I am sometimes asked, although mercifully not too often, what is the point in doing so much for animals, especially small ones. It would be different, so the reasoning goes, if I were devoted to saving elephants or lions, but garden birds, stray dogs, feral cats or flea-ridden hedgehogs? I don’t think that we should differentiate between animals in need according to their size since we rightly don’t regard a baby as being less important than a grown-up person when giving help. I could also say something about the unspeakable cruelty animals suffer daily on our own doorstep and worldwide, perhaps also point out that there is such a thing as collective responsibility which we humans have, as far as animal and child welfare is concerned. I could also say that it is our duty to give something back, to make a difference and to redress the balance but as many of us are indifferent to the plight of children in care, our old people and our homeless, I won’t.
Instead, I will tell the story of a dog, called Djulick, who was my grandparents’ pet. His loyalty to his family (and mine) profoundly changed my perspective on life. It was at the time of the Russian Revolution and people who were not Russian citizens were advised to leave for their safety before it was too late. It was not easy – trains going west were infrequent, there was no food, and a dangerous situation could erupt in the blink of an eye. Knowing that there was no chance of taking their dog with them, my grandfather had arranged for a local fisherman, Vasil, to take Djulick to live with his family. They had often gone fishing together and he trusted the man to look after his dog. This was the last day of their stay before their departure, and as the train was imminent, they gathered their three young children and headed for the station where a large group of refugees was already waiting. Their house was left open and empty as they exchanged all their possessions for a bag containing a few loaves of bread, some lard and a few handfuls of apples. In those days staying alive was of paramount importance and not possessions like the furniture or ornate mirrors they had exchanged for their meagre amount of food. They managed to find a small corner in one of the train’s compartments, and sat quietly trying not to attract the attention of the hostile-looking and heavily armed guards who frequently patrolled the train. They all breathed a sigh of relief when finally the train started moving slowly through the countryside, seemingly in order for the crew to save the fuel. Later on it was to provide an excuse to stop in the middle of nowhere and to demand money or any valuables from the passengers if they wanted to continue their travel to the Polish border.
At the same time Djulick escaped from Vasil’s home and frantically ran around the empty house looking for his family. Following the scent he found his way to the station. In the faraway distance of the flat landscape he could just see the back of the disappearing train, and he set out in desperate pursuit of the train. As the train gathered speed and was now about 20 kilometres out-of-town, Djulick had to run with all his strength to catch up. He was a large dog, bigger in size than an Alsatian, and although getting tired, his paws sore, he kept on running as he could not imagine why he had been left behind, and he was sure they would welcome him back if only he could get on that train. He was almost by the side of the train now and he doubled his speed to be seen by all the passengers along the whole length of the train, as somewhere among them was his family.
The guards continued their patrolling and observing the travellers, noticing any gold jewellery including wedding rings. This knowledge would be useful when they were ready to stop and demand more money. Suddenly, close to the part of the train in which my grandfather sat with his family, there was some commotion. One of the guards was pointing his gun through the window and shouting: ‘ Wolf! Wolf!’ A shot rang out and as my grandfather stood up, he blocked the window. He was the only one to see Djulick collapsing dead by the side of the track. The train moved on and it was only several months later that the family learned the truth. My grandfather was heartbroken, and he made a decision never to have another dog. He kept it.
As I mentioned before, in human life as in nature, there has to be a balance between good and bad, and I believe that good will always win. If that wasn’t a fundamental truth, humanity would have ceased to exist a long time ago. Most people have the same inherent conviction (the wisdom of the crowd), and that is why appeals for help in cases of natural disasters (earthquake, tsunami, flood or famine), always bring a huge positive response. There are many people helping animals in need in all corners of the world too. I would like to end this blog with one of the many happy cases that we read about, and it is a heartwarming story of Gobi, a little stray dog who lived on her wits in a remote part of China, close to the Gobi Desert, hence her name. By chance, Dion Leonard, a professional runner, was taking part in a gruelling 155 mile race across the Gobi Desert. When the little dog attached himself to him, he resisted having any connection since it would impede his chances of winning. And yet, the little dog won. After many gripping adventures, obstacles and continents crossing, finally they both were reunited and came home to a happy life in Edinburgh. I read the book about Dion’s quest,”Finding Gobi”, in one sitting, not being able to put it down. If you haven’t read this story yet, don’t delay and get this book now; it will lift your spirits, and the cute little face of Gobi will make you smile.