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Canal Dogs

May 21, 2013
by the gentle author

Photographer Sarah Ainslie & Novelist Sarah Winman were up with the lark to undertake a survey of canine life along the towpath of the Regent’s Canal recently and here is their report.

“It was a balmy spring morning when we set out from The Narrow Boat pub in Islington and headed east in search of dogs and their owners. It was a Sunday, and London seemed slow to waken. The canal rippled in the breeze, and blossom fell like first-flurry snow and narrow boats rocked lazily in the sunlight. Billie Holiday sang out from one, Nina from another. But no dogs passed. Towpaths were overhanging with green, and the heat released a pungent scent of nettles and cow parsley and forget-me-nots, and sweet grass and that something other, hidden in the shady depths. Joggers and cyclists and walkers passed, late-night hipsters keen to keep going. But then as the sun rose higher, tails did too, and noses rose and sniffed the fecund air, and soon the patter of tiny feet echoed along the well-trodden path…” - Sarah Winman

Alfie (Staffordshire Bull Terrier) & Frankie

“I’ve only just got him. Alfie’s a rescue dog and I saw on Facebook that he needed a home because he came from an environment of domestic abuse. When his owner got pregnant it all got a bit too much, so they had to let him go. If I hadn’t taken him he might have got put down. I’ve always had dogs. He’s really friendly and nice, but he still needs a firm hand. At first, if I went to stroke him he would flinch. Guess he’d been slapped about a bit. He also liked to sleep under the covers. At first I was a bit like “Whoa, what have I taken on?” But I’ve got the time for him because I work from home. I’m a musician. Dogs need long walks twice a day and I can give him that. Unfortunately I have to get rid of his balls next week ‘cause we share a house with a female dog. I’ve known dogs to break down doors to get to a bitch on heat.”

Lilly (Jack Russell/Collie mix) & Linda

“We’ve been together for six years now. Lilly was found in a cardboard box on the Holloway Road and taken to the RSPCA. Two years later, a neighbour who worked there said, “You know you wanted a naughty dog? Well I think I’ve found it.” She comes on all our cob builds. We use clay from excavations and build anything with it. We’re using clay from the Crossrail site at Tottenham Court Rd to build a community centre over at Meadow Orchard in Crouch End. She likes to come to parties with us and has eye lashes like a drag queen. She’s very loving and likes to rub herself against things and people a lot. She’s quite randy, but choosy. That’s why we call her a ‘Jackie Collins.’”

Cassie (Golden Retriever) & Chris

“After I got burgled I thought about getting a dog. I wanted an Alsatian but then I went to a puppy farm and Cassie was there and she jumped up at me and held on to me, so that was that. She’s a clever dog. Obsessed by food. She had a traumatic year two years ago when she was attacked by two dogs. Whilst she was being treated, the vet found a tumour behind her eye, and that’s how she lost it. She’s a very friendly girl, and is known by name by everyone. I’m not. She’s so well known at The Talbot that she’s even allowed to go behind the bar and serve.”

Hopper (whippet) & Nadia

“Both my boyfriend and I wanted a dog. We love dogs. We have a restaurant on Brick Lane – Fika – which is dog friendly. But we knew it was a big decision to make, so we chose a dog suitable for us and for where we live. We wanted a dog that didn’t bark too much and with an exercise routine that could fit around our life. We’ve had him since he was eight weeks old. He’s ten months now. I love having him around. He’s like a comedian and has great expressions. But he knows my boyfriend’s the master so it’s tougher on me. He’s a bit of a naughty teenager with me. Taking him off the lead at picnics is a definite no-no.”

Moo (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel crossed with a Bichon Frise) & Katie

“I got her when she was seven weeks old. She’s eighteen months now. I got her from Gumtree. I typed in ‘dog.’ She was cheap and very pretty. When we go to the vets I love to hear the vet come out and go, ‘Moo! Moo!’ Once I dressed her up in a sailor outfit and we went out on a boat. She fell in though.”

Max & Tasha (Schnauzers) & Tony

“The dogs were born in Australia, near Newcastle just north of Sydney, and we all came over together. They love it here. Love the snow. They go mad in the snow. They’ve just met another Schnauzer back there, called Buster. I don’t know if they all knew they were Schnauzers or just dogs, but they seemed to love each other. They’re great dogs to be around and a lot of fun. Max & Tasha are a couple of nice eight year olds.”

Bridget (Miniature Dachshund) & Carol

“We’ve been together three years. I got her as a puppy from a Breeder in Kent and she’ll be four in August. She’s beautiful. I named her after the Ray Steven’s song ‘Bridget the Midget,’ because she’s tiny. I thought Bridget was a German name too which would have gone with the Dachshund bit, but then I found out it was Irish. She loves playing ball. She plays ball continuously. She is a relentless player. You have to take the ball away physically to make her stop.”

Aggie  (West Highland Terrier) & Jude

“We’ve been together three and a half years now. I got her from a breeder in Cambridgeshire. I always wanted a Westie. She likes to do tricks – she can beg and hop and she can pick what hand the treat’s in. She does rollover too, but only on grass. She can also massage herself with a tennis ball.”

Serge (Miniature Labradoodle) & Sophie

“I named him after the French singer Serge Gainsbourg (not Kasabian). I got him two years ago from Gumtree. There were only two left and I went for the curly-haired one because of Colin. Colin’s not a man but another dog I fell in love with from the office. Serge is very well-behaved because I took him to dog training (which I highly recommend) and feed him healthy sprouts. He comes to work with me every day. I run a charity called Trekstock which raises money through music and fashion for young people with cancer. He can do high-fives and was recently in the Sunday Times Style Section.”

Jessie (Cocker Poo) with Zoe & Nick

Zoe – “I’ve had Jessie for three years. I got her as a puppy. I really really wanted a dog (mum says I nagged) and then I got her for my birthday. Beforehand, mum had set me a test. Dad wasn’t too bothered because Dad says he’s chilled. Mum told me I had to pick up thirteen other dog poos to show her I could do it. I don’t have to do it anymore though, dad does that bit. Jessie’s really cute and cuddles me. She comes and jumps up at me after school. I’m ten.”

Romeo (Staffordshire Bull Terrier) & Dave

“Romeo was actually my partner’s nephew’s dog, but they couldn’t look after him. I’ve had him for five or six months now. He’s got such a friendly temperament and gets on with everyone. He’s slowly getting used to the traffic after living in the country. I walk him everywhere. Where I go, he goes. I walk him through Newington Green to Clissold Park to Finsbury Park along the railway tracks to Crouch End. I’ve done that walk on crutches before and in the snow. Romeo hasn’t found his Juliet yet. But he does love pigs’ ears.”

Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

You may also like to take a look at

The Dogs of Spitalfields

More Dogs of Spitalfields

The Dogs of Spitalfields in Spring

The Dogs of Spitalfields in Autumn

The Dogs of Spitalfields in Winter

The Dogs of Spitalfields in the Snow

The Dogs of Old London

3 Responses leave one →
  1. Glenn permalink
    May 21, 2013

    I love these stories about everyday life in the East End.
    Thanks GA.

  2. Annie permalink
    May 21, 2013

    Lovely story, we walk the canal all the time for dogs to say hello to, one day we will get one too (but will our cat-that-thinks-he’s-a-dog be put out)? Shame the auto daily email still not working!

  3. Mike Brown permalink
    May 21, 2013

    A wonderful and very warm set of stories

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