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The journey of Donald and Fly


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Seeing unseen Dublin

Sis says I was only out for 30 seconds or so. When I came to, I was on my back. A kind soul had slipped something under my head, and Fly was pressed against my side every inch of her, from nose to tailtip.

I thought: "What a Christmas card photo!"

Fly was Nurse Fly, not Fly the Defender, but nobody wanted to guess wrong. The clutter of multicolored shoes and civilian pant legs became uniform blue and thick black shoes with thick black soles.

They brought a wheelchair, and I couldn't help thinking that I might not be lying here if they'd brought one earlier. Fly wouldn't avoid the wheelchair and I would be propelled over her, so Sis took her leash.

Directly, two fellows who looked like Vlad Putin with human souls loaded me aboard an ambulance, while Fly was taken to the airport police dog kennel.

Sickness is the geezer’s default topic, but you have to be Russian (Tolstoy: The Death of Ivan Ilyich; Solzhenitsyn: The Cancer Ward) to write well about it, and I can't spell in the Cyrillic alphabet. Pneumonia brought me down. I'd been afraid of getting it and had it all along. Kind of like that Dürer print of "Death and the Maiden" thing.

After two days of advanced mortality lessons in an Irish hospital ward, Sis and I rearranged scheds and I drove to the airport, where one of those Putin fellas brought Fly. She was glad to see me but not desperate. They'd made sense to her.

Whisker: 90 degrees.

I asked how much I owed him.


I asked if he had a favorite dog charity.

Donate to your own dog charity. (pause)

"I'm a dog man too."

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I'm truly sorry to read of Donald's illness and distress; but I will say that these updates are the first thing I look for when I visit the site. Even if it only contained the usual and engaging Donald/dog interplay, it would be great reading as usual. (By the by, I was 22 hours in transit recently and Mr. and Mrs. Dog was a great choice for what to read. I couldn't have chosen a better book to occupy me.)

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The Purloined Trolley

After my dramatics at the Dublin airport, Aer Lingus wanted nothing more to do with me. The only other way to get a dog to the UK was via ferry to Holyhead, which is in North Wales. When my Toggle Mobile multi-country cell phone was working, which it occasionally did, we understood that Ms. Hertz didn't have any Holyhead cars but, who knew? So I booked us.

When we got to the terminal on a drizzly morning, we had to assemble the monster-crate and insert Fly. A helpful person brought us a trolley to get us to the foot passenger bus. When there, at the foot of the wide door, we slid MC aboard and our gear and, in a moment of inspiration, loaded the trolley too.

The bus roared and bumped over docks until it stopped at a broad metal gangplank, where we reassembled our STUFF. A crew member grabbed the trolley handle and propelled it, Fly, and EC through narrow aisles of SUV mirrors to a spot under the stairs where a half dozen other dogs awaited their owners.

Crewman shrugged and left trolley with dogs. We climbed two decks into a passenger lounge with its breakfast cafe, gaming machines and bureau d'change. Coffee, breakfast biscuit and the ship started with a rush through the wet. Sat, ate, talked. Sis is now, semi-officially, the "Sherpa.”

An unusual sound: dogs barking; my ringtone and it was Ian Macmillan to whom I explained we'd rent a car in Holyhead and come on or somewhere along the line.


Ship docked, cars and lorries off, foot passengers to bus, we go to the dog area and, why not? Load the trolley. Various crewmen help us over the metal seams to the bus, where we load trolley, then unload at the customs. There, a bright bird of a woman inspects our pet passport — "Oh those French, they're thorough all right" — and we're rolling on British soil.

No rent-a-cars. None up the line. So I buy us two 1st class tickets three minutes before departure for Glasgow. Fly's tucked under my feet, and her crate's blocking the entryway, and we're away for Glasgow, six hours north.

I wonder how they thought an Irish trolley immigrated. Green card?

Photos below: View from the ward — a Dublin Dawn; and Touring unknown Dublin



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Winner for the most determined traveler=> Mr McCaig. Winner of most transformed dog=> Fly. Don't know many dogs who would have reacted quite as elegantly as she has to her traveling experience. Quite an achievement on so many fronts.

