THE WAY I SEE IT
Ilove dogs. I had two West Highland terriers for years and when they both died just a fortnight apart, I was bereft. Honestly, I howled. In fact, about a year later on a plane, and much to the consternation of the man next to me who may well have assumed I was fondly remembering friends and family before embarking on a personal jihad, I howled again because Marley & Me was the inflight movie.
This may be the least necessary spoiler alert in history but Marley died and, well, the cabin crew could have mopped me up with two sheets of Bounty. I was a wreck.
We got another dog from the pound, a very lovable but completely free- spirited Jack Russell mix who clearly paid more attention to The Shawshank Redemption than we noticed when we watched the DVD. She has escaped at least four times now; such are her skills at covering distance at great speed, I occasionally half- expect to get a phone call from Rio saying she’s sipping a cocktail in a deckchair on the beach.
I’m so aware of the terror that strikes you when a pet goes missing that I pay serious attention when it happens to someone else. On Facebook a few weeks ago, I saw appeals to people to keep an eye out for a missing dog (I don’t want to cause any hurt for the owners, so let’s say it was a Labrador called Fido).
Last week, I took my mother to the local village for an appointment and, in the window of the post office, there was a flyer with a picture of Fido, again asking for help in finding it.
Two crucial omissions on my part happened there and then. I say ‘it’ because I paid no heed to Fido’s sex. Nor, indeed, did I register Fido’s name, merely what it looked like. Ten minutes later, driving home, I saw a dog matching the description wandering the street.
My heart leapt. I slammed on the brakes, hopped out and ran over to the dog. It had a collar engraved with its name and the owner’s phone number but there was no answer when I rang. And while its name was Bouncer (changed again to protect the poor animal’s privacy), I genuinely couldn’t remember if that was the name of the missing dog. It was very friendly, so I opened the back door and
‘Effectively, I had just become a
dognapper. From potential hero, I was now technically a thief’
whistled. In the dog hopped, before curling up in the footwell and going asleep. I drove back to the post office, raced to the window and, heart-stoppingly, realised that I had a Bouncer and not a Fido. In fact, a cursory look also showed that Bouncer was a boy, and Fido was a bitch.
Effectively, I had just become a dognapper; from potential hero, I now technically was a thief. I still couldn’t raise the dog’s owner on the phone but nor could I just abandon him where I found him. So I Googled the unusual spelling of the family surname on the phone and no sooner had a possible address popped up on screen than my phone battery died.
So I drove to a friend’s house to use her computer and explained what I needed to do. ‘I know them!’ she said. ‘They live just down the road.’
‘Where?’ I asked. When she told me, it turned out I had basically stolen Bouncer outside his front door.
So I drove back and parked and whistled again, but Bouncer wasn’t going anywhere. When I dragged him out, he nuzzled up against me, then rolled over and demanded I tickle his tummy. When I stopped, he growled in a faintly alarming fashion that signified more tummy rubbing was required.
Eventually, I tiptoed away and when I started to drive off, he turned his head away at a half angle and stuck his nose in the air in a chastising fashion that made me feel even worse.
Later, I got a text from the owner saying how grateful she was I had returned him safely, and I hadn’t the heart to text back and tell her that the only real threat to his safety in the first place was being kidnapped by me.
The whole episode took over an hour and it has rather put me off being the Good Samaritan — and yet I’d do it all over again.
Obviously, the first thing you really need to do is remember the dog’s name, but you also need to remember that, short of child, a pet going walkabout is one of the most distressing experiences you’ll ever go through.
And if you can help someone else out of that awful situation, then you just have to. At least, that’s the way I see it.