During the winter of 2000, the River Ouse, as it often does during prolonged bouts of heavy rain, burst its banks on the way into, and all the way through the City of York.
One of the many places hit hard by this particular flood was the RSPCA Centre at Clifton Bridge. Such was the severity of the situation that appeals were made through various media, for dog lovers in particular, to come forward and offer temporary accommodation for all of the residents.
Sally went for a look! Maybe she would find a suitable companion for her Border Terrier, Leonard.
“Don’t Expect too Much”
Of course, there were many in need of a new home, so the choice was going to be difficult – until she saw one of the handlers walking a little black terrier around on the grass. A short conversation revealed that he’d come to the Centre as a result of being found at the home of his deceased owner. It was estimated by the vet that he was about 5 years old, possibly older and he’d been at the Centre quite some time without attracting much interest from potential owners. A possible reason for this could have been that he had a large cyst on his head and he was rather tubby to say the least.
In view of the RSPCA’s policy of not keeping dogs indefinitely, Sally agreed with his handler that this little dog had character, a lot to offer and indeed deserved his chance so she signed the form and took him home.
On registering him at our local Vet, Sally was informed that the estimate regarding his age was correct and may even have been a conservative one. She was also told that the cyst he had on his head would need removing for analysis but shouldn’t be a problem. A more worrying revelation however was that he had a pronounced heart murmur, so “don’t expect too much” was the advice given.
Initially, Norris seemed a little uncertain of his surroundings, naturally, and for a while would only take a few steps from the back door, do what he needed to and skip back into the house, not venturing into the garden at all, the logical assumption being that this must have been what he had been used to doing thus far.
Thankfully, Leonard accepted him immediately, and within a few weeks, Norris had not only adapted but had become the boss – in the house anyway.
Leonard, however, remained the leader outside and the two spent many hours running through the fields and popping in and out of hedgerows in an attempt to flush out rabbits. Border Terriers can run all day and Leonard could cover some ground but Norris was always there, coming into view a few seconds later, doing his best to keep up until a call and a whistle brought them scurrying back. Walks up The Green back home with the two of them side by side on their leads in front of us, ears flapping in unison with Norris propelling himself forward through his sturdy back end (there was definitely Staffy in there!) induced many smiles and the vision will always guarantee fond memories.
Norris Shows His Character
The two were also introduced to my 10 year old Labrador cross, Beth, who they both accepted readily and outings to the coast and along the top of Sutton Bank were enjoyed by all. Sadly, things were to change again for Norris, when he lost both his friends in a short space of time, Beth, succumbing to cancer at the end of 2003 at the age of 12 and Leonard, very suddenly, in early 2004 aged only 5.
What we had learned about Norris though was that he was full of character and spirit and though he seemed a little subdued initially after the death of Leonard, he was soon bounding along the top of Sutton Bank again, loving running through and digging holes in the snow.
He had become well known around the village and enjoyed announcing his presence to both dogs and their owners – a diplomatic way I suppose of saying “barking his head off” – but it was purely a greeting, never aggressive.
Always ahead of us, he would decide most of the time which route we would take, out on our many jaunts around Green Hammerton and other villages.
Thinking Norris might like a new companion, we brought Rolf home , an 8 week old Black Labrador in November 2004. We weren’t sure how he’d deal with the over zealous attention he was sure to get from a playful puppy but showing his adaptability once again , he tolerated Rolf’s antics admirably and before long , he was the one climbing on to Rolf’s back.
Holidays in Northumberland and the Lake District along with many trips to Yorkshire’s Point to Point race meetings resulted in the two of them becoming best friends, then another major change was to cause concern in 2009 following my redundancy.
How would they react to our new venture and the likelihood of strange dogs coming to their home?
What a ridiculous concept; worrying about how Norris would cope!! Naturally, he took it all in his stride – he was of course the boss! and Rolf too, being the most placid dog I’ve ever come across , seemed oblivious and accepted then – as he does now – all of our visitors , so the change in circumstances was hardly noticeable.
Things moved along nicely and while Rolf had survived an operation to remove a tumour, Norris had never ailed anything (other than his initial cyst removal) despite the warning about his heart which would be repeated annually when he went for his boosters! He was such a tough and sturdy little man. Nonetheless it was 2010 and he was 15 now. I started to wonder how much longer we would have him and thought it would be great if we had some memento which illustrated his character. The Tockwith Show was approaching and Sally and I agreed it would be a good idea to put him in the Veteran class of the Fun Dog Show. After all, it wasn’t just that he was 15, he was in good condition and we hoped the judge might agree. If so he just might get a rosette as they were awarded down to 6th place.