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Several years ago, I was at a cold, wet Scottish nursery finals. I'd noticed the fellow in the wheelchair, but other than wondering why he was subjecting himself to this, paid no attention. Until he rolled onto the course, front wheels bouncing on the rough ground with a dog at his side.

Dog did nice outwork, and Ian rolled to the pen, opened the gate. Dog penned sheep. Ian let them out. Rolled into shedding ring. Dog shed sheep and took them off. Afterwards I said, "That was amazing. Who trains your dogs?"

"Oh," he replied. "I train me own."

Some years later I found myself short of breath in the shedding ring and bethought myself of Mr. McMillan. I'd heard he sometimes sold a dog.

So I called friends for a phone number. Yes, he had a young dog: Jake. He might be willing to sell him after the nurseries.


But Jake didn't do well at the nurseries. That didn't matter to me — many fine open dogs weren't mature enough for the nurseries.

"You might still be interested, then."


"Should I get his shots — rabies . . .?"

"Shouldn't be necessary. We'll get him a health certificate and he should be good to fly."

Wrong. Turns out he did need a health certificate, which meant I had to arrange Skymaster pet shippers to send him air cargo from Manchester airport.

One less dog to worry about on the way home. That was before I got sick and found one dog all I wanted to worry about anyway.

But I still needed to see Jake. I'd pretty well decided to add Fly to the Skymaster's list, fly home without her, and pick her up at Dulles.

Sis was going home and the prospect of schlepping the MC across the channel again was unappealing. Since I had no rental and would travel by train, changing stations from London Euston to Victoria was er . . .I didn't think I could make it.

I hated shipping Fly home but if Ian would keep her and ship her with Jake, I'd only have myself to get home.


Yes, Ian would keep Fly until Skymaster's picked them both up.

I've never known anyone in a wheelchair and never imagined how a sheep farm could be worked by a man in one. It struck me how many actions he must plan and habituate you and I never think of.

To go to the grocery he must get into the car, disassemble the chair, drive to shop, reassemble chair and get in it, buy his milk and reverse all these operations to get it home and into his refrigerator.

Lambing? I didn't ask how he could pull a lamb from a wheelchair.

His training field was a lush 10-acre pasture a couple hundred yards below his steading. I drove down in his car while he and Jake came along in his ATV.

I worked Fly just a little. The field was soft and wet, and pulling a lamb would be nothing to dragging a "Dramatic" Yank to the car.

Jake. Oh yes, Jake. Two years old in January and running like he was about 18 months. "Goofy" was the word that came to mind. "Immature" followed on its heels. Yes, he had his commands — mostly. The sheep didn't have any relationship with Jake, nor did Jake with them.

I was not inclined to be picky. I'd already paid Jake's plane fare. But, my heart sank.

I don't have too many years left in this sport (or on this planet) and had hoped Fly was my last difficult dog. Don't mistake me. It was more interesting DQing with Fly than placing with a consistent dog. But I really, really didn't want to go through it again.

So. Okay. Went back to the hotel shared a sandwich with Fly, had a liedown and Ian drove Fly and me to the vet for her airworthiness certificate. I asked him if I could see Jake one more time — does he shed?

"Oh aye. He doesn't like to shed around the bike (ATV). I had to move it around too much for him whilst training."

So okay. I drive down to the field. Raining pretty good. In the rain-streaked mirror I see a dim shape, a man in a wheelchair with a dog at his side. He rolls carefully into the wet, clumpy field, and I realize he must have some procedure for getting back into the chair if it upsets. Has to happen now and again.

He sends Jake, and it’s a different dog. Precise where he was loosey goosey, committed where he wasn't. Nice outwork — for a 2 year old — brilliant, and inbye, he sheds and holds sheep, turning them when they wanted to return.

So, I bought a dog. Like Fly, a goodun.

Now. How to get home.

