Although it’s a plight I wouldn’t wish on anybody, searching half of Limerick for your missing dog is as good an education as one could ever receive in the common decency of people.
My dog’s name is Bertie, not named after his political namesake but last week he did prove to be almost as elusive.
I should preface Bertie’s adventure by highlighting that he is not the most obedient canine. Nor is he a wonderful guard-dog, unless my lawnmower, towards which he shows nothing but contempt, happens to be the burglar.
But what Bertie lacks in discipline, he more than makes up for in companionship. He is as affectionate and playful now as he was when we bought him as a pup. Nothing gives him more delight than to receive the full attention of a member of my family, even if only for a moment.
We came terribly close to losing our companion over the June Bank Holiday weekend. Like many other farmers, we were taking advantage of a short break in Ireland’s monsoon season to bring in our silage on the Friday. Towards the end of the day, a man arrived with rolls of plastic in his van to cover the collected grass.
Unbeknownst to the driver, curiosity got the better of Bertie and he jumped into the back of the van for a look around. Before he was able to jump back out, however, the door was shut and he was trapped.
Without any knowledge of his additional cargo, the man drove his van home and Bertie spent Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday in darkness with no food or water. On the Tuesday morning – by which point we were delirious with worry – the owner of the van opened the back door, only to get the fright of his life as an emaciated dog jumped out and ran away.
Had he recognised his surroundings, Bertie may well have run straight to our home in Ballyneety but the van had brought him 20 kms away to Cappamore. Presumably hoping to find familiar terrain, he started to run.
The van-owner’s call to let us know Bertie was alive gave our despondent search efforts the boost they needed. For a moment, our dog was trending higher on social media than Kim Kardashian, as we pasted every online space possible with pictures of Bertie, and several hundred kind people shared and retweeted on our behalf.
Some time after his last sighting, we got a phone call from Tony Keane, a stranger who would show us the kindness of a lifelong friend over the next few hours.
Tony was in Knockainey and told us he had seen Bertie that afternoon. At first, we struggled to believe Tony, given that he was almost 40 kms from Cappamore. He was adamant, however, even putting his children on the phone to confirm the sighting.
In hope rather than confidence, we set off for Knockainey. When we arrived, Tony was already searching the area, along with his two young children who had brought dog treats to entice the fugitive.
Over the next few hours, we shouted Bertie’s name into fields and farmyards, and stopped anyone we met to show them pictures and give them our phone numbers. People were incredibly obliging, with many saying they would contact their neighbours to request their vigilance also.
After a few hours, we got a phone call from a friend of ours named Brian Fitzgerald, who said Bertie had been seen one mile outside of Kilmallock. Our search party, including Tony, departed Knockainey.
We met Brian and his wife Lorna at Beechinor’s Petrol Station just outside Kilmallock, where Bertie had been seen by another passer-by only 30 minutes earlier. We split into four groups, to search the town and surrounding areas.
Within an hour of arriving, we refocused our search efforts on Tankardstown, just outside Kilmallock, where a walker told my sister she had seen Bertie only 15 minutes beforehand. Sadly, after a few more hours searching, we had to return home as our phones were dying and we couldn’t risk being unable to answer a call with further news of his whereabouts. Brian and Lorna continued to search for two more hours after we left. Late that night I received a Facebook message from someone, claiming they saw Bertie near Effin an hour beforehand.
The next morning, a phone call came from a man in the Golden Vale plant in Charleville, over 50 kms away from Cappamore. We had met his cousin during our search in Knockainey and he had also seen Bertie’s mug in one of our online posts.
He told us that a dog, matching our description, had been wandering outside the plant that morning and he had responded to being called Bertie. When the man tried to catch the dog, though, he ran away. My mother and I set off for Charleville but when we got there the situation seemed more than hopeless. It’s not a small town and given the velocity he had been moving at the previous day, he may well have travelled further into Cork by that point.
We wandered for a bit, occasionally calling out Bertie’s name, and after a short while, I needed to answer nature’s call so we stopped at a public bathroom.
When I emerged, my mother’s face was white and she was pointing excitedly towards the main street. There, cool as you like, Bertie was trotting next to the slow-moving traffic, oblivious to his nearby owners.
There was nothing nonchalant about his reaction when Bertie heard me shouting to him from 20 metres away though. He bounded towards me and jumped into my arms, at which point the two of us caused a scene by joyously rolling around the footpath like a pair of drunken brawlers.
The dog that many people had witnessed on his inter-county odyssey had indeed been Bertie and despite his ordeal, he really didn’t look too worse for wear.
We brought him to O’Regan & Joy vets, where we had earlier visited, to hand in a poster. They provided him with food and water and agreed with us that the experience hadn’t knocked too much off him. With his rescue complete, we jumped back into my car for the trip home. He sat in between the two front seats all the way back, fairly nonplussed, but when the surroundings became familiar, boy did he get excited.
Bertie was a little more subdued than usual when he got home and for a few hours after returning, he would let out sporadic whimpers. That evening, however, his arch enemy the lawnmower was started and it was more than enough to fire up his engine.
He barked maniacally at the mower, as though it represented a threat to his life and ours. We had never been so happy to hear Bertie jump to our defence.