Bailey is an old master of shaggy dog stories
They say cats have nine lives, but I think certain dogs do, too. Bailey, the oldest of my pack of three, is definitely one of them.
He’s 13 years old — which in dog years means he’s the canine equivalent of an old man in his nineties — and during his long life he’s diced with death on a number of occasions and lived (for me) to tell the tale.
When he was a puppy, bursting with boundless energy and mischief, he once slipped from under his collar and lead as we were walking along a country lane in Drumbo. As soon as he realised he was free, he bounded across the lane, almost immediately disappearing under the wheels of a passing car. I screamed and my heart stopped for a moment as the thoughtless driver sped off without stopping, but Bailey had somehow dodged each wheel and came skipping back towards me from the other side with his tail wagging and his tongue hanging out as if he’d done something really clever.
Another close call happened when I was walking the dogs around one of their favourite places, Portavoe Reservoir near Donaghadee. Bailey and Walter are both bichon frisées, which is a breed of dog that cannot swim. On that day, Bailey had made friends with a Labrador and they were chasing each other when the Lab ran along a jetty and leapt into the lake. Bailey followed suit happily until he found himself underwater, panicking hysterically ... while I panicked hysterically, too. And who was next to leap into the water? Yep, you guessed it.
It was around this time that I decided it was probably a good idea to keep Bailey on a leash during walkies. So I bought an extendable lead that allows him a bit of freedom to roam but can be reined in. This worked well for some time until Bailey walked over the edge of the promenade at Ballyholme beach, while still attached to it. He landed on the rocks below and I was certain he was dead. But no; somehow he survived without a single scrape from his ten-foot fall and simply shook himself, jumped up and strolled casually onto the beach as I ran down the steps, crying my eyes out and causing a scene like an escaped lunatic.
It was around about this time that I realised that it would probably be a good idea to get Bailey’s eyes checked. Right enough, the vet confirmed the worst: Bailey was going blind, and I was going to have to keep him out of harm’s way for the rest of his life.
And so I did, until last week when I was in England looking after my dad for a few days and Bailey had come, too, because Dad loves Bailey and vice versa. Well, technically they’re the same age, after all. As I was going out in the car one afternoon to get some shopping at Asda, I said to my dad, “I’m just away to the shop, Dad. I’ll only be away an hour. I’ll shut the gate after me, so you can let Bailey out into the garden safely.”
I then drove off down the driveway, totally forgetting to shut the gate, like a complete moron. When I got back he was nowhere to be seen. I ran down the drive towards the busy main road and shouted his name but it was drowned out by the sound of the hurtling traffic. Oh my God. He’s old. He’s almost blind. He doesn’t know where he is or where I am, so he’s gone looking for me. Please God, or St Francis, or anyone who’s listening, please guide him back!
Eventually I found him, a quarter of a mile away, standing patiently outside the Spar shop. God knows how, but despite his failing eyesight he’d crossed an unfamiliar road — the busiest road in Preston during peak drive-time, no less — negotiated a roundabout and a pelican crossing and arrived unharmed (attracted by the brightly-lit Spar sign, I’m assuming) at the nearest shop. He knew the word “shop” from countless walks in the past, and knew that outside the door was where he sat until I came back out.
Ok, it’s not quite as impressive as the film Homeward Bound, but I could not have been more relieved. As for Bailey the Wonderdog, he got the biggest bone in the Spar.