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My apologies, y'all. This entry should've come before the one I posted this morning. Got my wires crossed.


How much room does one dog need?


After we abandoned the purloined trolley, we had three minutes to buy our rail tickets and board.


"First class," I said.


"Oh, that's going to cost you a packet."


Didn't care. We were to change trains at the first stop and, when I came back from taking Fly to the weeds, a bright red Virgin train was boarding. We jumped aboard too. Unhappy conductor but, there it was: that TICKET, and dogs were allowed, right?


Good coffee, good wifi, Sis came up from the peasant section and Fly lay under the seat, which was somewhat less space than she usually occupied.


An hour or so along, at Crewe, we changed again and sped north. I had the number for Hertz Glasgow. Surely, they'd have a car — but although my phone was working reliably (first time on the trip) they weren't picking up. We needed a car to drive to Newton Stewart and Ian McMillan, and then take Jake to Manchester and Donald to Brighton, the ferry, the next rental car, CDG, Detroit and 9 hours home.




So. Finally got through to Glasgow car rent. No cars. No cars tomorrow. NO CARS.


So I called Ian McMillan. He'd pick us up at Stranraer station,10 p.m. tomorrow.


Richard Branson feeds pretty good. Fly particularly liked the prawns in green mayo sauce. The attendant brought her water.


Sis made online reservations for Glasgow Holiday Inn and we cabbed over in the rain. While Sis checked us in, I dodged traffic into a dirty alley where sorry weeds flourished by the rubbish bins.


When we came back, a large bald middle-aged Scot put his big face to Fly's, kissed her head and rumpled her ears. "Oh, aren't you a beauty!"


Indeed. Her tail was straight out behind her like a pointing dog.


Glasgow Central railroad station is — I think — bigger than Grand Central. Certainly, there's more shops. Next morning (new trolley) we and Fly ate baps (Ham rolls?) while we waited for our train. Fly was horrified at PIGEONS INDOORS and would have scattered them had I loosed her.


Hiked to the train. To avoid another dramatic turn, I could handle my small carry-on and Fly. Poor Sis managed two bags and the Monstrous Crate.


So, change trains at Ayr which, alas, had one of those stairways over the tracks, but fortunately had a helpful stranger who lugged the MC while we managed the rest.


We were utterly dependent on the kindness of strangers, which didn't feel so awful as I might have thought.


Got to Stranraer. Ian McMillan arrived (more about him later). We dropped Sis at a very nice hotel, then went back to his place to see the dog I'd mostly bought sight unseen and, for the first time since Roscommon, Fly was free to run about and explore.


The dog who was never on lead at home had been, except for nighttime, leashed or crated or kenneled since long ago Roscommon.


After Ian ran Jake, I asked if Fly could have a go on his spotted mules (Blue-faced Leister x Scottish Blackface). Fly ran out beautifully, took her downs, crossdrove them back and forth a couple hundred yards out. She was a little hard to call off, but when she returned she was happy and her whisker was jaunty.

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... wasn't the god's name. Sorry, but it's been too many years since that gray day I switchbacked up the hill to the god's temple near the Severn bole. As I recall, "Woo" had once been a standard issue Greco-Roman God — Jupiter? Apollo? — who'd fallen into Druid purposes after the last Roman legions quit Britain.

Sis and I are in a Holiday Inn at the Glasgow airport, Fly is left behind with Ian McMillan. Sis and I are flying home, Sis to Seattle, me to Charlottesville. I'll pick up Fly and Jake at Dulles, Friday about 2.

Anne wrecked her car yesterday. The airbags didn't deploy and she wasn't hurt, but at our age, "bounce-back" is a low bounce.

I really dislike leaving Fly and Jake, but Ian'll take good care of them and see them off. Best I can do. I believe Fly knows she'll come home.

My Dublin Dramatics cost me interviews with the Scottish handlers who knew Fly. James Magee gave me the name of the Irish trainer who reared her up, but I didn't have time to call him.

