One Sunday, in the not too distant past, we decided to take advantage of the rare confluence of sunshine and a day off, by going for a walk in the mountains. It was unusually hot for May, or for any time in Ireland for that matter, so with great delight we headed towards Kinnitty Castle. Children in tow and dog in the boot, we planned to stretch our legs on the grounds and then have dinner in the castle and let someone else do the dishes for a change. We started out with a bounce in our step. But it didn’t take too long before 23 degrees of Irish sun shortened our stride. About ten minutes to be more precise. But that’s all it took for our 6 and 7 year old daughters to begin their “go-slow” campaign, stopping to pick wildflowers every twenty paces. Rococo, our energetic labrador, had no such qualms with the elements. She charged off into the woods, tail wagging and eyes bulging, as if she would never be taken on a walk again. As it would happen, she was nearly right.
Focusing on the task of encouraging the girls to plod on as Hannah and I began to wilt ourselves, Rococo’s absence went unnoticed. Until we heard a raspy wheezing noise behind us. We turned to see her slowly stagger towards us, eventually collapsing at our feet. She didn’t look good. Her tongue spilled out of her mouth and lay in the dirt covered in foam, her eyes were slits and she was panting uncontrollably. I ran back to some other walkers, who graciously donated a bottle of water which I administered to our distressed patient. She could barely drink it. When she finally finished it off, matters hadn’t improved.
It was obvious that our concern had made it’s way down the ranks when our eldest, Amelie, asked where we would bury Rococo if she died. It was time to up the ante from “concern" to “panic”. I ran on ahead, hoping to find a stream to cool her down. At the same time I rang Pete Wederburn, Ireland’s favourite celebrity veterinarian, who’s number I happened to have in my phone. He confirmed our panic and told me she was suffering from hyperthermia, a potentially fatal situation. It was essential that she be cooled down immediately. At that very moment, I spotted a stream at the bottom of a steep embankment through the woods.
“Great!”, said Pete. “Now you’ll have to get her to the water as quickly as possible, but don’t let her walk. You’ll have to carry her.”
And just like that, a plan came together. I had tracked down expert advice, found a stream and now all I had to do now was carry 90 pounds of sweaty, slobbery, semi-conscious dog for the guts of a kilometre, then down a treacherous hill to the life-saving water. This would turn out to be the hard part. The small miracles of getting phone reception in the middle of the woods and stumbling upon a stream in a life or death situation apparently came with a cost- one I fully measured the moment I heaved Rococo up into my arms. Big dogs don’t know how to be carried at the best of times. But carrying a well fed, dazed lab was like carrying an oversized bean bag full of bowling balls that sporadically lurched in one direction or another. I was in a constant state of trying not to drop her.
Realising immediately that there wasn’t a better, or even a good way to man-haul a dog, I began my staggering-heave-walk towards the stream. At about the half-way mark, concern for Rococo began shifting towards her bearer and Hannah voiced her concern that I may have been closer to a heart attack than the dog. By the time I had reached the top of the hill leading to the stream, my arms decided they had had enough and began shaking uncontrollably. Rococo immediately fell out of them, completing the last part of the journey with gravity’s help.
Unfortunately, the malnourished stream wasn’t the answer. Deep enough to submerge her paws, but not enough to lower her body temperature; we were still in trouble. Then, a shout from atop yonder hill.
“I see a river!”, shouted Lucie, our 6 year old. Sure enough, a hundred meters away flowed salvation. Unable to carry her, we coaxed Rococo up and over the small ridge, nudging her toward the water. When she finally realised what was in front of her, she didn’t need to be told twice and threw herself in. The cooling effect was almost immediate. Her eyes opened, she began lapping up water and her tail started wagging. We let her linger until we were sure she was out of danger and then began picking our way out of the woods.
As we neared the castle, we met a couple standing outside the stables. Covered in muck and dog hair, I began explaining our ordeal and hoped that they might have a cool place for Rococo to recover while we had dinner. I was just coming to the part of the re-telling that involved me carrying her to the stream, when Lucie ran up and interrupted.
“Are you talking about the time I saved Rococo’s life?”
Yes Lucie. That’s how the story goes. But not how it ends.
Yesterday, two months after the fact, Lucie extracted herself from the giggling gaggle of little guest girls she was playing with, tugged on my apron and said, “Daddy, do you remember the time you were carrying Rococo, when her tongue was hanging out of her mouth and stuff…and I went on the hill and said that I saw a river? “
“Yes, I remember Lucie.”, I replied.
“Well, I really didn’t see a river. I just said it to make you happy. And then, there WAS a river. Do you remember that?”
Yes I do, yes there was and you just made me more happy than you’ll ever know.
And THAT’S how it ends.