After a family wedding, a fabulous Christmas and three weeks spent in sunny Ecuador, South America, I wouldn’t say that familia Dunford Castro were aching for the grey skies of Inglaterra, but we were certainly looking forward to seeing our beloved Chihuahua, Hercules.
So much so in fact that just two days after our return to dear old Blighty there was no question of him being left behind when we travelled to my parents house at Lymington for a long overdue roast lunch. My mum had saved the chicken carcass for Hercules and he enjoyed his own belated Christmas roast as we proceeded to see how many roast potatoes would fit inside a human stomach.
A short break followed lunch then a Christmas pudding was devoured followed by a round of photograph and present sharing. It wasn’t until around seven pm that we began to gather our things together in preparation for the journey home.
It was at this point that we discovered that Hercules was missing. No-one admitted that they were the one to let him outside for a pee, but someone most certainly must have. From the rear garden he must have made his escape through a hole in the neighbouring fence, out through their open drive and away to who-only-knew where.
It didn’t feel like the time to panic, as our little dog is a master escapologist with a penchant for the great unknown. Unfortunately, of his many wanderings away from our house the only common denominator is that he has never made it back under his own steam.
Whether he shares his sense of direction with my wife and daughter, or he simply enjoys being free too much we may never know, but we have become well accustomed to the knock on the door that signals another kind soul has picked him up and gone in search of his owner.
On the occasions when he has escaped from my parents house we have always found him in the same place, the Grove, where he is particularly interested in the grass and bushes that provide such a rich cocktail of smells. The scents from the countless other canines hold such a strong appeal to him that we have always found him in the same general area, lost in the rapture of olfactory abandon.
Our youngest son, Rafael led the search party. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I know where he will be.” So our five-man team set out on what we expected to be be a fairly short expedition. We quickly reached his favourite spot which we were dismayed to see was a Hercules free zone.
Like the gang from Mystery inc. we split up to find our dog but my concern was deepening by the minute. Had our luck finally run out? Someone had always come to his rescue in the past, he is so small and vulnerable yet so trusting and friendly to pass him by when he is all alone would seem something akin to leaving a crying baby on a doorstep.
Having searched the nearby roads my brother Pete and I returned to the house for our cars and began searching further afield, driving slowly, stopping regularly to call his name and listen for the jingle of the little bell around his fluffy white neck. My older son Marcus carried on the foot patrols with Rafael and my wife Loly, but one by one, we returned to the house, crestfallen and empty handed.
Our carelessness had finally proven our undoing. Our beautiful dog was gone, perhaps destined to become a late Christmas present for someone else. Who could blame them? Everyone who met Hercules fell under his spell – even those that thought they didn’t really like dogs (like me) were helpless in the face of his charms.
I had just begun to call the police when Marcus shouted. He had asked a passer-by if they had seen Hercules (he hadn’t) but had been pointed in the direction of a social media site on Facebook called Lymington Rumour Control where people sometimes posted news of items lost and found.
He had located the site on his iPhone and was waiting for the page to load while I began to dial the local police. All of a sudden the page appeared together with a picture of a woman holding our very own Hercules.
Upon escaping, Hercules had turned left instead of his usual right at the bottom of the road and had quickly become lost. A couple enjoying a pub meal had seen him through the window wandering alone along a busy street. The woman, Hannah, had gone out to rescue him and brought him back into the pub where they had posted their find on the local site together with their intention to take him to the RSPCA the next day.
Half an hour later we were reunited with our baby and had left for home. Three things I learned that day that were all good. The first was a reminder of the speed and effectiveness of the power of social media to work for the greater good. The second was that Hercules had lost none of his powers. The third was the heartening proof that honesty, care and simple human kindness are alive and well in Britain in 2016.
Ecuador is a wonderful country and I would move there in a heartbeat, but I am proud of our country, and of the good inside it’s people. Mahatma Gandhi said it far better than I ever could: ‘The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.’
Happy New Year everyone. 🙂