So there you are, a baker's half dozen of perfect little Cocker Spaniel puppies filling your heart right up, making you wish you lived on a sprawling farm, with endless pots of cash and no real responsibilities, when it suddenly dawns on you that you've got to find homes for them all.
I only had myself to blame, giving them pedigree names after the Dukes and Duchesses of Devonshire (Chatsworth House is just down the road from where Nancy had her liaison dangereuse with the father of her children).
We had Duchess Bess, Duke Peregrine, Lady Evelyn, Lady Georgiana, Duke Henry, Lady Blanche and Lady Charlotte. So with my delusions of grandeur it seemed only fitting that their new owners should be landed gentry.
Chatsworth - one of our historic gems.
A quick flick through my address book drew a blank on any aristocratic connections. And my seven closest friends and family members had been quite clear that they weren't in the market for a new puppy.
The 'chosen ones' would be put through a rigorous (and vigorous) vetting process. Questions I wanted to ask were -
- Do you live in a massive house with a ginormous garden full of sticks and balls?
- Are you at home in your palatial residence all day, every day?
- Are you a regular attendee of a festival in the city of Yulin in the Guangxi province of China?
- Will you never leave this puppy on its own for more than five minutes?
- Will you provide for this new puppy, at the expense of everyone else in your life?
- Will you love this puppy like you've never loved anything ever before or again?
The serious side to all this is the many puppy farms around the UK churning out puppies purely for profit. The last thing I'd ever want would be for one of my dogs to end up in a horrifying place like this, used as a breeding bitch; pregnant her whole life until she is too weak and sick, then gets tossed, literally, onto the rubbish pile because her purpose has been exhausted.
Or for one of them to go to a new owner who swears blind, 'yes we are at home all day, and of course we've had lots of dogs before', only to find out they are out all day and don't know their dew claw from their anal glands.
I left it so late in advertising Nancy's puppies as I was in denial about letting them go, and was also genuinely terrified of making the wrong choices on new owners. And there were seven decisions to be made...holy moly!
Because we had put so much time and energy into breeding a lovely litter of KC registered puppies from excellent lines, we wanted to advertise them on the Kennel Club website, as well as on the Cocker Spaniel breeders page on Facebook. That way you tend to weed out the time-wasters who don't want to spend money on pedigree dogs and to also only attract those who are solely interested in Cockers.
That's not to say you don't get your fair share of weirdos on the end of a phone.
One man called saying he was interested in one of my females, but wanted to know if she had a large vagina as he was thinking of using her with his male who 'had a massive cock' (his words, not mine). I mean, seriously??!! I'm still wiping my ear drums at the thought of that conversation.
You also know to take a wide berth on anyone whose first question is, 'how much for one of your bitches?'
Thankfully I also received some genuine calls from people who answered all my 'actual' questions (with distinction), gave a great account of themselves and didn't mind me probing into their personal lives!
One such couple were Natasha and Matt who live in Cambridgeshire, had experience with Springer Spaniels, worked from home or had back-up if they couldn't be there and who were very keen to welcome a new baby girl into their lives.
They came over to meet the litter when the pups were about six weeks old and were immediately taken with one of the black and tan bitches called Lady Evelyn. As soon as Matt heard this he said, 'let's call her Evie'...and so it was that Evie found her forever home with this lovely couple from Cambs.
Hello gorgeous girl.
I am forever grateful to two local friends who hooked me up with people interested in a puppy. Actually, I already knew Wendy, one of the prospective owners, who lives in the next village; I just wasn't aware she was after a puppy.
Before I knew it I had found the most perfect homes for two more of my little girls - Duchess Bess (who became Millie) packed her bags for the beauty of the New Forest and Lady Blanche (nicknamed Maud and who remains Maud because, coincidentally, that was the name of Wendy's mother) who would be just a mile down the road living the dream in a gorgeous house with the swimming pool and the ginormous garden, plus a country pile in the Lake District thrown in for good measure. Lucky old Maud!
We miss you Millie!
A similar situation came about through my husband's work. A colleague was looking for a Cocker for his son, but it had to be a very special dog as his son has a disability. I had just the dog for him, and after a couple of visits where him and his son came over and spent time with Duke Peregrine (now Lochie), it was a match made in heaven.
So serious for one so tiny.
We had decided during this time that we were going to keep Buster, the other male, so that meant we had just two females left.
Through the power of Facebook I found my final new owners.
My lovely friend Julie had mentioned the puppies to her friends Simon and Sarah. I think Simon took a bit of convincing from his wife that they actually wanted a puppy, but as soon as they met Lady Charlotte (now Lola) he was smitten...and by all accounts, poor Sarah doesn't get a look in anymore!
The final puppy to find a home was the smallest in the litter. What she lacked in stature she most certainly made up for in gorgeousness.
Breaks my heart even after nearly three years!
We called her Mini Noods, because she looked so much like her mum, but her proper name is Lady Georgiana, named after the exquisitely beautiful 5th Duchess of Devonshire (played by Keira Knightley in the film The Duchess).
She found her forever home in Enfield. I would like that to sound a lot more romantic than it actually does, for a lady of her class and breeding, so I spend my days imagining her reclined on velvet cushions, feathers in her hair, bone china saucers at her paws, playing the harpsichord in her spare time.
The day Lady Georgiana left I absolutely sobbed my heart out. All the babies (apart from the legend that is Buster) were gone and life seemed so different without them.
I have seen most of the puppies again since; meeting up on their first birthday, and arranging the odd walk or play date here and there. They are all doing so well, and I have been told from most of the new owners that they couldn't imagine a better dog in their lives.
Now that makes me very happy.