During the war here many people couldn't manage to feed their dogs so had to set them free to fend for themselves. This combined with a patchy government strategy for dealing with dogs means that there are a lot of strays around here. Really a lot.
For the past couple of months we've been sort of looking after one of them. Or, more accurately, she sort of attached herself to us, and we couldn't resist her. It's difficult to say what sort of dog she was, bit of German Shepherd certainly, but finer featured and not as big. Either way, she was a real gem of a dog. Calm, even tempered and ever so sweet she played hard with Jess and was calm with the boys. We wormed, ticked and flea-ed her, fed her some proper food and she began to shine. If we went to the shops she would come too, just touching our hands with her nose to let us know that she was there, then she'd wait patiently outside the shop for us to come out before trotting back proudly and beautifully to heel.
She won our confidence over time and I began to trust her. She was allowed to come inside the house in the evenings, but still slept outside. A couple of times we asked if she wanted to get in the car to come for a walk with us, but she didn't fancy that idea much, preferring to do her own thing during the day.
She could get in and out of the garden at will and settled into a routine of heading off to do whatever it is that dogs do in the morning and coming back in the afternoon. Occasionally I'd come across her on the other side of town (having crossed at least 2 major roads to get there). She'd come over to say hello, but again wouldn't want a lift in the car so we'd go our separate ways and she'd come back later that day in time for supper. We tried to block the escape route up, but she would just take it down again, not really wanting to be totally domesticated just yet. In many ways she was living the doggy dream, a house when she wanted it, but also the freedom to do whatever she wanted when she wanted it.
We asked around a bit and the slightly mad, dog obsessed bloke over the road (he of the tendency to put raw bones down the back of his trousers) knew some of her history. He remembered her litter, estimating that she was about 15 months old and had spent her life on the streets. No one owned her or was responsible for her, but he had christened her Belle, so Belle she remained.
We began to talk seriously about whether we were going to adopt her or not. Taking her back to Britain would be no mean feat, Jess is fully PETS passported up, but to get a stray dog onto the scheme would cost a fair bit of money and take a lot of time. We'd have to do things like Fed-Ex blood samples to the UK, that type of thing. But Dave went out one evening with both dogs, neither on the lead, and one stayed to heel the entire way whilst the other expensive pedigree dog that has had years of training had to be hauled out of the neighbours bins at least twice. We weren't sure about having 2 largish dogs in the house, but she was winning us over.
We haven't seen her for over a week now. This is very unusual, she was always one to be back in time for supper. The weather is cold and snowing, she would be looking for some warmth if she could. Maybe she'll turn up one evening looking for a treat, but I doubt it. She may have been hit by a car, the hunters that are occasionally employed to curtail the stray population may have got her. Possibly she found another family to take her in, maybe she just decided to hang out in a pack rather than with some humans. We don't know what has happened to her, probably never will.
I do miss her. Belle. I hope that you'll be back soon, tonight maybe? I desperately hope so, but deep down I doubt it; I think if you could have come back, you'd have been back by now. I hope you are warm and safe somewhere. But most of all I hope you enjoyed your time with us, I hope we made a difference to you. We will never forget you.