[dorky-dog] Mrs. Donovan from Dog Stories by James Herriot


usefullness: 0

fun: 0

weeping like a sissy: 10


I read a lot of books with dogs on the cover. Usually Im fairly democratic about my book choices , if it has a picture of a dog then I’ll buy it. So I have a wide assortment of books that have genuinely surprised me with its content. ( I went through a mad shopping spree at Barnes and Noble my last visit to the states)

This is one of those books.

This book is a compilation of stories from a veterinarian who became a veterinarian when the industry in a slump .But following what is right for your soul, usually results in a really good story.. or in Mr. Herriot’s case really good stories.

I hope at the end of my journey , Ill have an interesting story or two to tell  with my dog resting at my feet and hopefully it will have a happy ending.

Cheers and may the “ paws” be with you


alignment: chaotic neutral
[i]Chaotic neutral geek cheerleader, nitro nerd ,wannabe  3p1c alpha geek of the new dork renaissance and generally slightly confused half of the time.[/i]

(excerpt from Dog Stories by James Herrot )

The silvery-haired old gentleman with the pleasant face didnt’t look like the type to be easily upset but his eyes glared at me and his lips quivered with indignation.

‘Mr. Herriot,’ he said, ‘I have come to make a complaint. I strongly object to your callousness in subjecting my dog to unneccessary suffering.’

‘Sufferring? What suffering?’ I was mystified.

‘I think you know, Mr. Herriot. I brought my dog in a few days ago. He was very lame and I am referring to your treatment on that occasion.’

I nodded. ‘ Yes, I remember it well ..but where does the suffering come in?’

‘Well the poor animal is going around with his leg dangling and I have it on good authority that the bone is fractured and should have been put in plaster immediately.’ The old gentleman stuck his chin out fiercely.

‘Allright, you can stop worrying , I said. ” Your dog has radial paralysis

(radial paralysis is caused by loss of function of the radial nerve. See Table 14. Manifested by loss of function of extensor muscles and impaired sensory perception in the thoracic limb especially over the dorsum of the paw. Lesions at or distal to the level of the elbow result in difficulty in extending the carpus and foot so that weight may be carried on the dorsum of the foot. Lesions above that level, usually associated with injury to the brachial plexus, also cause an inability to actively extend the elbow (dropped elbow) and the animal cannot bear weight on the limb.)

..caused by a blow on the ribs and if you are patient and follow my treatment he’ll gradually improve. ‘

‘But he trails his legs while he walks.’

‘ I know – that’s typical , and to the layman it does give the appearance of a broken leg. But he shows no signs of pain, does he?’

‘ No, he seems quite happy, but this lady seemed to be absolutely sure of her facts. She was quite adamant.


‘Yes,’ said the old gentleman. ‘ She is clever with animals and she came round to see if she could help in my dog’s convalescence. She brought some excellent condition powders with her.’

‘Ah!’ A blinding shaft peerced the fog in my mind. All was suddenly clear, ‘It was Mrs. Donavan, wasn’t it?’

Well .. er, yes. That was her name.’

Old Mrs. Donavan was a woman who really got around. No matter what was going on in Darrowby- weddings, funerals, house-sales – you’d find the dumpy little figure and walnut face among the spectators, the darting , black-button eyes taking everything in. And, on the end of its lead, her terrier dog.

When I say ‘old’, I’m only guessing, because she appeared ageless; she seemed to have been around a long time but she could have been anything between fifty-five and seventy-five. She certainly had the vitality of a young woman because she must have walked vast distances in her dedicated quest to keep abreast of events. Many people took an uncharitable view of her acute curiosity but whater, her motivation, her activities took her into almost every channel of life in the town. One of these channels was our veterinary practice.

Because Mrs. Donovan, among her other widely ranging interests, was an animal doctor. In fact I think it would be safe to say that this facet of her life transcended all the others.

She could talk at length on the ailments of small animals and she had a whole armoury of medicines and remedies  at her command, her two specialties being her miracle working condition powders and a dog shampoo of precendented value for improving the coat. She had an uncanny ability to sniff out a sick anumal, and it was not uncommon when I was on my rounds to find Mrs. Donovan’s darkgipsy face poised intently over what I had thought was my patient while she administered calf’s foot jelly or one of her own patent nostrums ( nostrum (nos´trm),n a remedy not substantiated by scientific evidence or broadly accepted by the scientific community. Some herbal supplements may fall under this category.).

