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The tale of the Wiccan witch and the Great Dane in Bowness

PUBLISHED: 00:00 27 September 2014 | UPDATED: 23:41 23 October 2015

Sarah and Ian at their Wiccan wedding with Bramble as ring bearer

Sarah and Ian at their Wiccan wedding with Bramble as ring bearer

not Archant

Emily Rothery meets a follower of the Wiccan faithwho has a special bond with her dog

Bramble was found to be deafBramble was found to be deaf

We expect every witch to have a black cat but Sarah Dalzell is the exception. Her constant companion is Bramble, a large white Great Dane.

Sarah runs the Spellbound Herbal shop in Bowness on Windermere and she is a Wiccan ‘hedge’ witch, a term which reflects her special interest in herbs found in our hedrows.

She follows the Wicca faith, which has a deep connection to the natural world and, she says, teaches peace, love, unity and responsibility. Sarah feels that her beliefs are pivotal in her relationship with Bramble, a beautiful merlequin Great Dane, the term that describes the markings on her coat. Bramble is also special because she is deaf.

When Sarah was a youngster, injured or abandoned animals would somehow be drawn to her and she would instinctively tend to their needs and nurse them back to health.

Sarah, a Wiccan 'hedge' witch with BrambleSarah, a Wiccan 'hedge' witch with Bramble

In later years she put her natural affinity to further good use working with horses at the Animaline Sanctuary, run by TV scriptwriter Carla Lane.

‘Carla often had to call on me to calm a horse for the vet and all I ever did was put my hand by its nose, allow it to smell me and talk quietly to it and within a short time it allowed the vet to do what was needed. The horse dentist always used to say that she hoped that it would be me on duty to settle the difficult horses,’ explains Sarah.

‘When I first saw Bramble it was love at first sight. She was the last of the litter to be homed and just a little scrap of a thing but, once seen, I knew that I couldn’t say goodbye. She was very thin and extremely nervous and wouldn’t eat.’

Sarah, who grew up with Great Danes, knew that something was amiss. ‘One day, after speaking with my mum, who is hard of hearing, the penny dropped. I realised that Bramble was deaf.

‘As a pup she had coped by shadowing my other dog Merlin, a lovely old gent. She also craftily learned to help herself to eggs from my hencoop. I wondered what was happening to my eggs until one day I found eggshells in the garden. Bramble had carried them to her lair and then gently broke the shells and ate the inside. After that, I coaxed her to eat other things.’

With careful nurturing Bramble began to thrive. She is now seven and you’d be hard pressed to find a more obedient and sweet natured dog. Sarah communicates with her pet through hand signals.

On average the dog knows about ten hand signs but Sarah believes that her dog also intuitively responds on a deeper level to body language and facial expressions. The key to success is empathy and consistency – Sarah has invented her own signals and frequently reassures Bramble by making a starfish shape with her hand, which signifies approval.

‘I am always attuned to her and made a pledge that I would act as pack leader enabling Bramble to lead a stress-free life. In return Bramble has brought me so much joy and has taught me infinite patience and a deeper understanding of animals. She intuitively knows to cuddle up to me if I am in pain or upset.

‘In the shop she has a lot of fans. She seems to know when to be extra calm and gentle and has even helped people with dog phobias to overcome their fears. One small boy was frightened and I witnessed his look of instinctive terror turn to wonder as he watched Bramble. The next minute he was stroking her and talking to her in an almost conspiratorial way.

‘Bramble is not just my best friend; she is my protector and confidant. When I first met my husband, Tim, a “date or not to date” factor was whether Bramble approved of him. Thankfully she loved him instantly and claimed him by sitting on his knee, all nine stone of her! That was a test for Tim too which luckily he passed with flying colours.

She and Tim had a Wiccan wedding in spring and Bramble was the ring bearer. ‘We have a lot of fun together,’ says Sarah, who lives in Gleaston on the Furness peninsula. ‘At home Bramble loves to act as a footstool so that she has close physical contact with us. Somehow the deafness adds to her allure and we are constantly approached when out walking, initially because of her size, but when people learn that she is deaf they want to learn more.’

In the past deaf dogs were often put to sleep but mercifully more compassion is shown now. Bramble is living proof that a deaf dog can live a full and happy life.

For more information on deaf dogs log onto www.dogstrust.org.uk

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