18 years ago this evening I picked up my first dog that was truly my own.
He was technically a rescue for complicated reasons I can’t go into, but he was a very young puppy. I have very strong feelings about buying puppies and about the need to take in adult dogs who don’t have a home and family to love them through no fault of their own. So Guinness – as I named him – was the only puppy I really remember us having.
Our very first family dog was a puppy about the same time I was a “human puppy” – we grew up together, so she was my litter mate and I would refer to her as my sister. It left me with a lifelong passion for dogs and quite a few holes in my clothing and shoes whilst she teethed.
Guinness was my baby though. He held – and still holds – a very special place in my heart. He was loving and complicated, crazy and gentle. He drove me to despair in his very long teething phase, chewing items I didn’t know a dog would tackle. He cost me rather a lot of money in the process, fixing and replacing during the maelstrom caused by my very own Black Hole exploding into my life on Bonfire Night all those years ago. I still miss him even though it’s more than 2 years since I said goodbye and kissed the furry dip between his eyes one last time…
Of course the inimitable Marley quickly filled the Labrador-shaped hole in my life. He’s so different to Guinness there was never any danger of replacing him, they’re each endearing and exasperating in their own individual way! It took time to settle in together, rehoming an adult dog with a past requires masses of time, patience and work and although I enjoy the reward of it, it’s not for everyone. For every behavioural glitch that had to be worked through, there was a bonus to compensate. No toilet training, fewer commands to learn, no teething chewing.
I did try to foster a beautiful abandoned dog over a year ago. But one of Marley’s insecurities means that dogs on his own territory is something he struggles to cope with and makes him stressed and difficult. It was clear that it wasn’t the right time to introduce another dog to our household and another adult male might be the wrong type. So the lovely lurcher I’d started to fall in love with, even though he wasn’t even meant to stay with us forever, had to go to an experienced rescue centre before Marley got really upset. I cried for days. I know he went to a nice family very soon. But those eyes still haunt me.
They say the eyes are the window of the soul. When the language between friends can only be expressed through those eyes, they can tell you so much – if only you are willing to listen. It breaks my heart over and over to see dogs who have stories written on their faces of humans who let them down, who hurt them, who just didn’t take the time to think before taking them into their lives and then chucking them out again when it didn’t work. Of those others who wonder where their elderly owners went so suddenly. Who wonder why no one speaks their language and yet demand they learn a confusing and bitter tongue.
If it was down to me – and Marley would tolerate it – I’d have several more rescues in my life. There is no end to the dogs that need good homes. With our 3-legged rescue collie nearing the last part of her life though it was clear that whilst Marley is a different dog to the one we took on, who loves playing with other dogs providing they aren’t aggressive or very timid, it would be hard to find another rescue to keep him company whose own set of problems wouldn’t be exacerbated by Marley’s. Once a rescue has been let down, you owe it to them to give them the best second chance they deserve. Putting them in a house with a dog who won’t share toys or make them welcome isn’t really the kind of chance they need.
I’d resigned myself to a future of having just one dog for as long as Marley lives. He’s great fun and good company; I’m lucky to have him. But then my mum decided she really did want another dog whilst we still have Badger here in her old age and moreover she was taken with the Welsh Sheepdogs that our neighbours had just bred. So this week, Jess came into our lives just as Guinness did half my lifetime ago.
Just as Beth our old collie cross acted as nanny to Guinness, Badger our old Border Collie has been puppy-sitting Jess.
Jess has been rushing around the yard in the wet fallen November leaves like Guinness used to.
She’s been wearing the same little quilted lamb coat we popped onto Guinny if we had to work outside for a bit when the wind is chilly – turning a puppy into a super-hero by the addition of a little blue cape. Moving everything out of reach before puppy teeth can sink into them, eyeing up everything as a potential choking hazard or cliff that an adventuring pup can fall off.
Trying not to trip over unexpected small bodies in the kitchen when the puppy battery suddenly runs out mid-play session.
Arranging playdates, scheduling trips to the surgery for vaccinations and check ups, starting the educational marathon that never really ends with dogs, starting the 8-12 week socialisation period that is so vital to a well-balanced adult.
Marley tolerates a baby dog better; she isn’t a threat to him. If he growls when he’s had enough she knows to be submissive for a few seconds and then bounces back to tease him again. She’s not frightened of his very vocal play behaviour unlike adult dogs who get confused by his blood-curdling growling that accompanies the frantically wagging tail and slink away in case they get hurt. Marley doesn’t understand – and at 6 years old can’t relearn – not to vocalise aggressively when he plays games and so sometimes he ends up provoking dominant dogs and scaring timid ones. I can’t unteach him behaviours he learned in the 4 years of his life; we’ve worked on some things but others are just part of him and he can’t help it.
Jess however is learning to play with him on his terms and still somehow get what she wants. It’s working out very well and I hope they will be really good friends once she’s grown up. Already Marley has met his match with a tiny dog that is relentlessly cheerful in the face of his possessive behaviour over toys and doesn’t fight fire with fire but simply flutters her eyelashes before going in for the kill!
It’s all so familiar and yet so long ago. I still wish I’d got room for a rescue dog to love. But in the meantime, we’re lucky to have this small baby dog burst into our lives like a fluffy blue-eyed shooting star this time instead of a chocolate-eyed Black Hole.
Same little firework though!