The Dogs of Spitalfields
Spitalfields Life contributing photographer Sarah Ainslie and writer Andrew McCaldon have been getting up early to join the dogs of Spitalfields and their owners frolicking in Allen Gardens, Weavers’ Fields and Haggerston Park on these recent fine Spring mornings. Although they have no dogs of their own, both Sarah and Andrew grew up around dogs and delighted in the opportunity to make these crafty portraits, as a happy excuse to join the local canine crew.
Tiger (Great Dane) & Paul Clarke
“To me, he’s always “Tig” – that’s how he knows it’s me.
I was dumped, as a baby, on the steps of St. John’s at the bottom of Bethnal Green Road. A woman found me and I was put in the orphanage round the corner. I ended up in the Royal Marines – for twenty-four years, three days and two hours – until 1973, then I went walkabout for few years. Now I look after the nuns at St. Saviour’s.
I trained Tig myself. He’s got to earn his money and the City police borrow him a lot. If he’s looking for you, you better hit the deck quick. He doesn’t bark, he just gets you down on the floor and then he waits for me.
When he’s good, great. When he misbehaves, I’m the guvnor.
The nuns like him because he’s emotional company and when they know he’s about they call for him. They all want him in their room and they get jealous if he spends too much time with one of them.
Tig’s so placid. If a person is placid, the dog will be the same. And I am mellow now too – after twenty-four years of killing you mellow a bit.”
May (Staffordshire Bull Terrier) & Michael Landy
“When I have a hangover and have to get up at seven am in the morning to walk her, I ask myself “Why did I do this?”
I hadn’t had a dog since I was child and, being an artist, it’s not the easiest thing looking after one. She’s a pain in the bum at my studio – every time I look up she’s staring at me. But she’s learnt not to walk on my drawings.
She’s a big chewer, likes destroying anything. I think we’ve both got the same destructive personality!
At my age it’s nice to get back into parks. I was born in Graham Rd in Hackney, I spent a lot of time in parks as a kid, you know.They were places for illicit goings on, you used to get chased, thrown out by the wardens. Now I’m a middle aged man, I’m responsible – for May – and I’m back in parks.”
Shadow (Alaskan Malamute) & Michela Cucchi
“When I first saw him he followed me everywhere, always by my bum, and it’s like the song says – “Me and My Shadow.”
I didn’t want a normal dog, I wanted something I could learn from. These are really the first ever dogs, he’s very primitive, a domesticated wolf effectively. He’ll eat a whole chicken over three days.
He’s very protective of me, wants to be at my fruit and veg stall all day, hates going home. People see me differently, before it was always “You’re the lady on the stall,” now it’s “You’re the lady with the dog.”
When my Mum died and she was at home with us, he knew what was going on, he wouldn’t leave me. After she went, I just walked and walked and walked – with Shadow.
He was my sanity.”
Homer (French Bulldog) & Caroline Johnson
“I didn’t think I’d care for something so much – now I’m totally controlled by this tiny little furball!
Homer preceded me. I’m not his first mother but I like to think I’m his best mother.
He was born in Texas but my husband raised him in New York. Homer had lots of friends there in the East Village, although he didn’t like the fourth floor walk up. When we both moved to London, it was four months before he could join us. We used to have him put on the phone and listen to him breathing.
Now we come to Allen Gardens every day, Homer needs to see his friends, we have to wait until he’s got a playmate. He’s not been fixed so he’s a bit of a pervert!
He’s twelve now, he’s an old man, could probably do with a bit of botox on his face. But he’s a happy dog and as they say, “Happiness keeps you young,” right?”
Charlie Pellicci (Yorkshire Terrier) & Nevio Pellicci
“He’s just been to the dog parlour on Columbia Rd for his summer haircut.
We used to have a guard dog at the cafe, about twenty years ago, an Alsatian called “Sparky,” because we’d been broken into and everyone got worried. But I was too young to appreciate him then.
I chose to get Charlie but he’s become the family’s dog now. Since Dad’s not been there, Mum’s become more attached to him – you know, we’ve started to have child “right of access” issues.
He eats very well! He has all the usual biscuits and steak pie, nice little bits of grilled chicken, seafood, he loves seafood. Only one thing he won’t eat – lettuce. He’ll lick the dressing off but won’t touch the leaves.
It is a good name for him. He looks like a real Charlie.”
Maya (Shih Tzu) & Lorraine Carter
“Oh, it was hard getting up every morning to walk her in the snow, but she loved it. Instead of her ball I threw her snowballs.
Life is different for dogs around here now. My Granddad had a dog, an Alsatian, that used to go on the round with the milkman in the morning and the evening. In Homerton we had a mongrel, he could have a free run, he’d just come back home when he was ready. You’ve got to watch out for them more now, and Maya’s so gentle, I’d be worried she’d be taken from me.
But I wouldn’t live anywhere else. This area’s got “oomph,” I can breathe more here. And getting Maya was the right thing to do.
She’s a joy, an absolute joy.”
Stevie (Wire Fox Terrier) & George Wu
“He’s Tintin’s dog! I always liked Snowy more than Tintin, always wanted Snowy. And he is Snowy, but just not as clever as Snowy.
I got a sofa and came home to find he’d eaten one of the wooden arm rests.
It’s like having a kid. I’m a graphic designer, Stevie comes to work with me every day. He sits in a basket on the back of my bicycle and looks out. He’s ten kilos, it’s a nightmare.
He’s used to being carried, I have to carry him all the time at house parties or private views round here, or on the tube.
Stevie’s with me all the time – wherever I go, he goes.”
Cassius (German Shepherd) & Tony Morris
“Cass’s grandfather won Crufts in 2007 and 2008. I’m planning to enter him into shows too. We’ve been to the Shoreditch Dog Show and won some money. But Cass could win Crufts – I really want to enter him, he’s got winning genes in his body!
I’ve had him since he was eight weeks old. I walk him for two hours every morning. He’s learning to be calm around people and dogs, which is how you win championships.
I grew up on Goldsmiths Row. My dream is to move to St. Albans, because I’ve seen a lot of trouble around here. I’m not scared of anything though. I’m doing a diploma in English, I want to do a course in locksmithery and I’d like to be a gym instructor too.
And I’ll always have dogs.”
Forest (Dalmatian) & Joe Pritchett
“A bloke left him on my ex’s doorstep. Her house was like Dr. Doolittle’s. I said I’d take him home for one night and it’s been three and a half years.
He’s “Forest” because he’s a runner, bred to run alongside the carriages and Forest Gump was a runner too. And, well, I’m Nottingham Forest fan.
I had trouble, I found it hard to get on my feet, but now I feel like I’m a do-er. Having to be out three times a day for him, it helps with my motivation, it helps with everything.
I’ve never had to look after anything in my life but now I’ve got Forest.”
Photographs © Sarah Ainslie