- Thursday, 7 February 2019

Rescue dogs love you more?

sneak peak: "should I get a rescue dog or a puppy?"; the emotional impact of rehoming a rescue dog and a tribute to Mac

whipador black lab whippet cross, Rescue dogs love you more? imogen molly blog, www.imogenmolly.co.uk

I have a two-year-old miniature Australian labradoodle, Gracie. We got her as a tiny puppy. Until Saturday just gone, the 2nd February 2019, I also had a nearly 17-year-old black lab whippet cross, Mac. We got him as a rescue when he was only one year old.

Mac was first taken to Dog's Trust on Christmas Eve. Nobody knew the breed of his father, or even when his birthday was. The centre was closed for Christmas, and when the vet next came in on the 27th December, he assessed little puppy Mac and declared him to be around four months old. Counting back exactly four months, Mac was given a new birthday of the 27th August.


He was rehomed very quickly as puppies always are, but less than a year later, he returned. The story was that the family, complete with two teenagers and another, older dog, were moving house and could only keep one canine companion. Mac drew the short straw; he didn't make the cut.


When I was seven years old, Mum took me to Dog's Trust to see a dog she had chosen for us to adopt. We went straight to the pen he was sharing with one other dog, and I peered at him through the bars. He stood in the corner at the front, taking us in as we looked at him. We said we wanted him and they inspected our house, our garden, our lifestyle, our location, our routines, our plans for our new dog, and gave us the all clear. We took Mac home to join our little family.


The second family had reported that Mac slept on the floor, enjoyed playing with hard toys, and loved baths.


Mac hated baths. Having been told he liked them, we thought it would be nice for him to have a splash around, but we could hardly have been more wrong. He endured it, already very long-suffering at the grand old age of one, but was miserable throughout. We didn't make him have any more baths.


As for the toys, I have never (really, never) witnessed such unadulterated joy as I did when Mac got a new soft, squeaky toy. He turned his nose up at anything he couldn't squish (with the odd exception for tennis balls when he was in the mood), and if there was a noise to be made then so much the better. He used to run up and down the hall non-stop for hours with each new toy until, after a few days (or weeks if it turned out to be of superior quality), the squeaker would give up under his boundless enthusiasm. He didn't like hard toys at all.


We had prepped for his arrival by laying down a folded up duvet covered with a soft yellow blanket in a corner of the sitting room. When we brought him home and presented him with his bed, he looked awkward and uncertain and not entirely settled, but lay there patiently like a very bony sphinx. It didn't take us long to realise that a) he was not comfortable, b) he was definitely a soft furniture dog, and c) his previous people had known sweet FA about him. (Don't get on at me about that, I just googled it to check and it doesn't mean what you think (and I thought until a minute ago) it means.)


It soon transpired that Mac seemed to have had some kind of altercation with a motorbike. One particular day when Mum and I were in the car with him in the boot, we stopped at traffic lights; who should stop behind us, but two police motorbikes? Mac lost his mind, leaping around and barking at full volume to the point that our car was visibly rocking from side to side. The police officers, stationary on their bikes, were in hysterics at this completely berserk dog in front of them.


Mum came up with a number of ingenious ways to tackle the motorbike problem (which we found out was also present, albeit to a lesser degree, when driving past fields of sheep), the main ones being water-based. First, we had the water bottle technique, where she would aim a water bottle generally in the direction of the mad dog in the back of the car and scoosh him. It would surprise him into being momentarily quiet, and then he would realise it was water and start up again. Bearing in mind that Mum had to do this whilst facing forward to drive, and also while Mac was leaping from side to side, it's no surprise it hasn't really caught on.


Since so much water comes out when you squirt a water bottle, the most notable result of this technique was simply that the inside of the rear windscreen, and the rest of the boot too for that matter, got drenched on a regular basis. So Mum bought a water pistol. In fact, she bought two, because she had to use them so much that one would be empty before the journey was over. The aim was better and less water came out but every car journey we went on was like something out of a chaotic family sitcom, and I spent most of my time laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. Plus before too long, Mac realised he was waterproof and decided he wasn't too bothered about being a bit damp.


For the next fifteen years, we never stopped being grateful for the wonderful invention that is a dog travel house. Because he now couldn't see out when he was in his own personal tiny home, Mac would hop in, go to sleep, and make not a peep until the drive was done.


