The terror of a dog going missing
Bouncy puppy who loved life
Naming a puppy "Happy Buster" was perhaps not the best idea we ever had.
In fact, after being the most cheerful little chap imaginable, with a constant smile on his face, at eight months old, this bundle of fluff suddenly turned into a tiny terror.
He was great with us - still the same loving little fellow - but if anyone else came to the house, beware. He would bark non-stop and generally be a pain.
However, in order to understand this change in his demeanour, it's necessary to go back a couple of months to when he was still a bouncy little pup, filled with the joy of life and everybody's friend - until an unfortunate incident involving some builders and a dog-catcher.
A dog who adored chewing the cushions!
From a very young age, Happy Buster had the most endearing habit of sneaking up behind us as we sat at the computer, or watching television, standing on his hind legs and putting his paws around our neck to give us a hug, as if he were saying, "Please pay me attention - I love you!"
He was especially loving if he had done something wrong and I would normally find some pillow, or cushion, or item of clothing totally trashed.
But he wouldn't let go until we said, "It's okay, we forgive you!"
For all his destructiveness, he was the most loving little dog.
It remains virtually impossible to chastise him for anything he has done, since he slinks around on his belly looking very sheepish, pawing at us, until we forgive him.
I felt sick realising my dog had vanished from the garden!
It was a midsummer's day when I had the most horrible experience with Happy Buster.
I had returned home from work at about 5pm and as usual, he was there to greet me. He ran to the back door to go into the garden and I opened it as I always did to let him have a run and a roll in the grass.
But on this occasion, when I went to the door to shout him in some time later ... he had simply disappeared.
That sick feeling of going into the garden and realising it was strangely quiet and empty will remain with me for ever. I did feel physically sick and I was shaking like a leaf.
I hadn't noticed that builders had been knocking down my next door neighbour's rockery, which was next to our adjoining fence, in my absence while I was at work. With no thought for anyone else, they had loosened some of the fence slats.
One panel was actually tilted over with a gap, which was easily large enough to allow a dog to slide through.
Happy Buster had actually broken through two damaged slats in the fence and squeezed through. He must have thought it was a great adventure.
Somehow, he must have also sneaked underneath the anti-intruder gates, erected by the local council, at the end of the back alley, disappearing towards the network of main roads just minutes away.
The next few hours was a blur of phone calls to the police, animal rescue charities, the council dog catchers and fellow dog walkers who may have seen him.
But we completely drew a blank and it seemed like he had vanished off the face of the earth.
All kinds of dismal thoughts entered my head. Had he had his breakfast that day, or had he left it in his bowl for later? I hoped he wasn't hungry and scared.
The importance of microchipping your pet is vital!
The fact we had not had him microchipped for identification purposes upset me immensely.
It was such a simple little task. But I had been "too busy" with work and felt I had somehow let him down in not providing him with this lifeline should he be found.
As I drove and walked round the streets, stopping passers-by to ask if they had seen him, I recalled in painful detail all the times I had told him off - and wondered if he knew how much I loved him really.
The ripped cushions, chewed shoes and pillows were suddenly unimportant as the stark realisation hit me that I may never see my little pal again. I felt heartbroken.
Happy Buster the dog wildly plays with his squeaky toy!
Thoughts of our manic play times went rushing through my head - how he guarded his favourite squeaky toy with a passion and would quite happily dig a hole in the settee if he thought it was under a cushion!
I remembered how he ran and ran round the room as fast as his legs would carry him, bouncing off the back of the settee and jumping over tables, exuberant with a sheer love of life.
No sightings of my lost dog were reported in hours
We searched for hours, taking it in turns to man the phone at home in case the police called back.
But all to no avail. The police did their best, but there were simply no sightings reported.
I felt somehow distant and surreal as I drove around the streets, only vaguely aware of the buzz of humanity around me as people went on with their everyday lives.
Nothing seemed right any more because Happy Buster had gone.
I had lost track of how long I'd been out looking, but I feared once dusk fell, I would have even less chance of finding Happy Buster.
A strange feeling made me do a U-turn
Many hours later, as I drove in the direction of our house, feeling increasingly deflated and helpless, something very odd happened.
