I was sitting with my two German Shepherd dogs at a table near to the water’s edge in the pub garden of the Jolly Boatman waiting for my lunch to arrive, when a rather attractive young couple asked me if they could join me at my table, as there were no other empty tables. “Of course,” I said, “I’d be glad of the company.”
“What lovely dogs you’ve got. I’m Sally, by the way, and this is Martin,” said the girl. I guessed she was about twenty five, and he seemed a little bit older.
“Nice to meet you Sally and Martin. My name’s Kathy, and my dogs are called Max and Missy.”
“Max is certainly a handsome chap,” said Martin, ruffling up Max’s fur. “I love German Shepherds. I lost mine six months ago, and can’t bring myself to get another yet.” Max was enjoying the extra attention, and doing his very best sit to encourage Martin. Max had always liked men; he didn’t get much male company these days since I lost my husband five years ago. Missy though had taken a shine to Sally, who was gently stroking her ears.
“Max has really taken to you, Martin,” I said. “He’s checking you over well though. He’s sniffing your feet to see where you’ve been. He does that a lot when I have taken Missy out walking on her own. When I bring her back home, Max sniffs around her feet then, when I take him out later, he just follows the path that Missy had followed earlier. He never gets it wrong. Clever, aren’t they?”
“Indeed they are,” said Martin. “I wonder if he would know where I’ve been though.”
“Give it a go later then,” I said, confident that Max would follow Martin’s scent exactly. “When you’ve left later, I’ll let him lead me, and we’ll see where he goes. I bet he’ll follow your scent.”
We sat in the sunshine chatting away comfortably until our salads arrived. As newly acquainted dog owners tend to do, the conversation was mainly about dogs and their various antics and escapades. Max was lying happily at Martin’s feet, and Missy was lying between me and Sally, who were taking it in turns to pet her. After we had finished our meals, Martin went off to find the gent’s, leaving Sally with me and the dogs.
Half an hour later, Martin hadn’t returned. Sally was starting to worry, and told me that Martin had an argument earlier with a group of young thugs, who he had seen mistreating their dog. She said they had come into the pub to escape from the thugs who were threatening Martin. She wasn’t sure whether they would still be hanging around.
Sally took Missy’s lead, and followed me with Max leading the way, as we went to look for Martin. Max stopped off at the door to the gent’s, but after sniffing around, made off towards the exit and on towards the towpath. He spent some time sniffing around an area of flattened long grass; then led me on beyond and into a copse of woodland. There was no defined pathway, and Sally and I had to pick our way carefully round fallen branches and rabbit holes.
“This isn’t like Max at all,” I said to Sally. “He normally follows the pathways, doesn’t try to beat his way through the undergrowth. There must be a reason why he has chosen to go this way. He must be following Martin.”
Sure enough, as we rounded a bend in the wood, we could see the figure of a man lying face down on the ground. It was Martin. Sally screamed and ran towards him. Martin was unconscious and covered in blood and mud. He had been very badly beaten up. I dialled 999 while Sally was trying to roll Martin over, wiping away the mud and blood from his face and trying to revive him. Martin thankfully opened his eyes for a minute and started coughing as he tried to speak.
“Don’t try to speak, Martin,” I said. “The ambulance is on its way, and they’ll soon patch you up.”
Soon we could hear the sirens of the ambulance and police cars. The paramedics treated Martin while the police were questioning Sally, as Martin was still unable to speak. Sally told them about the run in Martin had with the group of thugs earlier because they were ill treating their brindle Staffie crossbreed. The police asked Martin if it was the same thugs that had beaten him up. Martin nodded in agreement.
“And Max here found Martin,” said Sally. “Without Max, we would never have found him so soon. Thank you, Max.”
As the paramedics carried Martin back to the ambulance, Sally gave me her business card and asked me for my telephone number. “I will let you know how Martin is when I get home from hospital,” she said as she got into the ambulance, then it sped off.
I stopped and talked to the police for a while after the ambulance had gone. “It’s a pity Max wasn’t with Martin when those thugs attacked him,” one said. “I wonder if he would be clever enough to find them for us.”
“I doubt it,” I replied. “He would need to be able to pick up their scent, like police dogs do, and he hasn’t been trained to do that.”
“Oh well, I guess we’ll just have to carry on looking out for a gang of lads with a brindle Staffie crossbreed. We’ve had lots of complaints recently about a gang answering that description, but have not had any luck finding them.”
“Well I hope you do find them soon,” I said. “They can’t be allowed to get away with this.”
