James herriots dog stori.., p.36
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       James Herriot's Dog Stories, p.36

           James Herriot
 

  It was nearly one o’clock in the morning and we were getting well down the bottle when the shaggy brown head began to move.

  Siegfried leaned forward and touched one of the ears and immediately the tail flapped against the rug and a pink tongue lazily licked his fingers.

  ‘What an absolutely grand little dog,’ he murmured, but his voice had a distant quality. I knew he was worried too.

  I took the stitches out of the eyelids in two days and was delighted to find a normal eye underneath.

  The young policeman was as pleased as I was. ‘Look at that!’ he exclaimed. ‘You’d never know anything had happened there.’

  ‘Yes, it’s done wonderfully well. All the swelling and inflammation has gone.’ I hesitated for a moment. ‘Has anybody enquired about him?’

  He shook his head. ‘Nothing yet. But there’s another eight days to go and we’re taking good care of him here.’

  I visited the Police Station several times and the little animal greeted me with undisguised joy, all his fear gone, standing upright against my legs on his plastered limb, his tail swishing.

  But all the time my sense of foreboding increased, and on the tenth day I made my way almost with dread to the police kennels. I had heard nothing. My course of action seemed inevitable. Putting down old or hopelessly ill dogs was often an act of mercy, but when it was a young healthy dog it was terrible. I hated it, but it was one of the things veterinary surgeons had to do.

  The young policeman was standing in the doorway.

  ‘Still no news?’ I asked, and he shook his head.

  I went past him into the kennel and the shaggy little creature stood up against my legs as before, laughing into my face, mouth open, eyes shining.

  I turned away quickly. I’d have to do this right how or I’d never do it.

  ‘Mr Herriot.’ The policeman put his hand on my arm. ‘I think I’ll take him.’

  ‘You?’ I stared at him.

  ‘Aye, that’s right. We get a lot o’ stray dogs in here and though I feel sorry for them you can’t give them all a home, can you?’

  ‘No, you can’t,’ I said. ‘I have the same problem.’

  He nodded slowly. ‘But somehow this ’un’s different, and it seems to me he’s just come at the right time. I have two little girls and they’ve been at me for a bit to get ’em a dog. This little bloke looks just right for the job.’

  Warm relief began to ebb through me. ‘I couldn’t agree more. He’s the soul of good nature. I bet he’ll be wonderful with children.’

  ‘Good. That’s settled then. I thought I’d ask your advice first.’ He smiled happily.

  I looked at him as though I had never seen him before. ‘What’s your name?’

  ‘Phelps,’ he replied. ‘P.C. Phelps.’

  He was a good-looking young fellow, clear-skinned, with cheerful blue eyes and a solid dependable look about him. I had to fight against an impulse to wring his hand and thump him on the back. But I managed to preserve the professional exterior.

  ‘Well, that’s fine.’ I bent and stroked the little dog. ‘Don’t forget to bring him along to the surgery in ten days for removal of the stitches, and we’ll have to get that plaster off in about a month.’

  It was Siegfried who took out the stitches, and I didn’t see our patient again until four weeks later.

  P.C. Phelps had his little girls, aged four and six, with him as well as the dog.

  ‘You said the plaster ought to come off about now,’ he said, and I nodded.

  He looked down at the children. ‘Well, come on, you two, lift him on the table.’

  Eagerly the little girls put their arms around their new pet and as they hoisted him the tail wagged furiously and the wide mouth panted in delight.

  ‘Looks as though he’s been a success,’ I said.

  He smiled. ‘That’s an understatement. He’s perfect with these two. I can’t tell you what pleasure he’s given us. He’s one of the family.’

  I got out my little saw and began to hack at the plaster.

  ‘It’s worked both ways, I should say. A dog loves a secure home!’

  ‘Well, he couldn’t be more secure.’ He ran his hand along the brown coat and laughed as he addressed the little dog. ‘That’s what you get for begging among the stalls on market day, my lad. You’re in the hands of the law now.’

  This story covers a lot of the things which make veterinary surgery a beguiling life. The appeal of the begging dog, the total unpredictability, as when we finished up operating in starched evening shirts, and the kindness of people as epitomised by the young policeman. And, of course, the recurring situation of an attractive little animal finding a good home. The fact that children were involved at the end completed a happy story.

