'Well, there's a surprise!' I hear you cry. And: 'What's new?'
I suppose they are fair questions, as animals are never far from my mind.
It's probably something to do with the time of year.
And the state of the country.
And because some dear friends lost their dog this week, to cancer - something that besets old age in many dogs. But age is irrelevant when it comes to losing someone you love; it makes it more reasonable perhaps, but no less painful.
But I did read a lovely story this week as well.
You may already know it, but I'll share it anyway.
It's about Judy, a pure-bred Pointer, who began life in Shanghai in 1936, but by the time she was six months old had become the mascot of a Royal Navy gunboat, HMS Gnat.
|A PDSA photo. Frank Williams and Judy|
As dog's lives go, hers was packed with adventure, but she had a pretty rough time too. She was stolen by the crew of a US gunboat, and only returned to her own ship when the Gnat's crew secretly boarded the US boat, stole the ship's bell and then offered the bell in exchange for their beloved mascot. She was, apparently, returned within the hour.
But life was to get much tougher for Judy than being kidnapped by a US gunboat.
In 1939, Judy transferred with some of the crew to HMS Grasshopper, but in 1942, while evacuating personnel from Singapore, the ship was bombed and the crew and passengers abandoned ship. Judy, below deck at the time, was left behind. However, as the Grasshopper remained afloat and the island the crew were marooned on was found to be without water or supplies, a Petty Officer was sent back to the vessel to find food. He found Judy, trapped under some lockers, and made a raft to float her and the food to safety. She, in turn, sniffed out and then dug down to a spring of fresh water near the shoreline, and saved everyones' lives.
Alas, in escaping from the island - which involved commandeering a Chinese junk and then trekking 200 miles cross-country - they ran into Japanese troops and were taken captive. Judy was smuggled into the prisoner of war camp with them, and there she met Leading Aircraftman Frank Williams who shared his pitiful portion of food with her, and in return she gave the alarm when poisonous snakes or scorpions approached. Incredibly, he even managed to get the Commandant to give her official status as a prisoner of war by promising the man one of her puppies - a promise which was redeemed. Frank also trained Judy to lie completely still in a rice sack, so that when the prisoners were transferred to Singapore in 1944, she was able to be smuggled aboard the transport in a sack slung over his shoulder. Despite having to stand for 3 hours in hot sun on the baking deck, Judy never gave her presence away by so much as a whimper.
With 700 prisoners on board, conditions on board were cramped, but all was well until the ship was torpedoed. Williams pushed Judy out of a porthole in an attempt to save her life, taking quite a risk, as it was a 15 foot drop to the water. He was unable to escape and was recaptured and sent to a new camp, where he had no way of knowing whether Judy had lived or died; but gradually stories began to filter in of a dog helping drowning men to reach pieces of debris which they could grab onto, and even allowing men to hold on to her while she swam them to safety. Eventually - to Frank's amazement - Judy turned up in his new camp. In recollecting the moment they were reunited, Frank later said: '...a scraggy dog hit me square between the shoulders and knocked me over! I’d never been so glad to see the old girl. And I think she felt the same!'
During the following year of laying railway tracks in Sumatra, the two kept each other alive - Frank by sharing his food with her, Judy by giving him a reason to live. 'All I had to do was look at her and into those weary, bloodshot eyes,' Frank later said, 'and I would ask myself: What would happen to her if I died? I had to keep going. Even if it meant waiting for a miracle.' Judy nearly didn't survive this part of her ordeal. The guards threatened to shoot her, and she only stayed alive by hiding in the jungle and finding food for herself - rats, snakes - anything she could catch.
Once hostilities ceased, Judy was smuggled aboard a troopship heading back to Liverpool. The ship's cook fed her on the journey, and in 1946 she was awarded the Dickin Medal, the highest award that can be given to animals. Her citation reads: 'For magnificent courage and endurance in Japanese prison camps, which helped to maintain morale among her fellow prisoners and also for saving many lives through her intelligence and watchfulness.' Frank also received an award - the PDSA's White Cross of St Giles, for his devotion to Judy.
Judy was even 'interviewed' by the BBC for the Victory Celebrations in 1946, and her barks were broadcast on the wireless. During the following year, she and Frank visited many families of prisoners of war who had not survived the camps. Frank always believed that the dog had a way of comforting them that no person had.
In 1948 she and Frank went to East Africa on a Government funded food scheme, and it was there in 1950 that she was discovered to have a tumour and was put to sleep. Frank built a memorial to her with a plaque telling her life story. She was almost 14 - a great age for a dog who had been through so much.
But, for all the hardships of her life, was truly loved.
Isn't that a great story?