I had driven past one particular road when I had an inexplicable urge to turn back and drive down it instead.
I have absolutely no idea why this occurred. I had been about 100 yards past the road - a side street off the main highway - when a thought popped into my head, "I must drive down that road!"
With scant regard for the traffic - I was past caring and just had an urge to go the other way - I quickly did a U-turn and followed my instinct.
My puppy had turned into a raging little wolf
As I turned the corner, only 30 yards up the road, I saw a terrible commotion as three men struggled with what may have been mistaken for a wild beast in a driveway.
An all-too-familiar sight greeted me as a pair of tan legs with white feet appeared backwards, at great speed, on to the pavement.
Cries of, "Have you got him?" filtered through the early evening air as two veterinary surgeons and a dog catcher tried in vain to pin down Happy Buster and put him in a cage.
He was going what can only be described as crazy with fear, a long metal pole with a metal collar around his neck, cutting into his skin, blood staining the white patch on his chest.
Speeding up, I flew up the street, winding down fully the car window and shouting, with great excitement, "He's mine! He's mine! Happy Buster!"
Suddenly, this raging wolf, with wild eyes and bared fangs, turned into my cuddly pup again and a look of relief spread across his screwed-up little face.
Happy Buster's big adventure became a nightmare
As I crouched on the floor, sobbing uncontrollably, I hugged him, while he sat on his hind legs and put his arms around me, as if saying, "There you are! I'm not letting you out of my sight again!"
Apparently, he had been spotted hiding in the bushes in an elderly lady's garden - his great adventure having turned sour - and she had fed him hotdogs until help arrived, for which I was eternally grateful. I took her a box of chocolates round later to say thank you.
Saved in the nick of time
On arriving home, he was soon back to his old self and seemed none the worse for wear after his fright.
But to this day, I will never know why I suddenly had an urge to drive up that particular road, just as Happy Buster was making his exit from the kindly lady's garden.
A few minutes later and he would have been bundled into the dog catcher's van and taken to the dog pound, where I imagine the vet would have had to sedate him because he was in such a frenzy of fear.
He became nervous with strangers after his ordeal
However, I noticed a distinct change in his happy-go-lucky personality after his ordeal. The physical scar on his neck soon healed, but the mental scars went deeper and he became a very nervous little dog.
My mother came round for Christmas dinner - only to find herself pinned against the gas meter cupboard, a giant paw on either side of her waist.
Being only four feet eleven inches tall, she simply squeaked for help until Happy Buster was removed.
He had made no attempt to bite her, but just decided to keep her there, in his own misguided way thinking he was protecting us from some terrible assailant.
It took two veterinary nurses to hold him down when he had his inoculations and they said seldom had they seen such an aggressive streak in a pup.
Our older dog, the original Buster - a fatter and vastly more sensible version of Happy Buster - often found himself being nipped painfully as his namesake indulged in some over-aggressive playing.
Advice sought from a dog behaviour expert
I realised Happy Buster's terror at being lost and then wrestled to the ground by three men, causing him a neck injury, had made him terrified of strangers and had quite literally changed his behaviour overnight. He barked a lot and was hyperactive, always bouncing up at the window and agitated.
Deep down, he was still the same loving dog towards me, but he was so much more nervous in public and if anyone came to the house.
One day, I spoke to a dog behaviour expert, who assessed dogs for the RSPCA. I asked his advice. He told me I must re-socialise Happy Buster and let him know it was okay to be in a crowd and around other people.
This could be done by taking him to public places where he would meet and mingle with other people and the dog expert suggested sitting in a pub beer garden in the summer, letting Happy Buster sit quietly with me in a corner, but surrounded by strangers. He said to muzzle him if I felt there was any chance he might nip someone if they came too close.
I feel it will be a long haul getting Happy Buster to trust people again, but he is such a sweet dog when he is at home, he even loves the kittens, guinea pig and degus and is never rough or aggressive to any of them. So I will persevere for as long as it takes, so he again learns that the world is not such a massive threat and that we are safe to go out!
Life wouldn't be the same without him and I am so happy he is back home. But his disappearance has reminded me how much we should appreciate and be kind to those we love - because we never know when they might be taken away from us.