Into The Ring With 23 Opponents
On the day there were heavy intermittent downpours and one came just as Norris was about to see the judge. Everyone ran for whatever cover they could find and we were packed like sardines under the steward’s canopy. I thought this would upset him but he just stood there looking up at me, not turning a hair. A few minutes later we were back out and the judge was giving Norris the ‘once over’. After a couple of questions he told me to walk him up and down (I took this as a good sign as he’d just sent some straight to the back of the line) then when he crouched to examine him a second time, I thought “good grief he really likes him”. Norris was as good as gold and very attentive. We returned to the line and I counted the number of dogs – 24! Still, I thought he just might get a rosette. A few minutes later , with Norris stood alert and looking very pleased with himself , the judge – in pensive mode – walked around the ring and turned towards me! – though looking the other way. At the last second, he looked at me, pointed at Norris , shook my hand and said congratulations I couldn’t believe it! Hoping only for a rosette of any colour he came away with the red one for best veteran. I laughed most of the way back to Sally’s jewellery stall and her reaction was similar to mine……..What a star!!!
There is however always a spanner lurking, ready to be thrown into the works and it came with my being informed at the trophy tent that the Glen O’Shea Trophy for best veteran was the only one that had not been returned by the previous year’s winner, so we had to leave without it.
All’s well that ends well though and another was purchased which we received some time later along with a smaller replica for us to keep with Norris’s name engraved on it so we came out on top!
We returned to Tockwith the following year and entered Norris in the Best Rescue Dog category. The judge this time was a lady who also seemed endeared by his personality and background and he came away from the ring with a blue rosette for 2nd place. The summer of 2012 as many will remember was horrendous – the wettest in most people’s memory and some shows were cancelled.
Two that weren’t were Ripley and Aldborough. We supported each one and as Norris was still full of beans even at the age of 17 we entered him in the veteran class at each show and he won them both !! I likened his victories to those known as a Triple Crown in many sports, and described it such in our local Village View newsletter.
Norris Has A Fan
“Rose tinted glasses” is a phrase often used to describe a person’s over enthusiastic view of something that’s theirs or something which has a special meaning only to them , so who else cares or is aware ?
But this was Norris……and a short while after the Village View article, Sally was walking down the street with him when she met a lady whose young daughter asked in an excitable manner if she could stroke him. As the girl and the old dog looked at each other during their encounter, the lady said …“That’s Norris ….he’s a famous little dog”. Such is village life!
A New Companion
Christmas 2012 saw a new addition to the family in Sadie – an 8yr old terrier cross (See “about us” page) and Norris had a new companion to focus on so we called time on his show exploits.
For a couple of years, Sally and I had been thinking it could be Norris’s last holiday as we packed to go away for our Autumn break but he’d always made fools of us — never more than the Autumn of 2014 , when, during our holiday in Borrowdale dealing with the worst the Lake District has to offer in terms of bad weather he came with us over the top from Rosthwaite to Watendlath and back without flinching , his ‘Never Say Die’ attitude shining as always.
The Last Hurrah
Norris’s last hurrah came in October 2015 when he ventured to Northumberland as he had done many times before. He always loved the sand and being in and out of the sea with Rolf and Sadie as we have lots of video footage to testify.
Unfortunately , the effects of Cushings Disease which he had been fighting since an initial diagnosis in late 2014 were beginning to take their toll on some of his functions and it was clear he wasn’t the Norris of even a short while ago , though he was still having a good old bark at the waves.
Watching him walk up the beach at Embleton for the last time , ears flapping and trying to keep up reminded me of the Dylan Thomas poem : “Do not go gentle into that good night – Rage RAGE!! against the dying of the light”
We had a quiet Christmas, with Norris and his two best friends enjoying a slap up lunch (he never lost his appetite) and then we made the decision on New Year’s Day. Norris left us on January 2nd 2016 – He was 20 years old.
Though it was a very sad day we felt grateful for the pleasure he’d given us and took great comfort in the realisation that we’d given him as good a life as he could have hoped for . Sally did a wonderful thing back in 2000.
From our back bedroom window we can see the Kilburn White Horse up on Sutton Bank on the horizon. To the left we can see him bounding along the Cleveland Way before venturing down to Gormire Lake – one of his many adventures and I have a smile on my face as I recall the words of the vet when he was 5 years old.
“He has a pronounced heart murmur so don’t expect too much”
To anyone pondering taking a dog home from a rescue centre.
Harbour this thought.
Ask about the one that‘s been there the longest – the one that nobody seems to want – and consider it! You may well acquire treasures unimagined.