I said good-bye to the police and started to walk along the towpath with Max and Missy. I’d had enough excitement for one day and wanted to get back home. Max went on ahead as usual, with Missy following. I was deep in thought about the events of the afternoon. In one way I was glad I had made some new friends, but I was still worried about Martin, and hoped he would soon recover. I would ring Sally when she got home to see how he was.
Suddenly, Max stopped by a colourful narrow boat, and started sniffing about on the bank where it was moored. Next minute, he had bounded up onto the deck and was sniffing away at the door. “Come here, Max!” I called, as I put Missy back on her lead. Max started to bark. That wasn’t like him at all. “Max! Come here!” I shouted again, but he refused to budge. He was standing outside the door of the cabin barking like mad. Was there anyone inside, I wondered? I could hear another dog inside barking in response to Max.
“Call your bl***y dog off!” came a gruff voice from inside the narrow boat. I boarded the deck and put Max on his lead, and was trying to drag him off the boat when the door opened and out came a couple of youths brandishing baseball bats. They were closely followed by a brindle Staffie crossbreed who was barking, teeth bared, at Max, before leaping up at him and grabbing him by the throat.
The next minute or two was a nightmare. I was trying to balance on the deck and drag off my two dogs who were by this time both trying to defend themselves against this furious bouncing bundle of fur and savage teeth. The two youths were aiming their baseball bats at my dogs, but there was so much chaos and confusion with the dogs snapping away at each other and jumping around, that they fortunately didn’t manage to land a blow home. However, they were kicking out with their boots at the same time, and one caught Missy who yelped and jumped back onto the riverbank howling. By this time I had managed to pull Max back onto the bank as well. How I managed to stay upright, I’ll never know.
“Cops!” suddenly shouted one of the youths, and both leaped onto the river bank, followed closely by their dog, and off they sprinted along the towpath.
I then realised that the police had been following along the towpath behind me, searching for signs of the gang of thugs who had attacked Martin, in the narrow boats moored along the river. Three of them chased the youths while one stopped with me to check that I was alright. How lucky I was that they came along when they did. I dread to think what would have happened if they hadn’t.
I turned around to see what had happened to my dogs. Missy was whimpering, sitting on the riverbank licking her wounds, but she was relatively unscathed. However, poor Max was bleeding profusely from a gash in his neck. The kind policeman, Jim, stroked Max, saying that he would drive us to the nearest vet. Max limped valiantly along the towpath back to where the police car was parked and, with a little gentle persuasion from me, climbed into the back of the car with Missy, while I sat next to him, soothing him gently as Jim drove us carefully to the vet.
Max was very good with the vet. He lay very still while she gently examined him, and didn’t make a fuss, even though he was obviously in a lot of pain. I had to leave him overnight for observation after he had been anesthetised, had his wound treated and was stitched up, which was very upsetting for both of us, and also for Missy, who never likes being away from her brother. Jim stayed with us for the duration of Max’s examination, holding Missy, who was upset about her brother. Then he drove Missy and I back to where I had parked my car near the canal.
Fortunately Max wasn’t seriously damaged, and when I picked him up the next day, the vet told me he had been hailed as a hero. The local papers had written about how he had discovered the group of thugs that had been terrorising the neighbourhood for the past couple of weeks, and done battle with the thugs and their Staffie crossbreed. The two thugs had been apprehended, and the police had lain in wait for the remaining two members of the gang to return to the narrow boat they had hired for their two week holiday. The dog warden had managed to catch the brindle crossbreed, and had placed it in a dog shelter for rehoming.
I had telephoned Sally after I got back from the vet the day before, to find that Martin was recovering nicely in hospital, and would be released after a couple of days. Sally said she and Martin wanted to buy me lunch when Martin was back home, and invited me to meet them at the Jolly Boatman again the next Sunday. “Don’t forget to bring Max and Missy,” she said, “We can’t wait to see them again.”
That was six months ago. Since then, Sally and Martin meet me regularly at weekends and we walk my dogs together, which satisfies Martin’s need to find a replacement dog, for the time being. Sally is expecting a baby at Christmas, and wants me to be godmother. The thugs have been dealt with adequately by our justice system. The poor abused brindle Staffie crossbreed has now found himself living with a nice new caring family. Seemingly all is well, that ends well. As for Max and Missy, they are spoiled rotten by Sally and Martin. They have nice new furry beds to sleep on, new collars and leads, and a constant supply of left-over meat to supplement their diet!
Written as an assignment for clevermag.com