Oscar was the result of a sudden attack of anxiety by my husband about how well Joey would cope as an only dog.
Both our Labradors were elderly at that point, and although they were afflicted by arthritis, they seemed surprisingly healthy. Toby had recently come through an operation to remove a lump from his foot, and both had wobbly back legs. Still, we had no reason to imagine we would be losing either of them soon. One breezy afternoon on a beach, watching them waddle around happily together, Richard suddenly voiced his concern.
“Joey has never been an only dog. I wonder how he’ll cope when Toby goes?”
I didn’t answer. I couldn’t bear to think of losing either of my gorgeous old fellas.
“Maybe,” Richard said, “we should get another puppy now, so that they have time to bond.”
This time, I answered. I gave him a long, hard stare. “Are you serious?”
“Yes. Poor Joey. He’s such a social dog, he’s not used to being alone. I think we should look around.”
I am a woman who can procrastinate about filing, or the payment of a bill, until the whole matter becomes embarrassing, but tell me I’m allowed to buy a new dog, and it’s astonishing how fast I can move. Within a couple of weeks, I had sourced some puppies. There were no litters available on the island, and I was very aware of the dangers of fraud, puppy farming and stolen puppies, so if we were getting a puppy from the UK I needed an agent on the ground. Luckily, there was a litter available near Nottingham, where my sister and brother-in-law live. A few phone calls put the puppy owners in touch with them and we first met Oscar via video chat.
I can’t speak highly enough of Claire Shead and her family. From the moment we chose Oscar and paid the deposit, we had pretty much daily contact with them. Oscar’s parents are both much loved family pets and we had photos, videos and updates about Marley, Poppy and Oscar with his brothers and sisters. By the time I arrived to collect him, Oscar already knew his name. I’m still in touch with Claire on Facebook and she often comments on photos of Oscar and his adventures. I honestly believe that those early weeks as part of her family have a lot to do with the loving, affectionate dog we have today.
Oscar was, and still is, an angel. When I picked him up, I was on my own, so I’d bought a crate which fitted on the front seat of the car next to me. It was a long drive from Nottingham to Liverpool, and for the first ten minutes, Oscar howled. After that, he curled up in the nest of blankets I’d provided, and prepared to demonstrate how well we’d chosen.
I talked to Oscar all the way. We listened to music, and discussed our favourite artists. I told him about his new family, the Isle of Man, his big brothers and how much he was going to be loved. Oscar watched me from those big puppy eyes and drank it all in. I’d fallen utterly in love with him before we hit the motorway.
We had to stop frequently for my new puppy to go to the toilet. Amazingly, he only made one mess in the crate, and I was prepared with bags, wipes and clean blankets. Because he wasn’t fully vaccinated yet, I had to be careful where I took him for toilet breaks, and the whole process took much longer than I’d expected. We also hit bad traffic on the motorway. I was painfully conscious of the time, but Oscar couldn’t be hurried. He was being so good, I was just focussed on getting him home safely.
We missed the ferry by about 10 minutes. I could see it sailing out.
The next boat was the 2.15am from Heysham, which was potentially a misery. It isn’t that far from Liverpool to Heysham, but then there would be a long wait before we could board. I phoned before I left Liverpool and got myself booked onto the next sailing. By an amazing piece of good luck, there was a dog cabin available.
Once in Heysham, I had hours to kill. I took Oscar along to Morecombe to the beach because he needed the toilet and I hoped there was less chance of him picking up a bug on the sand which was washed clean each day than on a well trodden pavement. After that, I found a pub in Lancaster which would not only allow Oscar to sit with me in the beer garden while I had dinner, but would even provide puppy sitters while I went to the loo myself. There were a lot of volunteers. Everybody adored Oscar, and it was actually a lovely evening.
At closing time, we drove back to the beach and I walked along the promenade carrying him. Several people stopped to say hello, but my favourite was an elderly gentleman riding a mobility scooter, who apparently had Labradors all his life until he became too infirm to take care of them. He sat Oscar on his lap and I walked beside him the length of the prom and back. He was ex-Royal navy and talked about his service, his wife who had died two years earlier and all the dogs he had loved. Oscar cuddled up to him happily and I felt as though there was some purpose to that missed ferry in Liverpool. When we parted, there were tears in his eyes and I was choked up as well.
I wasn’t sure how Oscar would be on the boat and had resigned myself to a sleepless night. He went to the toilet just before we boarded and I carried him into the cabin. By then, I was so tired, I just wanted to lie down. I settled myself under the blanket and waited for my puppy to start howling.
