Goodbye Lelly - a celebration of our very best friends


"You've got to be kidding me" – these were the words I uttered under my breath as I read her story in the Daily Mail in February 2014.

Street dog Si Bao had been living at the Kouguan railway station in China's Shanxi Province, looked after by kindly staff of the rail company after she had been hit by a train and subsequently lost both of her back legs.

dogs in box
Lelly's shelter was a cardboard box in the station's boiler room.

Over the years she had given birth to multiple litters of pups and lived in a cardboard box in the boiler room of the train station. The staff had done their best to care for her and her pups, before the pups were either adopted or died routinely of disease. Dirty, dishevelled, determined, this little scrap of a disabled dog had bravely looked after her litters as she struggled with what must have been significant pain and hunger, and all the psychological trauma of a harsh existence on the streets.

dog being held up by person
The railway company staff took care of Lelly after she lost her back legs in a train accident.

I couldn't put the story down and, after opening the pages for about the twentieth time, finally gave in to my broken heart and asked Carrot Chen in our China Cat and Dog Welfare team if she could please find out more and see whether there was any chance of locating and adopting Si Bao and her latest pups, before bringing them back to my home in Hong Kong.

In fact, the story not only hit the Daily Mail but caught the attention of multiple people in China and across the world. Enquiry after enquiry – and offers of help coming from all directions to save this miraculous little dog. Groups from as far away as Washington USA, Norway and the UK were offering to adopt her and fly her out.

group of medical professionals
The team at Datong Meilian Zhonghe Veterinary Hospital provided initial treatment for Lelly and her pups.

The kind vet staff of the Datong Meilian Zhonghe Veterinary Hospital took in Si Bao and her pups for treatment, but sadly lost three of the four pups to distemper. The remaining pup, called Xiao Hua (Little Flower) was touch and go but eventually pulled through – albeit with the nodding head legacy of the disease that would go on for years.

Within days, Carrot – now joined by Tina Tian our Veterinary Support Manager in Chengdu – had worked their magic, and Si Bao and her one remaining pup were gathered up by our resourceful Veterinary Training Manager, Wen Yan, and loaded onto a local flight from Datong, before happily settling in to our bear rescue sanctuary in Chengdu.

group of people with dogs
Back at our China Bear Rescue Centre, Lelly and Muddie quickly became spoilt for choice by our Bear & Vet Team.

Mum was soon on our surgery table where our caring veterinary surgeon Mandala and vet nurse Wendy and team, determined during X-rays that yes, she had suffered a traumatic incident that had been responsible for this tragic little dog losing both her back limbs. How on earth she hadn't bled out on the railway track after being hit by the train was anybody's guess but her recovery had been miraculous and she had lived for the next 7-8 years begging on the streets for food.

dog up close face pic
Top of Lelly's charm arsenal were the eyes that looked into your soul, deployed whenever a snack might be available!

The railway staff had given her the name Si Bao meaning "four treasures" and, arriving on site with us, it quickly became obvious that Si Bao was a master of the scrounge. Any morsel of food that she saw was quite clearly hers. Any rustle of paper, any clink of cutlery, any tempting smell, and there she was, as if by magic, gazing up us from the floor, with wide melting eyes that would put Shrek’s friend, Puss in Boots, to shame!

Now she and her pup were enjoying the tastiest food, the best medication, clean water, soft beds and a good bath, flea treatment and vaccination regime. Duly spayed to prevent her poor worn out body from going through yet another unplanned pregnancy, Si Bao was ready to be adopted at last.

woman holding dog
Lesley Nicol gave Lelly her forever name.

 Around the same time, we were excited to have our friend and Ambassador, actress Lesley Nicol (beloved Mrs Patmore, Downton Abbey) on site who of course fell in love with Si Bao and her puppy too. I felt it was time for them both to have new names in celebration of their new lives, and asked Lesley if she'd name Si Bao, while I chose the name Muddie for the pup from a combination of two of my own dogs’ names Muppet and Eddie, as she bore a passing resemblance to them both. Lesley chose Lelly – which was her nickname as a child – and now Animals Asia was honoured to permanently welcome these two new dogs into our family.