I suffered more than Siegfried because I took more a active part in the small animal side of our practice. I was anxious to develop this aspect and to improve my image in this field and Mrs Donovan didn’t help at all. ‘ Young Mr Herriot,’ she would confide to my clients, ‘is all right with cattle and such the like, but he don’t know nothing about dogs and cats.’

And of course they believed her and had implicit faith in her. She had the irresistible mystic appeal of the amateur an don top of that there was her habit, particularly endearing in Darrowby, of never charging for her advice, her medicines, her long periods of diligent nursing.

Older folk in the town told how her husband, and Irish farm worker, had died many years ago and how he musth have had a ‘bit put away’ because Mrs Donovan had apparently been able to indulge all her interests over the years without financial strain. Since she inhabited the streets of Darrowby all day and every day I often encountered her and she always smiled up at me sweetly and told me how she had been sitting up all night with Mrs So-and-so’s dog that I’d been treating. She felt sure she’d be able to pull it through.

There was no smile on her face, however, on the day when she rushed into the surgery while Siegfried and I wer having tea.

‘Mr Herriot!’ she gasped. ‘Can you come? My little dog’s been run over!’

I jumped up and ran out to the car with her. She sat in the passenger seat with her head bowed, her hands clasped tightly on her knees.

‘ He slipped his collar and ran in front of a car,’ She murmured. ‘ He’s lying in front of the school half-way up Cliffend Road. Please hurry.’

I was there within three minures but as I bent over the dusty little body stretched on the pavement I knew there was nothing I could do. The fast-glazing eyes, the faint, gasping respirations, the ghastly pallor of the mucous membreanes all told the same story.

‘I’ll take him back to the surgery and get some saline into him, Mrs Donovan,’ I said. ‘ But Im afraid he’s had a massive internal haemorrhage. Did you see what happened exactly?’

She gulped. ‘ yes, the whell went right over him.’

Ruptured liver , for sure. I passed my hands under the little animal and began to lift him gently, but as I did so the breathing stopped and the eyes stared fixedly ahead.

Mrs Donovan sank to her knees and for a few moments she gently stroked the rough hair of the head and chest. ‘ He’s dead, isnt’t he?’

She whispered at last.

‘I’m afraid he is,’ I said.

She got slowly to her feet and stood bewilderedly among the little group of bystanders on the pavement. Her lips moved but she seemed unable to say any more.

I took her arm, led her over to the car and opened the door. ‘Get in and sit down,’ Isaid. ‘ I’ll run you home.Leave everything to me.’

I wrapped the dog in my calving overall and laid him in the boot before driving away. It wasn’t until we drew up outside Mrs Donovan’s house that she began to weep silently. I sat there without speaking till she had finished. Then she wiped her eyes and turned to me.

‘Do you think he suffered at all?’

‘I’m certain he didn’t. It was all so quick- he wouldn’t know a thing about it.’

She tried to smil. ‘ Poor lil Rez, I dont’t know what Im going to do without him. We’ve travelled a few miles together, you know.’

‘Yes you have. He had a wonderful life, Mrs Donovan. And let me give you a bit of advice – you must get another dog. You’d be lost without one.’

She shook her head. ‘No, I couldn’t . That little dog meant too much to me. I couldn’t let another take its place.’

‘Well I know that’s how you feel just now but I wish you’d think about it. I dont’t want to seem callous – I tell everybody this when they lose an animal and I know it’s good advice.’

‘Mr Herriot, I’ll never have another one.’ She shook her head, very decisively. ‘Rex was my faithful friend for many years and I just want to remember him. He’s the last dog I’ll ever have.

I often say Mrs Donovan around the town after this and I was glad to see she was still as active as ever, though she looked stragely incomplete without the little dog on it’s lead. But it must have been over a month before I had a chance to speak to  her.

It was on the afternoon that Inspector Halliday of the RSPCA rang me.

‘Mr Herriot,’ he said. ‘I’d like you to come and see an animal with me. A cruelty case.’

‘ Right, what is it?’

‘A dog and it’s pretty grim. A dreadful case of neglect.’ He gaveme the name of a row of old brick cottages down by the river and said he’d meet me there.

Halliday was waiting for me, smart, and business-like in his dark uniform, as I pulled up in the back lane behind the housed. He was a big, blond man with  cheerful blue eyes but he didn’t smile as he came over to the car.

‘He’s in here,’ and led the way towards on of the doors in the long, crumbling wall. A few curious people were hanging around and with a feeling of inevitability I recognised a gnome-like brown face. Trus Mrs Donovan, I thought, to be among those present at a time like this.

