The tiny puppy wiggled her nose a little further under the wire. Blessed with a gundog’s excellent peripheral vision she was keeping one eye on those to her rear – her fellow siblings, plus the kennel staff, who would little appreciate yet another escape attempt. Ahead of her, just a breath away, lay the outside world – the teeming hustle and bustle of life that lay all about, but which she and her fellow pups were seemingly forever forbidden from experiencing.
It was all just so tantalizingly close.
The English-run Shanghai Dog Kennels had bred the beautiful liver-and-white English Pointer puppies to serve as gundogs for various English gentlemen then resident in Shanghai. But this one pup, it seemed, had other ideas. The Kennels were like an island of calm amid the sea of chaos that was 1936 Shanghai – chaos to which the puppy poised halfway under the wire felt irresistibly drawn.
Before her very nose rickshaws – ancient-looking wooden carts pulled by human bearers – tore back and forth as they weaved through the dusty streets, carrying the better-off Shanghai residents trussed up in formal-looking top hats and dress-coats. Those rickety carriages fought for space with trams and buses, chugging their ponderous way past roadside stalls selling freshly fried and spiced delicacies. And everywhere bright red cloth banners hung from the shopfronts, advertising their wares in exotic-looking Mandarin and Wu calligraphy.
Why it was only she of her siblings who felt this insatiable urge to see, to smell and to taste the wider world – to escape – she didn’t know. But ever since birth, curiosity had seemed to get the better of this still nameless puppy. And now here she was, glistening nose thrust under the wire and twitching at the bewitching smells that assaulted it, round and chubby backside still within the safe confines of the kennel, but with only a few more wriggles and a final squeeze required to break free.
Doubtless, one voice inside the pup’s head was telling her: don’t do it! But another, equally strident voice was urging – go for it, girl! In that moment of indecision as she peered beneath the wire the little puppy heard a yell of alarm from behind. She’d been spotted! It was the cry of Lee Ming, the local Chinese girl whose mother lived and worked at the kennels, raising the alarm. Lee Ming was quick and nimble and would be on her like a flash unless she got a move on.
Tiny forepaws thrashed and scrabbled at the dirt, as she fought to squeeze her way under the wire. The wrinkly folds of puppy fat rolled and gave beneath her, as she got her belly down even lower and wriggled like a fat fish stuck on an angler’s hook. The bare stub of a tail, sticking out behind her like a long and rigid finger, twitched to and fro as she strove with all her might to break free.
Behind her Lee Ming came to a sudden halt and reached to grab the disobedient puppy, but as she did so the tiny ball of irrepressible energy gave one last Herculean effort and she was through. An instant and a scamper later and – pouf! – the diminutive four-legged figure was gone, paws flying as she was swallowed up into the noise and dust and utter disorder of downtown Shanghai.
For a horrible moment Lee Ming stared after the puppy that had disappeared, in complete dismay. There were so many dangers stalking those city streets that she didn’t have the heart to imagine the half of them. If there was one thing the little puppy wasn’t, it was streetwise. In her headlong confusion she might be run over by a rickshaw. In her fright she might tumble into one of the city’s myriad open sewers. But worst of all, a roly-poly puppy like her would offer a tantalizing meal to those partial to dog meat – which included the large majority of the city’s native population.
In 1936 Shanghai the flesh of man’s best friend was much sought after, being seen as something of a ‘sweet’-tasting delicacy. A young and tender dog that no one seemed to own or to care for would be fair game. Lee Ming turned back towards the large, colonial-style house that lay in the centre of the kennel compound. She headed for reception to report the bad news, and to help raise whatever search party they would send after the wayward pup. But her heart was heavy and a dark foreboding lay upon her.
She feared very much that was the last they’d ever see of the puppy that had run away.
The Shanghai that the puppy had made a break for was no place for any defenceless being, let alone an English Pointer barely a few weeks old. Then a city of some three million inhabitants, Shanghai – a port city lying in the very centre of China’s coastline – was a bustling metropolis red in tooth and claw. Positioned at the mouth of the mighty Yangtze River – Asia’s longest, and a vital conduit for trade and commerce into China’s vast interior – the great powers of Britain, America and France had long-established trading settlements in the city.
