. Cave life in Spain is so different and I now find that I welcome the heat of the day. I work early mornings outside, and as soon as the heat gets a little too much, I carry on with my long list of jobs to do indoors within the cool walls of our cave. Perfecto.
I am convinced that if you could ask either of our three boys where they would like to be they would choose their home within cave land. Thinking about it, the caves here in Spain were originally shelters for the local animals, (sheep, goats and cows), during the heat of the day and home during the cold nights that we get during the winter. I believe our cave was used by goats and their shepherd for many years. Human inhabitation came much later when a local family moved in (with their herd of animals). The sisters of this family now live in a cave next to our property (minus the animals). Actually, there are caves on the other side of our track that are being used today by the local goat herd.
For those of you that aren’t aware of our three dogs background here is a brief resume.
All three of our boys have different stories to tell, good and bad, but all three have such huge hearts which they give freely, especially when given the smallest amount of attention.
We were living in Cyprus when we had our first dog Charlie. It was not our intention to adopt a dog but I had seen an advert in a local paper asking for people to give a home to one of the 6 golden retriever X pups they had just found. It was for approximately 2 weeks or until more permanent homes were found. The picture that went with this plea was what appeared to be adorable fluff balls. I immediately fell in love with the ‘all white’ fluff ball and decided to go and take a look. I did quickly mention to John what I had planned and just as quickly retreated before he could voice an opinion. Deep down I knew he would have concerns!
Well, the fluff balls where truly adorable particularly the white pup running around like a live wire. They had all been well looked after during their first 3 month of life and appeared to enjoy all that life had to offer, no matter how small. I was there for 45 minutes watching the antics of the white fluff ball but not once could I get to pick him up. Every time I got near he disappeared with another pup. He was enjoying his life of mayhem and nothing was going to stop him. However, during these 45 minutes there was one particular puppy that would not leave my side. He was absolutely golden from head to toe including eyelashes and nose. I could not help but cuddle him and I even tried to get him to join in the fun of racing around in circles with the other pups but no.. he only had eyes for me. My head was telling me I had come for the white pup but my heart was telling me something else. You guessed it. I went home with the golden pup who had, in hindsight, chosen me. Off we went for his two weeks vacation at Villa Horton.
Charlie, (his name was originally Sandy but after seeing him play for a while I was heard repeating “you are a Charlie aren’t you!), so it stuck – it was the perfect name for him. He was adorable and within a few hours John and I knew he had found his forever home – with us. That was just over 10 years ago!
Charlie’s ambition in life has always been to clean anyone he can get in contact with. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body just this obsession to clean. Some people like having their legs and feet washed but others don’t and that’s when we have problems. Charlie just cannot help himself. He will sit when told but you can see his body tremble as he is trying so hard not to pounce on the nearest human to continue his washing program. So, if you do visit us please be prepared. If you don’t like dogs licking you, wear an all in one outfit with hood and face mask.
Charlie is also a protector and will wait for me outside the bathroom door just in case something happens while I’m taking a shower or on return home from a walk he’ll wait at the gate before entering to ensure we were all home safely and only then will he trot in behind everyone. He talks too, oh boy does he talk. Sometimes he never stops and when you are trying to watch tv it can be a little frustrating but we would not change him for the world. Charlie is the oldest but smallest dog we have.
18 months went by and we had discussed whether Charlie would benefit from having another canine friend as he appeared to be getting a little too attached to us humans. We had a local dog shelter nearby so we popped down to take a look at the 100 or so dogs they were desperate to rehome. We thought perhaps we would find another Charlie type dog so that’s what we looked for. There were three similar dogs at this particular shelter and we played and went for walks with them all. Is it wrong to say that not one of these three dogs did anything for us? We did not feel any spark of excitement or feelings for them at all. As we were ready to leave we found ourselves standing by this large cage full of mixed puppies. It was then that I noticed one particular pup that sat in the corner. He was patiently letting all the other pups run over and around him. He was white with golden patches (or perhaps more like splodges) and had huge floppy ears and large dark eyes. My heart went out to him. I turned to John who had uncannily also noticed this one pup and we both said instantaneously, ‘could he be the one’.
I am a spontaneous person and would have taken him home there and then, but John is not. He needs to consider things, do his research, consider things again, more research and lots of looking at pros and cons. So, off home we went empty handed but I just knew that by the next morning we would be back for this beautiful big eared big eyed pup.
Well, I was wrong. We had been home for only an hour and John said ‘do you think we should go back just in case someone else takes him?’ I didn’t need asking twice. Back we went to see the pup in the same position being climbed over and knocked about by other more excitable pups. We were told that he was one of a large litter of Lemon Pointers that had been severely mistreated of which only three pups had survived. Barney (as we named him later) was not thought to survive but survive he did – against all odds. That was 8 1/2 years ago.
When we picked him up he was thin and had a number of bald patches on his body but he was adorable and funny. We had no idea of the cruelty he must have lived through during his first 6 months but it must have been horrendous. It took a shorter time than we had expected for us to gain his trust, with the help of Charlie of course, but trying to get him out of the house was not so easy. Each time we had to carry him out, closing the door behind us so that he could not dart back in as soon as his legs hit the floor. Eventually the garden became just another safe haven for him but the sound of any children or Cypriot men from the other side of the fence got him in to total panic mode. To this day he will not pass children without getting as far away as the lead will allow and as fast as his legs will take him. But at least, and it’s only been fairly recently, he does not hide for hours when new people arrive at the house. When I say hide I mean putting his head into a plant or bush. His body and large tail are in plain sight but Barney doesn’t know that, bless him.
