How sausages helped save two runaway schnauzers on the Lakeland fells

PUBLISHED: 00:00 07 November 2017

Charlie and Theo safely back home

Charlie and Theo safely back home

not Archant

Two runaway miniature schnauzers were saved by the passion for bangers. Emily Rothery reports.

Graham and John with the rescued dogsGraham and John with the rescued dogs

Liz and Graham Hampson were devastated when their son John called to tell them that their much-loved dogs had gone missing. John, who is in the Royal Navy, had just returned on leave to the family home in Cockermouth and had taken the pair of miniature schnauzers, father and son Charlie and Theo, for a walk in the Buttermere fells. On the summit of Red Pike at 2,476 feet, a thick fog rolled in and, uncharacteristically, the dogs didn’t return when John called them.

‘Our dogs love to be on the tops and have walked most of the main Lake District fells. They are used to being off the lead when there is no livestock and always come back to us,’ says Liz, who works for Cumbria Police.

‘We were devastated when we got the phone call especially as we realised that looking for two small grey dogs on the fells would be like looking for a needle in a haystack.’

As we talk two spirited schnauzers are scampering round the lawn so I know that this story has a happy ending, but I can still sense Liz’s distress as she recalls how the frantic search went on for nearly four days. ‘During that time our lives were turned up-side-down. We couldn’t eat or sleep,’ she says.

Buttermere valley with Red Pike, in the distance, where the dogs vanishedButtermere valley with Red Pike, in the distance, where the dogs vanished

The family started an immediate search and were soon joined by their other son, Alex, and many friends. Liz put her police training into action. ‘I put posts on Facebook and appeals on Twitter, posters in strategic places, did a piece on Radio Cumbria, contacted local farmers and pubs and Honistor Slate mines. I contacted Cockermouth Mountain Rescue Team and asked them to keep an eye out and spread the word to the western teams.’

Husband Graham adds: ‘That night, which was Friday, we camped out and continued the search. We took along the dogs’ favourite squeaky toys and just kept calling their names. Over the days they were missing I put up 60 miles on my Fitbit – and that’s 60 fell miles.’

By Sunday, Cockermouth Mountain Rescue Team had joined the search, including the team doctor, Mark Steel, with his miniature schnauzer, Jasper, who is a litter brother to Charlie. A second brother, Alfie, was also out with his family.

The Cockermouth community pulled out all the stops in support of the family. ‘Even the girl who clips Charlie and Theo took her drone up on Saturday to look for them. In better light the next day Mike Gullen, of the Rescue Team, decided to trial the team’s drones which was fantastic but to no avail,’ says Liz.

Then with uncanny intuition, team doctor Mark, predicted that the dogs would most likely have headed to High Gillerthwaite on the Ennerdale side of Red Pike. ‘I think that he just used his knowledge of the mountains and, being a dog owner, knew where to look,’ said Liz who, spurred on by the suggestion, then devised a cunning plan.

‘Our dogs just love sausages. If anything was going to get them down it would be sausages so armed with a disposable barbecue and sausages – Cumberland, of course – we set off for High Gillerthwaite. With the sausages cooking, the smoke funnelled nicely up the fells but still no sign of our boys.’ As they surveyed this vast remote valley they began to lose heart.

Liz carries on the story. ‘We decided then that we would have to scale down the search. Just as we were reluctantly packing up a couple came over to talk to us and, as I was explaining what had happened, I pointed up at the fell and there at the top of the treeline stood Charlie and Theo. It was like a mirage. I was a gibbering wreck by now so Graham ran up to get them.’

Graham adds: ‘As I approached them Charlie came straight to me but Theo ran away. I got down and talked quietly to him and when he finally realised it was me he bolted towards me.’

Liz with one of her precious poochesLiz with one of her precious pooches

After a very emotional reunion the pair were taken home to sleep before a bath and visit to the vet’s the next day. After three nights on the crags – a far cry from cosy beds, squeaky toys and doggy treats – the pets were in good shape apart from a small cut on Charlie’s back.

These cuddly canines may look cute but they are bright, resilient dogs, originally bred in Germany as working dogs. The miniature also has a reputation for being an extremely good ratter – traits that may have helped the dogs to survive for nearly 80 hours on the high fells.

When the good news reached John who had gone back to work a huge cheer went up on the ship. And since their foray into the fells the dogs have become celebrities in their home town. ‘People stop us and say “So these are the little tinkers”. It’s been surprising to learn that many people who we don’t know had been keeping an eye out for two little lost grey dogs’, says Graham.’

As a way of saying thank you for the support that the community showed over the four days, Liz is writing a book about Charlie and Theo’s adventure. She will donate the proceeds to charity and is appealing for donations to Cockermouth Rescue Team.

* You can find out more the rescue team at www.cockermouthmrt.org.uk

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