No Hard Landings
Today would be the final test. They would be taking him to the Vets for his 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 watched every movement in the room and his tail flicked at each spoken word as he waited there longing for a break in the monotony. John could sense what he was thinking. Charlie wanted to be outside roaming the fields and the Crag. Confinement over the last few weeks in the cage on the kitchen floor had been a long and boring torment for him and he couldn’t understand why he was permanently locked up. John felt sorry for him. Sorting the finance had been a concern and worrying about the outcome was still a strain for John and his wife but it was nothing to what Charlie had been through. Soon they would know if it had all been worthwhile.
Two years ago John wouldn’t have felt like this. It’s funny how people can change. His wife had always been an animal lover but, with them both working for a living and with him not being interested in or, more truthfully, opposed to the idea he’d always been able to talk her out of getting a pet. He had always come up with good reasons; they were too busy at work, it would be difficult to take it on holiday, they couldn’t afford one what with the kids needing shoes, clothes, school trips, university fees and 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 he’d run out of excuses. Eventually he’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 John as he just thought that his wife was looking to fill the gap left in her life by the kids. A friend in the village owned one and had recommended the breed. Apparently they were loyal, gentle, trusting and friendly if you treated them well. Admittedly they could be a bit lively when young but soon calmed down over time, were easy to train and they just loved going out for exercise.
His wife was now only working part-time with every weekday afternoon free and she intended to retire soon so he could no longer use the excuse that it would be unfair on any pet to leave it alone in the house all day whilst they were out at work. They lived in a village set in a valley with a lake surrounded by fields and woods and John started to think that, as he enjoyed walking, it might not be a bad idea to have some company on his rambles, particularly when he retired in about five years’ time. He wasn’t getting any younger. He was finding that he had to put a bit more effort into controlling his weight. That was the disadvantage of a lifestyle that involved driving a car and a desk all day and a settee all evening; it had started to catch up with him. His doctor had advised that exercise allied to sensible dieting was the answer.
The problem was that the Rescue Kennels didn’t have any. Swoopers were valuable and even the least-expensive whelp was going to set them back over five hundred pounds if they wanted a pedigree. Being naturally thrifty John persuaded his wife that if she wasn’t going to settle for any cheap and cheerful but deserving cross-breed from a charity then two hundred and fifty pounds was enough to spend on any pure-bred. To his surprise she agreed. She then announced that he was to join her on a drive to Wales to look at a litter that she’d found on the internet – ones without any formal pedigree and consequently within his budget. How could he refuse?
The location was on a scruffy council estate in Wrexham with houses surrounded by broken fences and rubbish in the gardens. He began to wonder what he might be getting into. It was more pit-bull than pedigree territory. His fears were unfounded. A young woman opened the door and showed them into a fairly tidy and well-kept interior.
“Since you first contacted me I’ve sold all but one of them.”
They followed her into the kitchen to see the last one.
“You can see the parents out the back if you want. He’s eight weeks old and will need his injections.”
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 across to them, skidded into John’s feet on the damp laminate floor, rolled over and then dashed around the kitchen peeing in his excitement. As soon as John saw him he just knew that his wife wouldn’t be leaving that estate without him. John would never be able to explain it in a million years, but he felt the same way that she did. He 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. John’s wife took him out during the week and at weekends John took him over the Crag. They 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 in search of any dead wildlife that he could bring to present at John’s feet. However, the breeder’s tip worked and he never attacked nor killed anything. In Poundland John found a nifty, fluorescent collar with a built-in tracker that linked to an app on his phone so that he would know where Charlie was if he strayed out of sight.
He came to greet John every evening, swishing his tail, as he walked through the door from work. In the mornings his 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 bedcovers to get John up. He followed John around the house whilst he did odd jobs or outside whilst he gardened, poking his head into any location and halting progress whilst he checked out what John was doing. He chewed through the telephone cable and jumped onto the kitchen worktops to try and steal their meals before the training kicked in. At nights he would lay stretched out on the lounge floor resting his head on John’s feet as a pillow whilst John sat on the settee watching the telly. On cold winter nights the heat from his head and neck kept John’s feet warm. As the months passed John began to see how wrong he’d been in resisting his wife for all those years. Retirement could not come fast enough so that he could spend more time with him. Charlie had changed him forever.
Then Charlie started to limp. It wasn’t a severe limp and John 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. John’s wife noticed that one of Charlie’s legs seemed to be thinner than the other. She was right. So they 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 they know? In the excitement of that Wrexham kitchen they’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 John thought about that last statement. He’d made it worse by exercising Charlie too hard on the rocky outcrops and thin soils of the Crag. He should have kept him to the valley bottom where the ground was marshy and soft.
The discussion about his treatment was a difficult one for them. If they ignored the problem it would only get worse. If they 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 hips 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 John 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 will involve a specialist team from another practice and that won’t be cheap.”
“I can’t see you getting much change from five thousand pounds.”
“Even then, I have to advise you that this is a relatively new treatment although used commonly enough on humans. It’s a similar procedure except that we have to remember to remove any bottled gases from the surgery whilst he’s recovering from the anaesthetic. Also, as with any surgery, there are the usual risks so there’s no guarantee about the outcome. However, the team has a good success rate.”
They just didn’t have that kind of money readily available. They’d planned their finances to coincide with John’s retirement and that was still three years away. The mortgage would be paid off then, his private pension would kick in and that would provide them with a lump sum and an annual income topped up by his state pension. There was no way to access it any earlier. Any small investments that they’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 their thrift and planning the bank of mum and dad had not foreseen the possible consequences of this expensive late addition to their family. And, of course, Charlie was now a fully integrated member of that family … and what he was suffering, thought John, was partly his fault.
However, John 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 they agreed that it should be possible to meet the repayments on some short term borrowing over those three years provided they could obtain something with a reasonably low interest rate. That would cover the up-front cost of the operation. It was time to scour the internet. The answer came from a fair, fast and friendly personal loan arranged by Solution-loans.co.uk
John couldn’t complain – he’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 turn 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. 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.”
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 and lifting him down instead, “That’s the trouble with dragons … they love to fly … what did I just say about no hard landings?”