This still surprises me that it really happened, a true story. There are three players upon this stage, my rescue dog, a young pigeon and the East Sussex Wildlife Rescue and Ambulance Service (W.R.A.S.). There is no dramatic setting, just a typical garden on the edge of a Sussex town.
Enter, stage right, Rino, lately resident in Romania. A family pet, abandoned, turned urban street dog, fighting for food. Captured but not put down, the favourite of the dog wardens. Three years in the kill pen until rescued. Then the journey to a warm welcome at his foster carers home in Bristol. Three months of their love and affection turned Rino around from street dog to family pet once more, ready for a match to a forever home. Mine.
Rino came with testimonials. From the rescue charity, ‘Leash of Life’, “It was clear that he has previously been someone’s pet. He is a six-year-old loving Border Collie/ Black Labrador mix. He hasn’t put a paw wrong since arrival and is fully house-trained”. His mother obviously had an affair with a tall, dark, handsome stranger. And from his foster carers, “A super dog, perhaps the best that we have fostered, tempted to keep him! Placid, friendly and very intelligent, previously trained not to jump up onto beds, settees, or visitors”.
And of course, he came with a care plan, “Rino needs twice-daily long walks to burn off energy. Consistent recall needs working on. A bit of a barker/growler at present, cautious with strangers, but at the same time wagging his tail to make friends.”
After six months though, out on walks, he was a star, “What a beautiful dog, and so friendly!”, and “Hello gorgeous”, his striking black and white colouring no doubt contributing to his reception.
This then is one of our players with the curtain about to be raised.
But what of the stage.
Rino had come from Radauti, a small historic city situated in a depression between two rivers on a plain east of the Carpathian Mountains in the Northwest of Romania. One of the oldest settlements in Moldavia, it has buildings dating back to the 15th Century.
As many listeners will know, my hometown, Eastbourne, at the foot of the South Downs on the Sussex Coast is a seaside resort largely developed since the 19th Century. It could hardly be more different for Rino, coast, and country rather than city streets.
Being on a slope at the foot of the Downs, my garden is a series of four terraces. It is not large. Rino and I had just returned from our afternoon walk through the woods bordering the Royal Eastbourne Golf Course. As usual he had been terrorising the local wildlife – rabbits, squirrels, mice, and in the clearings, gulls and even a passing bumble bee.
Having given him his post-walk biscuit, he disappeared into his den under the large choisya bush behind my seat.
Suddenly, just as I had raised my teacup to my lips, there was a tremendous commotion from within the depths of the bush behind me. Had he found one of his wildlife foes sheltering in there? Not so.
Moments later, all was ominously quiet. Rino emerged alongside the back fence. But not alone. He was using his nose to gently push a young pigeon ahead of him, along the back of the flower border. Every now and then the pigeon made a fruitless attempt to fly. Rino waited until he settled again before continuing the gentle journey to the somewhat neglected stone patio. Separated by a trellis from the two metre drop down to the lowest terrace, this was a safe place to rest.
To my amazement, Rino then adopted a typical sheepdog posture, lying still, flat on the ground, nose pointing to his charge. When the pigeon had visibly calmed down, Rino turned his head towards me with a look that clearly said, “Over to you now”.
As far as I knew, Rino had had no sheepdog training. Could this be some genetic inheritance? Had he responded to another creature who, like himself, had lost his family and needed rescuing?
I left him on guard and went into the house to telephone Wildlife Rescue. I was determined to do my best to play my part. Some months earlier, when tidying our greenhouse, I had come across a dead Blue Tit underneath a tripod-borne large pot. Unable to fly out, it had obviously crawled under there to die. The greenhouse had been my wife’s domain but in the two years since she had entered a Care Home as her Alzheimer’s disease progressed, I had neglected it. She would not have let that Blue Tit die. I was not about to let the young pigeon die.
WRAS assured me that, even though stretched to the limit, they would have a volunteer with me within two hours With my mind set at rest and the pigeon now in view and too weak to fly off, dinner was in order.
A ring on the doorbell and standing before me was a young lady volunteer, Carol, fully equipped with carry-cage and net. The net proved unnecessary, and this time we also decided to omit Rino from the rescue party. He had already played his part.
I was fully prepared for a search of all four terraces, but in an instant, Carol queried, “Is that him?” Woodie, as she had immediately named him, had taken up a position beyond the end of the trellis, but with still a good metre drop to the lower terrace. Unable to even glide down, he had perhaps decided that discretion was the better part of valour.
While Carol gently ushered him back within the safe area, I took up position where Rino had been, blocking off the route behind the flower border to the bush from where he had been found. I did crouch down to present a less dominant figure, but I must admit I didn’t adopt the whole sheepdog-guard, flat on the floor, nose to the ground posture. No doubt Rino would have been less than impressed.
Cornered, captured, and held firmly against Carol’s chest, stroked and with soothing tones, Woodie consented while Carol stretched out each wing in turn, gently probed his body and finally felt his crop. It was completely empty.
Time for her diagnosis. “Woodie is only three or four weeks old, having lost his parents, he has not been fed for at least a week. They only start feeding for themselves at around five or six weeks. His wings and body are structurally sound. He is now just too weak to fly.
He would likely have hidden under that bush to wait for death.”
The image of the dead Blue Tit under the greenhouse pot flashed back into mind. Had we been in time?
As Carol left for the Casualty Care Centre, with Woodie now in the carry-cage, she handed me a leaflet with Woodie’s Casualty Reference Number on the back page.
“Give it two weeks, then feel free to call us to see how he’s getting on.”
I never did, until recently, almost one year later. At the time, I had not wanted to discover that perhaps Woodie had not made it, but now this story needed an ending, even if not a happy ending.
I rang the number provided, gave Woodies’ Reference number, and waited while the database was searched. “I’m afraid that despite our best efforts, Woodie passed away three weeks after being admitted. He had been without food for too long to recover. I know this is no consolation, but this is often the outcome in the case of such young wood pigeons.”
I put the phone down. I cried. What a wimp, only a wood pigeon. But then, with impeccable timing, the latest WRAS newsletter dropped onto the doormat. I re-read the mission statement, “to save and protect our precious and endangered wildlife … all wildlife.” No only’s, no exclusions.
And as the curtain falls what else could the last lines be, other than,“ Well, Rino, you and I, we did our best didn’t we? We couldn’t do more”Share this!