For decades, Shanghai had been known as ‘The Paris of the East’, but in recent years she had become a city beset by troubles. Weak leadership and infighting among the Chinese government had allowed vicious gangs of bandits to thrive. Warlords had taken control of large tracts of the nation’s interior. Increasingly, Britain, America and France had been forced to send gunboats far into the interior on the Yangtze, in an effort to dissuade these lawless elements from disrupting their lucrative trade in silk, cotton, tea and other valuable commodities.
Recently, trouble had piled upon trouble, in particular with the resurgence of China’s age-old enemy – Japan. In an escalating series of bloody skirmishes the Japanese Navy had bombarded Shanghai. As they had with the British and the other ‘great powers’, the Chinese were forced to sign a treaty with Imperial Japan, allowing the Japanese to establish a permanent presence in the ‘treaty port’ of Shanghai. Imperial Japan made little secret of her desire to conquer and subjugate the entire Chinese nation, and Shanghai was the gateway to China’s then capital city, Nanking.
This then was Shanghai, the city that the escapee from the kennels had absconded to – one menaced by gangland banditry, and whose streets were increasingly plagued by soldiers from Imperial Japan, who showed ill-disguised contempt for the local inhabitants. So it was something of a miracle that several weeks after her dramatic breakout, the puppy who had run away was still very much alive and breathing.
The silky chubbiness was long gone, of course. Instead, adolescent ribs poked through a liver-and-white coat that had lost much of its shine and lustre. Her nose was dry and cracked, a sure sign that she was in a dreadful condition. Only her eyes seemed to demonstrate their signature brightness, betraying a strength of character that had distinguished her from birth, and perhaps led to her present, unenviable predicament. They shone with a burning curiosity and a zest for life, despite all that she had suffered since her ill-fated ‘escape’. But there was something else now in her gaze – uncertainty and vulnerability, a sense that the young dog had realized to her cost that not every human was her natural friend and ally.
How stupid she had been, she now recognized, to run away. She had traded the comfort and luxury of the kennels for a battered old cardboard box lying in a smelly, fly-blown Shanghai alleyway. She’d traded the companionship and playfulness of her brother and sister puppies for the loneliness of life on the streets. And in place of the English kennel owner’s natural love for and protection over her dogs, she’d faced cruelty and abuse at every turn in this overcrowded human zoo of a city.
All apart from one individual – Soo. For whatever reason, Soo the Chinese trader was an unreconstructed lover of dogs. Her shabby box-cum-home lay to the rear of his store, and ever since the puppy had found her way to it Soo had taken it upon himself to deliver titbits of food to her, of an evening when his long day’s work was done. It was hardly the kind of diet she’d grown accustomed to at the kennels, but at least it had served to keep her alive.
Like many Chinese, it wasn’t in Soo’s nature or family tradition to keep a dog at home as a pet. In the China of 1936 dogs had to earn their keep as working animals, or they were invariably for the pot. In fact, the eating of dog meat in China had a history stretching back thousands of years, the meat being thought to possess mystical medicinal properties. There were even some breeds of dog that were kept specifically for human consumption, especially in times of seasonal hunger.
Fortunately, Soo wasn’t one of those who were partial to having dog on the menu, and the lost puppy from the Shanghai Dog Kennels was lucky indeed to have fallen by chance under his protection.
But tonight, all of that was about to change.
With a sixth sense that was to become her absolute trademark, the lonely pup detected the danger before it was audible or visible to any human ear or eye, Soo’s included. A Japanese gunboat had docked in the port of Shanghai, and the sailors of His Japanese Imperial Majesty’s Ship were making their noisy way along the very road upon which Soo’s shop was situated, no doubt in search of alcohol and some locals on which to vent their aggression. It was late evening, but the hard-working Soo was still there, his being one of the few stores on the street remaining open.
That alone offered enough of an excuse for the gunboat crew to pounce.
As the Japanese sailors started verbally abusing Soo and helping themselves to his wares, he of course protested. Voices were raised in anger, but the Japanese sailors didn’t stop there. Within minutes Soo’s shop had been plundered, its rickety wooden shelves torn down and smashed to pieces. As for Soo, he was set upon by the Japanese sailors, who were working themselves up into a towering rage.
Hearing her one protector in the world being so cruelly assaulted, the adolescent pup had stolen out of her alleyway and sneaked around the corner to see if there was anything she could do to save him. Inching forward on her belly, she alternately whimpered in fright and tried to muster her most threatening growl, as the strange figures in their baggy trousers over knee-high black boots kicked and punched her protector.
