I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt so content. The hot sun burned down on my face and beyond my closed eyelids sun patterns danced. I could hear the swish of the sea and the shouts of children playing in the waves, and the scent of burgers from a nearby café wafted on the faint breeze.
This was the life, I thought in my half dozing stupor. After a hectic week inRhodeswhere I’d been taking photographs at my sister-in-law, Sandra’s, wedding it was lovely to be able to relax for a while. We’d been here four days. It was my first visit to the picturesque island, and I was planning to come again.
Suddenly my idyll was shattered by a cold wet hand dripping sea water on to my arm and an urgent voice in my ear.
‘Look, Della, there’s a dog.’
‘I’ve seen one before,’ I said, still half asleep and determined to stay that way.
‘It’s a stray dog. It’s really cute. Go on, have a look.’ Sandra isn’t the type to give up easily.
I opened one eye and caught a blurred image of a dog running by in the soft sand.
‘Lovely,’ I said, because I was obviously expected to say something.
‘I thought you liked dogs.’ Sandra’s voice was disgruntled.
‘I do like dogs.’
‘What sort do you think it is?’
I opened both eyes now and squinted against the glare. The dog was chocolate brown with floppy ears and a skinny stick of a tail.
‘A right mixture – maybe a bit ofLabrador. I shouldn’t think she’s a pedigree!’
My irony was wasted on Sandra, but after that, she left me to my dreams again, and my dreams were of dogs. I wasn’t really indifferent to them, far from it. I had three of my own at home, all of them rescue dogs. To be honest, I was more worried that I might get involved and I couldn’t afford to care too much about stray dogs inGreece.
Although I admired people who rescued dogs from horrendous lives in other countries, I was strongly of the opinion that if you had that sort of money going spare, it would be better spent inEngland. How many dogs could be helped for the cost of bringing just one stray into theUK? Shouldn’t charity begin at home?
I’d rescued lots of dogs across the years, which was something Sandra knew very well, but there was no way I was getting involved with this one. She seemed quite happy running about on the sand, and scrounging food from holidaymakers.
I watched her for a while. She was pretty smart. She would suss out her target first, presumably to establish whether they were likely to be an easy conquest or whether she’d get a boot for her trouble, and having decided, she would tailor her approach and either crawl forward on her belly or go sideways, very tentatively.
If they were encouraging and held out a hand or spoke to her, she’d get up, wag her tail and trot over, and then sit patiently waiting for her reward. She took everything that was offered, crusts of bread, bits of meat, chips, with or without tomato sauce, but I noticed that she didn’t immediately gobble everything down.
She usually ate the meat straight away, but other things she would hold in her mouth. I saw one lady give her a burger bun, which she took with delicate precision. It was as if she didn’t want to be rude and turn something down, but obviously burger buns weren’t a hot favourite of hers, and she didn’t immediately eat it.
Once the woman had turned away, she retreated to a safe distance and dropped it in the sand. She obviously wasn’t starving then, I thought with a wry smile. She was almost certainly not in need of rescue, which was just as well!
Most of Sandra’s family had come over for the wedding. The youngsters were staying inRhodesold town within walking distance of the pubs and clubs. My husband Tony and I and his 14 year-old son Adam were staying in apartments close to the beach.
The day before our holiday ended, when I was stretched out on a sun lounger, catching up on my holiday reading, Sandra came running across.
‘That stray dog’s got puppies in a cave up in the rocks,’ she said breathlessly.
‘Has she?’ I sat up, still not really wanting to get involved.
‘Yes, and we need your help.’ Sandra’s voice grew more urgent. ‘One of them has crawled away and it can’t get back and the mother can’t reach it.’
If it had crawled in one direction, I knew it could probably crawl back in the other, but nevertheless I sat up.
‘Why do you need my help?’
‘Because none of us can reach it either, but you’ve got long arms.’
Sandra waited expectantly. She knew she had me. Despite my best impressions of being aloof and heartless, she knew I wouldn’t be able to ignore a puppy in distress. But, just in case, she added for good measure, ‘The mother’s crying and the pup’s yipping. Come on, you’re the only one who can help.’
I often think back to that moment and wonder if things would have been different if I’d been born with shorter arms. Sometimes life-changing events can be predetermined by the most incongruous of details!
The dog and her pups were in a hollowed-out kind of cave part way up the shallow sloping cliff. She had chosen a good place to have her litter, the floor was soft sand, and it was sheltered from the weather.
When we got there several other concerned holidaymakers had gathered, but like Sandra none of them could reach the pup. I peered into the darkened hollow and when my eyes had adjusted I could see it nosing blindly around. It was squeaking pitifully, but I couldn’t reach it either – even with my long arms.
‘We need something a bit longer,’ I said. ‘How about a child’s plastic spade? I could probably reach the puppy with that.’
One was swiftly found and I discovered that if I lay down on the rocks and leaned my arm as far into the hollow as it would go I could just touch the pup with the spade. Very gently, I scooped him back towards me. A few seconds later I was able to reunite him with his mother.
She gave him a good licking to welcome him back and thumped her tail on the sand. Not that she didn’t have her work cut out already. I counted thirteen puppies. Some were black, but most were brown like their mother.
The scattering of holiday-makers sighed with relief and went back to what they’d been doing. For a while I sat and watched the little canine family.
I was not going to get involved. I really was most definitely not going to get involved – but that night, Tony, Adam and I saved bits of meat from our dinner, and the following morning, armed with our serviette-wrapped packages, we were back on the beach.
We found ourselves at the back of a queue.
It turned out that several holidaymakers were concerned about the dog and her pups.
‘They’re ten days old,’ a German lady told us. ‘This is our second week; we were here when she had them.’
‘We ’ave phone ze animal rescue,’ proclaimed a Frenchman, throwing his hands in the air, palm up, ‘but he do not come.’
‘They look as though they’re getting quite well fed,’ remarked Tony. Adam and I nodded. The mother’s breakfast so far consisted of tuna fish, carefully scraped from its can into a bowl, with a fillet steak topping. Suddenly our bits of left over meat seemed quite a mean offering.
‘She is very well fed,’ said the German lady, ‘but that is now – next week the resort will close – it is end of the season. What will happen to her then? No one will be here to feed her.’
‘Someone ought to do something,’ chipped in a third holiday-maker. ‘She will starve to death when the resort closes.’
I pictured the little brown dog trotting down to her breakfast bowl, day after day, and finding it empty. I pictured her waiting patiently for someone to come. I pictured the pups yipping for their mother, while she slowly grew weaker. (I’m a writer and sometimes I curse my overactive imagination). Even so, I couldn’t see how the dog would survive without help. From that moment on I was involved.