A HOLIDAYING British couple set out on a tough hike across the rugged terrain of their holiday island. They came back about to adopt a puppy whose dogged determination had won their hearts… and cost them £4,000.
Jonathan and Nicola Cooksley first set eyes on Mears - named by them after the television survival expert Ray Mears - as they embarked on a 10-mile hike in the Azores last month.
At first they tried to ignore the stray but he latched on to them and kept up as they toiled up a mountainside, through undergrowth and across a volcanic lake until the couple returned to their hotel eight hours later with their faithful friend hard on their heels.
Once there, the Cooksleys, who have never owned a dog before, planned to turn Mears over to an animal pound but were told by hotel staff that, if they did, he would be put down.
So now - after being placed in the care of a vet before being flown to Britain - Mears is going through six months in quarantine kennels before beginning a new life in Dorset. The bill to Mr and Mrs Cooksley stands at almost £4,000.
"We think it is all worth it," said Mrs Cooksley, 47, a recruitment consultant, from Dorchester. The mother of two, who makes daily, 30-mile trips to visit Mears in quarantine, added: "He is such a lovely dog. Only one person has told us we must be mad - everyone else says it is a lovely story."
Mrs Cooksley and her husband, a 43-year-old surveyor, spotted Mears shortly after they had set out on their holiday hike on the island of Sao Miguel.
"As we got out of a taxi that had taken us to the start of our walk, I saw the dog appear over this little hill about 100 yards away," Mrs Cooksley said. "He bounded down towards us. We think he must have been dumped at the top of the mountain and was terribly emaciated. He looked pitiful and his bones were sticking out.
"At first we tried to ignore him and not touch him because we knew that he would probably latch on to us.
"He started following us as we walked around the contours of a mountain. At that point we realised we had taken a wrong path and we walked down to a volcanic lake, a crater of beautiful blue green water."
The couple battled on through undergrowth with Mears following on behind and they just couldn’t shake him off. They decided eventually to wade across some waist-deep inlets of the lake, thinking that the dog would never follow them there.
"Let’s say we were rather surprised to see Mears go into the water and swim after us," says Mrs Cooksley. "He was whimpering and really struggling. We thought he was going to collapse and die but every now and then he would find a rock to sit on to catch his breath. All we had with us to eat was four strawberry-flavoured snack bars. We gave one to Mears and he wolfed it down. We then gave him two more because he was so hungry and shared the fourth ourselves.
"Eventually we took Mears back to our hotel. We discovered that if we handed him over to the authorities he would be shot. My husband said at that point that we would have to take him home. I had been thinking along the same lines."
A local vet gave Mears the necessary vaccinations and phoned the Department for the Environment for advice on how the dog, who is believed to be a Portuguese pointer, could be brought to Britain.
The couple returned home, leaving Mears with a friend while the documentation was sorted out. He was flown to Lisbon at the start of this month to be met by Mrs Cooksley. "I saw him in a cargo area. I called his name and he instantly started jumping up and down and barking," said Mrs Cooksley, who then took the dog to a hotel in Lisbon prior to flying home the following day.
"He slept on my bed that night."
Mears, believed to be about five months old, is now in quarantine in kennels, awaiting release on February 2nd next year.
"Everyone is saying what a couple of softies we are," Mrs Cooksley said. "But we think it has all been worth it. He looks wonderful and is a lovely-natured dog."