I have a hot date this weekend. I’ve bought food. A little outfit.
What I haven’t done is waxed, plucked, tanned, jogged, threaded or dyed. Because my new man is, you guessed it, a border collie!
During lockdown, I had been in touch with a lovely woman called Stef, who runs a small animal-rescue charity. She lives in Durham – not that far from me – so I had offered her lots of old horse rugs I no longer use. The sight of Dream the pony’s tiny outfits still hanging in the tack room broke my heart (she died four years ago). Stef mostly rescues dogs, and sent me a photo of a male collie, imprisoned in a kill shelter in Romania.
He reminds me of my first collie, Sam. He looks very scared. Beautiful, beady eyes, like a teddy. So I decide that I will have him, and that I will name him Teddy.
I wait for what seems like a year then, on Thursday, I got a text – ‘He is on his way!’ – accompanied by a photo of him, cowering and dejected, in a crate in the van. He has filthy paws and what looks like an eye infection.
And so I have been hurrying around, like an expectant mum. I’ve bought him a name tag, collar, lead and harness, although I have no idea what size he is. My latest rescue, Missy, is as small as a cat. Not one of my three collie girls is easy. Mini gets jealous if I even say the name of another dog; she is like my ex-boyfriend in that respect. Gracie is now incontinent, so has to sleep on a nappy pad, which she chews. Missy doesn’t like wheelbarrows, the hosepipe, me running a bath, rain, thunder, the crackle of a log on the fire. If any of those things happen, we get the tail between the legs. She doesn’t even like walks. She will just stop, stare, dig in her paws and refuse to go any further. When I finally give in and turn for home, she hares off at top speed. All she wants is to be in her basket.
I don’t really want another dog, but I couldn’t bear to imagine Teddy stuck in a pen in Romania, with the temperature well below zero, frozen and alone over Christmas. I’m now waiting for the text to say he has landed, a furry refugee. I can’t help but think of the people who drowned in the English Channel. The children. The pregnant woman. No one was waiting for them with a box full of toys and human food from Waitrose, as I am for Teddy. I want him to open his eyes on Christmas Day and know that he is loved.
It’s now Sunday. I got a text! ‘They are through the Channel Tunnel!’ Stef sends me a list of who’s on board, with ETAs. There are 21 names. Scrappy. Maggie. Monica. So many little lives about to be transformed. And there is my collie, near the bottom, due to arrive on Monday at 10.50am. Once more I can’t help but think of him, having been abandoned, in a kill shelter, now in a van, and what must be his thoughts: Will I meet my mummy at the end of this? Will I know it’s Christmas time at all?
It’s now Monday afternoon. Poor Teddy has been travelling for four days. I’m a bag of nerves. A van pulls up. It says Transport Animale on the side. Oh dear god. A young man gets out. He hands me the doggy passport and takes my slip lead to put it on.
He emerges, carrying the most enormous collie I have ever seen. Teddy is being carried as he’s too frightened to walk. Placed on the ground, he just crouches. He is carried inside. Mini bares her teeth, jealous. I give him a bowl of water and he laps greedily. I wonder how I am going to get him into the garden. I have never met a more nervous dog. He doesn’t even know his name. He doesn’t yet know that he is safe.