We went though the door into the long garden. I found that even the lowliest dweelings in Darrowby had long strips of land in the back as thought the builders had taken it for granted that the country people who were going to live in them would want to occupy themselves with pursuits of the soil; with vegetable and fruit growing , even stock keepin in a small way. You usually found a pig there, a few hens, often a pretty bed of flowers.

But this gardedn was a wilderness. Achilling air of desolation hung over the few gnarled apple and plum trees standing among a tangle of rank grass as though the place had been forsaken by all living greatures.

Halliday went over to a ramshackle wooden shed with peeling paint and a rusted corrugated iron roof. He produced a key, unlocked the padlock and dragged the door partly open. There was no window and it wasn’t easy to identify the jumble inside: broken gardening tools, an ancient mangle,rows of flowere post and parly used paint tins. And right at the back , a dog sitting quietly.

I didn’t notice him immediately because of the gloom and because the smell in the shed started me coughing, but as I drew closer I saw that he was a bigh animal, sitting very upright, his collar secured by a chain to a ring in the wall. I had seen some thin dogs but this advanced emaciation reminded me of my text books on anatomy; nowhere else did the bones of the pelvis, face and rib cage stand out with such horrifying clarity. A deep, smooth out hollow in the earth florr showed where he had lain, moved about, in fact lived for a very long time.

The sight of the animal had a stupefying effect on me; I had only half took in the rest of the scene- the filthy shreds of sacking scattered nearby, the bowl of scummy water.

‘Look at his back end,’ Halliday muttered.

I carefully raised the dog from his sitting position and realised that the stench in the place was not entirely due to the piles of excrement. The hindquarters were a welter of pressure sorew which had turned gangerenous , and strips of sloughing (2. Medicine A layer or mass of dead tissue separated from surrounding living tissue, as in a wound, sore, or inflammation.) tissue hung down from them. There were similar sores along the sternum nd ribs. The coat, which seemed to be a dull yellow, was matted and caked with dirt.

The inspector spoke again. ‘ I don’t think he’s ever been out of here. He’s only a young dog- about a year old- he’s been in this shed since he was an eight week old pup. Somebody out in the lane heard a whimper or he’d never have been found.’

I felt a tightening of the throat and a sudden nausea which wasn’t due to the smell. It was the thought of this patient animal sitting starved and forgotten in the darkness and filth for a year. I looked again  at the dog and saw in his eyes only a calm trust.Some dogs would have barked their head off and soon been discovered, some would have become totally terrified and vicious, but this was one of the totally undemanding kind, the kind which had complete faith in people and accepted all their actions without complaint. Just as blackness which had been his world and at times wondered what it was all about.

‘ Well, Inspector, I hope your going to throw the book at whoever’s responsible ,’ I said.

Halliday grunted. ‘Oh , there won’t be much done.It’s a case of diminished responsibility. The owner’s definitely simple. Lives with his mother  who hardly knows what’s going on either. I’ve seen the fellow and it seems he threw in a bit of food when he felt like and that’s about all he did. They’ll fine him and stop him keeping an animal in the future but nothing more than that.’

‘I see.’ I reached out and stroked the dot’s head and he immediately responded by resting a paw on my wrist. There was a pathetic dignity about the way he held himself erect, the calm eyes regarding, me friendly and unafraid. ‘ Well, you’ll let me know if you want me in court.’

‘of course, and thank you for coming along.’ Halliday hesitated for a moment. ‘ And I suppose you’ll want to put this poor thing out of it’s misery right away.’

I continued to run my hand over the head and ears while I thought for a moment. ‘ Yes.. yes, I suppose so. We’d never find a home for him in this state. It’s the kindest thing to do. Anyway, push the door wide open so I can get a good look at him.’

In the improved light I examined him more thourghly. Perfect teeth, well-proportioned limbs with a fringe of yellow hair. I put my stethoscope on his chest and as I listened to the slow, storng thudding of the hear of the dog again put his paw on my hand.

I turned to Halliday.’ You know, Inspector, inside this bag of bones there’s a lovely  Golden Retriever. I wish there was some way of me letting him out. ‘

As I spoke I noticed there was more than one figure in the door opening. A pair of  black pebble eyes were peering intently at the dog from behind the Inspector’s back. The other spectators had remainded in the lane but Mrs Donovan’s curiosity had been too much for her. I continued conversationally as though I hadn’t seen her.

‘You know, what this dog needs first of all is a good shampoo to clean up his matted coat.’

‘Huh>’ said Halliday.