We learned early on that his puppyhood families had never graced him with the luxury of recall training. With labrador retrieving skills and whippet speed, Mac was a force to be reckoned with if you were a squirrel in the park. He never caught one (thank goodness) but it certainly wasn't for lack of determination. Between us all, we spent many hours in futile attempts at getting Mac to stop whirling round the outer perimeter of the park at a bazillion miles an hour and come back to us, but he had a mind of his own and wouldn't be distracted once he had found an interesting trail to follow.


Once, he took it upon himself to chase a swan into the pond and was swimming around after it. Granny was walking him that day, so had no choice but to follow him into the water. The water thigh-high and stinky, she waded after him to retrieve the disgraced hound before he could cause any damage. Needless to say, he was walked on a very long lead (it was literally a washing line) until, when he turned 10 and had slowed down (if only marginally), he could be trusted, for the most part, to come back.


There were traumatic events, yes, but that's true of most dogs. When we had only had him for two weeks, he swallowed a ball in the park and had to spend three days in the vet hospital recovering from the operation to remove it from his stomach. They asked us if we wanted the ball back when we collected him; we didn't. Shortly after that, he left the park of his own accord one day and ran home, crossing roads and navigating cars to arrive and wait patiently outside our gate when he had only been living there for a matter of weeks. Another time, he took a dislike to a duvet-sized kite in the park and took off after it with a very young me on the end of his lead. I held fast but went flying and landed face first, just about dislodging my shoulder because I knew that above all else I mustn't let go.


Still, he was wonderful. He was housetrained, he was a brilliant guard dog/doorbell, he didn't steal food (until other family dogs taught him... looking at you, Patsy), he didn't jump on people, he was completely oblivious to little children (making him a perfect dog to 'learn' on), he wasn't licky, he didn't run away with shoes/socks/other belongings, he didn't destroy stuff, he was a very good gardener thanks to being so excellent at and enthusiastic about digging (even if it did mean large patches of the garden were off limits due to ankle-breakage risks), he was more than happy to be left home alone, he was completely fine in the car once we got a travel house, he adored Granny's black lab Patsy who quickly became his best friend and partner in crime, he didn't bark in the house unless someone was arriving, he was incredibly easy to train (tiny me loved nothing more than teaching him tricks - he could give one paw then the other, he could turn around on command, he knew the difference between waving, high fiving and shaking hands, and for some reason I also taught him to eat the chives straight from the garden), he was great at agility, he could outrun all the other dogs in the park, he knew when anyone was ill or upset and would stay with them to comfort and protect them, and latterly he was nothing short of wonderful when little Gracie joined the crew.


Mum had high hopes for Gracie, planning for her to be the best behaved dog in the family. Don't get me wrong, she passed her kennel club puppy training exams with flying colours, and Mum taught her how to roll over which she now does by accident when playing with toys all the time. She has possibly the sweetest nature of any dog I've met, but that's not to say she's perfect. She runs off with shoes, socks, pants, scarves, gloves, glasses - anything that's lying around and she knows isn't for her. She won't eat or destroy them, but you will spend a while trying to find them. She won't jump up for food, but she will steal food at lightning speed if it's at her head height. In her view, if it's on her level then it's fair game. Unfortunately, this has previously meant bowls of crisps on coffee tables, biscuits on a side table, and even Mum's slice of cake have all had to be sacrificed to Gracie's super-speed food pinching.


What I mean to say here is that you shouldn't rule out getting a rescue dog because of the assumption they'll have 'issues'. This may be true, but I'd be hard pressed to find a dog that doesn't. The difference is that people can blame someone else for a rescue dog's issues, whereas a from-puppyhood dog's issues are nobody's fault but our own so we tend to put less emphasis on them. In many ways, Gracie is much better behaved than Mac, but in equally many other ways, Mac was much better behaved than Gracie.


We don't know what goes on inside those doggy heads of theirs, but I'm pretty sure there's a lot more than we give them credit for. It probably sounds ridiculous to some people, but there's an appreciation and an understanding of a level that I don't think dogs from puppyhood have. There's a certain type of angst when suitcases come out, and a sense of genuine relief when you return afterwards (even if I went to Dad's literally every other weekend for my entire childhood and always came back, Mac). There's a constant level of gratefulness and a feeling that they've finally found their place to settle. It might not be fair to say that rescue dogs love you more, but they definitely love you differently.

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