Rural Notes 12

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This week I would like to use the county’s finest organ to express my deepest gratitude to the Rae family of Easter Road. These lovely people recently found themselves the unwitting custodians of Paddy my eldest dog, a role which they discharged with great care compassion and common sense. On Easter Saturday, I had taken my two dogs for a long walk to Longniddry, intending to then catch a lift home as my wife returned from Edinburgh with our daughters. Paddy is now pretty grown up, being a 14 year old Border Terrier, but he has been a tireless walking companion for me all his life and still easily copes with a 5 or 6 mile stroll.

On this occasion he would even enjoy a lengthy rest as I was killing two birds with one stone by getting some exercise and discharging a responsibility I have for inspecting the outdoor wild boar herd which is based at Gosford. Wild boar and dogs have a mutual suspicion of one another, so I planned to tether the dogs by one of the main paths whilst I traversed the dense woodland to reach the pens and inspect the inhabitants. To my horror and dismay, I returned to find the Paddy had slipped his collar and was off on manoeuvres, leaving just his son tied to the tree and a lead with a rather forlorn leather collar. Of course, his name tag and my contact numbers were unhelpfully lying on the ground, still attached to the collar, but not to the dog.

Gosford is a pretty big place with an awful lot of woodland and rhododendron which makes looking for a dog tricky. Whilst Paddy is still physically fit, he is almost stone deaf and has recently developed cataracts which limit his long distance vision. In other words, calling him or expecting him to find me carried little hope of success. To add to my stress levels, for sound conservation and land management reasons, the estate allows dogs on the condition they are kept on a lead, so asking every other walker if they’d seen him added to my disquiet. And finally of course, my wife phoned to tell me she was in Longniddry, and I had to confess all. My girls have on occasion appeared to blame me, (somewhat unreasonably I think!), when any of our pets become unwell, but there was nothing unreasonable in concluding that I was wholly responsible this time.

I had recently diagnosed Paddy with an underactive thyroid gland, and had started him on medication. His recent weight gain had reversed, but I had not thought to adjust his collar, and hence he simply slipped out of it, without its having broken. The longer we all spent looking, the more worried and upset everyone became and eventually, the darker it became. In the end, I spoke with Tony and Bob who live on the estate and asked them to keep their eyes peeled, and we all drove home for a horribly anxious evening until first light again on the Sunday.

However, this was not to be. Step forward the Rae’s, who telephoned me at about 8 pm. The full details are incompletely known, but what is known is that after visiting family in Wallyford on the Saturday, they boarded a 124 bus late in the afternoon. Anna their young daughter was quickly befriended by a slightly unkempt looking old dog without a collar. Paddy is a very affectionate soul, and I can easily picture how readily he would attach to a wee girl prepared to pat and stroke him. Mr Rae explained that as the bus meandered ever west, people embarked and disembarked, until he realised that by Jocks Lodge, there was now nobody left on the bus who had been an original traveller when they had boarded and been adopted by Paddy. The driver had assumed that he belonged to a passenger who had boarded with him at an earlier stop, though he couldn’t remember whether that had been in Aberlady, Longniddry or Prestonpans. At any rate, the Rae family took responsibility for this old lost tired and hungry dog and took him home to their flat off Easter Road. There, they gave him a meal before taking him to Gayfield Square Police Station, where he was scanned for a microchip. Hallelujah, at least I had implanted one when he was a puppy, and it produced my name and phone number.

I answered the call myself that evening and I confess to being as relieved to hear the good news that he was safe and sound as I ever have about any news. A sure way to tell how much you have been worrying is to gauge the relief when the anxiety is lifted. Mr Rae explained the story as he knew it, and asked only whether I’d consider leaving Paddy with them overnight as his daughter was not allowed a dog, and this was a real treat for her. Her parents had quickly concluded that their guest was a very gentle and personable hound and they’d said Anna could have him sleep in her room assuming the owners were in agreement. I drove to Edinburgh the following day to express my gratitude and collect my dog, and I must admit he looked as if he was wholly relaxed about extending his ‘city break’ indefinitely. The family would accept nothing by way of appreciation save our heartfelt thanks.

It’s a funny thing that we all hear so many stories about animal cruelty in the media. Of course it goes on, but in general practice, we don’t see it on a regular basis. What we see on an almost constant non-stop basis is the reverse; the spontaneous and deeply ingrained instinct to animal kindness and care which is by far and away the prevalent reaction of people. I suppose that ‘person caught petting animal’ does not have quite the media cache for story selling that ‘person caught punching’ would if used instead. There are many more good news stories than bad, we just don’t often hear them.

Incidentally, Northern Ireland introduced legislation last year compelling dog owners to microchip their dogs and England is to follow suit in 2016. The hope is that it will greatly reduce the numbers of strays saving the public purse and charity coffers a fortune and improving animal welfare in consequence, as well as making owners responsible for dogs who inflict injury or damage on persons or property and . The Scottish government has resisted calls to do the same, citing a lack of evidence that canine welfare might be improved. That seems curious if not ridiculous. Paddy ended up thirty miles from home, and had he not had the good fortune to meet the Rae’s, he’d have ended up in a rescue centre where his chance of rehoming, being deaf and impaired in sight, would be poor. A simple microchip, inexpensive, and lasting a lifetime saved all the heartache which might easily have followed. It would be tragic indeed if Holyrood has said no, just because Westminster said yes.

 

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Glen Watson
Partner at Links Vet Group