Recently I was asked to help with a dog imported from Spain. This was not my first time of being asked to help a previous "street dog" from abroad to adjust to living in the UK. I am aware that for many dog parents of these dogs there are many success stories but many do not realise the true effort that might be required to help these dogs adjust to their new lives so I asked Pippa if she would share her story and here it is; thank you Pippa.
If you’re thinking of giving a home to a street dog please read this first. It will either make you more determined or send you running for the hills; I hope it is the former.
I’ve had rescue dogs all my life, but all from the UK. When my last dog Lottie went off to Rainbow Ridge in 2018, I took abit of break but began to search for my new rescue in November 2020. I was dismayed by the total disinterest from UK charities; no one would give me the time of day. Yes, I work, but my son works from home, and he’s as much a dog lover as me. After a few weeks I began to look further afield. There are loads of facebook pages with adorable doggie faces, all looking for their forever homes, and many of them have been taken off the streets and are stuck in pounds where there is no love and even less care.
I can take on a street dog, I said to myself. Afterall, I have all the love in the world to give to a dog or 3 and this was the face that had me sold.
Nemo, as he was known then, arrived in February 2021. The poor dog was terrified and traumatised. 3 days in a van from Spain, with 18 other terrified dogs and then left in an unknown place with people who spoke a strange language and all smelling - just strange. Not to mention how he stank - gross. Street life and 3 years in a government pound isn’t the smell you want in your home but, for now, we were going to have to live with it.
Had he ever been in a home before? How would he react to a TV, washing machine, a vacuum, a phone ringing? Would he be aggressive through fear? Would he rip the house apart?
He spent the first night cowered by the front door. We left water, chicken and rice, and went to bed. I won’t go into detail but the next 2 nights involved a bucket, water and plenty of Dettol.
After a couple of days he tentatively made steps into the kitchen, afterall, that’s where all the food smells come from, and I introduced him to his kitchen bed under the table.
And so life with our new hound began. Being able to touch him properly took weeks for me and, for my son, months; he cowered in fear and was scared of everything, especially men.
Feeding him was a nightmare to start with, everything upset his tummy. Even grain and rice didn’t seem to suit him. In the dog pound, they only get fed raw chicken carcasses (salmonella is rife in Spanish pounds) and typically mass-produced dog food is too rich for these dogs. I tried a raw diet but he wouldn’t eat it so I bought and cooked fresh every day, it was time consuming and expensive but I eventually found a relatively local dog food producer whose food he could stomach.
Once we’d got him a little more settled the next hurdle was getting him out for a walk. You try moving a 32kg dog who’s too scared to cross the threshold! The charity in Spain did offer weekly video support but, to be fair, unless they can see the dog in the flesh, it’s abit of a failure activity. It was time to ask for help. A long-time friend of mine who also happens to be a veterinary nurse and has supported me through the highs and lows of all my rescues, suggested a friend called Gina.
Gina arrived, and when she arrives, everyone knows it. She’s direct, honest, and loud, but loads of fun and utterly brilliant. I loved her; the dog was terrified! To be fair to Gina, the dog was terrified of everyone.
After asking some questions and surreptitiously keeping an eye on Nemo she said, ‘Let’s get Nemo out in the garden’. ‘How?’ I asked. ‘Drag him’ she said and so I did, and then my training began. I say ‘my’, because Gina’s not really training the dog, she’s reading the dog and training me, and my son Luke who was ever present throughout it all. After a few ‘dragging’ sessions, he even wet himself the first few times bless him (the dog not Luke), we would spend a lot of time just walking Nemo round and round the garden on a lead.
It was during this time my daughter came to visit and said, ‘He’s huge, he looks like a bear!’ and so ‘Nemo’ became forever known as ‘Bear’. Afterall no one ever wants to lose a dog, but could you ever expect anyone who wants to help to take you seriously if you said, ‘I’m looking for Nemo’!
We also began touching him more at this point, his legs, paws, his ears and looking at his teeth, much to his initial discomfort but, slowly, he grew accustomed to it and grooming could commence. We removed so much fur I had to call the vet in as I was worried Bear was losing weight; he looked so skinny! In fact, he’d put on 1.5 kg, it was all the fur removal that had made him look so much slimmer. The bird population were having a field day – all the local birds had state of the art soft fluffy nests for their youngsters! Not to mention that Bear began to smell a lot better too!
Slowly but surely
Training continued in earnest and, with Gina’s help, we slowly but surely increased Bear’s walking regimen and, over several weeks, he was trotting in and out of the front door, down the road and, eventually into the local woods. Now he’s out on a long lead, almost off lead now (I’m still in training to find the extra confidence for this bit), and he’s learnt basic commands, like stop, come and sit.
Next, I was asked to locate some old pallets which we piled on top of each other in the garden where we taught Bear to jump up (more like a step for a dog the size of Bear) and, from there, we moved the pallets by the open back door of my car, and he now happily jumps in and out my car. He loves a car ride! I’m looking forward to taking him to meet my sister and her dog soon in Shropshire. That’ll be an experience for him.
We’ve had a couple of scary bits of course, him leaping a 6 foot fence into next door in the middle of the night (Luke rescued him), and me accidentally dropping the lead out on a woodland walk and Bear taking off in a panic with the lead trailing behind him and finally getting caught up with the lead wrapped around some trees (Luke rescued him again! Thank DOG for Luke!)
Aim for your goals
When I met Gina my 2 wishes were for her to help me get Bear out on walks off lead and travelling in the car. Together, between Luke, Gina, Bear and I, we’ve achieved it. He’s still uncomfortable in certain situations such as strangers, children and bicycles, but it’s a constantly improving picture.
It’s taken 6 months so far, but Bear is a totally changed dog to the poor soul that entered my home last February. He’s been practising his waggy tail and he’s most certainly found his voice; we always know when the postman’s nearly here now! He’s learnt to trust us and now knows that he’s part of a pack – in this instance - our pack.
When I showed interest in ‘Bear’ back in November 2020, I was told he was 5 or 6 yet, when he arrived in February 2021, his passport stated he was 8, so there’s proof you can teach an old dog new tricks, but don’t ever take it lightly. Taking on a street dog is no walk in the park, it’s one heck of a commitment. You will need a magnitude of determination, patience, time, resilience and understanding. And if, like me, you’re not sure or feel you’ve reached an impasse ask for help. Afterall, whatever has happened to them in their past isn’t their fault. Please keep going and it really will be worth all the hard work and effort. You won’t ever regret it.
Pippa, Luke and Bear