Tag Archives: rescue animals

Love in small doses

This week, somebody suggested I was an unfeeling soul for being able to volunteer at the refuge without coming home with a dog a trip. It actually made me quite sad that they thought that way. But I do understand it. I think it’s most people’s biggest fear if they volunteer at an animal refuge – that they will come home with an animal they don’t really want, just because some beagle turned on the puppy dog eyes, or some lab cross rolled on its back to have its tummy tickled.

When I thought about it, it reminded me that once, long ago, a guy I knew in another life said I would never have my own animals – they’d always be found ones. I don’t know why he thought that, or how he knew. He was right though. I wonder if I have always been this way?

And then I thought about the fact that many people end up choosing careers where they take on something for a short period of time, care as best they can, then have to let go – be they teachers or nurses, psychologists or child minders. And I think people who choose careers like this are actually well prepared for working in a refuge.

It’s a bit like a GCSE class. You get thrown this motley assortment of hormonal teenagers. There are odd-bods, nervy ones, weird ones, angry ones, aggressive ones, sweet ones and sad ones. You see them two or three hours a week. And you build up this bizarre but incredible relationship over two years. You see them succeed. You see them fail. You see them implode from time to time, and you see them explode rather more frequently. At first, you don’t know their names, especially if they are new to you, but the ones with personality soon make their presence felt. Over the first few weeks, you work out which ones are easy to connect to, and then you work out which ones are ten kinds of trouble and need very firm boundaries. But, by and large, you come to love them all.

The sad ones are the toughest, as they are often quiet and subdued. There are children with all kinds of backgrounds that you can’t comprehend. But when you make a connection to them, if you manage to, it’s amazing. These are the troubled ones you remember the most. The ones that you end up wishing you could give a better life to, or at least a glance into the future to know that things will be okay.

The thing is, though, you have to let go. You have to take a breath as they come to the end of their time with you, and you let them go. You know that in all likelihood, you’ll not see most of them again. You know that even though they are all very special to you, they aren’t your children. And you get good at letting them go. Well, you get used to it. I don’t think there are many times I’ve not seen my fifth year leavers and had a little cry because they’re not mine any more. If you’re lucky, they give you presents. If you’re good at what you do, they leave with results that will take them into the future. And you are happy they are successful.

Walking refuge dogs is a bit like that. You know they aren’t yours. You build up this bond in a short period of time, but you know (or you hope) that it is a finite bond and that they will soon leave you. You don’t know them by name at first – just the unusual ones – but soon you know them. Their success is a joy for you. And soon, you get to know them. You know which ones are headstrong and which ones are jokers. You know which ones are depressed and which ones need a bit of support. You want to spend all your time with the lovelies, but know you need to spend your time with the tough ones. You know which ones will be successful and which ones are going to struggle beyond the institution.

But this reminds me of my first week on teaching practice. We spent a week in a primary school – just to see what was going on there. I was in a primary right behind the mostly derelict Park Hill estate in Sheffield. This expansive Brutalist block of flats towered over everything and to say it was depressing was an understatement. Deprivation and poverty everywhere. I was in with the seven-year-old students all week. I knew then that I could never be a primary school teacher because I’d end up wanting to take every single child home with me. 25 hours of time with 30 students all year, and those bonds would be impossible to break. I’d be smuggling them out in my pockets.

That and primary school children are like a herd of cats. Perhaps not so cunning. A herd of guinea pigs.

At secondary level, you only see students for three to four hours in core subjects. That’s enough time to get to know them, but not enough time to either want to commit an act of murder, or want to take them home. Even so, you still get the odd one who you form this heart-wrenching bond with, and it can be very difficult to let go. Sometimes, you go above and beyond your usual role just to help them out or give them a hand. In my first GCSE class, there was a boy called Matt. He was in with all these crazy lunatics – old habits of giving ‘sink’ classes to new teachers, I’m afraid. I loved all those crazy lunatics by the end of the course (and I can still remember who sat where, and the funny little stories they used to tell me) but Matt was different. He was quiet, respectful, hard-working. He was every teacher’s dream student. And because it took all my time to get all the other Anthonys and Phils and Dawns to pull in the same direction, I never got any time with Matt. I ended up giving him and a couple of other willing volunteers extra classes after school (years before league tables – now everyone is expected to teach after-hours crammer revision classes in English!!) Matt got a C, went to Preston College and now he is a computer engineer. God love him.

And you get refuge dogs like that – the ones that you could easily walk two hours without a pull or a problem. Happy dogs, happy to be with you.

But then you get the ones that are a little tougher. In my first class, alongside my lovely Matt, there was another Matt. He was absent a lot, tall, looked like he was about 27, not 14. He’d been arrested a couple of times on drugs charges and was threatened with young offenders centres. In spite of all this, he was smart and fragile and he reminded me a lot of guys I knew. Sure, he was hard to handle. Many people would just have written him off as a lost cause.

But teachers of teenagers are often (not always!) believers in St Jude, patron saint of lost causes. And whether league tables forbid you from writing difficult teenagers off, or whether you are driven by some inner instinct to do your very best by them in that short time you have, secondary school teachers are often very good at doing that – giving as much as you can (and then a bit) and then letting go when it’s time. It’s your job.

It’s probably why I enjoy walking the dogs – and it’s fair to say I have been doing as much as I can recently. It’s been a welcome distraction, and as a big-hearted lady said yesterday, dogs can’t say anything offensive to you or upset you. It’s true. In that, they differ from teenagers. But you can only do your best. You can give what you can. And yes, there are those who break your heart for a million different reasons, but at the same time, you know you’re just sharing in these creatures’ lives for a little, be they teenagers or other animals.

Will there be dogs that I want to bring home?


Will there be dogs who make me sad they are here?

Of course.

You just have to have faith that they find a future, that their future makes up in some small way for having had a period without a family of their own in their lives, that you can make a difference, even if it is only a little one.

This is my current love. He is called Milord (really!) and he is just gorgeous. Nervous, too distressed to walk. Just wants loves and cuddles.

p1200416The good thing is that dogs are often quickly rehomed. The bad thing is that often they are the cute, clean, little ones. Big black dog syndrome is a massive problem. Sad to think that nervous, neurotic, barky Heston would probably be at the SPA for years rather than weeks.

If you’d like a big pony, can I recommend Iko?

1899911_10203139665229803_2143283914_nLovely big fella. Did an all four feet off the ground jump for joy when I got him out of his crate on Monday. You’d think that would be scary, but it isn’t.

There are plenty of rehomings as well.

Yesterday, I saw that Haribo, a gorgeous collie, Cooky, Vicky and Galaxie have been rehomed. Haribo came in on the 30th January. That makes it a grand total of 41 days at the refuge.

img_4911A friend and I walked Galaxie when she was in the fourrières (the pound for strays) which is also based on the same site as the refuge. Dogs must stay here for a period of time whilst chips and tattoos are investigated, and owners are sought. If they aren’t claimed in the requisite time, they pass into the refuge to be rehomed. Galaxie came in on the 21st of February, making her stay one of 21 days.

But then there are dogs like Gecko and Darex, beautiful, beautiful dogs, cursed with the big black dog label. Gecko has been in the refuge for most of his life.

gecko10Still, that’s not to say they don’t find homes. Recently, Flavio, a dog who’d been in the refuge for most of his four years, found a home. I confess I wept with joy when I read that he’d been rehomed. That’s how it often goes – they leave without fanfare and without fuss. One day you’re walking them (I walked Haribo last Friday for the fourth time) and the next, there’s a new dog in their place. No leavers do for dogs in the refuge, I’m afraid.

Anyway, if you have got a spare couple of hours and you can get past your thoughts that you’d just want to bring all the dogs home, pop down to your local refuge. I can only speak for the refuge in Mornac when I say the dogs are happy to see you, and there might be a lot of barking, but hey, that’s what dogs do. You’ve got to take a deep breath and look past the circumstances that hold them back, only see what they can become and how you can help them do that. And then when you have days like today, you look on the website and you see familiar faces who have been rehomed, as I have today, it really does make the world feel like a whole lot brighter place.

If you are interested in any of the dogs at the Refuge de l’Angoumois in Angoulême, feel free to contact the refuge directly. I won’t be sad if a few dogs are missing next week because they’ve got new homes. I promise.


Pedigree dogs

Now Saffy and Tilly have settled in a little more, I’m left thinking a little bit about how wonderful the Moll is. She’s sitting looking at me right now, so I’ve got owner-guilt. Molly’s a Bassetts… Allsorts! She’s probably a bit ridgebacky, a bit bully, a bit of lots of other things. She’s such a kind dog, and such a caring dog. She’s very aware of her size and she’s very, very gentle. She is, however, totally spoilt where as it’s clear Saffy and Tilly know their place, sitting in their baskets and staying there. Probably as much comfort as anything else – it must smell of home.

It’s clear they have been loved – they’re both a little plump, though Saffy’s through illness – but as to what’s happened recently, I don’t know. Lack of money, no doubt, rather than lack of care. Both have fleas and ear infections and conjunctivitis. They’ve been around the world. Saffy seems to have come from Lancashire, then gone to Florida then come to France. Tilly was bought in America and then has come to France.

It’s hard not to be judgmental – especially when it’s animals. I know I’d be upset if I found a child at school who’d been coming to school with nits and ear infections and eye infections, but of course it’s cheaper to treat children than dogs. But that brings me to the whole ‘pedigree’ issue.

Apparently, although I’d missed it, the Hope Association had two dogs named Scruffy and Alex. Scruffy is such a sad name for a dog! They were cross-breeds, and it was apparently a lot harder to shift them than these two lovely dogs. Mutts don’t have the same appeal.

Yet, having done some writing for Defra and the Kennel Club, I’m intensely aware of the difficulties of a ‘pure-breed’ dog and would rather, if honest, have a cross-breed Moll. Although we had a pure-breed spaniel, Ticker, a.k.a Little Lady Lovelace, she had all the typical spaniel problems – cataracts, deafness, eczema, dermatitis. My Nana had Westies, first Cracker, then Chip, before she adopted my uncle Geoff’s very lively American spaniel.  Westies are fraught with leg and hip problems.

I have loved the dogs in my life – as Steve in his – his family are lovers of Alsatians – again, associated with mental illnesses rather than physical ones, and needing a good breeder.

I understand why, if you have working dogs, you might want a breed dog. Also, if you’ve got history with a breed, you want to keep that history going. Some breeds are ‘perfect’ for a particular situation or family.

BUT… they just aren’t as healthy as a mutt! Neither my mutt cat or our mutt dog has had problems caused by their breeding – and I for one am completely torn about where I stand on animal husbandry. On the one hand, Tilly, like Sunny – my Nana’s American Spaniel – is a beautiful cuddly (if smelly at the moment!!) teddy bear; on the other, she’s already got ear infections and conjunctivitis. It’s a shame. Breed dogs are a lot of hard work, and unscrupulous breeders should be shot (A little harsh, I know!) – my friend Carlo loves grey Staffies, but he’s trying to breed Earl, his stud staffie, and can’t find any breeding females who’ve been tested for genetic diseases!! All the breeders are really laissez-faire about the pups they bring into the world, and then charge £800 for! At the same time, I think of his older female, Macy, who is constantly ill. He’s got to sell his car to pay for her next bit of treatment. She’s constantly at the vet’s with non-life-threatening illnesses – and it’s just a shame. She’s a beautiful dog, but she’s an expensive one.

So… if you’re going to buy or adopt a breed dog, I’d suggest you need to have enough cash to keep them healthy and that you do thorough research and even blood tests on their parents. And, spare a thought for the Mutt. Scruffy, Alex and Molly might not be the most cute looking animals, but what mutts lack in looks, they make up for in health and happiness and loyalty. And when I say cross-breed, I don’t mean labradoodles or cockapoos or any other weird combination!!

Our Moll Heinz 57 is a credit to mixed parentage! But, God bless all dogs that need a home, and God grant them happiness and health and people who love them. A dog can make us a better person. It teaches us to care, to be altruistic, to think of others’ needs, to be selfless. It teaches us about loyalty and unconditional love. It teaches us to be responsible and we can often exhibit love for an animal in ways we British can’t show for other people. I think of the kisses and cuddles Jake and Steve lavish on the dogs, and in a way, it’s much easier to love a dog than a person! It teaches us to forgive too. I might not be as forgiving of Jake if he peed on the kitchen floor – or as understanding!! I think sometimes the way we love animals should be the way we love people too…

We put them first, we care about them, we brush them, we tend to them. They bring us intense happiness, and you can never be really cross at them, even if they chew your shoes. I think all families are improved by a dog!

Des pissenlits

So Steve has finally started packing. Unlike my military-style, highly-organised packing, he’s opted for the more laissez-faire approach. I’m now up to about 100 wine boxes, all labelled, all clearly identifiable, all helpfully sorted into room-by-room groups. I may colour code them, but I think that may be too much. Steve, however, has gone for the more ad-hoc approach of finding random-sized boxes of varying strengths, styles and shape, and he’s filling them with whatever he comes across. This may not help very much with my deciding where everything is likely to go, but it will help create an exact replica of his disorganised home. I, for instance, have packed CDs with CDs, make up with make up, handbags with handbags. He’s gone for the roman coins with shoelaces with history books with lead fishing weights. It’s novel. I’ll give him that. To give him credit, it makes sense to him. Quite why he wants to bring two small safes with him is beyond me. Both of them can be carried off to be smashed elsewhere, one of them has a single-tumbler lock and the other doesn’t lock (or shut) at all. In fact, the most use they’ve been is for our baby-sitting rescue cat to hide in.

The rescue cat has a story of its own, and we’re deeply affectionate about it (apart from Jake who seems to think the cat hates him with a passion)

Some time last summer, Jake and his friend ‘found’ a kitten under a hedge and brought it down for our perusal.

“It’s dead.” Steve said, unemotional as ever. The friend gave a look of abject horror.

“Dead?!” and the kitten was all set to be launched into space which would definitely have finished it off for good. Luckily, it gave a little move just in time, Steve realised his error, ran to its rescue and relieved the young boy of his fear that he may indeed be holding a dead animal. He put it in a box and waited for me to get home, having tried to tempt it with some milk and then some water. If Jake hadn’t found it, it’d be dead. If Steve hadn’t put it in a shady spot and fed it a little liquid, likewise.

Luckily, I have charm where animals are concerned. I’ve rescued a hamster, a gerbil, several fish and my own cat, Basil, from several near-death escapades. I hand-fed Basil New Covent Garden chicken soup when he was very poorly, and I know how to sort a cat out. Poor baby kitten was covered in fleas, lice, and most disconcerting, fly eggs and maggots, which had already begun to eat him. I washed him down and raced him to the RSPCA in Salford. This is an experience in itself. There was no apparent way in, as it has to be kept under constant lockdown from the nearby druggies, and it was operating on a three-door policy, where you went through one, were vetted, then went through another. Honestly, it was worse than airport security!

There was a chavvy looking bloke in there, with, yes, a Staffie and its pups. The Staffie had killed one, and they were worried it would kill another. Probably saw the life its children would lead and decided to put them out of their misery. Leather collars with metal spikes on, hanging around offies looking menacing, and being paraded as a menace when you’re really a sweetheart dog must be enough to drive any mother to consider euthanasia. Anyway, the vet took a look and then it was my turn, with my little shoebox with the recently-named ‘Ollie’, partly in honour of Oliver Twist, the most literary foundling I could think of, partly in honour of having a sound-alike to ‘Molly’. Steve had suggested ‘Arfur’ (‘Arf-Alive) but I like to bestow literary names upon my cats, in the best T.S. Eliot style.

I was worried Ollie had broken back legs, but it was just that he was so weak he couldn’t hold them properly. And the vet gave me some rehydration salts and sent me on my way.

