We had been talking about getting another dog for a while as we thought it would be great for Barney, so we decided to rescue a dog, rather than buying a puppy. I looked for a long time on lots of rescue sites and we were even registered with the Border Terrier Welfare, but unfortunately many dogs cannot be re-homed where dogs are present already.
I learned about the Wild at Heart Foundation via Instagram and had a look at their website, as well as rescuing and re-homing stray dogs from around the world, they also fund and support animal welfare projects, I was particularly interested to read about their aim to reduce the world’s 600 million (!) stray dog population through education and neutering. I believe this could be the way forward to help reduce the plight of so many dogs who are treated terribly, around the world, in awful conditions and with little hope of being rescued.
I spotted Sandy (was Scarlet), a one year old terrier cross in Cyprus, with the prettiest face you have ever seen (OK, I am biased). I thought that she would have been re-homed already, but contacted the WaHF office, to learn some more of Sandy’s situation and found out that she was still available. So we started the process and it didn’t take long before we had a date for Sandy’s arrival at Gatwick Airport.
It was a beautiful sunny evening, on Sunday 8 May 2016, and we waited a long time at the collection area for Sandy to come through customs. Having been in her crate for around 8 hours, with a long journey from Cyprus, she was extremely scared, she didn’t want to come out of the crate. When we managed to get her out and over to a grassy area, she would have run away, had we not had a slip lead with us, I’m not sure I have ever experienced such a scared dog before, it was heartbreaking to see her shaking in fear of everything and everyone.
I was fully prepared on her first night, to even sleep near Sandy so we could settle her in straight away. I had a crate ready for her at home, as Barney sleeps in his and we planned to train Sandy to sleep in one too, but had been advised that she wouldn’t like. However, once we got home Sandy backed herself into the crate and stayed there for the next few days, not eating, drinking or socialising in any way. She was completely shut down and it broke my heart.
We moved her crate into the kitchen and over the next few days, I would move about as normal, avoiding eye contact with her and mainly let her settle in her own time. I sat in front of her crate just talking to her quietly, and gradually she started to eat from my hand.
After a week, she finally had a drink of her own accord (previously i had been dripping it into her mouth!). I was very worried about Sandy and was in constant contact with WaHF, who reassured me and offered advice, we quickly realised that this was going to be a long, slow process and we would have to be very patient, kind and gentle with her.
Everything scared her, noise of any kind, people of any kind, sudden movement, traffic, even my husband! As time went on she started to settle in our home, she found her ‘safe’ spots which she would retreat to whenever she was scared, we transitioned her over to a raw diet and watched her fill out, she learnt to sleep at night in her crate and happily go in it. We all got into a new routine. Sandy is a clever girl and quickly picked up ‘sit’, ‘lie down’ and ‘drop it’, and around the house, she started to become more confident. After about 3 months she started to initiate play with Barney, who up to this point had just let Sandy find her place and feel more settled. It was, and still is, a real joy to see them play together, this is exactly what we had hoped for when we decided to get another dog.
Being a rescue dog, we had totally expected that Sandy would be nervous and she still is terribly anxious around any new people, or traffic and noise but, strangely, not bothered by fireworks at all!
I have tried everything I could think of, sought advice and searched the internet to help with her nervousness and anxiety. These are all of the suggestions I found and tried;
- adaptil collar and diffuser,
- calming tablets from the vet,
- calming music,
- giving her carbs an hour after her food to help the serotonin reach her brain,
- counter conditioning with treats (but when she’s really scared she won’t take treats),
- essential oils,
- cuddle heat/heart beat toy,
- mental and physical exercise,
- chewing type toys, and
- Dorwest herbal treatments
The ones that we still use, and I believe have really helped Sandy, are the Dorwest herbal treatments, thundershirt, calming music, and of course, time. Time for Sandy to start to feel safe, to start to trust us and to feel loved.
Around October, our dog walker started the process of gaining Sandy’s trust, and in January of this year, I took her on her first walk from our house, rather than driving to a local park, since then we have watched her confidence grow and grow. Sandy now goes out for walks with our dog walker without me being there. We had our first weekend away in March without the dogs, they stayed with the dog walker, her recall is great, Sandy’s I mean! (unless there are squirrels or rabbits about, but she does return to us eventually!). She now goes up to my husband and takes treats without backing away immediately and she is becoming more confident around other dogs, these are all huge steps for Sandy.
She is still nervous of new people coming to the house, for the ones that she has seen a few times, she will now stay in the same room as them, and eventually take a treat. There is no visible shaking any more.
Her lead walking is improving all the time, now she will walk past people, or sit and wait for them to pass. She is still nervous of prams, trolley cases, buses and small children however we continue to work with her on this.
Did I ever think we had made a big mistake? Did I ever think we had taken on too much and we couldn’t help Sandy? Did I ever think that we should return Sandy to WaHF? The answer is yes, I did, on several occasions, but I knew we couldn’t give up on her.
Just because she wasn’t the ‘perfect’ dog.
I believed that returning her to WaHF to find another family would set her back tremendously, I couldn’t do that and I was convinced that, over time, Sandy would get there, we would all get there, together.
So when Sandy first came and snuggled next to me, voluntarily, my heart melted, when she first ran up to me with her tail wagging so happy to see me, my heart melted, when Sandy and Barney decided they wanted to sleep in the same crate together, my heart melted. Seeing Sandy dozing next to my husband on the sofa and when she jumps up in the morning and literally hugs me, my heart melts, every time.
A rescue dog might not be the easy option to owning a dog (and it really isn’t sometimes), and saving one dog will not change the world, but for that one dog, the world will change forever.
They say that time is the greatest healer, and it is, alongside love and we couldn’t love Sandy any more.
Sandy is great running behind a mountain bike!