Once upon a time in a faraway land called Madeira there was an English couple on holiday — let’s call them Ray and Jane. They were staying at a luxurious hotel in a place called Canico. The food was wonderful and there was lots of it — think cruise ship without the water!!

Every day after their meals Ray and Jane would go down to the beach and stroll along the small promenade path by the sea. On 1 April, after breakfast (who says God has no sense of humour!) they came out of the back gate of the hotel gardens onto the path by the beach and there lying on the ground was a dog, starving to death, quietly and slowly.

He was too weak now to stand up and had given up the fight to survive. The couple could see every bone in his skinny little body, and he had sores on his face and body, and his sad little tail was curled right under his body. Then came one of those cathartic moments in life: are you The Good Samaritan or do you just pass by on the other side?

It seemed particularly obscene to Ray and Jane that there was so much food just the other side of the fence and that this poor little soul was starving. So they went back into their hotel and gathered up all the cold meats off the buffet into serviettes and boldly walked back out past all the waiters, heads held high.

When the dog smelled the meat that they held to his face, he lifted his head and his sad little tail began to wag very, very gently. Even though he was starving, as Jane hand-fed him he didn’t snatch a single piece — he just gently took the food. As she fed him, the tears streaming down her face in rivers, Ray gently stroked him, praying out loud: “Dear Lord, please find this poor dog a good home with people who will love him and care for him.”

God chuckled and said: “Oh Ray, can’t you find me something harder to do? Your prayer has already been answered…look.” When Ray saw the look on his wife’s face he realised that the dog had indeed found his new family, and that he had been stitched up like the proverbial kipper — pound signs flashed in front of his eyes and he sighed in acceptance of his fate.

“Very funny, Lord,” he said, and smiled ruefully. Before their holiday the couple had sold their caravan and lodged the money in a bank account called “the holiday fund”. Ray had his sights set on a luxury cruise to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary — not now, he thought — now the bank account is called “the mangy Madeiran mongrel fund” or perhaps “the Portuguese Pooch Preservation Fund”!!

Ray made a makeshift collar and lead from his trouser belt and, after the dog had eaten plenty of meat and had a good drink of water, they managed to coax him to stand up. Very slowly they took up the hill to a taxi. God sent them a lovely taxi driver who just happened to be a dog lover. The dog went with the couple without hesitation and on the taxi ride to Funchal, the capital of Madeira, he sat quietly in the taxi as if he travelled in taxis every day of his life.

At the SPAD (think RSPCA) kennels in Funchal, Jane said to the vet: “We want to bring this little dog home to England.”. The staff sighed with that “crazy English people” kind of sigh and lo, the process began. The dog just let the vet deal with him without fuss or question, he was injected, microchipped, vaccinated, given blood tests, etc, etc, and never murmured. “What is his name?” asked the vet as she filled in his details. “Canico,” said Jane, “after the place where we found him.” So Canico the dog had a new family and the woman had the strangest but the best ever fifth wedding anniversary present.

To be continued…

Canico resting at the Funchal SPAD kennels

What a poor, skinny boy he was!