  37. The Stolen Car

  ‘Oh Mr Herriot!’ Mrs Ridge said delightedly. ‘Somebody stole our car last night.’ She looked at me with a radiant smile.

  I stopped in the doorway of her house. ‘Mrs Ridge, I’m terribly sorry. How . . . ?’

  ‘Yes, yes, oh I can’t wait to tell you!’ Her voice trembled with excitement and joy. ‘There must have been some prowlers around here last night, and I’m such a silly about leaving the car unlocked.’

  ‘I see . . . how unfortunate.’

  ‘But do come in,’ she giggled. ‘Forgive me for keeping you standing on the step, but I’m all of a dither!’

  I went past her into the lounge. ‘Well, it’s very understandable. It must have been quite a shock.’

  ‘Shock? Oh, but you don’t see what I mean. It’s wonderful!’

  ‘Eh?’

  ‘Yes, of course!’ She clasped her hands and looked up at the ceiling. ‘Do you know what happened?’

  ‘Well yes,’ I said. ‘You’ve just told me.’

  ‘No, I haven’t told you half.’

  ‘You haven’t?’

  ‘No, but do sit down. I know you’ll want to hear all about it.’

  To explain this I have to go back ten days to the afternoon when Mrs Ridge ran tearfully up the steps of Skeldale House.

  ‘My little dog’s had an accident,’ she gasped.

  I looked past her. ‘Where is he?’

  ‘In the car. I didn’t know whether I should move him.’

  I crossed the pavement and opened the door. Her Cairn Terrier, Joshua, lay very still on a blanket on the back seat.

  ‘What happened?’ I asked.

  She put a hand over her eyes. ‘Oh it was terrible. You know he often plays in the farmer’s field opposite our house – well about half an hour ago he started to chase a rabbit and ran under the wheels of a tractor.’

  I looked from her face to the motionless animal and back again. ‘Did the wheels go over him?’

  She nodded as the tears streamed down her cheeks.

  I took her by the arm. ‘Mrs Ridge, this is important. Are you absolutely sure that wheel passed right over his body?’

  ‘Yes, I am – quite certain. I saw it happen. I couldn’t believe he’d be alive when I ran to pick him up.’ She took a long breath. ‘I don’t suppose he can live after that, can he?’

  I didn’t want to depress her but it seemed impossible that a small dog like this could survive being crushed under that great weight. Massive internal damage would be inevitable apart altogether from broken bones. It was sad to see the little sandy form lying still and unheeding when I had watched him so often running and leaping in the fields.

  ‘Let’s have a look at him,’ I said.

  I climbed into the car and sat down on the seat beside him. With the utmost care I felt my way over the limbs, expecting every moment to feel the crepitus which would indicate a fracture. I put my hand underneath him very slowly, supporting his weight every inch of the way. The only time Joshua showed any reaction was when I moved the pelvic girdle.

  The best sign of all was the pinkness of the mucous membranes of eye and mouth and I turned to Mrs Ridge rather more hopefully.

  ‘Miraculously he d
oesn’t seem to have any internal haemorrhage and there are no limb bones broken. I’m pretty sure he has a fractured pelvis, but that’s not so bad.’

  She drew her fingers over the smears on her cheeks and looked at me, wide-eyed. ‘You really think he has a chance?’

  ‘Well I don’t want to raise your hopes unduly, but at this moment I can’t find any sign of severe injury.’

  ‘But it doesn’t seem possible.’

  I shrugged. ‘I agree, it doesn’t, but if he has got away with it I can only think it was because he was on soft ground which yielded as the wheel squeezed him down. Anyway, let’s get him X-rayed to make sure.’

  At that time, in common with most large animal practices, we didn’t have an X-ray machine, but the local hospital helped us out in times of need. I took Joshua round there and the picture confirmed my diagnosis of pelvic fracture.

  ‘There’s not much I can do,’ I said to his mistress. ‘This type of injury usually heals itself. He’ll probably have difficulty in standing on his hind legs for a while and for several weeks he’ll be weak in the rear end, but with rest and time he ought to recover.’

