This is going to be a very long post, for which I apologize. But at least it has a happy ending.
As I said last time we took Biggles for a check-up with our vet to make sure that there was nothing sinister behind his crazy drinking and recent bouts of discomfort. The vet took him away from the public area of the practice for a blood test to verify healthy renal function and so on. During this test he apparently “worked the room”, getting an appropriate amount of attention from each of the staff. He also amazed some of the students by immediately detecting the presence of a wrapped cake on a high shelf, so obviously his sniffer was in good order. Sixty minutes and nearly £100 later, the vet gave his Biggleship a clean bill of health. Expensive, but it was good to finally know for sure that his often excessive water drinking is just one of his many eccentricities. Presumably the hot weather had pushed him to drink even more, upsetting his fluid balance.
To help avoid any further “out of balance” episodes during this extreme weather we decided to reschedule his walks. We’ve already been making the evening walk later in the day so it’s cooler, but maybe the morning walk should be much earlier, or much shorter, to limit his exposure to the heat. This got us thinking; what about a really crazy early morning hillwalk up The Merrick? The Merrick is the tallest hill in southern Scotland and one that we’ve climbed on several occasions, but each and every time our stay on the summit has been cut short by extreme wind chill and view-obscuring clouds. However, during this heatwave, with clear skies forecast for the entire region, surely nothing could stop us from seeing all The Merrick has to offer?
We did the sums and worked out that if we set off from our home at 1am, we’d be at the top of the mountain for sunrise (5am) and heading back home in our air conditioned car before the heat really started building up. This of course left little time for sleep, so at about 7pm we called it a night; the Beagles went to their crates, and Susan went to bed. I figured my best chance for nap time was just to get really comfortable in front of the TV and put on one those films that I can’t watch without snoozing. The more I really try to stay awake and see it right through, the more likely I am to wake up with the end credits rolling. As always happens, this didn’t go according to plan. Just as I was loosing the fight to remain conscious, Biggles announced that he needed to go out for a pee. I let him into the garden and went back to the TV. Obviously I couldn’t allow myself to fall asleep while he was out in the garden, so I gave him a few minutes, then went to get him back in. As I approached the back door I couldn’t see him, but once I got onto the deck I spotted him. Not all of him though – just his rear end, which was the only the part that wouldn’t fit under the fence separating our garden from that of our neighbor. Said neighbor was having a late barbeque party, and Biggles had apparently decided to invite himself over for a nibble. I retrieved him before he managed to dig his way through to the other side, then grabbed some spare bricks and a big plant pot to erect a makeshift barrier around the dig site. Back inside the house, which was now considerably warmer than the outside, there was still the potential for 3 hours sleep before our adventure. I laid down on the sofa with Biggles using my right ankle as a chin rest, and finally began to nod off.
“Are you awake?”
Susan had come through from the bedroom. Apparently it was really hot in there and she wasn’t getting much sleep. Neither was I, now. We had some hot chocolate, watched some more crap TV, and then Susan went back to the bedroom to try for a few more zzzzs. I got myself comfy once more, shut my eyes, and heard the sound of rustling. I’d left the bathroom door open and Biggles was investigating our cache of loo rolls. I extracted him, shut the door and plonked him on the sofa next to me. He sat still for a few moments, just long enough for me to close my eyes again, then leaped off the sofa, grabbed a shoe that hadn’t been put away, and scarpered with it down the corridor. The shoe didn’t have long to live, so I had to go retrieve it, and as per the rules of The Biggles Exchange Programme, I also had to swap the shoe for a treat. I didn’t even try to sleep after that, and about an hour later it was time to load the car and head for The Merrick. Total sleeptime? Maybe twenty minutes.
The drive was a nightmare. Lack of sleep and unlit winding single lane roads are not a good mixture, but thanks to years of sleep deprivation practice (I studied Computer Science at uni) I got us to the start of the walk in one piece. The sky was cloudier than forecast, but we loaded up our backpacks and got walking anyway. By the time we reached the final ascent stage, the top of The Merrick was shrouded in mist, and a cold wind was blowing. We were in the middle of a heatwave with temperatures up to 26 deg C forecast for later in the day, yet we were actually on the verge of shivering. Crazy! Susan suggested we hold position until either the mist cleared or the sun came up. It made sense; there was no point hammering up the hill now, only to be stuck in even colder wind while we waited for the sun. We huddled together and waited. Beanie embarked on a new “tunnel to Australia” project while Biggles unleashed a torrent of warning woofs at the mist which was now spreading down from the summit towards us. The official time for sunrise came and went, but it was still cold, and even mistier than before. Regardless, I’d done enough waiting. We got back on our feet and started to generate our own heat by heading up the mountain.
