by The Telegraph, November 3, 2017
We first spotted the stray dog on a beach on Mahé, an island in the Seychelles. My kids, then six and eight, were building giant sandcastles for the shore crabs, when he trotted over and watched them. The next day he appeared on the porch of our holiday villa.
My then-husband Farid and I assumed he was looking for food, but soon realised he just wanted company. He was a shy, submissive mongrel, about three years old, with orange, foxlike fur, big eyes and a long nose. We called him Chell – an old man’s name in our native Sweden and a nod to the country we were holidaying in – and after five or six days of him loitering nearby, we began to get attached.
We made enquiries online: was there somewhere that could take him in? Finally, after several calls to the only shelter on the island, we met Olga, a 19-year-old local with five stray dogs and a heart of gold, who agreed to adopt him.
Chell had only been with us a week, but when Olga arrived and tried to move him from our porch to her car, he refused, making himself heavy. Eventually we managed it and watched sadly as they drove off.
‘Will we ever see Chell again?’ my elder daughter asked, crying. ‘I guess not,’ I said, not wanting to sugarcoat it. But months later, Olga phoned us to say she was moving abroad to study and would we like to adopt Chell ourselves? ‘Let’s find out if it’s possible,’ I said. She warned that it would be complicated – something that soon proved to be a wild understatement.
First, we had to send Chell’s blood samples to a veterinary laboratory in South Africa (there aren’t any in the Seychelles) to test for rabies, and then we got him vaccinated against it and sent off more samples. Next, there were endless reams of documentation from local vets, and even from the department of agriculture.
With a busy career as a news anchor and writer, I could barely find the time and it fell to Farid, who filled in every form with endless patience. Six months – and about £1,500 – later, our application was approved and he flew from our home in Stockholm to the Seychelles with a dog cage the size of a small apartment to bring Chell home. I’ll never forget the October day Chell arrived.
It was cold, unlike the tropical Seychelles, and he was afraid of most things: climbing the stairs, our other dog Kerstin (a grumpy female border terrier) – he even seemed afraid of himself. He’d start to play, then stop abruptly, the rush of happy emotions frightening him. This was perhaps most heartbreaking of all: a dog who couldn’t play.
Months later, the weather turned wintry and we let Chell into the yard to see his first snow. By now he had gained confidence and had almost doubled in size to a healthy weight. Holding our breath, we watched as he lifted his paws carefully, nervous at first. Then, all of a sudden, Chell began ploughing the snowy lawn with his nose, jumping around happily.
At that moment I realised he was going to be OK. Two years on, Chell is a beloved member of the family. He now climbs the stairs without fear, gets on with Kerstin and is impeccably behaved, aside from his habit of chewing the kids’ stuffed toys. Sometimes it strikes me what luck we had – not just us, not just Chell, but all of us, that we found each other on that beach. One should always be happy to find love.
Asa Avdic is a journalist and writer. Her debut novel, ‘The Dying Game’, is out now (£7.99, Penguin Random House)