Geoff and Stella sat side by side on the hard grey chairs of the Surgery waiting room. They held hands but could not look at each other. Across the room from them sat Claire, the driver of the Range Rover. All that could be heard was the ticking of the clock measuring each agonising second. The door from the surgery swung open and Margaret, the Vet, stood in the doorway. “Would you like to come through?” she asked all three rose to their feet but Claire hesitated. Stella silently grasped her hand and they all followed Margaret into the consulting room.
“Ok, here’s an ultra sound I took a few minutes ago” Margaret pointed at the display on her laptop “I know there seemed to be a lot of blood and she does have a fracture of the hind leg but more important is this area “ Again she indicated the white mass on the screen “It’s her spleen…and it’s bleeding” She paused and looked at Stella “you have two choices, you can let her go now or I can operate and remove her spleen and try and control the bleeding, there is no wait and see choice here” Stella licked her lips “Does, does she have a chance, even with a broken leg?”
Margaret nodded “yes, she is in shock but she’s now on a drip but we really don’t have time to waste, I’m sorry”
Stella and Geoff looked at each other, they turned back to Margaret. “Go for it “said Geoff “If there’s a chance we have to give it to her”
“Ok, it will be some time, even if she survives the operation, go home, I will let you know if there is any change. The girls on the desk have reported your other dog as missing to the microchip database and the dog warden, they can give you details of websites to report her on too but you do need to contact the Police and tell them she has been stolen” She put her hand on Stella’s shoulder “I’m so sorry …now I must see what I can do for your girl”
The three left the surgery and trudged back to the car in silence.
Dyllis shivered and pressed up against her grey kennel mate for warmth. They had been moved from the barn and been hosed down before being put inside another crate and another bumpy journey. Now they were in a big van, still in the crate but this time a small bucket of water swung from a wire in the corner and they had straw on the bottom of the cage. The inside of the van was packed with crates but not all had dogs in them, Dyllis could hear snuffling from a crate ahead of her and a continuous high pitched whine from a crate stacked underneath where she lay.
Eventually the van stopped, Dyllis knew it was night but there were bright lights which made her blink when the side door of the van was pulled open. Smiler stood there with another man in a bright yellow coat.
“So how many dogs on board?” asked Yellow Coat
“Just four “said Smiler and passed Yellow Coat a handful of papers.
“You only just made the ferry you know” said Yellow coat as he looked at the paperwork
“Ya, lucky me eh?”
Yellow coat leaned into the van “What’s that one then?” he asked and nodded towards Dyllis
“Oh he’s just a mongrel, my sister’s dog, she wanted him to be with her for Christmas…you know what women are like” Smiler laughed.
“Tell me about it” said Yellow Coat “my wife is dog crazy…tsk”
The van door was pulled shut and the dogs were left in darkness again.
It was a long night for Geoff and Stella, they had finally persuaded Claire to go home with a promise they would let her know if they had any news.
Margaret rang at seven o’clock, Geoff answered at the second ring.
Clarice had survived the operation but she wasn’t “out of the woods “yet as Margaret explained. A Vet nurse would be with Clarice all night and would let them know of any changes; Margaret would ring them first thing in the morning.
Geoff replaced the ‘phone and took a deep breath “Ok, nothing more we can do there, she’s in good hands …” He bent to kiss Stella on the back of her neck as she craned her head towards her computer screen.
“My God Geoff, do you realise how many dogs are stolen or go missing every day? It’s just…terrible” she sniffed and wiped her eyes on the back of her sleeve “will we ever see her again?”
“We have to do what they said on the DogLost site, we have to make her too hot to handle” Geoff reassured her as he took his seat beside her “Let’s get the posters printed”
Most of the night Geoff and Stella worked on making Dyllis a dog that everyone knew had been stolen. They emailed the poster with her picture to everyone they could think of, pet shops, Vets in the area and beyond, friends with dogs, rescue centres and boarding kennels. By 3am they were exhausted but sure they had done everything they could, social media had always been a bit of a mystery to Geoff but Stella showed him that there were ways to get the word out about Dyllis and he was really touched at how many people responded with positive remarks and sympathy.
In a small cottage in Church Hougham someone else was also burning the midnight oil. Rita Percival sat propped up in bed with her laptop on her knees. The screen flickered as she scrolled through websites, pausing to read when a picture caught her eye.
She glanced at her watch, she would need to get up soon and cook her husband some breakfast, just a few more pages, she thought.
When Margaret rang in the morning to update Geoff and Stella about Clarice she was almost cheerful. “She’s an amazing girl “ she said “she’s already wanting to eat and coping well with the cast on her hind leg, she will need to stay here for several days I’m afraid, it may be that she doesn’t come home for Christmas”
Stella smiled into the ‘phone “I’ll just be happy if she comes home”
That day was spent retracing their steps from what seemed like days ago as they plodded down the track behind their house. The snow had covered all traces of that night. No cars were parked on the pull in at the end of the track and the road was slushy with grit and dirty snow. Geoff and Stella stood and held each other as tears silently fell down their cheeks. “Come on Stella, this isn’t helping Dyllis” Geoff tilted Stella’s chin up “There must be more we can do” He put his arm around her and they walked back through the snow to their garden.
