Articles Index/Norfolk Tales
My story began last summer when I showed the Millennium edition of the English Norfolk Terrier Yearbook to a handler friend of mine. We both agreed that a certain dog exhibited characteristics which we felt would contribute to my breeding program.
Since I was considering trying to obtain some frozen semen from this dog, I called Eileen Needham, English author, breeder, handler and judge of Norfolk Terriers, and asked her advice. Six days later, she rang and said the dog had been sold and the new owners were reluctant to use the dog at stud, even in England. But, she continued, she had a litter of pups with similar breeding to the dog I had inquired about, and would be happy to sell me a dog from her litter if I felt the dog would fit my breeding program.
About a week later, as I finalized my plans for a trip to Zambia, I realized I would have a three-day layover in London in order to take advantage of super senior rates offered by American Airlines and British Airways. I called Eileen and told her of my plans, asking if I might drive up to her home and pick up the puppy during my layover.
So it was that, after spending an incredible three weeks in Africa, I found myself flying off to London. After a brief visit with Joy Taylor, I set off to meet Tom and Eileen Needham. When I arrived, they knew that meeting my puppy was foremost on my mind and soon Titanium Lancelot and his sister bounded into the living room. If you can imagine or remember what it felt like when you were a child and got a particularly desired toy, or what it must be like for a chocoholic to go into a candy store, then you can understand my first reaction to Lancelot. He was a dear dog and I took to him immediately. I was elated!
Tom, Eileen and I had lunch at a delightful pub and soon after I took my leave with Lancelot in a crate, a supply of food, water, and the papers needed to clear Customs. Arriving at a motel near Gatwick, I noticed there was a group of people with campers who might have been coming or going to a dog show. Or, I thought, perhaps they were a group of senior citizens touring England. In addition, there were several security guards in the parking lot.
The next morning, I packed up our gear and prepared to depart for the airport. With the car parked in front of the motel, I brought out Lancelot and put him in the crate in which he would travel back to the States. Then, I hurried back into the motel to get my backpack. When I came out three or four minutes later, I opened the back door of the car, threw in the pack, and got into the driver's seat. To my horror, there was no crate and there was no Lancelot!
I made the assumption that I had put the crate in the wrong car and I checked several that were parked nearby. I found one of the guards and told him that I had just put my little dog in the car and now he was gone. I asked him to please help me! The guard muttered an oath and asked me rhetorically if I had seen the caravans down at the other end of the parking lot. When I replied in the affirmative he told me they were a band of Gypsies and they undoubtedly had stolen my dog.
I immediately took a 100-pound note and proceeded to knock on every door of the caravans and gave them a description of my dog and the crate he was in. I waved the note, at the same time pleading with them to tell the person who had taken my dog to just put it back on the steps of the motel or in my car and the reward would be theirs.
When this tactic didn't work, I called the Essex Police Department. I suggested to them that perhaps I should reschedule my flight and visit the pet shops in London in case Lancelot was resold. They very kindly told me there were more than 2000 pet stores in greater London and, in any case, they felt they should tell me that stolen dogs were seldom, if ever, found.
And then, I had to make the call I dreaded. In tears I related the story to Eileen. She said she had an acquaintance that had direct contact with the Gypsies and had bargained with them several times in the past when dogs had disappeared.
I left London late that afternoon and I do not remember anything of the flight from London to Dallas except that I did take double the amount of sleeping pills prescribed by my doctor. I eventually reached my home in South Carolina, but I do not recall much of what happened during the next five days, as I was so distressed and distracted. My wife, Faith, was very understanding and tried to no avail to lift my spirits. Any hope of ever seeing Lancelot again had, by this time, vanished.
Shortly before 7:00 a.m., six days after I had returned home, the phone rang. The person on the other end of the line identified himself as an officer of the Essex Police Department in England. He was calling to tell me that a dog fitting Lancelot's description had been turned in. The officer had already called Mrs. Needham and she was having a friend come to the police department to pick up the puppy. I immediately called Eileen and she confirmed that her friend in London would pick up the dog and she would have him in two or three days to complete the identification.
Now my feelings were really mixed. I didn't know whether to jump for joy or cry. I only wanted to hear Eileen's voice tell me in fact that Lancelot was safe and sound and that we could make arrangements for him to be flown from London to Atlanta where I would pick him up.
Two days later, Eileen was in possession of Lancelot and arrangements were made to ship him directly to me. You can well imagine my joy when I opened the crate and my puppy jumped into my arms. He seemed none the worse for wear for his adventure and galloped along on his flexi-lead as if we had been together since he was born.
The impact of this experience has had such an effect on my total being that I had to give the whole experience some time to settle before I could gather my thoughts to put it down in writing. The experience, which will stay with me for the rest of my life, had much the same effect on me as when my first Norfolk, Alec, died at the age of five of an unknown cause. It seems like existence is full of "what ifs" and I am only too happy to report that this "what if" resolved itself in a far, far better way than I could have hoped and the quality of my short time here is far better as a result!
ANTIC, March, 2001
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