Another in my ‘it sounds far-fetched but this really happened’ series, in which I recount tales that maybe should be best left forgotten. But where’s the fun and humiliation in that?
This story expands on a Happy Tail, as told in MY BOOK! In my short electronic gathering of words, I show off some poor unfortunate dogs that have found themselves homeless, and how volunteers help them on to a new life. Each
tail tale is just a snippet, weaving together some of my own ‘Freedom Runs’ with an insight into how the dog rescue world works. This particular story is The Furthest One, which in the book is just the bullet points of a rather surreal trip. Let me now expand and tell you…….
THEN THERE WAS THAT TIME WE RESCUED A DOG
In 2014 I signed myself up as a volunteer transporter, assisting lost/abandoned/homeless/ownerless dogs to the safety of their rescue placements. If you’d like to know more about the whys and wherefores, well you’ll just have to DOWNLOAD MY BOOK!
I’d already transported my first one, so was super-excited when the opportunity arose for my second. But this was to be no ordinary trip.
I’m one-quarter Scottish, and the previous year had seen my first ever visit to Scotland. It’s a fair distance from us, a minimum five-hour drive so not something we could do at the drop of a hat. We loved it so much, we booked to repeat the whole thing; Edinburgh, the Tattoo, the Fringe, the whole shebang.
In the week leading up to our trip, a happy looking crossbred Staffordshire Bull Terrier appeared on social media, via the organisation I volunteer for, with a plea for transport. His Freedom Run had to happen on a particular day. It was the day we were going on holiday. And his rescue placement? Edinburgh.
The sheer coincidence of that unlikely alignment should have set off alarm bells. But it didn’t. The Universe has perfected its skill in putting me in the wrong place at the wrong time, I should’ve seen this comedy of errors coming.
With this being very early in my career as a dog transporter, I didn’t have any of the recommended requirements, such as a dog crate or seatbelt harness. Or experience or common sense. My first dog was a tiddly one, so he went in our cat’s carrier. A bit of a squeeze for a Staffie.
I put my offer out there, one too good to refuse given that we were going anyway and wouldn’t be incurring any out-of-pocket costs apart from a small detour to the rescue centre. Many transporters who volunteer often do so at their own expense, but the fuel for long trips are reimbursed out of charitable donations, and usually require a relay team of transporters to cover the distance. This would have meant at least ten hour’s worth of accumulated round trips for a relay team. And a helluva journey for someone to donate their time to do alone. There is a huge advantage in having just one person do a run, as handovers can add so much stress to an already frightened and confused dog. As there were two of us, the incredible good fortune that it was practically next door to our destination therefore making the trip free, everyone agreed that the dog was of a suitable temperament that being leashed and in the hands of my partner on the backseat of the car was an acceptable arrangement.
Not until the day we left did we know for sure that the Freedom Run was on, again DOWNLOAD MY BOOK for the details, but any owner has seven days to claim their dog, so although plans and rescue homes are put in place, it could all be for nought until that seventh day.
We were on.
We left early to pick up the dog from his holding kennels. As far as we know, he was picked up as a stray, so nothing was really known about him. The dog warden had named him Bartley Bear, and we were looking forward, albeit somewhat nervously, to meeting him and finding out just who we would be sharing our marathon car journey with…….
With his slip-lead secure, he jumped onto the backseat of the car with my partner hanging on tight. Off we set.
Because dogs in these situations are essentially strangers, no-one really knows how they’ll travel. For that reason they’re often not fed if going on a longish journey, just to reduce the risk of them being poorly. But it did seem an awful long time to go without food, from the previous evening till whatever time we arrived in Edinburgh. So we decided to get him something to eat. A service station stop or two was necessary anyway, not only for our own ‘comfort break’ but for Bartley to also stretch his legs and take a call of nature. Service stations sell EVERYTHING, so of course they’ll have some dog food. And yes, yes they did. In cans. If we were going camping that’d be no problem as we would have had a can opener with us. But we had treated ourselves to proper accommodation; four walls and a roof, which would come with its own can opener. We considered buying him a pork pie. Then we spotted some cat food. In easy to open pouches. So cat food it was. Can’t recall how it was ‘served’, we probably just emptied it onto the grass. But it got eaten and didn’t come back up, so that was a bonus. We all stretched our legs. We’d all had a wee. Bartley did some rolling around, having by now really settled down.
The rest of the journey was relaxed. Bartley alternated between lying down over my partner’s lap and sitting up to view the passing world. The next four hours passed by and it was pretty uneventful. Until…….
We arrived in Scotland. A big excited cheer went up and the holiday vibes were flying. We crossed the border via the motorway and it was all a breeze.
And then a bank of brakelights dazzled our view.
I slammed on our own brakes and we juddered to a halt. We were in the outside lane (cos that’s how I roll), and found ourselves just two rows behind ‘an incident’, as that is how I’m sure the motorway warning signs behind us would now be advertising this event.
‘Incident’ is somewhat belittling of the chaos we were now cornered in. It could’ve only just happened. Once our hearts had calmed down enough from that ‘just seconds away’ realisation, we started to fully take in the scene. Like I said, we had second row seats, there was a first row (with hearts visibly beating faster), and in front of them was a 4×4 car. Pulling a trailer. Carrying a semi-inflatable boat. Not an unusual sight. Except this was all parked lengthways across all three lanes of the motorway. And the boat and trailer were upside down. There was a leak. The fuel tank on the boat was ruptured and a large lake of fuel was forming on the hard shoulder. A man was pacing up and down, making frantic phone calls.
