Sunday, January 6, 2013


The Tale of a Caribbean K9
(Published in the local parish magazine 2012)

Part 1-First Encounter

Whilst visiting Tobago last October half term with my husband and children, I noticed the usual wanting animals, in particular dogs, that were called Tobagon terriers because of the multi cross breeding of terriers out there.
Whilst most were streetwise and really only saw the tourist as a meal ticket, there was one dog that appeared from nowhere and changed our lives forever.
 There he was bedraggled, starving   and was notably holding his left back leg off the floor intermittently, he was absolutely terrified of people, a total wretch of a dog, but worst of all was the awful ligature around his neck, dirty undignified and a constant reminder of the awful imprisonment that he had endured.
He was indeed free but was totally unable to decide how to deal with his   newfound freedom. I decided to focus my attention on this unfortunate animal, and the name Badger came instantly to mind as his facial markings looked remarkably like a badgers, so that was his designated name for the rest of the holiday.
Badger would not come within but a few feet of me, and the look of mistrust and fear in his eyes would haunt me through out my stay, his face was so expressional and you could read his mood easily, if only I could get through to him.
I had my usual stash of food in my pocket as was my routine first thing in the morning to feed any waif and stray, but Badger was different, he would not take the food from me starving as he was, he still had his pride and stubbornness, and no matter how I tried he did not take one mouth full from me, he chose to run along the beach, climb on to a nearby rock, and stare out to sea, a free spirit in deed.
After much coaxing and getting down on my knees to crawl along the sand to him, and I must admit a very frustrating ninety minutes, he accepted the first mouth fall of food, taken gently, no rush we were on   Caribbean time after all.
When he had eaten all that I had bought with me I expected Badger to disappear from the beach, but he did not, he enjoyed his new location but the amazing thing was that he didn’t impose himself on us, he greeted us in the morning took the morsels that I had bought with me, and then continued to run up and down the beach pleasing himself and being indifferent to everyone one around him.
My mission at that moment was to remove the ligature around his neck, which had been tightly bound, I bought with me a small pair of scissors, you know the pair that you take on holiday which are only useful for cutting cotton, or plasters and the irrational side of me believed that I could simply cut through this binding as if it were paper when I next saw Badger.
This idea   of cause was doomed to fail, and my only chance was to gently remove the grotesque noose from Badgers neck when he was distracted.
Badger by this time had regarded myself and my family as friends and other tourists commented to me that he had indeed made a friend for life, as he would got go to any one else on the beach, even when food was on offer, so when I took him his customary breakfast the next morning and he was distracted, I gently stroked his neck and levered my fingers underneath the ligature and prayed that it would lift over his head, I still don’t know to this day how it came off, but it did and I felt victorious for Badger that his bonds of imprisonment had been removed, I hurled the awful thing into the sea, and he looked at me and from that moment we were inseparable.
The beach dogs would not accept Badger, and the alpha dog of the pack routinely attacked him, so there he was, rejected by people and rejected by other dogs, it was sad to see this as we were getting towards the end of our holiday, and I wondered what life had in store for this dog.
As usual Badger accompanied us for a walk but on this particular day we decided to walk over the rocks and see what was on the other side of the beach, Badger followed us so far and then refused to venture any further, for a dog that loved the sea, he was frightened of deep water and because we had to wade waist deep into the rock pools to cross the rocks, he had no choice if he wanted to accompany us.
He began to howl, this was the first time I had heard any sound come from Badgers mouth, and I turned around to give him encouragement, he was having none of it, he was clearly frightened and starting to panic, I sat down on the nearest rock and indicated to Badger that everything was fine and that he should trust us, what he did next has stayed with me and influenced what I was later going to do.
Badger looked directly at me, cried out and jumped into the deep water and swam out to me fear in his eyes evident with every paddle, this was a dog who we had known us only a few days trusting us enough to risk himself, this truly was a Lassie moment.
When he climbed out of the pool he was obviously exhausted and lay down at my feet, the emotions felt by myself were overpowering and all I could do was to shout to my husband “did you just see that” as my eyes filled up and the moment engulfed me.
The next morning we went down to the beach to find Badger and we saw him in the distance but instead of coming to us, he seemed to disappear, I wondered where he had gone and I walked off the beach to find him, as I crossed the road I happened to catch the shadow of a dog who had entered the grounds of the hotel where we were staying. Trying not to attract attention to Badger I frantically called his name and to my relief he responded and came back down. I don’t know why he did that as we never encouraged him into the hotel grounds, and always left him on the beach, he never once followed us, whether he hadn’t seen us but had sensed our presence I don’t know but this only re enforced my attachment to him.
The last day of the holiday arrived far too quickly, and I found myself becoming increasingly worried at Badgers fate when we left the Island, the local fisherman threw stones at him, and still he wasn’t accepted by the beach dogs, I told him that he needed to be brave as I held his face in my hand, his eyes clearly stating that he knew.
I was told by a tourist that there was an animal rescue centre in Tobago that might be able to help Badger, but as we were waiting for the flight home, it was too late for me to contact them about Badgers plight, we gave him his last meal and sadly walked away.

