Posted 2 months ago ago
About 11 years ago, after always considering myself a cat person, I was suddenly seized by the desire to have a dog in my life.
I’m not sure why this struck me when it did, and to start with I told myself it was madness: think of the commitment, the loss of freedom, the poo to pick up… but the desire didn’t go away, and I started taking regular trips to the local dogs’ home in search of a new family member.
Considering how much I wanted a dog, it’s incredible that it took me about six months to finally choose one – but I had a young family and felt particularly protective of my toddler son; I didn’t want to bring an unfriendly, or even dangerous, animal into our home – and with rescue dogs, I felt there was an increased element of uncertainty.
Nevertheless, I was set on the idea of getting a rescue animal. If I’m perfectly honest, part of that was due to budgetary constraints: I’d couldn’t easily spare hundreds of pounds for a pedigree dog and saw no reason to do so when I could give a much-needed home to a rescue dog for a fraction of the price.
I was also unconcerned about having a pedigree pet – it felt meaningless to me, although I did start to learn about breed characteristics, and this helped to inform my eventual choice: a charming little whippet/Jack Russell cross we called Sirius.
Raising Sirius from a puppy was a steep learning curve.
Image: Sirius and Kuba, Daisy White
Furniture got destroyed and he was so fond of gnawing things that he once chewed his way out of the back gate and was lost for the whole afternoon. Anyone who’s lost a dog, even briefly, will know that awful gut-wrenching feeling of powerlessness and worry. But we got him back that time, and the times he ran away in the park, darted out of the front door when visitors arrived and, on one occasion, escaped through a window left open by a house guest.
Looking at him now –poised, calm and bossy with younger dogs, it’s hard to believe he was once that reckless little puppy. He has taught me patience, and discipline: I’d always resisted routine, but I surprised myself by enjoying the regular timetable of feeds and walks. I appreciate the structure – although I admit there are days when I don’t really feel like trudging around the park in the dark and the rain.
Despite the demands of being a new dog owner, I was hooked, and two years later another rescue dog came into our lives: the aptly named Carlos, a chihuahua.
Carlos was one of several chihuahuas a breeder had handed in to The Dogs Trust due to a breakup. He was two years old, so I was aware he may come with behavioural issues, but in fact there were none – or if they were, they were hard to distinguish from the usual chihuahua traits of feistiness, attention seeking and the general belief that he was the most important creature in the room. He does have a problem swallowing hard food, due to a congenital constriction in his oesophagus, but this is easily tackled by giving him soft food.
While Sirius has always been quite aloof, Carlos craves cuddles and has particularly charmed my children and visitors to the house. Even people who are normally wary of dogs delight in his attention. From Carlos I’ve learned to manage demanding behaviour, but he’s also taught me how much a dog can light up someone’s day just by pogo-ing onto their lap.
Or third arrival, Kuba, came just over a year ago. I’d visited a large dogs’ home out in the countryside – a huge complex of kennels that houses hundreds of dogs. You had to book a tour to see them, and wandering from kennel to kennel looking at all those anxious, barking faces, I wondered: how could I just choose one?
Image: Kuba, Daisy White
When I got to Kuba’s kennel, however, I knew I had to meet him. While all the other dogs were barking, he just stood there looking bewildered and lost. He was bigger than my other dogs and his fur was a vivid, deep red (he is, depending on who you ask, either a smallish fox red lab, or some kind of lab cross). I asked if we could take him for a walk.
When he was brought to meet us, he jumped up at everyone, hurling himself into our arms, his tail wagging so vigorously that his whole rear end shook. Although he was a year old, he was just learning to walk on the lead having grown up in a cage in an Irish puppy farm. He was missing half an ear, had some scars on his head and body, and one of his toes was hanging off (he went on to have an operation to remove it). Nobody seemed to know his full story, but it’s clear from his behaviour that it includes some trauma. He’s terrified of toy guns, and of any person who leans in the doorway with their elbow on the door frame; this is enough to set off a frenzy of barking. He startles easily and is generally wary of men. When we first brought him home, he didn’t know how to walk down stairs or navigate around furniture – and his wagging tail meant that plenty of cups and glasses went flying.
Despite his anxieties, none of his issues have really been a problem for us. He’s learnt to trust my husband, and we know how to avoid situations that stress him. As he’s become more relaxed, we’ve managed to mostly stop him jumping up at people too.
Kuba has turned out to be the happiest, most joyful and affectionate dog I’ve ever met; as I write this, he is curled up at my feet. He follows me everywhere. The flip side of that is that he does have separation anxiety, but as I work from home it’s not too much of a problem. When we are away, I arrange for a dog sitter; due to his history, I wouldn’t want to put him in a boarding kennel.
I’m now at capacity – I wouldn’t be able to walk more dogs than I currently have, and that’s probably a good thing, because otherwise, I’d be tempted to have more.
My three dogs have turned me into a true “dog person” and probably a bit of a dog bore. I’m glad I chose rescue dogs, and my experiences demonstrate that there’s a rescue dog for everyone. If you’re thinking of getting a dog, I’d urge you to head to your local kennels. Your perfect pet is probably waiting there for you.