‘Yes. And then he wants a long course of some really strong condition powders.’

‘What’s that?’ The Inspector looked startled.

‘ There’s no doubt about it, I said, ‘ It’s the only hope for him, but where are you going to find such things? Really powerful enough, I mean.’ I sighed and straightened up. ‘ Ah well, I suppose there is nothing else for it. I’d better put him to sleep right away. I’ll get the things from my car.’

When I got back to the shed Mrs Donovan was already inside examining the dog despite the feeble reonstrances of the big man.

‘Look!’ she said excitedly, pointing to an name roughly scratched on the collar. ‘ His name’s Roy.’ She smiled up at me. ‘ It’s a bit like Rex, isn’t it, that name?’

‘You know , Mrs Donovan, now you mention it, it is. It’s very like Rex, the way it comes of your tougue. ‘ I nodded seriously.

She stood silent for a few moments, obviously in the grip of a deep emotion, the she burst out.

‘Can I have ‘im? I can make him better, I know I can. Please, please, let me have ‘im!’

‘Well I don’t know ,’ I said. ‘ Its really up to the Inspector. You’ll have to get his permission.’

Halliday looked at her in beweiderment, then he said: ‘Excuse me, Madam,’ and drew me to one side. We walked a few yards through the long grass and stopped under a tree.

‘Mr Herriot, ‘ he whispered, ‘ I don’t know what’s going on here, but I just cant pass over an animal in this condition to anybody who has a casual whim. The poor beggar’s  had one bad break already – I think it’s enough. This woman doesn’t look like a suitable person…’

I held up a hand. ‘ Believe me, Inspector, you’ve nothing to worry about. She’s a funny old stick but she’s been sent from heaven today. If anybody in Darrowby can give this dog a new life it’s her.’

Halliday looked up very doubtful. ‘ But I still don’t get it. What was all that stuff with the shampoos and condition powders?’

‘Oh never mind about that. I’ll tell you some other time. What he needs is lots of good grub , care , and affection and that’s just what he’ll get. You can take my word for it.’

‘ All right, you seem very sure.’ Halliday looked at me for a second or two then turned and walked over to the eager little figure by the shed.

I had never before been deliberately on look out for Mrs Donovan: she had just cropped up where I happened to be, but now I scanned the streets of Darrowby anxiously day by day without sighting here. I didn’t like it when Gobber Newhouse got drunk and drove his bicycle determinedly through a barrier into a ten=-foot hole where they were  laying a new sewer and Mrs Donovan was not in evidence among the happy crowd who watched the council workmen and two policemen trying to get him out; and when she was nowhere to be seen when they had to fetch the fire engine to the fish and chip shop the night the fat burst into flames I became seriously worried.

Maybe I should have called round to see how she was getting on with that dog. Certainly I had trimmed of the necrotic tissue and dressed sores befire she ook him away, but perhaps he needed something more than that. And yet at the time I had felt a strong conviction that the main thing was to get him out of there and clean him an nature would do the rest. And I had a lot of faith in Mrs Donovan – far more than she had in me- when it came to animal doctoring: it was hard to believe I’d been completely wrong.

It must have been nearly three weeks and I was on the point of calling at her home when I noticed her stumping briskly along the far side of the market-place, peering closely into every shop window exactly as before. The only difference was that she had big yellow dog on the end of the lead.

I turned the wheel and sent my car bumbling over the cobbles till I was abreast of her. When she saw me getting out she stopped and smiled at me impishly, but she didn’t speak as I bent over Roy and examined him. He was still a skinny dog  but he looked bright and happy, his wounds were healthy and granulating and there was not a speck of dirt in his coat or skin. I knew then what Mrs Donovan had been doing all this time; she had been washing and combing and teasing at that filthy tangle till she had finally conquered it.

As I straightened up she seized my wrist in a grip of surprising strength and looked up into my eyes.

‘ Now Mr Herriot,’ she said, ‘ haven’t I made a difference to this dog!’

‘You’ve done wonders, Mrs Donovan,’ I said. ‘ And you’ve been at him with that marvellous shampoo of yours, haven’t you?’

She giggled and walked away and from that day I saw the two of them frequently but at a distance and something like two months went by before I had a chance to talk to her again. She was passing by the surgery as I was coming down the steps and again she grabbed my wrist.

‘ Mr Herriot,’ she said, just as she had done before, ‘haven’t I made a difference to this dog!’