I felt sure the sun was going to break through the mist soon, but Susan wasn’t nearly so convinced. A little way before we reached the ridge, she decided to head back for a nap in the car while me and the Beagles pressed on. Beanie and Biggles were loving the cooler temperatures and the wonderful outdoor sniffs, and I still had hopes of photographing some great scenery. We reached the ridge, and continued on towards the summit. Every now and then the mist took on a golden glow, and it seemed that any second the sun was going to break through. As we walked I kept making smalltalk with Beanie & Biggles, as I often do. The conversation tends to be a bit one sided but every so often they look round as though they’re getting the gist of what I’m saying. Inevitably the conversation drifted onto the subject of treats. I’d bought a pair of Pedigree Chum “Natrabone” chews to have on the summit, and Beanie seemed particularly riveted as I read out the ingredients. Beef, carrots and spinach blended together to form a moist, tasty brown bar. And there’d be no sharing this time; this was a one-a-piece deal.
Up ahead, the sun finally cut through the mist and I caught a glimpse of the summit. There was blue sky overhead, and the summit itself was bathed in golden sunlight. Gorgeous! I looked down again to say “See! I told you it’d turn out nice” to the pups, but only Biggles was in front of me. I turned round to Beanie, but she wasn’t there. The clip from her lead was lying on the ground. Somehow it had become detached, and she was gone! We were on the top of a bloody mountain surrounded by deer and sheep and miles upon miles of wide open space and she’d got loose!
She couldn’t have been out of my sight for more than a few seconds; you have to keep looking down at Beanie & Biggles as you’re walking because they’re forever tangling their leads and getting underfoot. I looked all round me but didn’t see her. There was still thick mist behind me – she must be in there somewhere. Then I heard an all too familiar and very distinctive sound: Beanie baying her head off. It was coming from below me, and to the left. I dragged Biggles over towards the edge and looked down. There was a rock and scree-covered slope leading to a dip between the Merrick and a neighboring hill, and Beanie was down there (already!) and moving at one hell of a pace. Without thinking I started down the slope. If I could get nearer to her I could probably call her back using our emergency recall word. It was a difficult descent. It seemed to take me ages to get down there with Biggles in tow, and though I kept trying to track Beanie visually I had to spend most of my time watching where I was putting my feet. By the time I made it to the bottom of the slope, Beanie had already sprinted off to to another even lower area, and she was still too far away to call. I headed towards her as fast as I could, but again the ground was difficult and when I looked up, she’d vanished. Sensing my panic and perhaps miffed at being left behind by his sister, Biggles was also baying at full volume. I was furious with him. If only he’d shut up maybe I could hear where Beanie was! I yelled at the poor little soul and I think for once he knew I meant business. He went quiet, and for a second there was silence, then I heard Beanie again. She was now around 300m across from me, part way up the neighboring hill. Finally I realized I couldn’t possibly catch up to her on foot, so I yelled our emergency recall word as loud as I could. She was little more than a dot now, but that dot stopped in its tracks. She’d heard me and she was looking my way. I shouted the recall again, but she put her head down and continued on into a bank of mist. I heard her baying for a second or two more, and then she was well and truly gone.
I struggled hard to fight back the panic and think. The advice always given for these situations is simple: stay put! Resist the temptation to go charging off after the dog, and there’s a damn good chance they’ll just come back to you in their own sweet time. The thing is, that is the absolutely last thing you feel like doing when your precious little pup has run off. I came up with a compromise: I started patrolling the area I was on, going round in a little circuit that gave me a view of all the parts I’d seen Beanie running across. It was maybe a few hundred meters each lap. All the time I kept calling Beanie. I tried all the old recall words we’d used and discarded in the past, I tried the words I say when I ‘m about to dish out chews, the phrase I use for teeth brushing (Beanie & Biggles dislike the actual brushing, but love the ceremony that goes with it), basically anything and everything that might have a good association for Beanie. But none of this brought her back.