Once I’d digested this somewhat unexpected panorama, I turned my attention to my backseat passengers. They were ok. My partner was be-stilling his own beating heart and Bartley Bear was quiet but clearly agitated from the sudden change in motion and atmosphere. I started to speak but then caught the view through the back windscreen. I recalled us overtaking an articulated lorry transporting a mobile home. They’re tricky buggers to pass, given their size and width. And it turns out they’re tricky buggers to stop in an emergency. But stop it had. Sideways. Only three rows behind. The driver’s heart, I’m sure, also beating very fast.
All in all it seemed no-one was hurt, just shaken. And the only vehicle out of action was the one that had started the snowball. We couldn’t work out what had happened, but it appeared to be a solo undertaking. Thankfully the driver, frantically on his phone still, looked unscathed. But it was a heck of a predicament to be in.
We glanced around and noticed people were getting out of their cars to assess the situation. Next to us, in the middle lane, was a coach. A rather posh looking coach. Its occupants too had spilled out onto the carriageway to get a better view. This was the moment that Bartley decided he wasn’t happy with his lot and made a very loud vocal announcement to anyone who’d listen. He barked at us, he barked at the guys stood by our car, he barked at being alone in the world, not understanding that this journey was the beginning of a new and happy life for him. All his fright and confusion came to the fore and his big dog voice and his big dog bare teeth told us he was very distressed. The poor boy was inconsolable.
Different people kept getting on and off the coach, a couple of them stood right in front of our car. They were wearing lanyards with ID. And hoodies with writing. I looked again at the posh coach. It wasn’t just a posh coach, it was a chuffin’ tour bus.
It was PUBLIC ENEMY’S chuffin’ tour bus. LOOK!
Yes I took a photo. Not normally the done thing at accidents, unless for evidence, but as no-one was hurt, didn’t think it was totally inappropriate. And it’s Public Enemy y’all. One of the most notorious bands on the planet.
So. What to do now? Firstly, try to discourage Bartley from barking and showing his teeth at Public Enemy. Secondly, work out a way to get out of this before the emergency services showed up and closed the whole motorway for recovery and repairs, which they would clearly have to do (remember that lake of fuel?).
There was quite a gap between us and the first row (except for that one van that pulled in front of us). A van on the inside lane, the other side of the bus, made a break for it. There was just enough room to squeeze through onto the hard shoulder, behind the overturned trailer and boat, but it meant driving through Lake Don’t-light-a-fag-or-we-could-all-die*. Bartley was by now, driving us nuts. We were happy/not happy that enough phone calls had been made that emergency services were well on their way. I went rogue and decided too to make a break for it.
I checked ignition. Commenced my countdown. Engines on. Ok, just the one engine, but it ROARED. I shouted at Public Enemy ‘GET THE HELL OUTTA MY WAY. WE’VE GOT A DOG TO DELIVER’, pressed the pedal to the metal, only then remembering to take my handbrake off, and we launched forward to make our escape.
In my head the whole thing happened in slo-mo. We were on a life-saving mission (truth) and we were on a tight schedule (truth), we had to get to that asteroid with the nukes before it hit Earth (exaggerated truth – i.e. not truth). I did a hard left-hand down to chicane my way over to the hard shoulder, and although we probably created a bit of a ripple through Lake Don’t-light-a-fag-or-we-could-all-die, my memory sees a 4ft wake of fuel, on the cusp of combustion, as we high-fived our way out of danger.
In the middle of it all I’d managed to get word to the rescue centre that we were held up but hoping to make the rest of the journey with relative ease. Bartley calmed back down once we were moving and had left the whole charade behind, literally, not once daring to look back. A couple of hours and a couple of minor wrong turns later, we arrived at Bartley’s rescue.
It was an emotional farewell to our travelling companion. Having been through so much together and it being a very long day, it was good to get to our journey’s end, but oh my did I cry. Only my second go at this, I found it very hard to hand over this lad, having to remind myself that they would be finding the very best home for him, where he would be happy and well-cared for till the end of his days. It’s not always possible to follow up where ‘your’ dogs go, but I was able to keep an eye on this rescue charity’s website. In no time at all, this lovely chap’s smiling face appeared with the words ‘reserved’. Cue happy tears.
Now then, I may have mentioned my e-book. In it, this particular
tail tale is just 242 words long. Here I am past 2000. If you’ve made it this far, I would love you to consider taking a look at the book. It’s quite cute. It’s only a diddy thing, it should really be free so I’m charging as little as I can for it only because I’m giving all the pennies I make to the organisation I volunteer for. Although not a registered charity, almost all who help do so voluntarily, as is the case throughout much of the rescue world. Donations help pay for Freedom Runs and emergency kennel costs. It is available worldwide to download, just go to your local Amazon store. The link here is for the UK;
And if you need any further persuasion, may I gloat and present a review by the marvellous proper bona fide writer, Barb Taub.
‘Feeling sick/sad/bored/unhappy? Want a sure-fire cure? This unassuming little book packs over twenty lovely little happy endings and a few bittersweet ones into 48 charming pages…….Get this book for a day when you REALLY need a cheer-up. Because…Love stories. Happy endings. And dogs!’
Barb says it’s charming, IT’S CHARMING! OK?
Not only has Barb kindly reviewed my book, she did it on her own website alongside one of my all-time favourite of her posts. This lady is devilishly humorous and angelically hearted. The very least I can do is reciprocate the kindness and offer a link to one of her (many) books. It’s wickedly funny.
For those of you still wondering ‘Who the Heckin’ Nora is Public Enemy?’, may I present one of their less political or controversial compositions ‘Harder Than You Think’. Some of you Brits may recognise this tune, especially if you follow our Paralympic athletes or watch ‘The Last Leg’.
*I’m aware that ‘fag’ may mean something very different to some of you. For the purposes of this tale it is a cigarette. Sometimes a cigarette is just a cigarette.
You may go now.