John learns a lesson from Puggie’s big adventure

Now I know that you’ll all find this hard to believe, but when faced with a weekend on call I tend to become slightly grumpy (some might say, even grumpier!).


The late nights, early mornings and frequently interrupted sleep means that not only am I ill-humoured, but my mood tends to spoil Mrs Macfarlane’s weekend too.

So it was that a few weekends ago, Moira headed north to visit her mother, leaving me to my weekend on call. Her final instruction was to make sure that I fed, watered and exercised the dogs. I solemnly assured her that they would be safe in my hands.

As on-call weekends go it wasn’t too bad – only a calving, a downer cow and Rothbury surgery. I had just let the dogs into the garden to enjoy the Sunday morning sunshine when the phone answerers called me with a couple of clients needing advice. In total, it took no more than five minutes to help them out, but when I called the hounds from the garden only Feebee and Cara responded. Puggie was nowhere to be seen.

I’m sure our neighbours will testify that Moira does go to some lengths to make the garden dog-proof but over the years, Feebee has perfected a climbing technique which allows her, when she’s in the mood, to go exploring next door. On that weekend, she appears to have taught a young dog a new trick! Not only that, but being a great person-lover, Puggie had decided to go out and introduce herself to the wider populace of Alnmouth Road.

Now, the Alnmouth Road approach to Alnwick isn’t the safest place for a wet-behind-the ear border terrier to be on the loose, so it is to my eternal relief that Sheena Handyside happened along. Sheena is a devout lover of dogs and immediately recognised the peril that Puggie was in, scooped her up and took her into the safety of her own home. With no identity tag on Puggie’s collar, it was fortunate that Sheena knew exactly what must be done; she called the out-of-hours animal welfare officer Jill Amery.

Having given Puggie what I thought was reasonable time to return of her own accord, I made inquiries with the neighbours, checked with the practice and then started searching further afield. Puggie is always first to respond to the dog whistle because she knows there’s a treat if she does. That morning there was no response because she was already making the acquaintance of Sheena’s four dogs and their biscuits. Meanwhile, I was growing increasingly frantic in my search – how on earth was I going to explain this to Mrs Macfarlane?

Then my mobile rang again – ‘Is that Mr John Macfarlane? Have you lost your dog?’ ‘I have, actually, how did you know?’ Jill, our duty dog warden, had responded immediately to Sheena’s call, driving from Cramlington, reading Puggie’s microchip and tracking me down via the Petlog database. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to see Puggie in one piece. It shouldn’t happen to a vet – but it can, and it very often does!

What have I done differently now, following Puggie’s big adventure?

Firstly, she’s now got a name tag with a home number and a mobile number on. She was microchipped when we first got her but I made sure that the registration is up to date with our current address and current home and mobile numbers. Jill points out that about half of all microchips that she reads still don’t lead to a rehoming because the address is an old one or there isn’t a mobile number.

It is simple to amend your pet’s details, just call Petlog on 08444 633999.

Andrea Cowans, one of Northumberland County Council’s animal welfare officers, points out that while the first phone call owners make is often to the police or their local veterinary practice, it’s usually best to contact the council first (08456006400).

This can intercept the escapee on its way to the dog pound. If Puggie had made it all the way to the pound it would have cost me £43 + £8/day to get her back – a small price to pay when the alternative would have been trying to explain why she’s been rehomed (which happens after 7 days) to Mrs Macfarlane!

Jill helps out at The Rescue Place, a company set up by Stephen Wylie, to provide the after-hours stray dog service in Northumberland.

This complements the county council’s own animal welfare officer service, resulting in a comprehensive, 363-days-a-year cover to help reunite us with our adventurous pets when they go exploring. Stephen also runs SHAK (Safe Homes And Kindness,, a charity dedicated to rehabilitating and retiring dogs for which rehoming would be difficult (though many are successfully rehabilitated and subsequently rehomed).

My first lesson learnt is that there’s always someone on call too and I should try to be a bit less grumpy when I’m on call! (Jill didn’t seem at all grumpy). Maybe I should make a donation to SHAK. Maybe you should too – it sounds like a really good cause.

Remember: Your dog should always have a tag with its name and your current home and mobile numbers on; get your dog microchipped, keep the address up to date if you move and always have your home and mobile numbers registered; if they go off on a big adventure call the council first and then your local vets.