Ideally, the narrator should be a male around 60 years old with any English accent but also capable of delivering:
- The Breeder’s lines in a Welsh accent and
- The Vets lines in a charming Irish accent akin to Noel Fitzpatrick, the TV Supervet
No Hard Landings
Today was decision day. We were at the Vets for his final assessment to see if the treatment had worked. Charlie lay in the corner with his head resting on the floor between his outstretched legs. His mournful brown eyes watching every movement in the room and his tail flicking at each spoken word as he waited there longing for a break in the monotony. I could sense what he was thinking. He wanted to be outside roaming the fields and the Crag. Confinement over the last few weeks in the cage on our kitchen floor had been a long and boring torment for him and he couldn’t understand why he had been permanently locked up. I felt sorry for him. Sorting the finance had been a concern and worrying about the outcome was still a strain for my wife and I but it was nothing to what Charlie had been through. Soon we would know if it had all been worthwhile.
Two years ago I wouldn’t have felt like this. It’s funny how people can change. My wife had always been an animal lover but, with us both working for a living and with me not being interested in or, more truthfully, opposed to the idea I’d always been able to talk her out of getting a pet. I could always come up with good reasons; we were too busy at work, it would be difficult to take it on holiday, we couldn’t afford one what with the kids needing shoes, clothes, school trips, university fees, weddings, deposits for flats in the city or whatever expense was coming up next. However, by the time the kids had left home and set up on their own I’d run out of excuses. Eventually I’d given in.
Her heart was set on a Welsh Swooper. As a young girl, when her parents had been alive, she’d grown up with them on their farm in Wales so she knew how to look after them. They were a working breed and expensive to buy. Being about the same size as Border Collies they had started to replace them on Welsh sheep farms because they were even better than Collies in the remote and harsher hilltops and they possessed significant advantages in the ice and snow drifts of winter. Any cheap cross-breed would have done as a pet for me as I just thought that my wife was looking to fill the gap left in her life by the kids. A friend in the village had owned one some years ago and had recommended the breed. Apparently they were loyal, gentle, trusting and friendly if you treated them well. He’d admitted that they could be a bit over-heated when young but soon calmed down with time, were easy to train and they just loved going out for exercise.
My wife was now only working part-time with every weekday afternoon free and she intended to retire soon so I could no longer use the excuse that it would be unfair on any pet to leave it alone in the house all day whilst we were out at work. We lived in a village set in a valley with a lake surrounded by fields and woods and I started to think that, as I enjoyed walking, it might not be a bad idea to have some company on my rambles, particularly when I retired in about five years’ time. I wasn’t getting any younger. I was finding that I had to put a bit more effort into controlling my weight. That was the disadvantage of a lifestyle which involved driving a car and a desk all day and a settee all evening; it had started to catch up with me. My doctor had advised that exercise allied to sensible dieting was the answer.
The problem was that the Rescue Kennels didn’t have any Swoopers. They were still relatively scarce and valuable. Even the least-expensive whelp was going to set us back over five hundred pounds if we wanted a pedigree. Being naturally thrifty I persuaded my wife that if she wasn’t going to settle for any cheap and cheerful but deserving cross-breed from an animal charity then two hundred and fifty pounds was enough to spend on any pure-bred. To my surprise she agreed. She then announced that I was to join her on a drive to Wales to look at a litter that she’d found on the internet – ones from matching parents but without any formal pedigree documents and consequently within my budget. How could I refuse?
“Please come in.”
The location was on a scruffy council estate in Wrexham with houses surrounded by broken fences and rubbish in the gardens. I began to wonder what we might be getting into. It was more pit-bull than pedigree territory. My fears were unfounded. A young woman opened the door and showed us into a fairly tidy and well-kept interior. That put paid to my last reservation; that any pet would wreck our home.
“Since you first contacted me I’ve sold all but one of them.”
We followed her into the kitchen to see the last one.
“He’s eight weeks old and will need his injections. You can see the parents out the back if you want.”
It doesn’t matter what they are – puppies, kittens, cubs, chicks or whatever – there’s just something about baby animals that instantly gets to you. A round bundle with big eyes and even bigger feet hopped out of a cardboard box in the corner and came rushing towards us, skidding into my feet on the damp laminate floor, rolling over and then dashing around the kitchen peeing in his excitement. As soon as I saw him I just knew that my wife wouldn’t be leaving that estate without him. I would never be able to explain it in a million years, but I felt the same way that she did. I was hooked for life.
“I’ll give you a tip,” the woman said, “I know it’s unusual, but feed him before you take him out rather than afterwards. That way he’ll not bother with the livestock or the wildlife. It will make your life easier.”
For eighteen months Charlie was fine. My wife took him out during the week and at weekends I took him over the Crag. I could lose whole afternoons up there. Once free of the lead Charlie would just shoot off and cover the ground instinctively looking for game like generations of his breed before him. He loved the cliffs and the clearings in the woods with the chance to pick up new sights and scents, springing rabbits and game birds and squirrels and deer from the cover along the way. He loved rolling in mud, diving into water and tracking along hedgerows to spot any dead wildlife that he could bring to present at my feet. However, the breeder’s tip worked and he never attacked nor killed anything. In Poundland I found a nifty, fluorescent collar with a built-in tracker that linked to an app on my phone so that I would know where Charlie was if he strayed out of sight.
