I feel I have been both blessed and lucky in my life to have owned dogs, all of them different, all of them special, all of them 'rescued'. Perhaps it would be fairer to say that all of them needed a loving home.
My dogs have something else in common: they have all added an extra (wonderful) dimension to my life and to my family.
The first dog I could truly call my own, was a mongrel who looked like a pedigree. Her name was Poppadum and she features a lot in my Mysterious Marsh books. I didn't have a choice about whether or not to include her because her shade was always at my elbow, reminding me of the huge part she played in my life when I was as young and ingenuous as Hazel Dawkins herself.
Poppadum was there to help me in the early days of my two daughters' lives. People laugh when I tell them that I learned all my child-rearing skills from my dog, but it's true!
She gave birth to a litter of puppies shortly before I had my first daughter. She had endless patience, despite having ten puppies and seven nipples, so she was constantly feeding them. Poppadum knew when to tell the greedy ones to make way for their thinner siblings; if one of them hurt her or one of its siblings, she would tell them off, even nipping them occasionally; and there were times when she would rise, shake them all off and do the canine equivalent of saying 'I need a little time to myself'.
But most of all she educated them by example. Sometimes she used a little coercion, sometimes tenderness, often she would be impatient, but there was never any doubt about the love she had for them.
We could only keep one puppy and she watched the others leave with resignation. But when I suddenly and unexpectedly gave birth to my first baby, she was there by my side, licking my face, encouraging me with little yips of noise, rushing to wake my husband and guide him to me, letting me grip her fur in each spasm with hardly a complaint.
As the girls grew up she became their nanny and their guard, allowing them to learn to stand by pulling themselves upright with the help of her fur, and guiding their first steps in the same way.
Today she still lives in the memory of myself, my husband and my daughters. On our kitchen wall, her photograph is the centrepiece of a gallery devoted to our dogs.
Lakshmi, (always called Lucky) was our second foundling and a wonderful companion in her own right, and we loved her so much that we couldn't face replacing her with another dog for three years after she died. But then our lovely saluki, Poppy, came into our lives, a terrified little morsel who could not settle anywhere. Twelve years on and she is becoming an old lady, happy to lie on the deck surrounded by a wealth of country smells.
Today, this post is dedicated to Poppadum because it would have been her forty-second birthday.
Thank you, dearest Poppadum, for all you taught me and all you gave me. May you live forever on the Mysterious Marsh!