On Friday, the weather was awful, wet, cold and windy… not a lurcher weather.
Woody, our lovely old lurcher, was up at the stable yard all morning, lying on a pile of loose hay. In warmer weather that would be quite normal for him but as he laid there shivering, we all walked passed him and remember saying things such as “Woody, why don’t you go home?”. Someone even wrapped him up in a stable rug. At lunch we talked about him.
At about 3.30 pm, Jim saw him walking across the yard heading towards the house, he thought “Oh good, Woody’s taking himself home”. By 4.45 pm we realized he wasn’t at home. Given that his behaviour had been out of character earlier although he had seemed bright, we began to worry. Where was he?
As we started searching for him, we had no idea how long this ordeal was to last. Jim and I split up and began to look for him, both of us were walking around calling “WOODY, WOODY!!!”
I heard a dog bark, it was three good strong barks and it came from half way up the long meadow. The members of my search party, Barley and Percy set of at a good pace, as I scrambled through the hedge taking the fastest route, I could see Jim heading in the same direction. He had heard the barking and was convinced as was I we were homing in on Woody. Then it was quiet, only the normal sounds you would expect to find standing in a field. I found myself trying to filter sounds and concentrate on listening for Woody, a bark, a whimper, or a sound of him in the brambles.
It was getting dark, it was drizzling and it was cold, the fear in me was rising as it dawned on me, he’s lost and I’m running out of time to find him. He can’t be far away, he hasn’t been gone for long? The dogs and I climbed up a bank and through a hedge to get to a thick patch of over grown brambles, this I thought was as near to the barking we had heard as I could pin point. I asked the dogs to go in and search, which they did quickly, they are both trained to retrieve and they worked really well, pushing through the thick undergrowth. It was getting very dark now and I was struggling to see very far, we kept looking and calling until 8 pm. It was now impossible to see well enough and getting difficult to move around safely. The feeling of walking away and leaving him was unbearable. I was leaving him out alone and the decision to stop looking was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make.
Dan was leaving to go and visit Hadden, on Saturday, so we were going to be up at 4 am. I decided to charge the biggest torch we have and start looking as soon as I had seen Dan off. I held onto the hope that if I started the search again then at least I may find him and save him being out a few hours less. It could be those last few hours that might save him. I started trudging along the same routes I had walked so many times the previous evening, my search team were strong and working really well. Percy and Barley were pushing into the undergrowth and up and down the hedges, I watched them carefully when they dwelt at an area that could be a place Woody could have been. We forced on, clinging onto the hope that if he had tucked himself into a dry, sheltered spot, he could have survived. He would be cold, we had all talked about every scenario, where, why and how? We talked about his behaviour on Friday, and that we should have taken more notice, if he had had a stroke or “funny” turn he may be confused and can’t remember his way home, he may have got himself trapped, he may have been picked up by someone or worst of all may have fallen in the river and been taken down stream.
All Saturday, I never let myself accept any of those scenarios. We didn’t stop all day, just kept on and on, double checking. I thought over and over – how would he think? If he was able, he could get himself home? He knows the farm, he hates swimming, so would he have crossed the fast flowing river? No, not if he was still thinking straight, but if he was confused, who knows, he would be drowned – that thought sent a chilling shiver through me. I shook myself as if to shake the thought away. Don’t think like that! I walked the river, searched every eddy, and the roots and fallen trees, I tried to visualize his colour, what would he look like if he was saturated in the brown water. Could I spot him in the winter foliage from a distance, brown rotting leaves, mud, bracken and brambles. Crawling through the undergrowth with the labs, “Go on boys, find Woody, where’s Woody, go on good dogs, try again, get in.” To their eternal credit and huge loyalty to me, they gave me all they could, every time I sent them, they went.
I walked every route, looked everywhere, even places that would have been impossible for him to get into – “No, he wouldn’t be there” – but couldn’t leave that place unchecked. Standing in the long meadow scanning until my eyes hurt, looking at every tuft of grass or piece of log, questioning myself had I looked at that clump of brambles well enough? Was that lump there last time I came this way? Walk, move, don’t leave it just in case it is him and then when I reach it, the sadness and despair sweep over me again
At 5 o clock, I stood at a place I had been many times over the last few hours. Blankly staring at the bank, every detail etched into my memory I had looked at it so many times. It was this moment I faltered, the despair was immense and as it swept over me and the tears came, “Oh, come on old boy, please, Woody, where are you? Come on Woods…please…” the dogs came and sat beside me as I sat crumpled in the mud, cold, tired and feeling that I had failed to help one of our family that needed help. I walked home, it was raining again and felt colder than Friday, I had to face it, he was probably dead and if by some miracle he had survived a night and whole day, he surely wouldn’t be able to get through another night.
Saturday was a fretful night, lying in bed listening to the vicious wind and freezing rain, firstly I had the guilt of stopping the search and secondly my brain would not stop whirring, trying to think like him, able and not so able what would he do? “Think, think, where haven’t you looked? Which bit did you miss?” Another trip downstairs to check his bed, no, eerily empty. All the doors were open and all the lights were shining bright, a beacon to guide him home.
I must of drifted off to sleep at some point but woke with a start and went down stairs to check if he had come back. No, the others were curled up in their beds and just looked sleepily at me. The unwelcome familiar feeling of despair was still hanging on me, exhausting and depressing. An hour later I was walking out of the dogs’ room to go to the yard, I had walked passed their beds and was through the door… stop, turn and look!!! There, “WOODY!!!” I go to his side and fall down on my knees, “Woody, Woody, I can’t believe this! Jim, Woody’s back!!!” With tears streaming down our faces he turns to look at us as if to say, “I made it, I’m home”. We pick up his bedraggled, cold, wet body, he is so weak and we just keep saying his name over and over. The feeling of absolute amazement and relief was overpowering, this is a miracle, against the odds he is alive and he’s got himself home. How could this be? How could he have got through two nights and a day? How brave and loyal is he, to battle the elements to get home to us! How blessed are we to have his love, that he needed to be here with us, it would have been easier for him to give up and let the constant cold get him. Wherever he had been it most certainly had been a gargantuan battle. Our battle with the guilt for failing to find him and our physical weakness for our aches and pains as we searched that slowed us up, were nothing compared to what he had endured. We were exhausted mentally; the worry was unbearable and the feeling of utter uselessness was one I do not wish to ever feel again.
This dear, unassuming little dog is the bravest, most amazing, wondrous soul and I don’t know how this story has this ending, but I am grateful it does.
How many tears we’ve shed for you my friend?
On Friday, the weather was awful, wet, cold and windy… not a lurcher weather.