Meet Jess. A week before Christmas we had a message from our friends at Finding Furever Homes to see if we could help find this beautiful Border Collie a much needed foster home over the festive period. Jess wasn’t coping very well in rescue kennels, having been found stray a week earlier, and time away to recuperate in a home environment would be a lifeline for this timid and anxious girl. So we had a conversation and decided that we could offer her that foster home to get her #RescueReady… So what does it mean to be rescue ready? Well it’s about you as much as it is about the dog you’re offering a lifetime of care to.
The next day I drove to meet Jess with our first rescue, Molly. Our second rescue, Seren, sat out the long trip to Shrewsbury because she gets quite car sick, and there seemed no point putting her through that journey – as Molly is very choosy about the canine company she keeps, this foster was going to come down to her acceptance (or not) of Jess. So off we went to meet her.
Now I don’t know this for sure, but I think Molly understands and remembers what it is to be a dog in rescue. It will be 5 years this summer since we adopted Molly, and in that time she has overcome a lot. She was troubled with anxieties, particularly with meeting dogs she didn’t know or trust; no training; and a confidence that she could dictate the goings on of the household.
It was a long road with Molly, but so rewarding. With a lot of hard work – on her part as well as ours – this little girl grew into the most loyal, friendly, funny and obedient friend you could ever wish for. Sure, she won’t stop playing until you put her toys away, and she’ll defend the letterbox with every fibre of her being. We had to build a new fence, ‘Collie proof’ the house, have spent goodness knows how much money on keeping her, and then there was that time she let herself out the house and went for a kip in our neighbours bedroom… But all of that was ok, because we choose for it to be ok.
We couldn’t do training classes (because of her anxieties), lead walking took 3 months to get right, and it was just as long to train recall so she could go off lead. Her intelligence is, and always has been, remarkable (she’s a Border Collie after all), but it was a deep fear and mistrust that put up barriers to her training. Time, trust, consistency and positive rewards were the key. We had advice from a great dog behaviour expert too, teaching us simple things we could do to make life easier for her and build trust in any situation. And it worked a charm.
So much so, last February we adopted Seren (or as we like to call her, Sezwoz Fizzbang, or Sez for short).
Remember I said that I think Molly can remember what it’s like to be a dog in rescue? Well when she was introduced to Sez at the rescue home in North Wales, Molly looked at me as if to say let’s do this, let’s help this girl and give her the same chance I had. I know that sounds a little absurd, and maybe I’m remembering things a little bit ‘Hollywood ending’, but Molly was a girl who took 2 years to socialise with other dogs she met regularly. Yet in the surroundings of the rescue home she made positive moves toward Seren, a dog she’d never met before, and said ‘yes’. Not a single grumble or sign of displeasure has been shown by Molls towards our Sez in the time since. This was big stuff for Molly, and it’s been a big deal for us too.
Now Seren didn’t come to us with the same deep-rooted issues as Molly. A shy and timid girl, Seren was not domesticated and had clearly never experienced a home. She had very different challenges. But she instantly put trust in us and wanted to learn. Toilet training was over pretty quickly, and her skills as an artful thief developed even faster. Amusing to begin with, it can get a little tiring to find more socks scattered around the wet and muddy garden than are in your chest of drawers when you’re late for a meeting… Gravy bones don’t grow on trees, Seren. But you have to adjust. Why is she doing it? Because she can, it’s fun, and she gets something out of it. So the solution? Remove the temptation, and offer her something more fun and just as accessible. In Seren’s case a squeaky toy and a daily game of chasies was the recipe for success.
Don’t get me wrong, when both Molly and Seren decide to act up at the same time it can be a handful. That moment when you’re bending down to pick up their morning business, heartily scattered on opposite sides of the path, just as another dog comes racing into the picture off-lead… Molly wants to tell this intruder to get lost, Seren wants to give him or her a snog, and I just want to secure the poo in a bag so it doesn’t end up all over me as I tumble to the floor wrapped up in their leads. Owner of said loose dog scoffs at me with ‘that look’ as they trot by and we both acknowledge that all of this will happen again at the same time tomorrow, as we’ve done every day. But that’s ok too because I choose for it to be ok.
Bearing all this in mind then, was taking Jess in as a foster a straightforward decision? Well, yes and no. All of the joy you get from rescue dogs screams yes, do this, help another dog in need. Personally, we believe that muddy paw prints through the house, barking at dawn, and the gradual stranglehold dog hair is taking on the staircase is just part of it all. We do not own a single possession that we value more than our dogs. But all of the time, effort and learning that Molly & Seren have put in over the years, is just not ours to give away. Yes, Sez is very laid back and Molly’s temperament with other dogs has improved beyond belief. But the dynamic they enjoy so much with each other has been earned between the two of them. If another dog enters that dynamic, and things will inevitably shift, is that fair on them?
So Molly and I arrive to meet Jess. And I look at Molly, and she knows where she is, even though we’ve never been to Shrewsbury before. She meets Jess, she let’s her know it’s ok, and half an hour later we’re all headed home to make this foster work. Molly is tethered on the back seat looking pretty happy driving back, and I think to myself, maybe she is dictating the goings on of the household after all.
And what of Jess? Well, in the month she’s been with us she has just done incredibly well. If anything, she’s added to the dynamic, finding her place with Molly & Seren. Her own challenges have been very similar to Seren’s, and I’m minded that neither her or Seren have the same deep rooted anxieties as Molly – who is the only one of the three of them who was raised by humans before going to rescue…. But that’s for another blog.
So having given Jess, Molly & Seren time, and being rescue ready all along, we’ve all decided that she should stay with us furever. Now, how’s that for a Hollywood ending?
Top tips for being Rescue Ready:
Finding Furever Homes has been running the #RescueReady campaign this month to raise awareness of the things you should consider when adopting a rescue dog. Here are their 10 top tips:
- Initially, restrict access to just certain areas of the house – a big open space after a kennel existence can be daunting and offer opportunities for things to go wrong
- Sofas, beds and furniture is for another day – for now we are establishing boundaries and a few basic rules and that means giving the dog its own comfy space – bed, crate, quilt – something on the floor and where it can be in peace and quiet and learn that it is your house and allow it to fit into your rules
- Keep children away from the dog for periods of time and do not let children smother the dog – it deserves time, space and respect from all family members especially the youngest ones
- Make walks quiet, calm and on the lead – don’t let your dog run off the lead until you have built a bond and trained and tested recall in an enclosed space
- Keep the same routine the rescue had as much as possible with times for meals and food etc. – gradually alter the times slowly to fit with your own routine
- Keep meal times quiet, calm and allow the dog to eat in peace at its own pace with no hassle or hindrance. Stick to the food it had at rescue and do not be tempted to feed it too many rich treats. Any change in diet should be introduced slowly
- Be clear on the rules you intend to enforce – don’t “feel sorry for the rescue dog” and allow it all sorts of liberties that you will not allow it later. Be consistent
- Start to leave the dog home alone for short periods and gradually build up the time it is left alone
- Take your time. Do not ask too much of the dog. It does not know you, your expectations, your family or even why it has left the routine and security of kennels
- Don’t be afraid to ask the rescue for help and support
You can find more about Finding Furver Homes, their mission, and help dogs that really need your help by visiting their Finding Furever Homes.