When I'm home, I'll take a deep breath and rethink Fly's Book, of which these journal entries will be part. Perhaps I can arrange phone interviews. I don't really want to come here soon again and Fly cannot.

I'd hoped to run Fly in the Yorkshire trials but that failure doesn't bother me. Despite extraordinary travel stress, Fly's stock work has been fine. When I get home, I'll let Patty Summers ask Fly what she thought of our trip.

In Fly's remaining years, she'll be my farm dog and run as an ordinary open dog, sometimes better sometimes worse, but no longer my "project." Fly's out of rehab. The dog that lay under Richard Branson's train seat nibbling prawn sandwiches is a good and happy dog.

This will be the final entry in this e-journal. Thanks, Priscilla, for making it possible and thanks to you who followed it. I will post pics of Fly and Jake when they arrive in Virginia.

"Woo's" temple was on a private estate, closed to the public and rarely visited following some crude archeology in the 1930s.

Scholar Karen Armstrong wrote that Holy places like Mecca, Jerusalem and our little church in Williamsville, Virginia, are vital, fought over and cherished because in Holy places, the veil between everydayness and the otherworld is unusually thin. On that silent British hillside I climbed into worshipper's air.

From prehistory, the Severn had been a major trade route, and supplicants traveled here from Britain and Normandy. After they proceeded to the temple, they'd ritually bathe in heated Roman baths. Later, Woo's priest's escorted them to the small circular temple. It’s on the same design as Jefferson's rotunda but intimately scaled; no bigger than the sanctuary of the Williamsville Presbyterian Church.

It was easy to see why visitors weren't allowed at this ruin. Museum quality Roman tiles and terra cotta were flung, scattered and heaped among the walls.

Once their offerings were dropped into a shallow well (which is how we know who the worshippers were) the supplicants removed to small huts and were introduced to the healing dogs who would attend them for their stay. Most supplicants were women with child bearing difficulties — miscarriages, infertility and the like.

The Irish docs at Buckingham Hospital pumped me full of antibiotics, water and heart pills. I don't know I would have died without their intervention but I might have and, at best, would have been sick still.

But all I wanted, from the moment I could walk the length of the AC Cleary ward was to reclaim Fly.

I wasn't worried about Fly's well being. If you can't leave a dog in a police dog kennel, where can you leave her? But I missed Fly and I needed her.

In our six-man ward, three were there when I came and still there two days later when I left. One was trying to decide to go into a nursing home; one's wound dressing needed to be checked; and one, "The Lord Mayor," had become a "patient" and for him, the real, rich, complex, dangerous world existed as a dream, refreshed by kin who visited between 4 and 6 daily. AC Cleary was his here, now and tomorrow.

The only minister(?) who visited us was a Catholic laywoman who slipped among us silently uncovering her chalice of thin, translucent communion wafers. She didn't offer communion, talk or prayers, just the shyly revealed wafers. Maybe I didn't get it. Maybe she was nuts.

It would have been easy to stay in the ward another day/week/? until my blood oxygen scores were higher and just one more pill regimen had been tested. I signed out against the docs' advice because I had a powerful, atavistic knowledge that if I stayed there I would die.

Yes, I'd needed the knowledge and appurtenances of modern medicine to live. Now I needed my dog to heal.


Ian and Donald; Donald and Fly at Glasgow Central; Fly — Left behind




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Thanks for sharing Donald. Fly's book is one I'll certainly look forward to. I know what you mean about leaving a dog behind. I'm doing that for the Bluegrass this year, and although not nearly as far, this is the first time I've had to do it, and it is hard.


Can't wait to see pics of a happy Fly (with jaunty whisker) and Jake when they arrive in VA.


And please tell Anne that I'm thinking of her and hope she really is okay.



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Hope you two bounce back with no issues. Even if it is a bit less quickly.

I too, am looking forward to the report of Fly being home. And would love to hear what she thought about the trip.

Safe travels and thank you!

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Thanks so much for allowing us to share a bit of your journey. We wish you and your wife, Fly and Jake many manifest blessings!

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