Within a few weeks, Lelly and Muddie were flown to Hong Kong where they spent four months in quarantine, before finally coming home with me and ruling the roost over my two rescued Pyranean Mountain dogs Clover and Chives. These two huge hounds couldn't believe the audacity of this little upstart, wonky dog who blustered into our lives. Selecting the comfiest place on the couch, the best position to see the world by the door, and the area closest to the kitchen, Lelly made herself perfectly at home within minutes, warning poor Chives and Clover with a tornado of abuse from her snaggle tooth mouth, if they ever had the temerity to stray close to what was now her patch.

two dogs on floor with blanket Lelly and Muddie at home in Hong Kong.

Little Muddie contented herself with nibbling and destroying my much-loved ornaments on the floor, such as wooden bears, ducks and pangolins, despite enjoying a whole toybox of stuffed animals to keep her amused. And Lelly proved time and time again that, just like our disabled rescued bears, there was nothing that couldn't be conquered with just two legs. 

dog Lelly's strength and spirit were indomitable, and she remained independently mobile and nimble. 

Despite being generously fitted with a trolley and wheels by orthopaedic vet surgeon Dr Alane Calahane, Lelly decided very quickly that wheels weren't for her and that she could cope very well on her front legs as she had done for nearly a decade on China's streets. Her muscly front limbs would put a sumo wrestler to shame and her big barrel chest provided the perfect balance to lift her entire stumpy back body off the ground as she defied gravity, running with ease and gracefully sailing up and down stairs. 

For the next 10 years she lived a happy and remarkably healthy life. I hardly remember any illness or problem apart from the odd dental, and she and Muddie lived true to their nicknames of ‘The Princesses’ throughout their years in Hong Kong. Muddie's head bobbing also slowly resolved over the years to the extent that she was disappointingly no longer nodding yes to everything I'd say! Seriously… what must have been a frustrating tic was now no more and Muddie became queen of the zoomies, such was her zest and absolute joy for life.

three people with dogs on lape
Dr Dog Ambassadors, Lelly and Muddie with Jill and our Dr. Dog team, Cassy and Marnie, in Hong Kong.

After passing their "exams" with flying colours, both Lelly and Muddie were also named Honorary Ambassadors for our assisted animal activity programme Dr Dog, with their first assignment delighting our entire office in Hong Kong.

dog in pramLelly happily accepted new wheels to continue to enjoy her walks over the past year.

Just in the last year as Lelly succumbed to old age, the tell-tale signs of cataracts and arthritis saw her slowing down. But rather than even contemplating the dreaded wheels again, she decided that a pram might suit her now – and delighted in being wheeled around the neighbourhood by Melody who helped us at home and was fondly regarded as Lelly and Muddie's second mum.

Just recently, Lelly became inappetant and depressed. Multiple examinations and tests by the wonderful and patient Dr Peter Morgan from Tai Wai Small Animal and Exotic Hospital revealed nothing remarkable, until it was ultimately found that Lelly now likely had an inoperable tumour in her oesophagus. Her little body couldn't keep up with her big courage, and the awful realisation slowly dawned that Lelly's time had come. As Dr Peter administered the drug, I held her head in my hand, thanked her and told her I loved her, and felt her body go limp as she surrendered and breathed her last.

two dogs on table
Daughter Muddie and mum Lelly - their last photo together.

She's left both the biggest hole and the biggest smile – absolutely every arrival home from travel was made indescribably welcoming and happy as Lelly rushed over, promptly flopped onto her back, and looked up with her Shrek cat eyes imploring, "Well? This tummy won't tickle itself!".

person holding two dogs

Thank you to the Daily Mail for publishing a story so depressingly sad that few could have turned away, and with so much gratitude to a village of kind friends and colleagues everywhere who helped two scruffy little street dogs find their way home:

  • Carrot Chen and our China Cat and Dog Welfare team
  • Sissel Eide Klemmetson of Norway
  • Rebecca Ashworth Toronto, Canada and The Laika Fund for Street Dogs
  • Karene West, Tennessee, USA
  • Mr Zhao and Mr Fan, China
  • Mr Huang and Tina, China
  • Lisa Price and Hand in Hand for Asia’s Activists
  • Panda Paws Rescue, USA
  • Angus's Fundraising page for DMT dogs and other animals in need
  • Wen Yan Veterinary Training Manager and Tina Tian Veterinary Support Manager

 Our Amazing vet team and volunteers who looked after them both on site - nurses Wendy, Vicki and Emily, vets Mandala, Eddie and Jen, and volunteers, Lauren, Nat, Emily and Sarah. And to Emily and James for fostering Lelly and Muddie at CBRC, before they could move to Hong Kong.