I woke up four hours later to the announcement that we were arriving in Douglas. Oscar was curled up against me, still sound asleep. There were no toileting accidents and no drama. I carried him back to the car and took him home to introduce him to his big brothers. Even then, I think I knew I’d run up against something special.
Oscar was an amazingly good puppy, with occasional moments of spectacular bad behaviour. He toilet-trained more quickly than either of our other dogs, but I think that may have been due to the fabulous weather we were having. It was that long hot summer and the doors were always open. Oscar took his cue from Toby and Joey and quickly learned the right place to go.
I was a bit nervous about how two elderly dogs would take to a new puppy. Both were cautious on the first day and there were the usual incidents of Oscar going too far and needing to be told off, but by halfway through the second day, it was clear that Joey and Oscar were about to be a bromance like no other. Toby was friendly enough, but Joey adored the new arrival. They were constantly together, often with Oscar lying or sitting on top of Joey, and to my delight, my old yella fella regained some of his youth in playing with Oscar.
Toby was more dignified about the whole process and it took him a few weeks before he unbent enough to join in the playfighting and games. He loved going to the beach with Oscar and it was very cute to see my little black puppy trotting along behind my big black bear of a dog, investigating rock pools and paddling in the waves.
Oscar wasn’t a particularly destructive puppy. He didn’t chew the skirting boards or the furniture, but he did have a tendency to pick up items left lying around. He ate my glasses, which was a problem, but the worst of his puppy crimes was his love of chewing on books. My daughter was genuinely able to tell her teachers that the dog ate her homework, along with a text book or two, but I lost my sense of humour a couple of times when he got hold of one or two of my favourite history books. After a while it became necessary to move all my books behind glass doors, and my study became a much tidier place once I realised that anything I left out might get eaten.
Oscar is a typical Labrador. He loves to go for walks, play in the garden and swim. He adores meeting other dogs but he’s actually quite gentle with other creatures. I can walk him past sheep or horses and he just regards them with interest. His favourite horses spend some of their time in a field up in Onchan and he likes to look over the wall to say hi to them, and occasionally bump noses. He never barks at them.
We had one unfortunate incident with another dog when Oscar was still quite young. It was the first time any of my dogs had ever been attacked and it was truly terrifying, but the assault was nobly beaten off by his big brother, as told in a separate post, and Oscar didn’t suffer any lasting effects.
One of the interesting and slightly unusual aspects to Oscar’s character is his utter adoration for his toys. Most dogs love toys, but they tend to be fairly destructive. Oscar has the occasional breakout, particularly when he’s playing tug of war, but mostly he treasures his toys. He is seldom without one, he walks about carrying them and cuddles up to them at night.
Oscar is an incredibly social dog and wants to be around people all the time. That probably intensified after we lost our two older dogs. I was particularly worried when Joey went, given how close they were, and Oscar was a bit lost at the start, but quickly adapted. He was an only dog for a while, as the pandemic interrupted our intention of getting another puppy, and he and I grew very close, spending our days in my study with me working and him snoozing. We went for long walks during lockdown and wrote blog posts about our adventures. We watched TV cuddled up on the sofa in the evenings. It is very well recorded elsewhere that I didn’t deal well with lockdown restrictions and my mental health suffered badly. I honestly think having Oscar helped keep me sane at times. It’s hard to remain miserable when you have that much unconditional love.
Early in 2021 as the world began to cautiously open up a bit, I began to look around for a possible brother for Oscar and was rewarded very quickly when a breeder in Yorkshire responded to my enquiry. Puppies had become eye-wateringly expensive due to the increased demand during lockdown, but Matthew’s prices weren’t as stupid as some and he was a very reputable breeder. More importantly, he lived close to York, where my daughter is at University. She and her housemates went on a puppy-finding adventure, and once again my first sight of my new baby was on video chat.
Introducing Oscar to Alfie reminded me of when Joey first met Toby. There’s a similar age gap between the two and Oscar still has all the energy of a young dog. He was incredibly gentle and patient with Alfie at first, then gradually their games grew more boisterous. These days, they have a very close relationship, occasionally marked by bursts of exasperation when Oscar could do with some peace and quiet and Alfie still wants to play.
The story of Oscar is still ongoing and I’ll be updating this page regularly with new photos and adventures. He’s a big dog now, but still amazingly patient and loving – my gentle giant. I think he gets it from his Dad and his Mum, and I’m eternally grateful to Claire and her family for raising such a perfect dog.
Oscar and Alfie are particularly fond of the sofa in my study. In fact, given that this is Writing With Labradors, it would be fair to say that the sofa belongs to them. Occasionally they will very generously allow somebody else to share it though, particularly Anya who is a firm favourite with both of them. As long as she doesn’t take up too much room…