Monday, 21 July 2014

Janka: In Memoriam.

“She slept on my bed. I could barely move my legs,” my son Michael told me. “In fact, she peed on the bed.”

That was the confirmation that Janka had really moved in with us. I say 
confirmation because I’d had the first intimation the night before. I was sitting at the table in the garden of the farmhouse where we were on holiday in Hungary, when I suddenly realised that there was a little bundle of black fur lying on the bench next to me. 
A bundle of fur. With her brother in the hutch where we found her
We’d collected Janka earlier in the day and she’d spent it shy, apprehensive, frightened even. After all, she’d never been away from her parents and her siblings before; this new family seemed strange and unaccommodating. But that impression began to improve when Danielle gave her milk and food. It was after that big step in settling her down that she’d jumped on the bench next to me without my noticing.

Sleeping on Michael’s bed and christening it for him really marked her complete assimilation
Bundle of fur adapting to her new life
Within days we’d imposed on her an experience that would become a hallmark of her life with us: a painfully long journey. Twelve hours or so, across quite a lot of Hungary, a bit of Austria and the width of Germany to get to Strasbourg where we lived at the time. 

One of the most harrowing moments of the trip was when we stopped for a meal at a service station, and left her in the car. From where we were sitting, we could see her with her forepaws up on the dashboard, barking her heart out in desperation at the world. 

The Traveller. On a cross-Channel fery
Later she would get used to that kind of existence, as we took her from Strasbourg to Stafford, from Stafford to Luton, even from Luton to Edinburgh, in cars or trains. She put up with it all, with little pleasure but great stoicism.

And she also had a lot of fun. 

Running for sticks (until she managed to bust her cruciate ligaments doing it)
What was the Black Forest made for but this?
Come on! Come on! You can throw it again!
Enjoying company of different kinds, in different settings

Playing with Aya, when both of them were younger
Conversing on serious matters with our Finnish friend Sami
Helping Natasha with her work, by joining her at her desk
Aha. Sheepdogs can look like that too, can they?
Just enjoying walks

On Cannock Chase, near Stafford
And it was worth going out even if she was made to look silly
just on the pretext that it was raining a bit
Or having a rest

Dignity? It's not about dignity
My little friend Misty, you take a heck of a lot of space
And he was like that even when he was small
Playing in snow
Racing Danielle's sledge downhill
Waiting for the chance to start again
Now, these are the conditions for the good life
Snow really suited her, if only because of her fur. That was her defining characteristic. If left to grow, it formed dreadlocks down to the ground, as befitted her breed, the Puli. Though I always preferred the breed name given her by one of Michael’s contemporaries, and our good friend, Zane Householder: “Jamaican shepherd.” 

Just how well that label fitted her was demonstrated by a young black man, from somewhere in the French Antilles, who had some impressive dreadlocks himself but stopped as though struck by lightning when he met Janka on a Strasbourg street, and exclaimed “why can’t I have hair like that?”

Bob Marley sheepdog
The other name for the breed is “Hungarian water dog” but we never used that for Janka: she loved water as long as she was never out of her depth and could see the bottom. Walking in – fine. Swimming – not on your nellie. She swam, to our knowledge, just twice in her lifetime.

Yes. Looks very exciting. Fun, I'm sure. But I'm not going in
This is how to use water. When it's hot outside. And when I can paddle
Getting wet, as long as she didn’t have to swim, was a delight for her. But later in life she began to find it hard to cope with the sheer weight of the water in her fur, so we had to clip her regularly. 

Danielle's students gather round for the first Janka-clipping

Later clipping became more professional
And more drastic
It changed her look but not her behaviour. She remained, till her death, the bundle of fur I’d spotted next to me on the bench in Eger. She liked to lie with us, so we could stroke her; she let our cat Misty rub himself against her and share her mats with her, though he often took far more than half the space.

Misty misses her and even now prefers to sleep in a basket lined with one of her old blankets impregnated with her smell. 

Misty enjoying essence of Janka
for a little while longer
We miss her too. It’s sad no longer to hear the barrage of barking, irritating when she was alive but leaving a gap now she’s gone: the silence is deafening when we turn the key in the front door. It’s odd throwing out empty yogurt cartons without having her lick them out. It’s strange trying to think up an excuse to walk in the park, the loveliest part of Luton, which I used to visit daily, sometimes three times a day, when Janka needed walking.

The joyous welcome we'll have no more
Still. We had thirteen excellent years with her and they’ve left a lot memories. And I think she had thirteen happy years with us. 

Starting right back there when she was a bundle of fur in Hungary.

When Janka joined us...


Anonymous said...

That's the first time I've seen her eyes.


Christina Maroc said...

Lovely story.

Christina Maroc said...

Lovely story.

David Beeson said...

She certainly had eyes. Large ones too. She needed them to see through all that hair

David Beeson said...

Thank you, Christina