During the first 18 months his body grew to fit his ears. But he was in obvious pain when he walked which only grew worse. The vet agreed that he needed two separate operations to remove both hips due to dysplasia caused by past trauma. Whatever had happened to him had, and was continuing, to cause him great pain.
Both hips were operated on within six months of each other and each time Barney was an absolute star. Both operations did not go as straightforward as we had hoped and we spent many nights on the settee with him, cleaning infected wounds and giving him as much love as we could. Not once did Barney cry out, yelp or disagree with anything we had to do to him to help him heal. I could not believe it, most humans would have lashed out and hit the roof during the cleaning of the wound and the physio we had to perform.
Barney is now a ‘little’ overweight due to not being able to walk too far hi but other than that he is healthy, happy and a beautiful addition to our family. He also has very clean ears, eyes and nose thanks to Charlie.
Then came along the polar bear!
After moving to Spain we had discussed having a third dog but, for all the right reasons, we decided that it was not a great idea. Walking three dogs would be a problem and we are not getting any younger, money for food and vets bills was another consideration and we had the perfect pair already. Then I saw another advert! Note to self – stop reading adverts!
Eight Spanish Mastins X (supposedly) about 8 hours old had been found abandoned in the hills about an hour away from our cave. Within 24 hours only 2 had survived. The lovely couple that had taken these two home were looking for permanent homes as they already had 2 Alsatians. I decided it would do no harm to go and take a look at the pups who were now 4 weeks old. One pup was pure white with a brown nose and the other was white with a slight creamy tinge to his back and a jet black nose. Me being me, it was the pure white pup I was going to look at.
Within minutes of us arriving we fell in love with both pups. I have never known John to be as certain so quickly over anything but he wanted them both, there and then. The pure white pup was adorable but if I tell you he had been named Speedy, it may give you an insight into his behaviour. He sped everywhere, was into everything and was a puppy maniac. Adorable but truly a maniac. His brother had been named blacky due to the colour of his nose and, although still trying to run after his brother, appeared to be a little more calm. He was what I would call a normal pup, playful and inquisitive but not at 100 miles an hour like his brother. The couple had been told by the vets that they were a cross and would not be more than 30kg. We could manage that we thought but I was not happy with having both pups. I could sense trouble ahead if we did. The two dogs we already had were technically our set limit which we were breaking by having one of these pups so having both was a total over the top and breaking all the rules of sensibility.
After a while the the couple agreed that if we adopted one they would keep the other which made John a little happier about splitting the brothers up. We agreed to go back in 4 weeks once all the injections had been given and collect our new addition to the family.
We purchased a bed which we thought would be just the right size to keep him cosy and warm and help him feel secure. It was perfect for a couple of days! What we had not realised was how quickly Alfie (ex Blacky) would grow and did he grow, rapidly. With hindsight the paws gave him away. Within a few months we had realised that he was actually a full Spanish Mastin and they grew to approximately 90 kgs and are huge. He was already 30 kgs and he was growing by the day. Don’t get me wrong, if we had known this from the start we would have still chosen Alfie to be part of our home – yes we are mad but we had fallen for him and that’s when all common sense goes out the window.
Alfie is now 2 and he is my beautiful polar bear of some considerable size. He sleeps next to my bed, he snores like a man, (he lets out wind like one too), and he loves his walks. When I say walks I should say he loves taking us for a walk – where Alfie wants to go, you go, and he is an inquisitive beast.
Charlie and Barney were not keen on Alfie at all for quite a while which was seriously beginning to worry me as I wanted everyone to get on. Thankfully with time that changed but they are still wary of him and often have to move quickly out of the way when Alfie decides he is sitting down. He gets half way down and collapses so anything that happens to be underneath him gets squished, well and truly. My foot has often fallen victim to the weight of Alfie and once they are under him there is no getting them out. My grandchildren have called him the polar bear which is a perfect description of him really. He is huge, white and has black skin. It has been a while since I was at school but I think that describes a polar bear pretty well.
Alfie often comes home with tree trunks and large thick branches to throw around. It’s what he loves to do. At 6 months he decided to have a look at the pile of twigs we have conveniently added to our front patio. He had great fun with these twigs for quite awhile until we realised what he was doing. Alfie may have looked upon them as a pile of twigs but we called them something different. These ‘twigs’ made up our lovely and expensive outdoor cane furniture that we had purchased for those warm nights when we could sit and enjoy the sound of silence and be amazed at the amount of stars there were above our heads. Luckily, with the help of snippers, I managed to make the furniture a little less of the chewed look, and as it has weathered with time, it is not so noticeable as it was. But as we said, Alfie was being a normal huge dog and playing with the pile of sticks we lovingly left for him. Who could blame him. Gladly the teething period is now well and truly over and after purchasing many hardy large toys (on a regular basis as they still didn’t last very long) he is leaving the twigs alone. As I write this I am crossing my fingers hoping that he doesn’t remember how much fun it was tearing the twigs out of the pile. Bless him.
All three dogs are different from each other. Their personalities, their fur, their eating habits and their routines. Charlie is the one to look after you, Barney is the quiet one who loves to watch and Alfie is the bouncer of us all. And, although so different, they all fit perfectly into our lives. We would never be parted from any one of them. They are part of our family just as much as our children and grandchildren.
If you are considering having a dog, please stop thinking about it and just do it. They ask to be fed, watered and to be kept warm. That’s it. In return they will give you all the love you can handle and with the loyal companionship that a dog is born to give us humans. That will be your reward.
So our life in Spain is never boring. There is always someone to clean, brush and play with and we can never be short of love. Our boys would not allow it!
Keep safe, keep happy and keep going.