Yesterday evening, I went for a walk with Gail and her friend John. It was my first ever hill walk! (Just a little hill, admittedly. Scolty, near Banchory, 299m high).
Before we went, Gail gave me a long lecture about how, if I were to be let off the lead, I had to promise faithfully to stay really close to her, and not go running off anywhere.
Well, I really couldn't quite understand what she was getting so uptight about. I always stay close by when we go somewhere new. Why all the fuss? I tilted my head to one side, giving her my best quizzical look, and in return was told this story about Gail's former dog, Hamish the Westie.
It all happened one Sunday, in October 1999, when Hamish was just three years old. It was only a few weeks after Gail had adopted him. He was a lively, energetic chap in those days, and loved roaming in the hills. Anyway, on this particular Sunday, Gail had met up with the same friend, John, for an afternoon walk. Another chap, Frederic, a former colleague from Belgium came along too. The plan was to go up Bennachie, a well-known Aberdeenshire landmark.
Well, as those of you who knew Hamish will be aware, he was a dog who liked to sniff just about everything. That was his notion of a perfect walk. Frederic, who had spent time in the Belgian military, had other ideas, and favoured the 'route march' approach to Sunday afternoon outings. John too, likes a brisk pace. It was never going to work.
Well Hamish kept up quite well to start with, but gradually, as his sniffing-things to moving-forwards ratio increased, Frederic's patience wore thin. After about three miles, at a five way junction, Frederic and then John went striding off in one direction and Gail followed, not immediately realising that her dear little Westie was nowhere to be seen. A couple of hundred yards down the track, she suddenly looked back and panic set in. 'Oh my God where's Hamish?' She rushed back to the junction, closely followed by John and Fred.
They searched and searched and searched the different tracks and into the woods and heather, calling Hamish's name, but all in vain. Gail was distraught. How could she have been so careless? And how little time it takes, she remembers thinking, to become so deeply attached to a dog.
Eventually they abandoned the search, went home and telephoned the Forest Ranger Service and the police, to report the lost dog. Then, just as John was suggesting that they go back and resume the search, and about four hours after Hamish first went missing, Gail received a phone call from Inverurie police station. Hamish had been brought in by a walker who had found him on top of a different hill, a mile or two from where he'd last been seen.
So the story had a happy ending. Gail drove the fifteen miles over to Inverurie and was greeted by a friendly policewoman. And there was Hamish, his little nose poking out from behind the bars of the police station cell, where the nice cops had provided him with a bowl of water and a couple of dog biscuits!
Well silly old Hamish, I say. He really should have been looking where his humans were going, shouldn't he? I can promise you after hearing this tale, I didn't let Gail and John out of my sight last night for even one fraction of a second, despite the fact that Gail insists that she has now learned from earlier mistakes and has also developed a sixth sense as to whether her dog is nearby or not.
But seriously, would you trust someone whose previous pet once ended a walk banged up in a police cell?
PS I don't think Gail ever mentioned this episode when trying to persuade my breeders that she was a fit person to 'own' a dog....