Then one of the aggressors spotted the cowering dog. He stepped away from Soo and took a few paces towards her. Moments later one of those perfectly polished boots was swinging towards the adolescent puppy’s midriff. The powerful blow lifted her from the cobbles and flung her across the street into a pile of rubbish on the far side. There she lay, whimpering and in agony, and hoping beyond hope that these cruel men in their strange uniforms wouldn’t come for her again.
By the time their oppressors had departed, Soo had been beaten so badly that he had to be helped away from the scene. The dog that had until now viewed him as her protector was forced to take refuge in the empty shadows of a nearby doorway. Into it she crawled, body sore from the kicking, belly sore from that and the ravening hunger, and her spirit numbed by the trauma and the cold of the long night that lay ahead.
Even though the Japanese sailors were long gone, the lonely puppy sensed that tonight her dream of escape from the Shanghai Kennels had descended into the blackest of nightmares – but as is so often the case, the darkest moment is just before the dawn.
As the sun crept above the city’s grand, colonial-style skyline, a familiar figure began to pad her way along the street on which the young dog lay. The lone puppy was shivering and crying to herself and lost in misery – so much so that she almost didn’t notice the pitter-patter of footsteps come to a halt, or to hear the words uttered in amazement in her direction.
‘Shudi? Shudi? Oh, Shudi! What happened? Where have you been?’
The long tail of the Pointer – now stained off-white with the dirt and soot from her street-side existence – almost failed to wag in any sign of recognition. But the young dog had recognized the soft tones of the voice, just as surely as the little girl from the kennels had recognized the distraught puppy. Her distinctive markings – a sleek liver-brown head, a similarly-coloured saddle-like marking thrown across her shoulders, plus the large formless splodge of colour splashed across her rear right flank – had been instantly recognizable to Lee Ming.
No doubt about it – this was the one that had run away!
In a sprawling city of some three million inhabitants the girl from the Shanghai Kennels had, by chance, chosen to walk that morning past the very door where the lost and injured dog was sheltering. Lee Ming bent, scooped the puppy up and thrust her deep inside her jacket. With that she ran and skipped through the largely deserted streets, eager to announce her find to the English lady who ran the kennels.
By the time she had reached the big house that lay inside the compound and unzipped her jacket, the puppy had fallen fast asleep.
‘Look! Look! I find Shudi!’ the little girl announced ecstatically.
The Englishwoman peered doubtfully over the high desk behind which she sat. Spying the puppy, she reached out uncertainly and took the little dog from the girl’s outstretched arms. She pulled her closer, stroked her and fondled her just behind the ears, as she studied the markings and tried to compare them to those in her memory. The puppy opened one lazy eye, saw where she was, seemed to smile exhaustedly, then slipped back into a sweet sleep.
It was the turn of the Englishwoman to smile. ‘It is her. It really is the one who ran away.’ She glanced at Lee Ming, who was beaming with happiness. ‘So, I think it’s time you gave her a good bath and a dinner, don’t you?’
Lee Ming nodded enthusiastically. There was nothing she’d like more than to feed and comfort the wayward pup. She held out her arms so ‘Shudi’ could be returned to her and she could whisk her off for some much-needed tender loving care.
The woman handed the pup across. She glanced at Lee Ming curiously. ‘But tell me, why do you call her Shudi?’
Lee Ming placed the warm but exhausted bundle back inside her jacket. ‘I always call this one Shudi,’ she replied shyly. ‘Shudi means peaceful. Peaceful is how she looks, yes?’
The woman reached out and caressed Lee Ming’s face. ‘She does. Yes she does. And Lee Ming – that shall be her name from now on: Judy.’
So it was that the puppy who had run away and come back again against all odds was given a name perhaps most ill-suited to her nature: the Mandarin word for the peaceful one – shudi – or rendered into ‘Judy’ for whichever lucky Englishman might be her future master.
As the little girl carried Shudi – Judy – off for a good pamper, little did she realize how a dog with such inauspicious beginnings would go on to distinguish herself in the coming bloody and all-consuming conflict . . .
Lee Ming could have no idea how famous the English Pointer from the Shanghai Kennels would become, once the Second World War drew to a close.
Excerpted from Judy: A Dog in a Million by Damien Lewis. Copyright © 2014 by Damien Lewis.
First published in Great Britain in 2014 by Quercus Editions Ltd, 55 Baker Street, 7th Floor, South Block, London, W1U 8EW. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.