Spectator: A case of mistaken identity

Lucy Baring almost loses Fletcher.

Fletcher was dognapped yesterday. One minute, I was walking down the road waiting for him to come out of a rabbit hole and the next he was wrapped in a silk scarf on the lap of a lady in the passenger seat of a passing 4×4.

We were walking with friends and the group had split into two. I thought Fletcher was ahead with Zam and he thought Fletcher was with me. We were all in deep conversation. By the time we reached the top of the hill, we’d realised our mistake, but I wasn’t overly worried. It’s our usual walk and Fletcher is entirely familiar with the routine in which, at one particular bend in the road, he disappears into thick undergrowth and attempts to chase rabbits.

The secret is not to call him. If we stand completely still and silent, he reappears within two minutes in a panic about being left behind. But, yesterday, we failed to do this and he obviously reappeared, wondered whether to go home or to carry on up the hill and was discovered in this state of anxiety by a couple in their car.

I’d paid no attention to the car as I walked quickly towards the rabbit patch. It was Thomas who asked ‘Wasn’t that Fletcher?’ and I turned to see an unmistakable profile straining towards me. The car slowed for the rear party, which now included Zam. The driver wound down his window and a conversation took place that seemed to go on far longer than the required ‘That’s my dog’, ‘Oh, here you go then’, ‘Thank you so much’. I walked up to the car, leant in, grabbed Fletcher and smiled.

‘Well, she is wagging her tail,’ the driver tried to assure his passenger, who surprised us by saying ‘She’s called Petal’. ‘No, he’s called Fletcher,’ we chorused. ‘But a lady came into the pub yesterday and she’s lost her terrier called Petal,’ she persisted. ‘This is a male dachshund called Fletcher,’ we assured her.

Our positions were becoming entrenched until I finally hit on the clincher: ‘Didn’t he try to bite you?’ ‘Yes,’ she nodded emphatically, before adding fondly: ‘But you forgive that in one so small.’ For a moment, I wondered if Fletcher and the silk-scarf lady were made for each other and whether to lift him back through the window, but all parties were beginning to look relieved.

I once lived next to a scary man who was always shouting at his dog. The Jack Russell whimpered in the garden all day and threw himself at the wall as if trying to escape. One day, I’d had enough and I asked a friend to offer £30 for the dog, which was readily accepted. Obviously, I couldn’t keep the dog next door, so I drove to my parents’ house with the demented animal, who leapt around in such a manner that the police pulled me over for not being in control of my vehicle.

My mother rang after a couple of days and said she couldn’t keep the dog, but that my aunt, who always took in strays, would oblige. However, even she had to admit defeat because the dog was nuts and he was eventually rehomed with a family on a farm. Meanwhile, the original owner had rung my friend and asked for the dog back.

Many months later, I saw a ‘Lost Rabbit’ poster on a nearby lamppost. When I looked at the address, I realised that it had lived on the other side of the wall at which the dog had habitually thrown himself and it dawned on me that the terrier may not have been trying to escape, but had been, in fact, driven mad by the sound and smell of a furry rabbit on the other side.

‘They weren’t going to give him back,’ said our walking companions yesterday. ‘They were going to keep him.’ I mentioned the array of pink feathers I’d seen on the back seat of the car. ‘They were going to make him into a hat,’ they exclaimed. They were doing no such thing. They’d put two and two together and got the wrong end of the stick. They meant well. It happens.