My grandparents had a Corgi. She was ‘broken’ when they got her – she loved children for their flavour and she bit all the hands that fed her at one time or another. Their love could not help her. I was five when she died, so I only remember her snarling at me behind a wire-mesh gate. My grandparents adopted their second dog from the family across the road who’d moved away. It was a black Labrador crossed with something that shrank her into a smaller body. A loveable dog with velvet ears and a sweet disposition who’d do anything for food.
My own family’s first dog arrived the year I turned fourteen. She grew into a neurotic, protective dog who was completely useless at a game of fetch and difficult to take out because she choked herself on her lead and barked at other dogs and strangers. In spite of that, in her own home, she was a beautiful dog and we adored her.
I’ve always loved dogs, but loving dogs doesn’t guarantee you’ll be a good owner. We did the best we could for our dog at the time but I still feel responsible for her anxiety. She was probably wired to be somewhat neurotic, but if we’d socialised her more as a puppy her life would have been easier. I took it upon myself to know dogs better. While I absorbed every dog related book or video I could find, I also volunteered at our local dogs’ shelter – it was here I learnt about their diversity.
I’m not talking about particular breeds or crossbreeds (though, the Corgi X Rottweiler was an interesting combination), I’m talking about personalities. Like people, they are complex and as much products of their DNA as their upbringing. Even after my induction at the shelter and my extensive reading, I had this delusion that volunteering would be full of pleasant strolls, slow-motion runs through the long grass, wagging tails and tongue-slobbery happiness. No. The reality is far more sobering. These dogs have multiple and varied histories. Occasionally, they’re surrendered because their owner was ill or had passed away, or surrendered by responsible people who’ve recognised they’ve picked the wrong pet for their lifestyle. Sadly, and all too often, they are saved from the street, suffering from different levels of ‘broken’. Most dogs have no known history, most are nameless and don’t come to you when called. At best they’re confused and at worst they’re dysfunctional – and that’s after they’ve passed their temperament tests.
I took a Staffordshire X for a long and exciting walk with all the sniffing (that is, we walked, she sniffed). We went up The Hill and around the grounds of our facility and she had such a good time, I decided from then onwards I’d take every dog I walked up The Hill. The next dog was a Poodle X Powder-puff. He stalled at the foot of The Hill with a face that said, ‘You’re not seriously going to take me up that, are you?’.
It seemed some dogs weren’t adventurous walkers. Some dogs would walk in any weather while others would cower at rain like it were made of acid. Some dogs were interested in possum trails, some dogs were more interested in fellow dogs while others preferred people. One day I took a dog out for a walk and she suddenly became fearful of me. To ease her distress, I handed the lead to an employee who’d come to my aid. ‘I don’t understand why she’s so upset!’
‘There’s something in your pocket.’ she said.
It was my treats’ tin. As I pulled the container out it rattled against my car keys and the dog cowered.
This dog had been beaten with chain.
It breaks your heart.
But in that heart break, in the knowledge there are people is this world too cruel to speak of, there are people who save dogs. People who adopt these disassociated canines and give them a new and good life. People who make these dogs better in their own time and at their own expense . Kind people who give these dogs a chance at ‘happy’ instead of ‘broken’.
Which brings me to my parents, and the curious case of Little Dog…