You may have seen the story – a few posts back – about a lost puppy who turned up at my gate, starving and abandoned.
I tried to ignore him, but he wouldn’t go away even if I yelled at him to shove off. After a few days, he was obviously starving, and determined to stay around. So I fed him outside the gate, and he ate enormously, pathetically grateful, crawling to my feet, rolling over, showing his belly in submission, desperate for acceptance.
I surrendered. It had started snowing; he was shoulder deep in frozen flakes, and I couldn’t cope with the thought of falling over his starved and frozen body. I decided to take him in for as long as it took to find his owner, or find a new owner for him. As his soft, long fur collected great balls of snow that looked painful, I let him into the house to thaw by the fire and sleep in some shelter out of the freezing wind. He got the name Pita, which stood for Pain In The Arse, which is what he very definitely was.
So I acquired a dog. I haven’t had a dog since I was 11. I haven’t wanted a dog. I don’t love dogs these days. I like them, and enjoy visits from dogs because after a few hours their owners leave and the dogs leave with them. I’m a cat person, and there are four cats knocking around the house here. I was a bit concerned whether there’d be war between interloping dog and resident felines, but it seemed that the hairy mutt liked cats, and the cats didn’t see him as any kind of threat. They didn’t budge even if the dog did a gentle play-with-me bounce right in front of them, although there were filthy looks cast in his direction. Only if he had the doggone cheek to touch noses did the cats hiss at him in outrage, but he took it well.
He settled in, and we all tried to adjust to life with canine. Demanding, non-stop emotional blackmail, oversized presence, and chewing. Gloves, the foam bed-basket that the cats gave up for him, plastic bags full of bird seed… Things got destroyed, and the dog got shrieked at. Never hit, of course, but he was under no illusions that he was one chew away from being slung out into the snow. Damn dog.
I stepped up the search for someone who’d take him. I got nowhere here, so I widened the search horizon, and a lovely friend called Louise said she’d take him rather than hear about him coming to a sad end; he’d be a companion for her existing dog. Fantastic. So Pita was set to move to Liverpool (UK) to become a Scouse Hound. Next step was to find a means of getting him there. Another Merseyside friend recommended EliPet Transport, a UK/Romanian rescue charity; I rang them, and they said of course they’d take Pita to England, for low cost (buttons compared to commercial pet carriers). We were all set.
Then came the first twist. My cousin in London saw the photos of Pita, and demanded to have him. She’d fallen in love at first sight, and begged me to ask kind Louise if she’d give him up. Generously, she gave up all claims on the Transylvanian furball, and Vicki was the proud future owner of a sweet-natured Carpathian mountain mutt.
The visit to the vet was the next trauma. Poor Pita came home from that visit minus a couple of assets, and he didn’t thank me. He hid right at the back of Papi’s kennel and it was a struggle to fish him out (big kennel) – I didn’t want him staying outside in case he legged it or got the wound infected. It was a couple of days before he forgave me, but the pain subsided and he either forgot about his wedding tackle or was big enough to rise above it. So he was now a eunuch, microchipped, rabies-shot, wormed, deflea’d and passported. All official and set to travel, he was booked on EliPet’s first van of the New Year, 5th January. His papers were sent down to Bucharest to set up his transfer to London, and it was less than a week to the off.
New Year’s Day. Sun blazing, snow sparkling, Pita was outside at lunchtime, playing ecstatically with his Transylvanian Shepherd dog chum, Haiduc. They looked deliriously happy, so I left them to it. At 4pm the light was fading and it was getting cold, so I called Pita to come in. No sign of him. No Haiduc either. But sometimes it took a while for him to hear my whistle and come flying over the snow, so I kept calling every few minutes. Nothing.
And that’s how it stayed. Night fell, the moon rose, but still no dog. Pita had vanished.
My dog-loving friends Sergiu and Gabriela did a house-to-house search, showing his photo. Not a hair turned up. I finally heard from neighbour Roxana that Pita and Haiduc had gone with her friends for a walk at lunchtime, and that Pita had got half way to the next village before trailing off at the heels of a tourist. And that was that. Calls to dog rescue places, to the vet, notices on the microchip register… nothing.
The night before Pita was due to travel to London, I rang my cousin to tell her the news. She’d been out buying toys, a bed, a new collar, more toys – getting wildly excited about Pita’s arrival. She took it well, generously not blaming me for losing him – but she was devastated to hear that Pita – with only four days to go – had been lost.
It was cold that week, down to -18C, and the snow was deep and crisp and even, just right for good King Wenceslas but not so good for a small black dog with no shelter, no food, nowhere to turn. We hoped and hoped that he’d been taken by someone and was lying by another fire, well fed and safe. But you know what’s worse than the worst news – no news at all. Wondering what had happened, wondering if…
Three weeks passed. I was in Bucharest at a meeting with clients, when my phone rang. It was Roxana, very excited, with extraordinary news. She, her family and our neighbours had spotted Pita…. at least they were pretty sure it was Pita. They tried to catch him, but couldn’t get him to come close. He was almost in Zarnesti, six kilometres from home.
Rather than wait till I got back the next day, and risk losing sight of Pita again, my friend Greg (cat-sitting while I was away) drove down to find him. Nearly an hour of calling and whistling…. and eventually Pita came, afraid and uncertain, but he came, Greg grabbed, and the story was, amazingly, back on track.
So Pita made it to London. He was rebooked on to EliPet’s van the following week, I drove him to Bucharest to hand him over, and on Thursday 4th February, my cousin Vicki collected her new dog from the immigration kennels in Kent.
Pita became Bertie (my cousin is Victoria, so her companion must be Albert) and is now a dog-about-town, with strings of friends canine and human, a box full of toys, his own sofa to lounge on, snoring; he even has his own black cat who is slowly coming to terms with A Dog in the house.
The last trauma came on 19th February: the visit to the poodle parlour. Pita-Bertie’s coat is beautifully soft and falls naturally into luscious wavy locks, with his white eyebrows a distinctive facial feature. But by the time he got to London he was a mucky matted mess, and the only option was a buzzcut and a bath. Pita-Bertie was unimpressed, and poor Vicki wept when she saw him like Samson, his beautiful locks shorn. But the Transylvanian refugee is now clean, healthy, safe and loved, even if he looks like a new prison inmate.
After three months (or more – I don’t know how long he’d been abandoned before he found me) of trauma and change and drama, hunger and fear, Bertie is a very lucky Transylvanian Metis sheepdog who has been transformed into a young prince Albert of The Terrace, SE1. A Romanian immigrant who is inspiring love and enthusiasm wherever he goes.
Easter 2016 saw Bertie being spoilt rotten by cousins in Wales and frolicking at the English coast. He was so happy he was permanently on the point of exploding with joy.
Massive thanks (in no particular order) to: Sergiu Stanescu; vet Cosmin Dobas; Greg Helm; Roxana Preda; Stephanie Gallard, Claudia, Alexandra, Jennifer and Marian at EliPet Transport; Louise McWatt; and most of all to Victoria Gordon Johnson for a permanent, loving, soft-sofa’d home.