Later that day they visited Clarice and took her some cooked chicken, Geoff and Stella sat on the floor in Clarice’s pen and stroked her sweet head and gently held her warm paws. No one tried to hurry them away; the Nurses pottered around them completing their duties. Clarice had raised her head when they first came in but now she rested her head on Stella’s lap, her eyes half closed and breathing slow and low. When they left her she gave a high pitched squeak which ripped into their hearts, “We’ll be back soon Clarice, good girl..Be a good girl”
Geoff and Stella stared at each other across the dining table; the wood burner was crackling and spitting the flames reflecting in the surfaces of the baubles hanging from the tree in the corner of the room. “Have yourself a merry little Christmas” sang Michael Buble from the speakers either side of the fireplace. Stella couldn’t help looking to the two empty dog beds across the open plan room beside the large comfortable sofas. She sobbed once as she raised her glass of wine and tried to hide behind the ruby liquid. Geoff put his hands palms down on the table between them,” they will be back; I promise they will be back Stella..However long it takes”. Stella nodded and drained her glass “Ok…let’s get back on the computer”
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Rita wanted a dog, she had always had a dog when she was young or at least her parents did. There had never been time for a dog since she had grown up, children and Bob’s work had always come first and she admitted that she had enjoyed going back to work after the children had found their wings but now was the time she could finally have a dog! Bob was going to retire in the summer and she had already stopped working in the offices of Kent Social Services but what breed of dog should she choose? She had spent days looking at websites telling her about different breeds of dog and had narrowed it down to a couple of breeds she really liked but how would Bob react when he realised he wasn’t going to be walking a powerful Rottweiler or an impressive Giant Schnauzer? Rita smiled and began to cook the bacon and fat sausages.
Just a few minutes later she heard Bob’s car pull up on the drive and as he bumbled though the door stamping his feet and pulling his gloves off she smiled and said “So how was the shift? “ He returned her grin “Pretty much the same love, I could do with a cuppa”
He wiped his plate with a slice of bread and took a last pull at his mug of tea, “Thank you love, that was lovely” he made to get out of his chair and Rita put a hand on his shoulder. “Bob, have a look at this please” she placed her laptop on the table and took away his used plate and cutlery “I’ve done my homework and that is the dog I want “she said.
Bob leaned forward and looked at the screen a black and white dog looked back at him, he grunted “hmm, not much of a man’s dog is it love?”
Geoff and Stella visited Clarice again the next day, this time she struggled to her feet and whined as they entered “Oh look at you, clever girl!” Stella stepped forward and rubbed Clarice’s ears and she responded with a low moan of pleasure. “Oh Geoff, she is looking so much better today…” Stella dropped down and sat beside the Shepherd again and rummaged in her large handbag for the pot of cooked tuna and chicken pieces she had prepared earlier.
That evening when the ‘phone rang they both exchanged worried glances as Geoff stepped forward to answer the call.
The man in the bright yellow coat turned away from the white van at the ferry terminal and began to saunter away. Something was niggling in the back of his mind, was it something his wife had said? He used his pen to scratch above his ear and smiled at the thought of his wife excitedly explaining all about how living with a dog would be for them. She had shown him lots of images of the black and white dogs she wanted, even one of a dog that had been stolen…..
Bob spun round on his heel and marched back to where the white van was parked; he called security on his radio within a few strides and walked around to the driver’s window where a man sat blowing into his hands as he waited for the queue to move.
Geoff and Stella had been travelling for about an hour now, Stella suddenly laughed as she realised she still had her slippers on.
Bob hung up his bright yellow coat on the hat stand by the door and looked across the room to a man who wasn’t smiling any more as one of the two Policemen asked him his name. “I no speak English” he protested as he held his cuffed wrists up to his face. Bob snorted” …and he doesn’t know the difference between girls and boys either “he rumbled.
Geoff and Stella were shown into an office at the terminal. Stella’s phone was pinging every few seconds in her handbag as news travelled around the UK. Stella’s knees became weak as she saw a crate in the corner of the room, excited wailing was coming from the cage and it bounced up and down as the small Boston Terrier hurled herself at the mesh.
Dyllis & Clarice
The snow had come and gone. Clarice still had a cast on her hind leg but she was now putting weight on the leg. Dyllis happily snuffled round the base of the Christmas tree in the warm living room. Geoff was sprawled on the sofa with Stella sitting on the floor, her back against the sofa. She waggled her feet and smiled “New slippers, thank you darling” Geoff playfully pulled at a lock of her hair “well..Could hardly let you carry on with the old high mileage ones, could I?”
Dyllis trotted over to Stella and gravely put a front paw on her leg, she looked back over her shoulder to the huge bed by the woodburner where the bulk of Clarice snuggled down with a huge contented sigh. Dyllis looked up at Stella with liquid eyes and licked her lips.
“Do you think she will be damaged in some way by what’s happened to her Geoff?”
Geoff smiled and reached out to stroke the black and white dog’s head “I hope not darling, but if she is, we’ll be here”
Stella took Geoff’s hand and kissed it “This is one Christmas we will never, ever forget”
Geoff chuckled” Come on, get a wiggle on we have guests arriving soon, I promised Claire and her husband a Christmas Dinner and Margaret will finish work soon too. “he paused” I wonder how many other people have their Christmas dinner in January?”
Stella sighed as she stroked the head of her dear dog “I wonder how many people are still waiting for their dogs to come home? “