I looked down at Roy with something akin to aw. He had grown and filled out and his , no longer yellow but a rich gold, lay in luxuriant shining swathes over the well-fleshed ribs and back. A new, brightly studded collar glittered on his neck and his tail, beautifully fringed, fanned the air gently. He was now a Golden Retriever in full magnificence. As  I stared at him he reared up, plunked his fore paws on my chest and looked into my face, and in his eyes I red plainly the same calm affection and trust I had seen back in that black noisome (noi·some adj. Offensive to the point of arousing disgust; ) shed.

‘Mrs Donovan, ‘ I said softly, ‘ he’s the most beautiful dog in Yorkshire.’ Then, because I knew she was waiting for it, ‘ It’s those wonderful condition powders. Whatever do you put in them?’

‘Ah wouldn’t you like to know!’ She bridled and smiled up at me coquettishly and ineed she was neared being kissed at that moment than for many years.

I suppose you could say that that was the start of Roy’s second life. And as the years passed I often pondered on the beneficent providence which had decreed tha an animal which had spent his first twelve months abandoned and unwanted, staring uncomprehendingly into that unchanging, stinking darkness, should be whisked in a moment into an existence of light and movement and love. Because I don’t think any dog had it quite so good as Roy from then on.

His diet had changed dramatically from odd bread crusts to best stewing steak and biscuit, meaty bones and a bowl of warm milk ever evening. He never missed a thing. Garden fetes , school sports, evictions, gymkhanas – he’d be there.  I was pleased to note that as time went on Mrs Donovan seemed to be clocking up an even greater daily mileage. Her expenditure on shoe leather must have been phenomenal, but of course it was absolute pie for Roy – a busy round in the morning, home for a meal, then straight out again; it was all go.

Mrs Donovan did not confine her activities to the town centre; there was a big stretch of common land down by the river where there were seats and people used to take their dogs for a gallop and she like to get down there fairly regularly to check on the latest developments on the domestic scene. I often saw Roy loping majestically over the grass among a pack of assorted canines, and when he wasn’t doing that he was submitting to being stroked or patted or generally fussed over. He was handsome and just liked people; it made him irresistible.

It was common knowledge that his mistress had bought a hole selection of brushes and combs of various sizes which laboured over his coat. Some people said she had a little brush for his teeth, too, and it might have been true, but he certainly wouldn’t need his nails clipped- his life on the roads would keep them down.

Mrs Donovan , too, had her reward; she had a faithful companion by her side every hour of the day and night. But there was more to it than that; she had always the compulsion to help and heal animals and the salvation of Roy was the high point of her life – a blazing triumph which never dimmed.

I know the memory of it was always fresh because many years later I was sitting on the sidelines at a cricket match and I saw the two of them; the old lady glancing keenly around her, Roy gazing placidly out at the field of play, apparently enjoying every ball. At the end of the match I watced them move away the dispersing crowd; Roy would have been about twelve then and heaven only knows how old Mrs Donovan must have been , but the big golden animal was trotting along effortlessly , and his mistress a little more bent perhaps and her head rather nearer the ground, was going very well.

When she saw me she came over and I felt a familiar tight grip on my wrist.

‘ Mr Herriot,’ she said , and in the dark probing eyes the pride was still as warm , the triumph still burning as new as if it had all happened yesterday.

‘Mr Herriot, haven’t I made a difference to this dog!’

Mrs Donovan’s dedicated care was rewarded with many years of loyal companionship and Roy , despite his bad start in life, lived well into his teens. After his death, Mrs Donovan went to live in an old folks home in our town. I always tried to disguise the characters, but she recognised herself and rejoiced. She was proud to be in my book. The salvation of Roy and the wonderful transformation in his appearance and his entire life is one of my warmest memories, and, of course , a triumph by an amateur healer has a special glamour.





8 thoughts on “[dorky-dog] Mrs. Donovan from Dog Stories by James Herriot

    • Garima,

      Its a pleasure to meet you! I wish you success in your endeavor!

      I think the world is contrived to make you buy as many books as possible. ( its a bookstore conspiracy! ) Which is why they dont put the stories you want to read with the ones you have to read.

      Cheers and may the “paws” be with you

      [alignment: chaotic neutral]

    • Ive been reading a book by Temple Grandin , Animals Make Us Human. I’ll be posting an excerpt from that book soon. I think if you liked the story Mrs. Donovan, you will love that.

      cheers and may the paws be with you

  1. hey actually i had a dog named pluto n he came across the same accident like rex…i feel sorry for him sumtimes but i really njoy reading this story…thanx mr james herriot…n also the 1 who has published this on the internet…..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s