Part II – Decisions Decisions

When we arrived back in the UK I researched the animal shelter and found out that the charity was the T S PCA, whose philosophy was to rescue any animals that were in need of help, I emailed them a picture of Badger and the location of the beach, and said that we would pay for any treatment that he needed, and I must admit that I did not feel that optimistic about his rescue, days went by when out of the blue I received an email from the chair of the society to say that they had picked up a dog resembling Badger and could I confirm it was him, and thanked me for caring.
It was most definitely him standing in the shelter his sad eyes evident, but he was safe and that was my main concern.
It was a relief he was safe but what did the future hold for him, his freedom was restricted at the shelter but at least he was being given a medical review and food in his hollow belly.
As agreed we sent enough money to pay for his neutering and inoculations and his time at the shelter for the next couple of months.
We relaxed a little, and carried on with our lives until we got the next email from Mary the chair of the rescue centre, Badger had been fostered!
Fostered, whom by, how, questions that went through my mind. A retired Canadian couple that supported the shelter often fostered dogs while they stayed out there, and they chose Badger. This was fantastic news, he could be taught how to socialise with people and learn how to walk on a lead correctly, I wondered would he forget me forever?
Regular emails between myself and Mary continued and I was reassured and pleased for Badger that his foster humans were kind to him and that he was thriving, certainly the pictures revealed a happy carefree Badger and a much healthier one his weight was steadily going up and he started to look like a family pet.
Mary began to ask if we could officially adopt him as his fostering was only temporary, and he would be returned to the shelter once the Canadian couple had returned home, how could we adopt him? we both worked full time, had 2 very mischievous Devon Rex cats (well that’s another story) and outside of work having an impossible schedule with twin boys sporting activities taking up a lot of our time.
After much thought and deliberation we decided that we would officially adopt Badger, the premise being that “there is always a way” and after all wasn’t my encounter with Badger meant to be? I contacted the Mary from the TSPCA and she was relieved and happy that we were going to make this commitment. We were regularly kept informed about his progress of when he was going to leave Tobago, which was estimated to be some time in March, once the immigration documents had been completed and he had had his rabies vaccination and been micro chipped. The quarantine laws had changed from Jan 2012 so it is easier to import animals from other countries.
Meanwhile Badger was continuing to thrive with his foster parents, who clearly loved looking after him and described him as a bundle of joy.
We were given a date of 30st March for his flight to the UK, I jokingly enquired whether Badger would fly first class and envisaged him disembarking carrying his suitcase and wearing dark shades! No, back to reality, his accommodation would be the cargo hold.
We prepared for his arrival like a military operation, I had not looked after a dog since I was a child, I was very much a cat person, cats suited my lifestyle, I read dog behaviour books, kindly donated by our friends, went to see how well behaved dogs lived with their human pack, prepared the house with all creature comforts, and tried to understand the canine mind. Mary in the meantime had booked Badgers flight and all seemed well, and that he would be given a herbal tincture to calm him pre flight.
During the early hours of the day that Badger should have arrived we were both awoken by the call that we hadn’t anticipated.
Joe had taken the call, what’s wrong I quickly asked, Joe shook his head and quietly said, Badgers not coming! apparently the immigration authorities at the airport in Tobago would not allow Badger to board as there was a signature missing from his paperwork, my stomach churned, there was no further conversation that night, my eyes closed but the sleep did not come and the night seemed like an eternity, my thoughts turned to Badger where was he? 
It was a stroke of luck, the Canadian couple who had kindly fostered Badger, were not due to return to Canada for a couple of weeks, and without hesitation agreed to take him back to there villa until he could be boarded again.
After a couple of days Mary informed me that there would be no further problems, everything was in order and he would now be flying out to the UK on the 6th April.
We received a phone call from Mary to say that Badger had now boarded the plane and all systems were go. I felt relieved and exited at the same time but visualised Badger being lifted into the cargo hold not knowing what was happening, I prayed that the herbal concoction that Badger had again been given had started to take effect.
7th April we drove to Gatwick Airport to the animal welfare centre to relive once again my encounter with Badger, I paced up and down in the small, quite dismal waiting area, a member of staff greeted us with the words that we had been waiting for, Badger had landed! The vet there would assess him and we could be on our way, or so I thought! ---

