My New Yorker husband has been working in New York this year and I have been with him. To have taken our four-year-old labrador Bailey with us from London would have cost $5,500 and created more drama than an entire season of Downton Abbey.
Even a straightforward trip to France last summer almost sent Bailey over the edge. He dramatically hyperventilated his way across the English Channel as we passed through the Euro Tunnel in our car on a train. I was forced to carry him out of our vehicle and massage his neck throughout the entire crossing in an attempt to calm him down. As he theatrically threw himself to the ground our fellow passengers tut tutted and sighed disapprovingly at me for putting my poor dog through this stressful situation. It wasn't exactly the relaxing vacation I'd had in mind.
Of course all the "normal" dogs heading to a luxury French villa (with pool) were sitting happily in the back seat of their owners' cars as if having recently graduated from Cesar Millan's boot camp. I could have throttled Bailey really.
The thing is Bailey is somewhat of a hypochondriac, well, actually drop the "somewhat". So, the thought of him stuck in a crate in the hold of a 747 for seven hours actually gives me night sweats. The enforced food embargo alone would be enough to kill him, throw in a bit of turbulence, and the standard skin-of-your teeth, JFK landing, well, you get the picture. And so, my parents heroically stepped in and saved the day, not fully understanding, I suspect, exactly what they were getting in to.
They say a picture says a thousand words so here it is!
Bailey on vacation with my parents, devouring an ice cream cone which, in addition to numerous cookies and miscellaneous "treats" has landed (much like the aforementioned plane at JFK) smack on his hips, despite plenty of long walks through the British countryside.
The cold hard truth is that Bailey has gained seven pounds, a fact which caused more than a raised eyebrow from my local vet at his weigh-in this week. I should say at this point that prior to his extended vacation Bailey had weighed in on the "high-end" of "normal" so we all knew the news wasn't going to be good.
There was of course the usual dramatic inhalation of breath, and clutching of chests, as the vet read the scale but I would just like to point out that having given us a gentle scolding she then proceeded to give our "weight challenged" lab a treat as we left the surgery. You see, this is the problem with Bailey. He has the sort of face that nobody can resist. Trained professionals crumble.
Even on his walks people stop to admire his "handsome face" and inevitably, between the petting and stroking a treat is produced and before you can object Bailey has swallowed it. He is the only dog in history who actually gains weight on a walk. Anyway, this is what my poor long suffering parents were up against while they took care of him for most of this year so I can't really blame his weight gain on them.
During our almost daily phone calls while we were away I grew to realize that Dad and Bailey had become quite the double act. Chatting with mum she'd say, "Well, your Dad and Bailey are watching the soccer." Or, "Your Dad and Bailey are gardening. Your Dad and Bailey have gone to pick up the newspapers." You get the drift. I was beginning to wonder whether mum was feeling a bit left out of the whole Dad and Bailey scenario until one day, while chatting to her about a crucial development in one of my work projects, she cut me off with, "Oh I'll have to go! Bailey's just come in for his neck massage." And I was left with the dial tone ringing in my ear. Of course I wasn't offended by this because Bailey has this effect on people.
A few weeks later things took a turn for the worse. During our daily chat mum seemed a little tense.
"Well, it's your father," she said with a sigh.
My stomach lurched. Seven years ago my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given two months to live. Not only did he survive but he has thrived against all the odds. He is literally a medical marvel. However, it is always there in the corner of my mind so I immediately thought the worst.
'No, no, its nothing like that," mum reassured me. "It's him and Bailey. They're going through a rough patch."
The honeymoon was over. It seems that, despite having the run of an enormous yard, Bailey had started escaping through the hedge into the neighbor's property. It was his new thing. I should mention that the neighbor doesn't like dogs so it had become a real headache for all concerned especially as the neighbor is the only person on the planet that Bailey barks at and was made to feel like an intruder in his own home.
'Your father's going nuts!" mum went on. "We can't find where he's getting through and you know how competitive dad is. I feel like I'm torn between the two of them."
At this point I heard dad in the background marching around bellowing, 'that bloody dog he's gone again!" It was a far cry from the previous week when fresh from having watched a soccer final together Dad was singing Bailey's praises along the lines of, "He's such an intelligent dog."
Anyway, mum went on to explain that she'd woken up to find no sign of dad that morning. Looking out of the bedroom window she spotted him crouching in the rose bushes still in his pajamas apparently spying on Bailey so he could see exactly at which point of the hedge he was escaping.
" I don't know what the neighbors must think," mum sighed. "It's really not how I envisaged spending our retirement."
I felt awful putting my parents through all this but fortunately we were due to fly home three days later to relieve them of their canine duties and give them a well-earned rest.
It wasn't until we pulled up outside of their home that I realized the enormity of the situation. Their once beautiful English estate had morphed into a high security zone not dissimilar to Rikers Island. Four layers of wire was running taut around the perimeter and certain key areas were reinforced with various items of garden furniture. I could see my dad's silhouette at his bedroom window looking through a pair of binoculars.
As we were reunited with my parents, I expected dad to be pretty annoyed by the whole situation. Instead he came running downstairs, beaming from ear to ear. The first words out of his mouth, having not seen me, his daughter, for three months were, 'I've really beaten him this time. There is no way he can get out of this garden I can tell you that."
Of course Bailey refused to allow dad his moment of triumph and sat yawning and looking bored to death. According to my mother he totally ignored all the hammering, furniture lugging and general hardware installation involved to keep him from escaping and never once gave my father the satisfaction of even considering, let alone attempting another escape. "He hasn't even looked at that hedge once since dad finished," mum whispered.
We did, however, at least find out the incentive for his previous escapes. It turns out that Roy, my parents neighbor, had taken to throwing bread out onto his lawn for the birds. Now that food was in the mix, we had our motive and it all suddenly made sense.
I thought my parents would be glad to see the back of Bailey for a while but as they waved us off, they appeared genuinely upset. My mum even had tears in her eyes. I think it was because she'd become emotionally attached to good old Bails. My husband on the other hand believes she'd simply caught another horrifying glimpse of the mayhem that had formerly been her glorious back yard!