Looking out of the window on a damp grey day, I noticed something black and white, curled and hidden, under the bushy overgrown shrub which adorns our front lawn. At first, I thought it was my cat tucked up in her favourite sleeping place but, looking more carefully, I realised this animal was too big for her. Fat spots of rain began to fall, turning the scene outside to blurred watercolours. The black and white bundle snuggled closer into the hedge. A shiny nose cautiously stretched out from the shelter of the untidy branches sniffing the air, and a bright pink tongue tasted the raindrops. Some farm dog, I supposed, settled down for a cheeky rest from work. Still, it wasn’t usual for a dog to use my shrub for a bed.
“There’s a dog asleep in our front garden.” I told my husband.
He came to take a look.
“Poor thing,” he said, “better check it’s all right.”
“I was just about to.” I said.
On opening the front door, the dog jumped up from its resting place, tail wagging and tongue lolling happily in greeting. It seemed pleased to see me. Normally, I’m a bit wary of farm dogs as they can be temperamental and, once or twice, I’ve had a nasty nip. This pretty tri-coloured collie seemed friendly, however. It looked at me with forlorn eyes. I put my hand out slowly. At this encouragement, the dog bounded over, nuzzling and licking my hand. On closer inspection I found she was a female, small and slender; a friendly, sweet-natured animal.
“What are you doing here?” I asked her, “Run along home.”
She eyed me expectantly and sat down on the gravel. She wasn’t going anywhere.
“Are you lost?” I stroked her glossy head. She rolled onto her side revealing her pink tummy, showing she was no threat. I noticed an old faded collar but no tag.
“Well, you must belong to somebody.”
I thought she may be glad of a drink so I went around the back of the house to collect a bowl of water. She followed me to the side gate and waited patiently there until I returned. When she saw me, she gamboled ecstatically around my legs. I put the bowl down and she lapped gratefully.
“You were a thirsty girl,” I said, “but now you’d better make your way home. You can’t stay here, I’m afraid, I’ve got three dogs of my own and that is quite enough for anybody!”
I patted her on the head and went inside. I hoped she would head off once alone.
Every half hour or so, my husband or I looked out of the window to check whether the dog had moved on but, each time, there she was, snuggled under the bush trying to keep dry. The rain fell in an unrelenting downpour. After three hours, I decided she definitely wasn’t intending to leave.
“What should we do?” I asked my husband. He agreed the dog would have left for home by now if she was going to.
So, unlike the rain, I gave in and went to the side gate to let her into the back garden. My concern was rewarded as she danced around me, wagging her happy tail, thrilled to see me again.
I towelled off her wet hair and feet and let her into the conservatory, then fed her a bowl of kibble. She ate hungrily and settled in the large dog basket belonging to my labrador.
“You can stay in here while I make some phone calls.” I told her.
My three dogs knew something was up. They weren’t usually shut out of the conservatory and there was a whiff of strange dog in the air. They sniffed with curiosity at my legs, snuffling and whimpering. I lifted the receiver and rang the vet. No one had reported a dog missing but they would keep my details in case somebody came in. I should bring her in to check for a microchip. Then I rang every vet in the area. It was the same story with all of them.
“Any luck?” my husband asked.
“No one’s reported a dog missing anywhere.” I explained, “The vet told me to inform the dog warden.”
We looked at each other sadly. it seemed a shame to put such a lovely dog in a cage while she waited for her owner to find her. It was with some reluctance, therefore, that I picked up the phone. Surprisingly, they seemed unconcerned. The service was overstretched, it would be a while before the warden would be able to collect the dog, would we be happy to keep her until he got in touch? I agreed, of course.
“We have to keep her until the warden has time to come and get her.” I explained to my husband, “He’s out at the moment and will ring us back when he can.”
“If she’s going to be staying with us, she’ll have to meet our boys,” my husband said, “If they don’t get on, she’ll have to live in the barn.”
“I’m sure they’ll get on.” I didn’t like to think of her out there on her own.
