As soon as the gate latch clicked open and footsteps crunched on the gravel path, the dog ran indoors and hid under the Heather's bed. He had never done this before and always in the past would have dashed down the driveway to bark and snarl a warning at the visitor. Today however the Vet had come to put the dog down, for it was sick with distemper and for that there was no cure. Somehow from the sound of those footsteps, the dog knew why the Vet was calling.
Ten-year-old Heather was inconsolable. `It's so unfair Mummy, that poor little animal. Oh please, please can we have another dog.'
Her mother had good reason to resist the plea. Keeping a dog was expensive and she was bringing up three children on her own. In any case she certainly did not feel inclined to go through the trauma of training a young puppy to live with a family without messing the house and gnawing all the furniture. The answer she gave to her eldest child was short and straight to the point. `No, Heather, no more dogs.'
`Oh Mummy, please. I can't live without a dog.'
`Mummy, I'll do all the looking after. I promise you won't even notice we have a dog. Really, I promise. Please let me have one,' she pleaded.
For two days Heather kept up the pestering until her mother, realising she needed to change her tactics, set what she believed were impossible requirements. `All right, you can have another dog, if we do not have to pay to acquire him; it must be neither small and yappy nor large and expensive to keep; it cannot be a young puppy that needs to be house trained, nor must it be too old for us to teach it what we want; it must earn its keep and,' she added, thinking of the dog hairs to be cleaned up, 'its colour must go with the carpet.'
`Oh thank you Mummy,' said Heather and ran out into the garden to play. Later, the neighbours heard her singing, `We're going to have another dog.'
Across the other side of town, old Mr. Williamson walked slowly and sadly into Peter Gough's Veterinary surgery. `I want you to do me a favour Mr. Gough. The doctor has said I have only got a few more months left and Fox will need a new home. Do you know somewhere where he will be loved and well looked after?' He reached down and fondled his dog's head.
Peter Gough nodded as he looked down at the brown dog. Fox returned the look and wagged his bushy tail. It was no wonder that he had been named Fox, for there was an uncanny resemblance to his wild relative. `It just so happens, Mr. Williamson that I might know of the perfect home for this fine fellow of yours. There is a young lady comes in here sometimes on a Saturday to help out who love animals. She is desperate to have another dog since her last one died, but her mother has set a number of interesting conditions - and do you know, I think that Fox will just about fit the bill.'
The next Saturday, Heather rushed home to tell her mother about the wonderful dog that she had found. She listed all the requirements that had been imposed starting with the fact that he was free and finishing with, `and he is even the same colour as our carpet, Mummy.'
`But how is he going to earn his keep, Heather?'
`Because Mr. Williamson has trained him as a rat catcher, Mummy and you know that we often see rats in the garden from the wood yard next door.'
The victory was complete and the following week, Fox arrived at his new home.
He settled in quickly and although fences and gates did not deter him, he rarely strayed far and always returned for the night and for his meals. A few mornings after his arrival the family discovered how effective a ratter he was when they looked out and found four dead rats neatly laid out on the path outside the back door. This became a regular occurrence in the years that Fox stayed with the family.
The other canines in the road were soon put in their place and had to accept that the newcomer was, and intended to remain, top dog.
Heather and her brothers delighted in taking Fox for walks in the park and loved to see him racing across the grass, with his tail streaming out behind him. He truly looked like a fox and more than once local farmers shot at his flying figure as he sped across their fields in pursuit of a rabbit or a rat. On one occasion he limped home with a shotgun pellet in his leg, but he survived and proudly wore the scar.
As the years passed and the grey hairs around his muzzle spread more and more, his excursions became less frequent until, at last he became a home and garden dog. By then, however Heather had grown up and was out at work but every night on her return, she and Fox would greet each other as if they had been apart for months.
When finally he died at the age of 14, she grieved as much as if a family member had passed away. She never forgot Fox and the happy years they had spent together, but within a few weeks of his passing a new puppy was installed in the house, for never again would she be without a dog in her life.
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