I recall my dad’s reaction when my brother and I returned home with our first pet dog.
“It’s a bit big, isn’t it?” said the old man – with a customary lack of enthusiasm – as the nervous, black and white cross-breed sniffed around her new abode.
Of course, within five minutes dad was on all fours and making a huge fuss of the animal who I named Solo (after Star Wars character, Han, of course).
The year was 1989 and I remember vividly our trip to the City Dog’s Home in Bucknall. I wasn’t prepared for row upon row of kennels with pleading eyes or the incessant barking which assailed our ears.
In the end we chose Solo, who was two at the time, precisely because she was quiet and timid – standing as she did at the back of her pen, shaking.
She went on to live to the ripe old age of 15 and had many adventures.
One time mum inexplicably dropped a steaming hot joint of roast beef, straight out of the oven, on to the tiled floor of our kitchen.
Quick as a flash Solo snapped up the great chunk of meat in her jaws and ran off with it – curling up in her bed and snarling like a mad thing at anyone who went near her until she’d scoffed the lot.
That was Sunday lunch gone for a Burton.
After Solo died mum and dad got their current dog, Cobi, from the City Dogs’ Home too.
The place has actually been open for more than 30 years – helping to find homes for literally thousands of unwanted dogs.
During that time the one constant has been Vicki Phillips who is now the manageress of the privately-owned home.
Vicki, aged 63, lives close to the Brookhouse Lane site and for her and her four staff it is far more than a job.
She said: “You can’t help but become emotionally attached. It can be a very depressing job but it is always a very rewarding one too.
“It is nice knowing that you have provided a dog with a safe, warm environment.
“Then every time we re-home an animal it gives you a great sense of achievement and happiness.”
The City Dogs’ Home, which takes in all of the stray animals picked up by Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s wardens, opened its doors in 1982 not long after Longton Dogs’ Home closed.
Vicki worked at the Longton centre at then at the City Dogs’ Home as a kennel maid before moving in at Bucknall as resident manageress.
She recalls: “Back in the early days we didn’t have anywhere near the number of dogs we have now.
“We had space for perhaps 30 or so animals. The number of kennels has quadrupled since then and we never turn a dog away.
“In the Eighties we would get all sorts of breeds in – Shepherds were quite popular.
“Nowadays it is mainly cross-bred Staffies and this is really sad to see.”
On average the City Dogs’ Home is looking after anywhere between 80 and 100 animals.
It’s obviously a full-time job, 365 days of the year, and so on Christmas Day, for example, the staff will share the load of feeding and checking on the animals.
Vicki said: “These are difficult times and hard for us as a business.
“As well as the dogs brought in by the local authority we also have animals that come to us from their owners for a variety of reasons.
“Sometimes people have lost their job or their home or are downsizing to live in a flat and simply don’t have the room for a dog anymore or can’t afford to keep one.
“We are extremely grateful to the public who help us enormously throughout the year – particularly at Christmas time – with donations of food and bedding.”
Vicki, who used to have seven rescue dogs of her own but now only has a Poodle and Cavalier left, has the following words of advice for anyone considering taking on a dog.
She said: “It may be a cliche but having a dog really is a big responsiblility.
“People need to be aware of the commitment – not simply in terms of the financial cost but in terms of the time required to properly look after an animal.”
*Anyone who thinks they can offer a safe home to one of the animals at the City Dogs’ Home should contact Vicki on: 01782 304130.’
Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia