Tuesday, 1 October 2013
Rehoming a rescue dog – the highs and lows
As many of you will remember veterinary surgeon Heather Bacon and veterinary nurse Hayley Walters spent their annual leave in a dog rescue shelter in Nakom Phanom in Thailand earlier this year. They were helping to treat over 2,000 dogs that had been rescued from the meat trade industry and were being illegally transported to Vietnam.
The conditions in the shelter were harrowing with many dogs dying of distemper, parvo virus and, more sadly, starvation as competition for food was fierce.Many dogs that had collapsed from starvation were hospitalised and it was whilst treating the sick dogs in the hospital that Heather and Hayley met two little dogs, which they would eventually bring back to Scotland, they named Mothi and Stewart.
Rescue dogs need us. There are more dogs in shelters than there are people who want dogs. And dogs are sent to shelters for a whole variety of reasons; unwanted puppies, strays roaming the streets, relationship break ups, new baby arrivals, behavioural problems, financial reasons…there are countless explanations of why a dog might end up sitting in a concrete kennel waiting to be part of a family again. It is naïve to think that when you rehome a rescue dog it will slip seamlessly into your life and require very little effort from you to make it feel loved and secure. These dogs can come with a whole host of behavioural problems that may have been previously unnoticed by the kennel staff and Stewart was no different!With a happy disposition and an incredible ability to get every dog and human he meets to like him, Stewart is a joy to own and walk. He is bomb proof. Having grown up on the streets of Thailand, but I suspect semi owned as he loves people, Stewart was exposed to an enormous array of situations and at a very young age. He shows no fear of loud noises, rumbling lorries, motorbikes, big dogs bounding towards him, children, gangs of people, cats etc (although he is a bit wary of donkeys!) so in one respect he is a dream dog. He is also very clever and quick to learn in training sessions, probably as a result of coming from a long line of quick and clever dogs that survived on the streets for long enough to reproduce. ‘Be fast or you won’t last!’ However what he isn’t…. is confident that he won’t be abandoned again and Stewart suffers from separation anxiety. This manifests itself mainly as crying and howling and, more expensively, chewing. Mostly my flat door but he’s had other things as well. This is of course a massive inconvenience to me as it means I will have to eventually pay for the door to be repaired and I am barely able to go out without him but that is not the point. The point is this little dog suffers terribly every time I leave him alone, even if it is just for 5 minutes.
When we take on a rescue dog we must appreciate that they had a whole life before us and we must take the time to understand WHY they do what they do that we find so undesirable. Whether it be aggression toward other dogs, food guarding, howling, door chewing, house soiling, growling at children, carpet digging or constant barking there WILL be a reason for it. As the new owner it is up to us to seek professional help from a veterinary surgeon and/or a canine behaviourist and get these problems treated. It takes time, consistency and hard work and it is often frustrating but it WILL get better if you persevere.Getting a puppy from a good breeder is always a safer option. You know the dog’s history, the parent’s history, you know how big it will get, what characteristics to expect and you can mould it to exactly how you want it to be. If you get a rescue dog from a shelter then you potentially open yourself up to a lot of extra work. But if you go into rescuing a dog with your eyes wide open, a lot of patience, love and an understanding that many of these dogs are damaged, then you will be more prepared and you will have done a wonderful thing. Rescue dogs make the best pets because they, as anthropomorphic as I’m going to sound, are always that little bit more grateful to be part of a family again.