Sitting here in the office, looking out at blue sky and bright sunshine, it's hard to imagine the weather conditions of this morning
In common with much of the UK, Worcestershire was being buffeted by strong winds, gale force gusts and heavy rain when we went out to walk the dogs. By a fair process of task-sharing ("You stay and do the yard, I'm going out with the dogs. Is That OK?" and I disappeared through the gate before Andy was really aware he was exercising his democratic rights) I took 22 assorted dogs to brave the weather. (Dulcie, Gloria and Glyn were confined to the yard on the grounds that they lack self-control, and were left to help Andy with the chores. I'm sure they threw themselves into the task manfully. From the orchard it certainly sounded as if they were shouting encouragement to each other - or maybe to Andy.)
My Boys, Chester and Alfie, had poked their noses out into the wet and explained that, having not had a good night, what with the noisy weather and the puppies next door, they felt their energies would be better used in catching up with some sleep by the radiator. They have so much responsibility, I could see their point.
A firm believer that there's no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing, it never occurred to me that I was taking any risks. The first 20 minutes or so were wet and blowy, but not cold, so I just stuffed my hands into my pockets, kept my head down and strode out while the dogs rushed around excitedly, thoroughly enjoying the windy chaos. Dogs, horses and children, all get excited and skittish when it's windy. We were a couple of good long fields from home when I realised that the rain was thicker, colder and sharper, and was being blown directly into my face. I looked up and was astonished to see that the weather had deteriorated while I wasn't looking. I couldn't see the hedge at the far side of the field, and the rain was horizontal, heavy and painful!
It was difficult to walk into the rain (the direction of home) and the puppies were quite distressed by it, so I turned my back to it while I considered what to do. What happened next was quite moving.
Mel hates heavy rain, always has, so I wasn't surprised to see her head for the distant shelter of a hedge and ditch, followed by Kay, but the remaining dogs gathered around me. The puppies tucked themselves underneath the adolescent dogs, either standing or lying down, according to size, and the "teenagers", not always terribly gentle or patient with puppies, were quiet and content to let them. Then the adolescent dogs (with the exception of Oscar) huddled into a group around my legs with their puppies in place, and the remaining adult dogs, Max and Mick, plus Oscar, lay down and arranged themselves on the outside - apparently protecting the puppies. They looked miserable, and were clearly getting soaked, but I can't see any other reason (except one) why these three dogs, who are NOT the best of mates - all quite strong, macho characters - would submit to lying nose to nose or tail, perfectly quiet and still.
The other possible reason was that they were simply waiting for me, as the grown-up, to make a decision and get us all out of this mess!
So I made a decision. I scooped up the smallest and most distressed looking puppy and told everyone we heading for home by the shortest possible route. It was quite a battle, but the wind and rain were abating by the time we reached the yard. It felt as though we'd all come through some great adventure in a pretty heroic sort of way, fighting the odds and all pulling together. Looking back, well, we just got caught in a heavy downpour, but I'll never forget all those dogs gathering around to shelter the puppies. It was quite humbling.
NB: The title is from George Orwell's Animal Farm. I wish I had a photo I could share of Max's wet, resigned and stalwart face, pressed against Oscar's. Both dogs are probably very pleased that I don't!