The kindness of strangers


03 July 2013

We have always loved boating holidays and have spent many happy times both on the Norfolk Broads, and on narrowboat holidays on some of the UK's most scenic waterways. So when we adopted our rescue dog, Charlie, in May 2011, it seemed fitting that his fosterer lived on her own boat, which was moored in Broad Street Basin, near to where we lived in Wolverhampton, West Midlands.

Our fate was sealed when we saw him, and we christened him Charlie because, with his long stick legs, scruffy fur, and curly pig's tail, he was truly unique and a 'proper Charlie'.

To celebrate our first 12 months together, we decided to take him for a holiday on a narrowboat. We love the Welsh waterways, so after some consideration we booked a short break on the Monmouth and Brecon Canal.

Our boat, Skenfrith Castle, was hired from Castle Narrowboats in Gilwern, and on Monday, May 14, 2012, after instruction and handover from the boatyard, our adventure began.

Sudden disaster

Charlie soon settled into routine and, being a terrier, was interested in everything. Our first night was spent at Llangattock, and after a walk into Crickhowell the following day we continued onward towards Llangynidr.

The canal was particularly beautiful here and the River Usk a stone's throw away afforded some lovely walks along its banks. The sun shone and Charlie had his first taste of paddling as he dipped his four paws in the Usk. We relaxed and watched the dippers busily catching insects to feed their young in a nest under the bridge - heaven.

Back on the boat and about to get underway, Charlie was forward with Jack, helping, as usual, to top up the water.

Suddenly, the noise of a hatch cover banging spooked our normally unflappable little dog, and as he turned to get back inside the boat he misjudged the two steps, landed awkwardly, and let out a terrible scream. Charlie had broken his left fore leg.

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Get me to the vet's

Moored at Llangynidr, with little knowledge of the area and our car back at the boatyard, we had no idea of where the nearest vet's was, let alone how to get there. A phone call to the boatyard owner, Sharon Mills, confirmed that we needed to take Charlie to Crickhowell, some 20 minutes away.

In stepped a couple, Jane and Andrew, who were working on their narrowboat, called Mister Toad, moored just along the bank from us.

Jane quickly got her car and drove us into Crickhowell, and waited for us while the vet examined Charlie and confirmed that his leg was indeed broken. The vet, Gary, advised that Charlie would need X-rays at the Abbey Veterinary Centre in Abergavenny to confirm the severity of the break and course of action. Gary was so kind and caring both to Charlie and us, as by now all three of us were in a state of shock. He told us that if we could take Charlie, who by now had been given a painkilling injection, to Abergavenny, he would meet us there and arrange the X-rays.

Jane then kindly offered to take us back to our boatyard to pick up our car so that we could get Charlie to the animal hospital. She was so kind and calming, refusing to take any money for petrol and reassuring us that the trembling and sorry-for-himself Charlie would be fine. At the boatyard, Sharon came out to meet us with our car keys, and had the foresight to bring us a bottle of wine to give to Jane as a thank you.

Making Charlie stable

Charlie would need an operation to insert a metal plate, which would be screwed to the bones to stabilise his leg and help them knit together. We were given the choice of having the operation at Abbey Veterinary Centre, or, if we preferred, they could make Charlie's leg stable enough for us to get him home to our own vet's. The boatyard had already said that if we needed to return home with him quickly then they would get our boat back to base.

After discussing everything with Gary, he gave us enough confidence to ask him to arrange surgery for us there in Abergavenny. We left Charlie with him and drove back to our boatyard, where the other owner, Nick Mills, was waiting to drive us back to our moored narrowboat. How strange it seemed that we were only 20 minutes away from the boat by car, yet by canal it would take us four and a half hours to get back to base.

On the following afternoon, senior vet David Baker performed an operation to screw a metal plate into Charlie's damaged leg while we waited anxiously back on the boat. At 5pm David called us to say that everything had gone according to plan and Charlie was coming round from the anaesthetic. On the Friday morning, the last day of our holiday, Gary called us to say that Charlie was ready to go home.

Community spirit

We were so very grateful to everyone that helped us; they were all indeed stars in our eyes.

In this day and age it was heart-warming to come across such kindness and certainly restored our faith in human nature. Nine months on and Charlie has made a wonderful recovery although it will take a full 12 months for full recovery. It has been a long road - he needed cage rest for three months, and then gradual walks increasing in length to aid the healing process; the metal plate will stay in his leg for life and in time the bones will be as strong as before.

This was one narrowboat holiday that we will never forget, not for Charlie's horrific accident but for the kindness of perfect strangers in our hour of need - we were truly humbled.

It won't be long before Charlie Jarvis is back to full fitness, so thank you again to the canal community of Abergavenny!