The Dogs of Spitalfields in Winter
Spitalfields Life Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie and writer Andrew McCaldon have been out in the parks again, braving the frost to continue their survey of East End canines.
Max (Dalmatian) & Hugo Coster
“I saw his picture online – one inch by five inches – and that was it. I grew up in the States and had two Dalmatians as a kid, though Max is the first as my own responsibility. I’ve had rats and cats but dogs take it to a whole new level.
It’s nice having him – I meet about twenty new people every day. Recently I was walking him in Hyde Park and met an improv actor who was doing a show called ‘Hounded.’ He said they’d love to have Max chase people dressed as foxes through Soho on a Friday night. And we did! They had bugles going off. The drunk revellers got in on the action too. Max loved it!
With Max, people want to stop and talk. It’s made London a more friendly place for me.”
Percy (Basset Hound), Ronnie (Terrier) & Evon Gregory
“I’d had Percy for about six months but he wasn’t good on his own, he used to wail all the time. Then I was having coffee with Leila outside her shop when a guy came up with a rucksack of puppies, saying he couldn’t cope with them. He opened the bag and Ronnie was just there. I looked at him and Leila said ‘Are you sure about this?’ but I’ve no regrets.
Percy and Ronnie get on very well. Percy is a proper alpha male, very protective, very stubborn, and Ronnie loves everybody, he’s social, he’s always happy. They’re like ‘The Odd Couple.’
I was very ill for over a year, and if it hadn’t been for the dogs I wouldn’t have left the house at all. So I realised afterwards how important they both were.”
Molly (Miniature Yorkshire Terrier) & Alan Styman
“My wife went out one day and ,when she came home, she put her hand in her pocket and she pulled Molly out and held her in her hand. She was so tiny, it was unbelievable.
I was born in Bethnal Green and I worked as an estates manager for Tower Hamlets for a long while, then I became a chauffeur. I drove all sorts of people, executives from the big banks, Judi Dench and her husband, Placido Domingo – I drove him about, to and fro the opera house. And Tommy Steele.
I loved it.
My wife and I live in sheltered housing now and it can be very boring, stuck indoors. Molly keeps me active, and if you make a fuss of her you make a friend for life. The amount of people around here who see me and say ‘Hello Molly!’ – they all know her but I haven’t the faintest idea who they are.”
Blesk (Borzoi) & Svetlana Cunnington
“I’ve had dogs from the Whippet family all my life, and I had another Borzoi in Switzerland, where I am from. My husband and I went to Russia to fetch Blesk. He was six months in quarantine and we went down to see him every Saturday and Sunday to try and cheer him up.
For me, these dogs represent speed, swiftness and beauty – and beauty will save the world.
He’s a continuation of me. We went on a holiday to Moscow, three days later we had a phone call to say ‘your dog is dying.’ Blesk wasn’t eating, only lying there. It was sadness, he had given up. He thought we had left him again, just as he was when he was in quarantine. Ever since then, we have never been on holiday without him.
He’s my angel.
I have a son, he’s twenty-one now, and in the Swiss army. You learn that you can’t have your children with you forever, they can’t always be your companion but your dog stays with you.”
Charlie (Border Collie-Labrador-Whippet-Greyhound-cross) & Leanne Winters
“I’ve had him since he was a pup. My Nan owned Charlie’s mother. He’s got his Mum’s grey colour and the black bits belong to his Dad.
He’s a unique dog, all on his own. People either call him a fox, a wolf or a hyena!
I’ve lived here for thirty years and people have seen me with different dogs, I’ve had a five or six so far. Charlie’s the best – more lovable, more playful. He brings me happiness. He doesn’t listen to a blind word I say, but there we are. He peed on my friend’s leg the other day, cos she’d been standing still for a long time and he thought she was a tree. He’s good like that!”
Nelson (English Bull Terrier) & Stuart Morris
“Eleven years old, he’s an old boy now. He’s called Nelson after “The Nelson’s Head” round the corner – yeah, and he also has a patch over one eye. I bought him as a guard dog for the pub when I owned it. I didn’t keep the pub in the end, but I kept Nelson.
Their reputation is the problem with these dogs, though it’s not the dogs, it’s the people who bring them up – whether it’s six inches of Chihuahua or an Alsatian, if you bring them up angry, they’ll be angry.
You can’t get a better dog for a kid. My granddaughter’s two and, if Nelson’s having his dinner and she puts her hand into his mouth, he’ll stop eating.
He’s as good as gold.”
Malinka (West Highland Terrier) & Sara Dixon
“‘Mally,’ ‘Monkey,’ ‘Moo,’ ‘Malinka the Stinker!’
I like Westies. At school, one of my boyfriends had a West Highland Terrier and we used to put gel in its hair. We were fourteen and it was fun.
Malinka’s a dope, but a nice dope. She’s scared of prams and she barks at leaves passing the door. I was burgled, I could hear them downstairs yet the entire time Malinka was under the bed, fast asleep.
She always sleeps under my bed. And she sits on the bottom stair, I’m often out all day – she’s worn that stair thin, waiting for me.”
Shadow (Rottweiler–Black Labrador cross) & Edmond Cuvelier
“Me, my Mum and sister moved to San Francisco while my Dad stayed in France and that’s when we got Shadow, ten years ago. Now I’m studying over here. All my family’s in Europe and we were all moving here anyways, so I found a college nearby.
Coming over, the only problem for Shadow was the flight. She was in the place where they keep all the suitcases, for twelve hours, and as soon as she got off the plane she started crying.
I do miss my friends over there, but I’m making new friends here. I got here two months before my course started and Shadow was good company during that time – and she still is.”
Sam (Alsatian) & Yvonne Davis
“My brother lives in Essex and he kept seeing this dog with a drug addict – the dog was getting thinner and on its last legs. So one day he gave the addict some money for the dog and took him away.
We called him Sam. I have him Monday to Thursdays and then my brother, he’s a taxi driver, picks Sam up in his cab and they go home to Essex together.
He’s a bit vocal at times, a bit nervous. Yesterday, my son suddenly banged open a cupboard and Sam flew for his life.
Two different parents might not be ideal but compared to what his previous life was like, it’s much better. Now he’s loved.”
Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie
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