I started looking at my watch to keep track of time. She’d been gone a little over ten minutes. It felt more like half an hour. I remembered one other occasion where she’d run off properly. That had been at a windfarm, during the offlead phase of a walk. Back then I’d found her after a couple of hours. Maybe the same thing would happen here? But back then there’d been two of us: me searching, Susan staying put, and we’d coordinated our efforts by mobile phone. My phone! I fished it out of my pocket. It was showing two bars of signal strength, but it was lying – it couldn’t connect to the network. Much of Galloway Forest Park has no mobile coverage and apparently that included my current location. My patrolling routine now gained another element: keep checking the phone to see if it had enough signal to make a call. Susan was presumably back at the car now, but even if I got signal, I couldn’t actually call her directly because she hadn’t brought her phone. I have a hard time nagging her to take her phone when she goes out, and to keep it charged, and this time I hadn’t bothered. Still, at least I’d be able to leave a message with friends, and what’s more I’d be able to receive a call from her if she borrowed a phone from someone. And I’d be able to receive a call from anyone who found Beanie and read the tag on her collar. But still, no bloody signal.
How much time had passed now? It felt like an hour. My watch said only 25 minutes. Time to get things in perspective; twenty five minutes is no time for a Beagle to be missing. Just give her a bit longer and she’ll be back. But now a mist was blowing in again; it was killing visibility and seemed to be deadening the sound of my calls. Would Beanie be able to find her way back to me in these conditions? What would mist do to the scent trail? Then I had an idea. I had a second Beagle right with me, with a fully functional sniffer (as verified by the vet). Maybe Biggles could track his sister down?
“Where’s Beanie? Find Beanie!” I told him, just like I do when I let the two of them loose for chases in a dog enclosure. Unfortunately, finding Beanie has never been one of Biggles’ strengths. I’m confident he understands the find command because when he hears it he always stops what he’s doing and sticks his head up to look for his sis. Failing to see her he uses his nose but, working or not, he generally ends up going in completely the wrong direction, squealing and arrfing all the way. This time however he seemed quite sure of what to do. His nose hit the ground straight away and he began taking me towards the last place I’d seen Beanie. He led me to a hole in a drystone wall – definitely the kind of thing Beanie would have wriggled through. I got us both over the wall and we continued on the trail. I couldn’t believe it – this time Biggles was going to come through! Then abruptly he lost whatever trail he was following. He looked round at me as if to say “I’ve got nothing, sorry Dad”. I tried wandering about a bit to see if he could re-acquire the trail, but he didn’t latch on to anything, so we headed back to my patrol route. I felt stupid. For all I knew Beanie had been back to the patrol area while we were away and failed to find us. Or maybe she’d gone back up near the summit where she’d first got offlead? Or maybe she’d even found her way right back to the car and was with Susan right now. I’d read about that happening to other people. But there was no way I was going to find out about that any time soon, because there was still no bloody phone signal.
For the next hour and a half I kept walking round on my patrol, trying to control my thoughts. What if she couldn’t find her way back? What if she went after a sheep and got shot by a farmer? What if she’d hurt herself and was lying silently just a few minutes away hidden by the mist and the undulating ground. How long should I stay out here? Should I walk back down to Susan to let her know what was happening, or at least go far enough to get a phone signal? Every so often I gave Biggles another brief shot at finding her scent, but invariably he took me on a tour of the local sheep poo hotspots. Useless boy!
By now the mist was so thick that visibility was down to 30 yards, if that. There was no point patrolling any longer because I couldn’t see a thing. I sat down on a rock roughly in the middle of the patrol area. It was now after 8am, and the sun would certainly burn away the mist soon, I just had to wait it out. I tried to keep calling for Beanie but I was starting to lose my voice. To his credit, little Biggles chose this time to find his! He let loose his own warbling, squealing, grunting calls. His voice was louder than mine, would no doubt travel further, and what’s more years of dedicated practice would allow him to keep calling in this way for endless hours. “Good boy! Keep it up Biggles!” He was so shocked to hear me saying that, he actually fell quiet for a second. But only for a second.