Part III – It’s a Dogs Life

Returning eagerly back to the welfare centre, we excitingly pressed the bell to announce our return, as soon as I saw the expression on the vets face I   knew something was wrong. The vet informed us that there were problems with the paper work and he couldn’t release Badger to us without this being rectified.
Was I never going to see Badger, it had now been seven months since our Caribbean encounter, and I wasn’t sure whether he would even remember me.
  Mary from the TSPCA in Tobago was contacted to try to solve the predicament, and the vet at Gatwick explained that the form would need to be completed by the same vet who had treated Badger originally, and further more there needed to be an accompanying letter verifying who he was, I didn’t hold out much hope, this was now the Easter weekend, the pace of life is slower in the Caribbean (for those of you that have visited these delightful islands you will fully understand what I mean) again I firmly believed that everything is indeed possible,  I heard a dog howling in the holding area and knew instantly that this was Badger.
After five long frustrating hours waiting, we finally got the news that we were waiting for, Badger was free to leave and be taken to his new home, but there was yet another problem, the staff had changed over and they rather embarrassingly informed us that Badger had also got tired of waiting to be released, and had point blank refused to go back into his cage. We were ushered into the holding area, which was not normally allowed, it was not at all how I would have envisaged it to look, a large open space stacked with rows and rows of empty cages, lifeless, sterile, and uninviting, I could not see Badger, where on earth was he; I strained my eyes to see, and spotted a brown and black shape hiding in a corner.
I cast my mind back to seven months ago when I had first encountered him, the worried face, the stance of an animal defeated, and terrified, there he was in a corner hiding behind a stack of crates, same stance, legs trembling, shaking as though they were made of jelly, I must admit I felt a pang of guilt as to what we had just put this poor dog through, the thousands of miles he had travelled to end up in a cold scary building.
I reached out to him and he licked my hand, was it true did he remember me,
I rummaged in my pocket and pulled out a doggie treat, he cautiously took it, and sus piously sniffed the air. We eventually persuaded him to get back into his cage which was loaded into the car, Badgers eyes were large, confused, and his behaviour fretful, when we arrived home the next obstacle was to get him into our home, what could be hard about that you ask yourselves, well for Badger it was yet another challenge and eventually he crossed the threshold of the door, right into feline territory! Well if I told you the meeting wasn’t the best in the world that would be an underestimate, Devon Rexes, fleeing in all directions, glaring at me for introducing this large, clumsy creature into their home, this canine simply did not understand how to behave with cats, and it soon became a Lady and the Tramp moment, with felines plotting his down fall. Separation initially, was the only answer, and gentle coaxing did eventually result in mutual canine, feline respect.
Badger was still holding up his left hind leg intermittently, so we took him to the local vet, he commented how nice natured he was, and he said that he would need to x-ray him to find out what the problem was.
After Badger had been x-rayed we were ushered in to the consulting room for the verdict, the look on the vets face said it all, the image of the x-ray brutally obvious, I knew before the vet said a word that it was not good news, the hip was fractured! He said that he could not believe the image himself, I gulped, and asked the question that instantly came to mind, had Badger been beaten? The vet replied it was a strong possibility that he had been kicked, or beaten with a stick, I could not begin to imagine how Badger had survived, or what he has suffered at the hands of humans, I would never know the answers, only Badger knew what he had endured. My eyes misted as I looked at him and I then realised that he had indeed picked us to help him, one animal alone, bewildered but with a instinct of survival and courage.
  Badger was seen by a specialist orthopaedic vet who said that because the injury was very old probably done when he was a puppy,  (it was estimated that he was about 3 years old), he had formed his own joint and had indeed learned to adapt with his disability, we decided after much consultation that we were leaving this injury well alone, he is not in pain and runs like a greyhound, and bunny hops with a fast walk, this is Badger my Caribbean K9 warts and all.
 So here we are, two months later with Badger, he is a joy to all who meet him, he can be very anxious in new situations and doesn’t like dark enclosed places, or people with sticks. He is loved, happy, and he has now got his own human and feline pack, he chases rabbits and squirrels and relishes long walks on the common.
I have learnt that all things are possible, if desire and compassion are there, the sense of satisfaction in helping a creature in distress fills the human spirit with contentment. Badger epitomises this, animals can teach us all humility, he asks for nothing but gives so much, because after all, it’s a dog’s life!