Ollie had to be fed the fluid with a 2ml syringe. I sponged him down, put him in the airing cupboard, kept him warm, wiped his bum, knowing that baby cats need a mummy cat’s tongue on their arse to make them wee, apparently. What  a job. No wonder I’m not maternal. And I’m not even a cat. I gave him 2ml every hour, kept him clean, powdered him with gentle flea powder, and cleaned his eyes, which were glued shut with pus and snot.

Next day, he was still sniffing and sneezing. I knew the vet had missed something. Ollie had cat flu. He had to have. I took him to my vet, Michael, who is an adorable man. He’s so gentle and kind – he’s exactly what you’d want in a vet. And he agreed. Cat flu. Probably wouldn’t survive the night. Didn’t even know if he was old enough for anti-biotics. I thought he was about 6 weeks old, but in retrospect, he was probably only 2 or 3. So I paid up a princely sum for anti-biotics, cat milk, de-fleaing drops, and took him home to start the lengthy process of bringing him back to health.

The first two days, he didn’t move at all. He barely woke up when I was feeding him, and he was not even moving an inch during the day, just sleeping face down on Basil’s old cat cushion. I was convinced he would make it, despite what the vet said. I made another couple of trips to pick up more anti-biotics, and have check-ups, but it didn’t bode well.

Then he did a little poo.

Ollie, a couple of days later

All was beginning to look a little better. He was beginning to move from 2 ml to a 5 ml syringe, and he moved a little bit on the Thursday. He was a little cleaner, and he managed to get one eye open. Over the next week, he began to lap milk from a saucer, coaxed by me moving the syringe nearer and nearer to it. And he began to sit up and look more alive than dead. I went through many syringes, many towels, many cotton wool pads and cotton wool buds that week.

He began to move about a bit, and was kind of nicknamed Wobbly Bob. I don’t know why people who are wobbly get called Bob, but so it is. So Ollie became Ollie-Bob, and occasionally Bob Sagat (via Bob Seger!) and he began to get a lot more lively, although still very, very fragile!

Ollie looking a little bewildered

And he was beginning to follow Molly about, looking up to her like a surrogate mother. She loved it, and it made me feel a little bit sad that she’d been spayed, since she would have made an excellent mum! She was incredibly patient with him, though excited by the new addition to the family, never jealous of the time we spent with him. He even took to copying her mannerisms!

Molly teaching Ollie her best moves

He really was unbelievably small and wobbly. But one night, Ollie crept into Moll’s basket and cuddled up, and she loved it. It was like she was made to be cuddled up to by small animals. She wouldn’t move, and even when we went up to bed, she didn’t come with us, and that never happens. She always comes up to bed!

Moll's best friend

Not long after, my sister, Abi, had professed a desire to have Ollie. On one condition. He had to have a new name. My brother-in-law insisted he should be called Clint, after his film star hero (I assume!) and Ollie had to go. Not a problem. We’d come to realise, confirmed by my vet, that Clint was deaf, so Clint it was. Clint Horan. More Clint Boon than Eastwood. And he’s since lived up to the Clint Boon/Eastwood moniker by becoming a complete Manc hoodlum claw-slinging terror-mongering maniac. Now he’s in full-grown kitten hood, and although he walks around with his head on one side a bit, due to his early cat flu, and he’s balance-inept, and he’s unable to meow in any other way than making a Sweep-like squeak, we love him completely.

He’s come to rule my sister’s house. He breaks draining boards, knocks things over, terrorises anyone without shoes on and will willingly hang from you if you walk past.

Whilst we’ve been babysitting Clint, he’s managed to worm his way back into Moll’s heart, and was cuddled up next to her this morning, albeit with her under the duvet, and him on top. He eats her dog biscuits, she leaves his food untouched. He steals her bed, she sleeps in a corner. She sniffs him, he bites her head. But they’ve had this ongoing game of kiss-chase going on for days, and we’re really going to miss him when he’s gone. Still, whilst he might play well with Molly, Basil’s having none of it, since Clint seemed to think Basil was some kind of cat guru and has spent the last 4 days following him about everywhere in the house, trying to do exactly what Basil is doing, and desperate to play. But Basil is stately, now, and so he’s just put up with him, desperately trying to get some proper sleep. As if I won’t have enough animals with me without our little Clinton.