With Biggles taking care of the calling, I was now free to put everything into scanning the edges of the mist for movement. As the mist drifted I could see shapes coming and going, just rocks, but I couldn’t stop my self from wondering if they could be a Beagle. I kept trying to reassure myself with the thought that any moment, literally any moment, Beanie could suddenly come trotting towards us out of that mist. But she didn’t. The sun was getting stronger now and the mist was clearing. Pretty soon it would be gone and then it would start to get hot. I could take the heat but Biggles probably couldn’t. A few more hours and I’d be forced to give up this vigil, if only for his sake. The two of us sat facing the receding mist, looking out towards the last place I’d seen Beanie. Every so often I’d glance over my shoulder back to the summit of The Merrick, but most of the time I was just looking forward. Then, without any warning, a snout brushed past my left arm and began investigating my backpack on the ground next to me.
It was Beanie! Somehow she’d come from behind us, and even Biggles hadn’t noticed. (Actually that’s no big deal. Biggles can walk past a whole line of cows and not notice a single one of them until he looks up from his sniffing). It took a couple of seconds before I grabbed her collar securely and hugged her. I think it took that long for me to realize that this was reality and not some fantasy my mind had cooked up to calm my nerves. I reattached the lead to her harness, and took the “Natrabone” treats out of my pocket. While Beanie & Biggles demolished their snacks I got out my camera and took a few snaps. They’re crap. Easily the worst photos I’ve taken for ages, but at the same time they’re best I’ve ever taken because they capture the moment my little girl came back.
That unflattering position she’s holding is just because she’s still munching on her treat!
Now all we had to do was get back to the car, preferably before Susan called out the rescue services. This wasn’t going to be all that easy. First we had to clamber back up to the summit of the Merrick – a short but steep climb – then we had around 7k of downhill trudging ahead of us. What’s more, Beanie wasn’t quite as fresh as she had been prior to her two hours plus Big Yeehaaa Adventure in the mountains. She looked to be on the verge of a limp due to sore pads, and I knew I’d have to carry her most of the way. She’s only a little over 11 kilos, but my left arm had a training injury which made her feel like twice that weight. Still, pain was a small price to pay for getting my girl back. To make things easier on myself I alternated between carrying her in my arms like a baby for short bursts during which I’d walk as fast as possible, then adopting the “shopping bag” approach using the handle on her harness. Overall, I think Beanie preferred the “baby” carrying method; it gave her a higher view of the action, and prevented any undergrowth from brushing her face. On the other hand, the shopping bag method offered more chances to sniff the foliage. I guess in this life nothing’s perfect, even when you’re the prodigal Princess Beanie.
The walk back seemed to take forever, and half the time I didn’t have any hands free to guide Biggles, but he was absolutely brilliant. Any time the path split he followed my verbal directions, and stayed nicely out in front to keep his lead from getting caught under my feet. It was as though though he knew he had a role to play to get the three of us safely back to the car, and he took pride in it. As we got down to the last kilometer or so we passed a couple on their way up who’d obviously spoken to Susan.
“I wouldn’t bother going back if I were you” said the guy. “Your wife is not happy!”
I said “yeah, been there before” and we exchanged knowing glances.
His own wife pointedly ignored us both and made a fuss of Beanie. Despite her sore feet my little girl had made it clear she wanted to be on the ground for this meeting so that she’d have a chance of nicking stuff out of the walkers’ pockets as they bent down to pet her. It was back to the carry service soon afterwards of course. A little further on we saw Susan. Any telling-off she had prepared evaporated when she saw me carrying the pupplet. We got back to the car, but we still had 90 minutes driving to get home. I’d had bugger all sleep in the last 36 hours, and Susan wasn’t much better, but we made it home in one piece.
The next morning, little Miss Adventure wasn’t quite so keen to leave our bed and face the big wide world.
Just cover me again, OK?
On the other hand, if I get up I can have breakfast..
She’s got little cuts and grazes all over her limbs, sore pads, and strangely matted fur on her head. I don’t know how she got all of these things and to be honest I’m probably better off not knowing. Susan keeps calling her “that naughty Beagle”. To me she’s the best behaved Beagle in the world, because she came back to us.
A somewhat less ruffled Beanie, prior to her great solo adventure. Looks like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. And it wouldn’t, because she can swallow stuff really quickly.