Endal is not just about a dog. It is about the consequences of accident and neglect, about a human relationship under stress. It is about a traumatised military family that somehow manages to stay together long enough to be rescued by a dog.
In most stories the hero/heroine leaps into the spotlight either on the first page or at least within a couple of chapters. In Endal we don’t meet our hero until mid-way through the sixteenth chapter on page 150 – almost exactly half-way through the book. What we do meet from the beginning is the mess that this young dog has to sort out.
It is a tragic, traumatic mess – a military mess, swept to one side as the fighting arm of 1990s government plunged on.
The voices of Allen and Sandra Parton dominate the book through alternate chapters. Allen Parton, at the time of his accident, held the rank of Chief Petty Officer in the Royal Navy and was a weapons systems expert. Sandra had been a naval wife for eight years, she had two young children and had suffered post-natal depression following the birth of her second child.
In many ways they were a typical young military family – ambitious husband with a wife struggling to keep up with house-moves and small children. Then, in August 1991 Sandra’s sister died and four days later Allen was involved in a car accident in the Gulf.
You might expect that from here on the book would be unbearably bleak but it isn’t. The honesty of the voices draws you in.
Allen’s voice is that of an able-bodied, military high-achiever trapped by his damaged brain and limbs. Slowly he has to face the fact that he can never return to his naval career – the only flashes of his past life that he can recall with clarity.
Sandra is left with a broken, bad-tempered man who does not know her and whose employers’ require her to leave their accommodation on termination of her husband’s service. Sandra, as well as being the sole, effective parent to two children, becomes chief carer, legal expert and reliant on charity.
The six years that follow are miserable but as readers we are given a relatively easy passage through them, and all of us, both Partons and readers, are rewarded in 1998 with the arrival of the yellow Labrador puppy Endal.
Endal is a young recruit on a training programme for assistance dogs when we meet him. He is a little lame from osteochondritis, a condition that will never leave him. He is an enthusiastic, kind puppy – two qualities that we watch mature into the legendary, life-saving dog who gave love and dignity back to the Partons.
This is a book that is powerful and worth reading. It is a record of the emotions that so many us have touched, either directly or indirectly, over the past two decades of conflict. All of us, whether civilian or military, are aware of unexpected damage and some of its consequences. This book shows how much we can survive and it pays tribute to the dogs that help us do so. Endal was, undoubtedly, an exceptional dog.
In 2002 Endal was awarded the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) Gold Medal - the highest honour for outstanding animal bravery and exceptional dedication in civilian life. The award was for the actions Endal took to help Allen who had been knocked out of his wheelchair by a car.
It is thanks to all of Endal’s achievements that Allen Parton has now founded Hounds for Heroes to provide assistance dogs to help those battling through trauma resulting from service.
Hounds for Heroes will be in Hall 1, Stand 196, at Crufts 2013 (Thursday to Sunday – 7-10 March 2013). If you’re visiting Crufts don’t miss them. If you’re looking for the book it might be easiest to buy it on Amazon. Endal was first published by HarperCollinspublishersin 2009.
Please click on Interview with Allen Parton to learn more about the charity.