We decided it would be best if the dogs got to know each other in the garden where there was plenty of space. Luckily, the rain had finally stopped. A pale sun struggled to smile through the clouds. Rather than terrifying the new dog by sending out the boys in a rowdy pack, we introduced her to one dog at a time. First, Sammy, our aged collie-cross, quiet and gentle. Next Iolo, our gangly labrador, barely taking any notice. Finally Monty, our yappy terrier, noisy but playful. The dogs did us proud. Their manners were impeccable. The little female collie liked them immediately and soon all four dogs were playing on the grass. I breathed a sigh of relief. It may take us a while to find the owner but at least she could enjoy living with us while we did.
Then I remembered my cats. Would she be a chaser? My dogs and cats were best buddies; friends since puppy and kitten days. This dog may never have lived with cats before. It wasn’t long until we discovered the answer. Kipper, our ginger boy and keen hunter, came ambling around the corner of the house right into the middle of the action. He confidently walked up the new dog. She sniffed him with caution. Kipper rubbed himself against her legs then sidled off. She didn’t follow or chase him. Phew! Later in the day, the other two cats appeared, feisty Mags and grumpy Maude. The new dog didn’t bat an eyelid and the cats were unphased. All remained peaceful.
Over the next few days, the female collie settled into our routines and became part of the family. She behaved perfectly in the house and was a clean, tidy creature. We hardly knew she was there. I took her to see the vet and discovered she had no microchip. I drove her around the neighbourhood, knocking on doors and calling in at farms. Nobody recognised her or knew anyone looking for a lost dog. Next, I took photographs and made posters to put up on telegraph poles, fence posts, in shops, at the vets, in the library, everywhere I could think of. No luck. I posted photographs and information on local social media sites. No luck. The dog warden didn’t ring. We began to think the new dog may be with us forever. Some of us may even have hoped it. We were growing fond of her calm, sweet nature.
“We can’t call you the new dog all the time,” I told her, “What’s your name?”
Over the next few hours, we experimented calling out different names and watching for a response. She didn’t seem too bothered with any of them until finally I called out, “Lucy!” she stopped in her tracks, pricked up her ears in apparent recognition and came running over. From then on, that’s what we called her.
Two weeks later, two weeks of looking after Lucy with no sign of an owner, we started to reconcile ourselves to life with four dogs. She was no trouble. When you had three, an extra one made no difference. Lucy fitted in. She was at home with us; part of the family. We all rubbed along happily together. We played in the garden. We went on walks. At night, she curled up on the floor with her doggy mates while we watched TV.
One day, two and a half weeks after Lucy had tucked herself under the bush on our front lawn, the phone rang.
“Hello,” said a lady, “I think you might have my dog.”
The lady described Lucy perfectly, down to her faded collar. She explained that she had been away, that Lucy was one of four outdoor farm dogs, that her husband had been feeding the dogs and hadn’t noticed one was missing every night. It wasn’t until she got back with her children that they realised the dog was gone. She’d spent the last week searching everywhere, finally getting my number from the vet.
“Can I come and collect her?” she asked.
My heart sank a little, “Of course.”
It was a shock when giving directions to find that Lucy had travelled six miles, crossing a busy main road, to get to our house. The lady thought she had probably been frightened by a bad storm, running in blind panic.
We said a sad farewell to Lucy while we waited for her owner to show up. Half an hour later, a land rover pulled onto the drive. A lady got out and I brought Lucy to her. The dog was very pleased to see her owner. She jumped straight into the car.
“She loves a ride.” the lady said, “Thank you so much for having her all this time.”
We waved away the offer of money for Lucy’s care. We had enjoyed her company and were just glad that she’d been happy while waiting to find her true home.
Before the lady drove off, Lucy jumped out of the car and ran back to us to say a last goodbye. We gave the little collie, who had stayed with us for a short while but touched our hearts forever, a big fuss.
“Oh, by the way,” I asked, remembering just in time, “What’s her name?”
And they drove away.