The minute you first look into those bright inquisitive eyes, see an expectant look on a face that has a wet shiny nose and look at the young healthy dog you are about to adopt, then you are beginning a journey that is not only bring you years of joy, loyalty and companionship. It also brings a certain degree of frustration as you teach a new dog the rules of the house, such as not wetting the best Axeminster or chewing the Chippendale. Sadly, many years later it also brings tears and heartbreak as that once young dog has become old and tired and reaches the end of the road before you.
In September 1995 at the Blue Cross animal rescue centre in Bromsgrove, Lin and I began that journey when we first saw Bess, a young six month old cross border collie and Labrador. She was a bit nervous and a little skittish, but there was something about her. She had a beautiful black shiny coat, dazzling white teeth and soft brown eyes that one looked into we were smitten.
When all the paperwork had been done and after a home visit from the Blue Cross, a few days later we were allowed to bring her home where she was quickly renamed Tess. Sadly, Bess was a name that had bad connotations for us as some friends had a dog named Bess, which ate some strychnine laced meat that had been placed, we presume for foxes, off a track in North Wales. Poor Bess died in agony - that name was not for our new dog.
It took about one day for us to quickly learn this shy timid dog was really and untrained yob. After Sandy, our lovely mongrel who literally turned up on our doorstep, and had always been such a well behaved dog had died young of liver cancer, taking in this untrained hooligan came as a bit of a shock.
As she raced around the house, stooping to do her business in the middle of the living room and just wanting none stop attention, Lin and I began to wonder if we had done the right thing taking her in. That did not last long, it took Tess about a month to well and truly embed herself into our hearts, she very quickly learned the rules of the house too, such as dogs do not go upstairs or get on the furniture and they sleep quietly in their bed in the kitchen at night - oh, and the garden is the place to do their business.
|Derek & Tess.|
She quickly became so good we seldom needed to use her lead when we took her out, Sunday mornings when we went to the paper shop she would sit outside expecting a pat off everyone that went in and out and we also had to learn to fit into her routine as well. If her walk was not on time or her 9 pm Bonio not presented - we soon got to know about it.
My own political career began due to Tess. In 1996 I was so fed up with the EU and the Conservative Party’s subservience to it, when Sir James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party came along I put my name forward as a potential party candidate, which came as a surprise to our family and friends as I had never been involved in politics before.
After the initial interview I was asked to go on a twenty four hour combined training and assessment course at the Royal Angus Hotel in Birmingham. We checked in on the Friday lunchtime stayed over night and then completed the course on Saturday morning. Before going on the course I was asked to take a photo of myself to leave with them at the end of the course.
As I did not have a decent portrait I got Lin to start snapping away in the garden with me grimacing to the camera. Suddenly, Tess decided she wanted to join in the fun and flopped across my lap, I smiled and we both looked at the camera and snap, that was the best photo of them all which was the one I presented.
It took an agonising month of waiting before I received the news I had been selected as the Referendum Party candidate for Walsall North, this was two days before we were due to attend the Referendum Party conference in Brighton. When I arrived I was full of my own self importance as I was now a Parliamentary candidate and at a swanky bash we had been invited to in the Grand Hotel on the Friday night, I saw one the Referendum Party officials who had taken the training course. I told him how proud I was to have been selected to which he responded: “Do you know why we accepted you?” I wondered to myself if it was my wit, charm, magnetic personality or all those things combined, when he said: “It was because of that nice photo of you and your dog”. It was due to Tess I had entered the world of politics and nothing to do with my own abilities.
Tess became a creature of habit, as she got older she had her routine, she was a real home girl but always liked going to Wales to visit my parents on our regular weekend trips. Those came to an end two years ago when my mother died and the house sold, and in those two years Tess slowed down.
Her daily walk became a slow stroll to the field around the corner, then back again as she chose not to go any further. She became thinner ad slept longer and sadly, she became too ill to carry on, Rory Lydon, the vet based in Kingstanding, who had looked after her all her life, said the end had come on Friday 21st December 2012. We had one last night with her before taking her for that final visit early on Saturday 22nd December. She is now buried at the top of the garden of our Walsall home Had she lived a few weeks longer she would have made the grand old age of 18.
After nearly forty years of marriage, all shared with a dogs and cats in our home, she will be our last dog - she will be Tess the last.