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Man’s Best Friend

The most loyal companion

Man’s Best Friend
03 March 2011

We like to think we're pretty tough at ShortList, but even we have to admit that the death of a pet dog is one of those things that is guaranteed to make a grown man cry. From the sturdy Boxer to the lively Border Collie, ShortList celebrates the very special bond that exists between a man and, arguably, the most loyal and loving companion he will ever have the honour of standing alongside.

Images: Tim Flach

Pedigree: Boxer

David Hurst, author of With Cold Hearts

“‘To his dog, every man is Napoleon; hence the constant popularity of dogs.’ I believe this quote from author Aldous Huxley perfectly sums up man’s enduring relationship with our canine chums. “Dogs are unflinchingly loyal and wholeheartedly devoted. My dog of choice is the boxer. What isn’t to love about these canine clowns with their pushed-in faces, the sort of look only a mother could love? My love affair started 10 years ago when I was feeling down about life — until I saw a boxer in Ireland and thought, ‘He looks like I feel.’

“Shortly after, my girlfriend wanted a puppy and I persuaded her that a boxer was the only breed to have. When we split up a few months later I was heartbroken — I missed that dog terribly. So I got Elvis, a loyal friend from Boxer Rescue. I spent five years with him until he sadly passed away in 2007. I’ll always know him as one of my best mates.

“So a month after losing Elvis I got a boxer puppy and called him, naturally, Presley. Presley is quite simply a clumsy oaf. Where most dogs go round things such as hedges, boxers take the direct route. My wife Debs and I know this well after one romantic picnic that ended with Presley trying to jump through us to reach his ball. Debs ended up with a lump on her forehead the size of a cricket ball and my nose was bleeding as if Ricky Hatton had belted me. As well as going through things, boxer dogs also go up — jumping to head-height. And down — digging. When bumping into another boxer owner there are knowing looks that say: ‘Yep, they snore, smell and dig — but we’d never be without our boxers, the king of the canines.’”

Pedigree: Border Collie

Adam Henson, author, farmer and presenter on BBC’s Countryfile

“I actually have three dogs; a gun dog, which is an ‘inside dog’ and my two border collies, Maude and Pearl. I work with these two girls on the farm, and for us, moving ewes across a sunlit Cotswold meadow is close to perfection.

“Maude is the older of the two, being 12, and Pearl is her daughter (she’s six). They’ve got tremendous natural ability, and all I have to do is control them by teaching them which side to go to. It breaks down into four basic commands: ‘stop’, ‘on’, ‘away’ (to the right) and ‘by’ (to the left).

“Ultimately, they do what they’re born to do: round up the sheep to kill them — but I just take out the killing bit.”

Henson’s new book Adam’s Farm — My Life On The Land is out now, published by BBC Books, priced £16.99

Pedigree: King Charles Cavalier Spaniel

David Quantick, scriptwriter, journalist and broadcaster

“Ben was our second dog, a King Charles cavalier spaniel. Cavaliers are supposed to be a dinky sort of dog, designed to sit on cushions. They’re not exactly replete with machismo. He nearly got off to a bad start when my parents decided to name him Digby, after a film, but when they learned that ‘Digby’ was a local offensive epithet derived from the name of a nearby mental hospital, Ben it was. I liked Ben — he had character. He also had a bad back, a congenital defect in Charlies, which meant that sometimes if you stroked him, he’d growl at you. This was alarming in a cavalier — like a budgie carrying a shotgun — and when I think of Ben and his moments of aggression, it reminds me that quite often, things are not what they seem to be.”

Quantick writes for the multi-award winning Harry Hill’s TV Burp

Pedigree: Basset Hound

Sebastian Fitzek, international bestselling author

“My love of animals I owe to my late mother. She was so into cats and dogs, we had to keep her away from all the animal shelters around. The reason for that is, whenever she went there to make a donation, she would end up adopting a new pet. So it happened with Molly, a very friendly and very smelly basset I inherited from my mother in 2006.

“As stated in the records, Molly was already nine years old the day my mother got her. If this is true, she is now, 12 years later, one of the wonders of the world — that, or my mother found her at Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. Molly is getting younger by the hour, which has nothing to do with her activities. Molly is, as they say about bassets, the laziest dog in the world. When it rains she will not leave the house even to go in the garden. Even when the sun is shining she might lay down after a few steps to take a nap in the woods. And that is where she’ll stay, unless I remember to bring a trolley. Due to her inertia, she is the best listener in the world. She is the first creature on Earth that may hear what I am writing; there is no better sparring partner. She doesn’t talk back, doesn’t frown, doesn’t ask any questions. Unconditional approval. All you have to ignore is the onset of snoring.”

Fitzek’s latest novel, Splinter, will be published in April by Corvus, priced £12.99

Pedigree: German Shepherd

Tom Rob Smith, bestselling author of Child 44 and The Secret Speech

“Our dog was a German shepherd — enormous, beautiful, imperial. We named her Cleo, after the great queen. For the most part she did not like other dogs — she would growl at the friendliest terrier, her bark so loud other dog owners would scowl at me.

“She was the most antisocial dog I have ever known and it was fortunate I’m a writer, enabling me to walk her at times when no one else was around, in the lulls when most people were at work. Inside the home Cleo was a giant puppy, but once outside she was a guard dog, wary of strangers and deeply protective of those she loved.

“When she died a few years back it was as if a hole had been ripped out of our family and to this day I have not gone back to the woods where I used to walk her.”

Smith’s new novel AGENT 6 will be released in July