Donald MacLean's Blog 4





(First published in 1998)


For Kirstie, one of our two Golden Retrievers, it was proving to be a difficult delivery.  Two years earlier, as a puppy herself, she had been rightly picked as a potential show winner by my wife Ann, with the help of numerous expert friends - who were now assembled, en masse, for the important (dare I say, female?) rituals of birth.

In a corner of the breakfast room, under its heat-lamp, stood the big “whelping box” which I had made with care, resplendent in highly varnished (ie pee-proof) wood and with an ample stock of old, absorbent, “Financial Times”.  The room now seemed full of competent ladies giving advice while I and another husband laboured at the appropriately unskilled tasks firstly of tea-making and cup-washing.  Then, as nature exercised its right to extend the drama well beyond a reasonable time frame, with the dispensing of more fortifying beverages.

Soon after midnight Katrina, our vet and Kirstie’s friend, finally said “Right - it’s off to the operating theatre now for a caesarean section.”

Nature continuing her role as dramatist supreme (one never says of nature “his” - but, of course, that’s just habit, isn’t it?), as we reached the clinic two fat little girl puppies and three even fatter boys emerged onto the doorstep, to the tangible relief of their mother and every human involved.



This was the summer of ’96 - the hottest for a decade in the Chilterns, north-west of London.  Ann contrived a sort of Bedouin tent of bedsheets over poles and ropes to shade the whole patio so that the babies could safely conduct their instinctive experiments - exploring, biting, wrestling, chewing.


Nightly at 11pm, with the pups and Kirstie and Ann asleep, all equally exhausted, I would spend half an hour clearing the debris and swabbing the patio with hose and brush - and mentally reviewing the day’s happenings.


One of the developments was of increasing concern - our favourite puppy, nicknamed Tiny Tim because, although handsome, he was smaller than the others, was being consistently elbowed out of the scrum-down for food by his brothers and sisters.  We started feeding him manually, every two hours day and night - and of course he became even more special.  But the size difference increased - the other four were growing much more rapidly.


We realised that it was not just in the food scrums that he was missing-out - the boisterous four were now endlessly testing the limits of their world and each other. Little Tim manfully tried to join in but got short shrift - often disappearing altogether under a heap of clawing, biting, wagging, grrrowling little bundles.  Our unease increased sharply when he discovered how to run, albeit awkwardly, and sometimes ran straight into brick walls and patio furniture - his co-ordination was hopeless.




You will have guessed the awful truth - this adorable little creature had a brain malformation - he was doing his very best, but it wasn’t good enough. 

On July 1st it was Ann who took him on the heart-wrenching one-way journey to the clinic (driven by our supportive friend Sue) and who cuddled him while the lethal injection took effect.   I sat in the Bedouin tent as Kirstie watched over little lions fighting cardboard boxes, she unmoved, I sobbing helplessly.


The next day was another scorcher - K and her little brood of four greeted it with enthusiasm, we with heavy hearts, not meeting each other’s eyes, hugging each other more often than usual, and silently.


Ann was first to notice.  Two of the puppies were trying to catch a butterfly.  Unusually small - of a strange blue colour.  The others joined in, little paws darting at it from all directions - but always missing.  It led them round the perimeter of their patio-world, then across the middle, then on an intricate dance, in one end of a cardboard-box and out the other end. The butterfly was completely in command - always a little quicker, a little more agile than any of the puppies.  We rushed indoors - Ann for our butterfly book, I for a camera.


Quickly we emerged - but it had disappeared.  The puppies were bumbling around in all directions looking for their new friend, wanting the game to go on.  No photo - and nothing remotely like it in the beautifully-illustrated book.  We rang our friends - the many among them who would share our pleasure - and told them that an unusually small butterfly called Tim had come on a brief visit and brought much happiness.


Two sleepy people

(Kirstie as a puppy 2 years earlier)

Weeks later the four survivors went off to their new homes one by one, and life returned to normal.  We searched the Internet and the reference section of the library, to no avail.  Expert friends listened patiently to our detailed description and assured us we must have been mistaken - the butterfly we described did not exist.


At Christmas we received four cards enclosing photographs of healthy, handsome big dogs surrounded by children and love. The following summer they all came back for their first birthday party, to be greeted by a delighted Kirstie, their majestic grandfather and several ‘aunts’.


The summer was, thankfully, much less overpowering than the previous one but a few weeks after the party there was one day so blissfully perfect that we lunched on the patio and stayed there afterwards, contented, reading, saying little.


Suddenly Ann grabbed my wrist - a butterfly circled once in front of her before coming to me, doing the same - just once - then flying lightly away over the hedge into the orchard and out of sight.  It was unusually small - of a strange blue colour.


I was still there, deep in tranquil thought, when Ann came out of the house, smiling, holding out her opened diary.  It was July 1st.





"Happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp,
but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon

Nathaniel Hawthorne


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