Jason Goodwin: The dogs who bounded off down the drive one summery evening, never to be seen again

Our columnist tells a sad tale which brings to mind his own pain at losing a pair of dogs, who happily ran off playing one evening and never came back.

I came home with the dogs, dripping wet, and found Harry and Anna moseying around the kitchen. ‘I’ve just seen the saddest thing,’ I said.

‘Do I want to hear this?’ asked Anna. I let that ride – at 16, not much your father might say do you want to hear.

‘We went up past Hardy’s Monument – you know, that track along to Hell Lane?’ They nodded.

‘There was a sheet of paper in a plastic sleeve, pinned to the gate, with a picture of a dog, all yellow and a bit blurry after the rain. Underneath, it said KURI in big letters. She was lying on a patch of grass, looking up at the camera.

‘It said that she was a border terrier, an “older adult”, last seen running along the path to Corton Hill. I suppose by older adult they meant they’d had her for years. It was dated a month ago.’

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‘What happened, do you think?’ Harry wondered. ‘A month is too long, isn’t it?’

‘Now, I’m so sad,’ Anna protested.

‘It gets sadder,’ I said. ‘After we’d gone about 500 yards along the path, I saw a skanky old square of woolly brown carpet folded and leaning up against the bracken. Just as I started to wonder why anyone would dump their rubbish there, I caught sight of another note in another plastic sleeve, pinned to the rug, and it’s printed in huge letters: “PLEASE DON’T REMOVE – TO HELP FIND MISSING KURI”. I realised the carpet was all covered with dog hair. It must have been her special rug.’

‘And they’ve put it out there to entice her back, something she’d recognise in an unfamiliar world.’

‘But it’s still there.’

‘Thanks,’ Anna said. ‘You’ve completely ruined my morning.’

It’s a terrible thing to lose a dog. At the back of our minds were the days and weeks that followed the disappearance of Beryl and Tatty, two lurcher bitches who bounded off together down the drive one summer evening, long ago. Tatty was rough-coated and stone deaf from birth; Beryl, younger, sleeker, barked at balloons and chased kites. We’ve never seen them since.

“I suppose all the animals thought they’d come to a peculiarly Gothic vet’s surgery”

For us then, as for Kuri’s owner, the only practical response was to pray to St Jude, the patron saint of lost and desperate causes. If Kuri went down a rabbit hole and couldn’t get out, there’s nothing more that can be done about that. The lurchers were, indisputably, shot by the keeper – who flatly denied it. St Jude may help, but he probably won’t bring a dog back.

Prevention, of course, is better than cure. On Sunday, we had a pet service for children in the valley. Lost dogs were on my mind, so Harry and I took the three of them along to be blessed.

There were about 20 dogs, no children and one cat, in a basket. I suppose all the animals thought they’d come to a peculiarly Gothic vet’s surgery. The congregation smiled. During All Things Bright and Beautiful, a Pomeranian barked the switch from main verse to refrain. We sang All Creatures of our God and King, a dextrous paraphrase of The Canticle of the Sun, considered to be the earliest poem in Italian and composed by St Francis of Assisi in 1224.

Then, somebody read St Francis’s delightful Sermon to the Birds, in which he addresses a flock of birds as sisters and reminds them of all the good things – trees, wings, free air – that God has given them. The birds listened attentively, delighted, and ‘bent their heads reverently toward the earth, and with acts and songs, showed that the holy father Francis gave them great pleasure’ and I’m pretty certain that Stan winked at a collie in the pew.