Posting days: Sunday and Wednesday and, sometimes, maybe, extra bits in between.
Sunday July 21st 2019
It’s Friday afternoon, a dull day, sultry, and quite warm enough to sit outside. I decide we’ll go to Kings Heath Park and see if G. fancies a coffee and cake after Hairy One’s had her exercise.
Isis walks on lead with me round the park, then we head down to the old bowling green. It’s empty. Plenty of space for Isis to run.
But she’s not her usual confident self. She sniffs around for about half an hour, then finds a stick and heads off with it towards the Colour Garden.
I follow her. She trots around the edges of her favourite shrubbery for a while, then she weaves her way in among the thick foliage, as she often does. Now and again I hear a loud jingle-tingle from her bell as she moves around.
G. and I have arranged to meet at the park café at four. It’s only round the corner, so it’s not time to set off yet. But at three thirty-five I suddenly realise that it’s at least ten minutes since I’ve heard Hairy One’s bell tinging.
Generally, when it’s time to move on, I walk slowly round the circumference of the bed, Isis picks up my scent, she emerges from the trees and shrubs, and off we go.
I’m surprised when she doesn’t appear, but not concerned. She’ll be snoozing under the dense fir tree. I walk around the tree, parting its branches at different points to peer through to the base of the trunk.
She’s not there.
I go into the bed and look around, lifting up low branches, and peering into bushes.
She’s nowhere to be found.
How on earth she has managed to leave the Colour Garden, without me seeing or hearing her, I can’t imagine. As usual, I’ve been sitting on the bench. When we’re there together, and she’s ready to go, she either trots past me, trying to dodge onto the bowling green, or slips through the trees the other side of the bench. If I didn’t see her, which is highly unlikely, I would have heard the loud and distinctive sound of her bell.
Now I’m getting anxious. I walk quickly onto the basketball court, where a lad is practising shots, and ask him if he’s seen a white dog. He says that he has, and he thinks it was ‘going that way’. He points onto the field which butts up to the little wood, and kindly offers to help me look for her. His name is D.
There are a number of little paths into the wood, and D. suggests that it might be easier if other children help us.
When I look around I see that a huge number of children from Colmore Primary School, and their accompanying adults are gathered at the other end of the field, the pond end. It’s the last day of the school year, and, obviously, this is an outing.
D. soon recruits other children to help with the search, and it’s not long before dozens of children are racing through the wood, searching for Isis. (Yes, I do check with each child I meet, that his/her adult knows where s/he is.)
There are one or two false sightings by two of the very little ones, and their excited cries of, “We’ve found her”, raise my hopes fleetingly.
Some of the older children organise hunts all over the rest of the park, and one or two concerned parents and at least one grandmother join in. I cross and recross the little paths, parting brambles to search in bushes, trying to remember all Hairy One’s favourite spots.
A steady drizzle sets in.
The battery of my mobile is close to shutting down. I never let that happen, but today, of all days, I have.
Fortunately, J. walks into the wood with her three Dogwatch rescues. She has to go to work and can’t stay, but tells not only G., but also the café personnel, the duty park ranger, and everyone else she meets about poor Isis.
It is now almost an hour and a quarter since we began hunting for Isis. I try to remain positive, but it’s not easy. Fantasies crowd in: Isis has left the park; she’ll be killed on the road; she’ll be stolen and ill-treated; I’ll never see her again.
I know I can’t leave the park without her. And, perhaps, if I sit quietly on the field, she might appear when everyone else has left and it’s dark.
I decide that I’ll walk to the car park, just in case she’s found her way back to the car. I can update G. on the way, then search along the edge of the park by the railway, and check the Colour Garden once more.
Then I catch sight of G. making his way towards me. He intends to search the Colour Garden again because this is the part of the park to which she most relates.
We go over together. G. searches the perimeter of the shrubbery, looking carefully under bushes and trees, while I go into the centre and examine the same foliage from the other side.
I don’t for a minute expect to find her. Most of the children have already checked here. I looked in the bed before widening my search. But Graham is right: this is the where she feels secure, and, anyway, I must re-examine every bit of the park.
In the bed is an enormous hypericon shrub. I’d looked underneath it before from the inside of the bed, and G. has just done so again, from the outside.
On a whim, I drop onto my hands and knees and peer into the base of the bush. Then I stick my head into the bush. At first I see nothing. Then I glimpse a tiny patch of white – a piece of screwed up paper, I think. But my eyes must have accommodated to the gloom, because I can now make out other patches of white, rough little triangles, separated by criss-crossing branches, twigs and leaves.
And suddenly the shapes come together and I can make her out.
“G!”, I shout, “She’s here! She’s here! I’ve found her.”
“But I’ve just looked inside there!”, replies G. astonished.
She’s so deep inside the bush that I can’t reach in far enough to touch her from here, so I walk round to the front and begin pushing my way in.
She doesn’t move, even enough to sniff my hand when I offer it to her. She has pushed her legs under the roots of the plant, and she just lies there, rigid.
At first I think she’s trapped. But she’s not. “She’s traumatised”, says G.
And she is. Despite our efforts to comfort her, she’ll not move a whisker.
In the end I have to dig under her with my hands, and half drag, half lift, her out. There is no response from her. I enclose her in her harness, and tug and lift her out onto the grass. She folds up, back into the position in which I found her. She doesn’t even acknowledge our presence.
I carry her a few feet and put her on the edge of the bowling green. She lies down again, stiff and unresponsive.
Yes, clearly, she is completely traumatised.
G. and I are sure that she never did leave the Colour Garden, that she was in the shrubbery all the time we were looking for her, but feeling the vibrations of dozens of feet and smelling the scents of so many strange people, she burrowed her way further and further into the bush.
A., one of the girls’ grandmothers approaches and introduces herself. She’s delighted that Isis has been found. “I have a dog”, she says, “And I wouldn’t have left you on your own looking for her.”
This is very kind, and very touching.
The park ranger comes to see if she has been found, departs and returns with a cup of tea for me. A group of little girls comes over. G. explains that Isis is very frightened, and they all stand solemnly in a neat row, silently regarding her.
When everyone has left, G. and I make our way over the green to the path. This time, Isis walks with us, slowly at first, then at her normal walking pace. Now, when G. offers his hand, she gives it a quick sniff.
We pass our friend S. with her young daughter Da., among a group of parents and children. She calls to the others that Isis has been found. Everyone is relieved.
Isis gets into the car and lies down, but not before barking at two cigarette smoking young guys in a car nearby.
G.has never heard her bark before, and is surprised at how soon she has recovered.
The café is closing. We’re too late now for coffee and cakes.
Before we set off, I look at my little dog, now relaxing on the back seat.
I feel very lucky to have found her, and very grateful for the kindness of all those park people.
*Isis came from the Aeza cat and dog rescue and adoption centre in Aljezur, Portugal. For information about adopting an animal from the centre, contact email@example.com or www.dogwatchuk.co.uk