We noticed a sign on the M602 in Manchester for an exhibit called, 'The Animals' War'. The idea intrigued me so I googled it and found that it was an exhibition held at the Imperial War Museum ... a building of amazing creativity. We decided to stop in and visit the display on our way to Birmingham.
This morning our decision wavered as we got into a car packed to the gunnels with luggage and boxes of books. But, we reasoned, the exhibit is something we'd both enjoy and probably regret missing. As we drove there we both realized that we knew precious little about the role that animals played in humankind's conflicts. Of course, we knew of the horses in the cavalry ... and sniffer dogs, but that was about it.
There was a ton of disabled parking because we were there early and we wound our way in and picked up a programme. We immediately got lost, wonderfully lost. Instead of turning into the special exhibit of Animals in Wartime, we turned into the main hall. Both of us love the history of WWII, but Joe is a real history buff. He was in heaven as he walked slowly from spot to spot, reading placards and looking at objects. The floor was perfect for rolling so I was able to get around on my own and leave him to his exploration. After about an hour we decided that we'd better get on to the show we'd come to see.
Tears filled my eyes right off when entering the exhibit and reading about a dog named Buster. His photo was blown up to giant size and without even reading his story, you knew this was one amazing dog. We wandered through the show and encountered story after story of horses, elephants, pigeons, cats and dogs who played a role in each conflict. I stopped at one point and was sure that I heard the pad of a dogs foot, nails hitting the floor. I turned and saw a frail looking woman driving a wheelchair with a faithful old assistance dog beside her. Glancing from her to the dog and back I thought that this was the perfect place for them to be, and the perfect place for me to see them.
We exchanged a few pleasantries when we ended up beside the same display and I found out that the dog's name was Rufus. Close up, I realized that the woman I was speaking to was much younger that I'd first assumed. She had the trembling hands of an elderly woman but the voice of a vibrant young thing. Rufus sat and watched us chat, casually checking me out ... deciding I'm sure that I should have a dog beside me too.
On our way out I stopped at the statue of Winnie ... the bear that became part of literary history when a soldier from Canada brought him to England to be the mascot for his company ... and ended up becoming 'Winnie the Poo'. The card beside Winnie said that it was OK to give the statue a stroke underneat the chin. There was a band of childring in front of me all reaching up to touch the bear's throat. I waited to do the same and found myself beside Rufus who glanced at me as if to ask if they could go first.
"Go ahead," I said, "I'm waiting for Joe."
They moved ahead of me in line and she reached out to touch the bear but her arm just wasn't strong enough. Rufus watched her, realized what she was doing and stood. He placed his front paw on the footrest and then raised to full height so that his nose lifted her elbow ... she touched the bear exactly where she wanted to. Rufus then climbed down and they left.
On our way out we saw them again. Her hand was down resting on Rufus' neck, her fingers playing with his fur. I waved goodbye as did she.
I swear Rufus smiled at me when I called out to him, "I think I need a dog too."