  ‘Oh marvellous!’ She watched me place the little animal back on the car seat. ‘I suppose it’s just a matter of waiting, then?’

  ‘That’s what I hope.’

  My fears that Joshua might have some internal damage were finally allayed when I saw him two days later. His membranes were a rich deep pink and all natural functions were operating.

  Mrs Ridge, however, was still worried. ‘He’s such a sorrowful little thing,’ she said. ‘Just look at him – he’s lifeless.’

  ‘Well you know he must be bruised and sore after that squashing he had. And he was very shocked, too. You must be patient.’

  As I spoke, the little dog stood up, wobbled a few feet across the carpet and flopped down again. He showed no interest in me or his surroundings.

  Before I left I gave his mistress some salicylate tablets to give him. ‘These will ease his discomfort,’ I said. ‘Let me know if he doesn’t improve.’

  She did let me know – within forty-eight hours. ‘I wish you’d come and see Joshua again,’ she said on the phone. ‘I’m not at all happy about him.’

  The little animal was as before. I looked down at him as he lay dejectedly on the rug, head on his paws, looking into the fireplace.

  ‘Come on, Joshua, old lad,’ I said. ‘You must be feeling better now.’ I bent and rubbed my fingers along the wiry coat, but neither word or gesture made any impression. I might as well not have been there.

  Mrs Ridge turned to me worriedly. ‘That’s what he’s like all the time. And you know how he is normally.’

  ‘Yes, he’s always been a ball of fire.’ Again I recalled him jumping round my legs, gazing up at me eagerly. ‘It’s very strange.’

  ‘And another thing,’ she went on. ‘He never utters a sound. And you know, that worries me more than anything because he’s always been such a good little watch dog. We used to hear him barking when the early post came, he barked at the milk boy, the dustman, everybody. He was never a yappy dog, but he let us know when anybody was around.’

  ‘Yes . . .’ That was another thing I remembered. The tumult of sound from within whenever I rang the door bell.

  ‘And now there’s just this dreadful silence. People come and go but he never even looks up.’ She shook her head slowly. ‘Oh, if only he’d bark! Just once! I think it would mean he was getting better.’

  ‘It probably would,’ I said.

  ‘Is there something else wrong with him, do you think?’ she asked.

  I thought for a moment or two. ‘No, I’m convinced there isn’t. Not physically, anyway. He’s had a tremendous fright and he has withdrawn within himself. He’ll come out of it in time.’

  As I left I had the feeling I was trying to convince myself as much as Mrs Ridge. And as, over the next few days, she kept phoning me with bad reports about the little dog my confidence began to ebb.

  It was a week after the accident that she begged me to come to the house again. Joshua was unchanged. Apathetic, tail tucked down, sad-eyed – and still soundless.

  His mistress was obviously under strain.

  ‘Mr Herriot,’ she said, ‘what are we going to do? I can’t sleep for thinking about him.’

  I produced stethoscope and thermometer and examined the little animal again. Then I palpated him thoroughly from head to tail. When I had finished I squatted on the rug and looked up at Mrs Ridge.

  ‘I can’t find anything new. You’ll just have to be patient.’

  ‘But that’s what you said before, and I feel I can’t go on much longer like this.’

  ‘Still no barking?’

  She shook her head. ‘No, and that’s what I’m waiting for. He eats a little, walks around a little, but we never hear a sound from him. I know I’d stop worrying if I heard him bark, just once, but otherwise I have a horrible feeling he’s going to die . . .’

  I had hoped that my next visit would be more cheerful, but though I was greatly relieved at Mrs Ridge’s high spirits I was surprised, too.

  I sat down in one of the comfortable chairs in the lounge.

  ‘Well I hope you’ll soon recover your car,’ I said.

  She waved a hand negligently. ‘Oh, it’ll turn up somewhere, I’m sure.’

  ‘But still — you must be very upset.’

  ‘Upset? Not a bit! I’m so happy!’

  ‘Happy? About losing the car . . . ?’

  ‘No, not about that. About Joshua.’

  ‘Joshua?’

  ‘Yes.’ She sat down in the chair opposite and leaned forward. ‘Do you know what he did when those people were driving the car away?’