He came to greet me every evening, swishing his tail, as I walked through the door from work. In the mornings my wife would let Charlie out of the kitchen where he slept and he would barge his way into the bedroom and stick his head under the covers to get me up. He followed me around the house whilst I did odd jobs or outside whilst I gardened, poking his head into any location and halting progress whilst he checked out what I was doing. One day he got out and chewed through the neighbours’ telephone cable before I could coax him back. At first he would jump onto our kitchen worktops to try and steal our meals until the training kicked in. In the evenings he would lay stretched out on the lounge floor resting his head on my feet as a pillow whilst I sat on the settee watching the telly. On cold winter nights the warmth from his head and neck kept my feet cosy. As the months passed I began to see how wrong I’d been in resisting my wife for all those years. Retirement could not come fast enough so that I could spend more time with him. Charlie had changed me forever.
Then Charlie started to limp. It wasn’t a severe limp and I thought nothing of it at first. It came on at the end of each outing but he didn’t make a fuss and he’d be fresh and fit to go again on the following day. My wife noticed that one of Charlie’s legs seemed to be thinner than the other. She was right. So we took him off to the Vets.
“Hip dysplasia is a possibility. Has he started to hop rather than run? Does he lick his feet when lying down? Do his legs seem stiff when he stands up?”
“Yes to all of them.”
An X-ray confirmed the worst.
“He’s been hiding it well. Look at that ball joint; how badly worn it is compared to the other. Did you notice if his parents had any signs of it? Did you get any papers when you bought him?”
How would we know? In the excitement of that Wrexham kitchen we’d hardly glanced at his parents and, of course, without a pedigree there’d been no papers.
“It’s likely to be a genetic condition passed down from his parents. It can happen with in-breeding but possibly made worse by too much exercise when he was younger.”
The guilt began to set in as I thought about that last statement. I’d made it worse by exercising Charlie too hard over the rocky outcrops and thin soils of the Crag. I should have kept him to the valley bottoms where the ground was marshy and soft.
The discussion about his treatment was a difficult one for us. If we ignored the problem it would only get worse. If we tried hydrotherapy to build up Charlie’s muscles and restricted him to short outings for the rest of his life then he might be fine whilst his young muscles and sinews held him firm and supported his damaged hip but eventually he would develop arthritis, resulting in pain and a poorer quality of life as he aged. The answer seemed to point to surgery to replace the hip joint and potentially give him a permanent cure. After surgery he would have to be caged for several weeks whilst he healed or else the treatment might be rendered useless. No sliding around the house or tearing around the garden and certainly no outings. Charlie was very active and I knew that it would be hard for him to bear confinement even if the operation was successful.
“What do you recommend?”
“Well, he’s still young. If successful the benefits could last him a lifetime. In Charlie’s case I’d recommend surgery if you can afford it. Do you have pet insurance?”
“No, we never got around to thinking about it.”
“I can arrange the surgery but it won’t be cheap.”
“I can’t see you getting any change from five thousand pounds.”
“Even then, I have to advise you that this is ground-breaking surgery. It’s never been done on this breed before although it’s used commonly enough on humans and some other animals. Also, as with any surgery, there are the usual risks so there’s no guarantee about the outcome. And there are extra health and safety precautions for my staff in this case; such as remembering to remove any bottled gases from the surgery whilst he’s recovering from the anaesthetic. However, my team has a good success rate for this type of operation in normal circumstances.”
We just didn’t have that kind of money readily available. We’d planned our finances to coincide with my retirement and that was still three years away. The mortgage would be paid off then, my private pension would kick in and that would provide us with a lump sum and an annual income topped up by my state pension. There was no way to access it any earlier. Any small investments that we’d made were tied up in longer term plans to benefit from better interest rates with significant penalties for early withdrawal. The truth was that despite all our thrift and planning the bank of mum and dad had not foreseen the possible consequences of this expensive late addition to our family. And, of course, Charlie was now a fully integrated member of that family … and what he was suffering was partly my fault.
However, I still had three years of earning potential and that left one possibility. With a bit of scrimping and scraping, forgetting about holidays and unnecessary luxuries we agreed that it should be possible to meet the repayments for a short term personal loan provided we could obtain something with a reasonably low interest rate. That would cover the up-front cost of the operation. It was time to see the Bank Manager.
Initially he was sceptical but when I explained that this was ground-breaking surgery on an unusual breed by the TV Supervet, that it might be filmed and broadcast and that the Bank just might get some good publicity out of it, he quickly became enthusiastic.
I couldn’t complain about taking out the loan – I’d probably saved more than five thousand pounds over the years by not having any other pets and now it was payback time. And having Charlie restored to health would definitely be worth it.
The latest X-ray had been studied. The supervised walk around the exercise field on the lead was over. The Vet was giving the hip one last feel on the examination table.
“Okay, that’s fine. It’s healed up nicely and no sign of infection. But we are not completely out of the woods yet. For the next couple of weeks he can have short outings on the lead. It’s just common sense … you need to ease him back with gentle exercise to rebuild his leg muscles over time. After that you can let him off the lead to roam free but try and avoid any hard landings for a couple of months. I think that he’s going to make a full recovery.”
I breathed a big sigh of relief. Charlie swished his tail and stepped to the edge of the examination table to hop down.
“Steady on boy,” said the Vet, folding Charlie’s wings back into position and lifting him down instead, “That’s the trouble with dragons … they love to fly … what did I just say about no hard landings?”