  ‘No, tell me.’

  ‘He barked, Mr Herriot! Joshua barked!’

  I suppose I wrote this story simply because it is the only time I have known a person to be delighted at having a car stolen. And yet, I shouldn’t have been too surprised. Again and again I have noticed that the recovery of a pet can lift people away from their troubles. Everybody knows that the first bark is often a sign that the worst is over and that their dog will soon be restored to health. And what is a lost car compared with that?

  38. Theo the ‘Pub Terrier’

  I was in the Drovers’ Arms and George Wilks, the auctioneer, was speaking.

  ‘I reckon that’s the best pub terrier I’ve ever seen.’ He bent down from the bar counter and patted Theo’s shaggy head as it protruded from beneath his master’s stool.

  It struck me that ‘pub terrier’ wasn’t a bad description. Theo was small and mainly white, though there were odd streaks of black on his flanks, and his muzzle had a bushy outgrowth of hair which made him undeniably attractive but still more mysterious.

  I warmed to a Scottish colleague recently who, when pressed by a lady client to diagnose her dog’s breed and lineage, replied finally, ‘Madam, I think it would be best just to call him a wee broon dug.’

  By the same token Theo could safely be described as a wee white dug, but in Yorkshire the expression ‘pub terrier’ would be more easily understood.

  His master, Paul Cotterell, looked down from his high perch.

  ‘What’s he saying about you, old chap?’ he murmured languidly, and at the sound of his voice the little animal leaped, eager and wagging, from his retreat.

  Theo spent a considerable part of his life between the four metal legs of that stool, as did his master on the seat. And it often seemed to me to be a waste of time for both of them. I often took my own dog, Sam, into pubs, and he would squat beneath my seat, but whereas it was an occasional thing with me – maybe once or twice a week – with Paul Cotterell it was an unvarying ritual. Every night from eight o’clock onwards he could be found sitting there at the end of the bar of the Drovers’ Arms, pint glass in front of him, little curly pipe drooping over his chin.

  For a young man like him – he was a bachelor in his late thirties – and a perso
n of education and intelligence, it seemed a sterile existence.

  He turned to me as I approached the counter. ‘Hello, Jim, let me get you a drink.’

  ‘That’s very kind of you, Paul,’ I replied. ‘I’ll have a pint.’

  ‘Splendid.’ He turned to the barmaid with easy courtesy. ‘Could I trouble you, Moyra?’

  We sipped our beer and we chatted. This time it was about the music festival at Brawton and then we got on to music in general. As with any other topic I had discussed with him, he seemed to know a lot about it.

  ‘So you’re not all that keen on Bach?’ he enquired lazily.

  ‘No, not really. Some of it, yes, but on the whole I like something a bit more emotional. Elgar, Beethoven, Mozart. Even Tchaikovsky – I suppose you highbrows look down your noses at him?’

  He shrugged, puffed his little pipe and regarded me with a half-smile, one eyebrow raised. He often looked like that and it made me feel he ought to wear a monocle. But he didn’t enthuse about Bach, though it seemed he was his favourite composer. He never enthused about anything, and he listened with that funny look on his face while I rhapsodised about the Elgar violin concerto.

  Paul Cotterell was from the south of England, but the locals had long since forgiven him for that because he was likeable, amusing, and always ready to buy anybody a drink from his corner in the Drovers’. To me, he had a charm which was very English: casual, effortless. He never got excited; he was always polite and utterly self-contained.

  ‘While you’re here, Jim,’ he said, ‘I wonder if you’d have a look at Theo’s foot?’

  ‘Of course.’ It is one of a vet’s occupational hazards that wherever he goes socially it is taken for granted that there is nothing he would rather do than dole out advice or listen to symptoms. ‘Let’s have him up.’

  ‘Here, boy, come on.’ Paul patted his knee and the little dog jumped up and sat there, eyes sparkling with pleasure. And I thought as I always did that Theo should be in pictures. He was the perfect film dog with that extraordinarily fuzzy laugh-face. People paid good money to see dogs just like him in cinemas all over the world.

  ‘All right, Theo,’ I said, scooping him from his master’s knee, ‘where’s the trouble?’

 
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