Thursday, 27 March 2014

Pack instinct

Not an especially great photo, but this is the mob that greets me
whenever I come home. Even if my wife or whatever offspring are still in
residence (two out of three at the moment) fail to notice my return
because Dad coming home's just part of the daily routine, this lot know
the second my car pulls up on the drive, and are unfailing and,
sometimes, overbearing in the enthusiasm of their greeting.

The pretty face at the bottom with the bronze eyebrows is Lilly. At
almost three, she's the only one that's not a rescue; she's KC
registered with a proper pedigree and everything. But we don't hold that
against her. We brought her as a pup from a reputable breeder known to
our family, before we'd got involved in this whole rescue thing. I think
she'll probably be the last non-rescue dog we ever have. In fact, I know
she will. She's very much a "daddy's girl" and I love her to bits.

I should make honourable mention of her mum, Jazz; I've written about
her here before. She was beautiful, and only with us briefly, but I
still miss her terribly. Loosing Jazz so suddenly and unexpectedly was
the single catalyst that threw us into our initial involvement with the

The big black beast above Lilly is Buster. At eleven, he's the old man
of the group. He was our first "failed foster". Old at nine years when
he came into rescue, and with an unfortunate habit of nipping bums, the
Rescue wasn't sure they could find somebody to foster him, let alone
ever find him a forever home. I fell in love with his size and his
presence, and his big, silly, toothy grin and, after he nipped my
backside the once in greeting and then promised never to do it again,
agreed we'd foster him.

The agreement came as the conclusion to a long evening's coffee and
conversation one night in Bidford where I'd tried to explain to my wife
Nikki and the Rescue's chairman Linda how, whilst I greatly admired her
work and wished her well, we were personally terribly unsuited to this
fostering lark. Truth be told, I always knew he'd be coming to stay. We
were once again back to our normal state, a two dog household.

I thought it would stop there. But no, I was obviously wrong.

Over on the far left is Boo. He came to us on October 26th, not
coincidently my youngest son's birthday, and is our only non-GSD. He's
just shy of two years old now, and is an affectionate, clever, agile
little rogue quite capable of holding his own in our boisterous
household. On that weekend, a year ago last October, the Rescue was
supposed to be meeting a transport and picking him up along with a small
group of other pups from a place called South Mimms, a little north of
London. Linda was supposed to be collecting them but damaged her foot a
day or two before and was unable to drive. Nobody else volunteered and
when it became evident nobody would and things were growing desperate,
we stepped forward.

I think, in retrospect, this was the tipping point of the escalation of
our involvement with the Rescue, and what led us to here.

By the time we'd driven from South Mimms to the Rescue's base in
Bideford, this little blonde ball of fluff and cuteness had broken free
of the others and climbed over onto the back-seat and into Sam's lap.
Sam had given up his birthday to trek the width of the country with us
to help the Rescue out. He decided that Boo was his price for doing so.
Suddenly we were, for the first time, a three dog household.

The handsome black and tan over on the far right is Jack. He's ball
crazy, which is something I find irresistible in a dog. About fourteen
months old, he was born in the Rescue, our having taken his mum in and
discovering she was expecting pups. Once the pups were whelped, he came
to us to foster. Truth be told, the whole thing had the inevitability of
watching a train wreck in slow motion. In this case it was my wife, Nik,
who went all gooey-eyed at the mention of puppies, and I was powerless
to turn the locomotive aside.

But like I said, Jack plays a mean game of ball. That, to my mind,
forgives everything.

Finally, the chap led out languorously on the floor there is our Bear.
He came to us as an emergency foster. The typical scenario, out of time
at the pound and about to be put to sleep unless they could find
somebody to take him. He'd been picked up as a stray in the Coventry
area, microchip traced back to rented accommodation that said they knew
nothing about him, and that was that.

He stank, his lovely fancy coat was filthy, unspeakably begrimed, matted
and tangled. He was terribly baffled and confused and just so, so sad;
almost but not quiet defeated from his protracted time in the pound. His
age was unknown but elderly; cloudy eyes, old teeth and stiff in his
joints. Homing old dogs is often hard, so the Rescue initially
considered putting him into permanent foster.

He cleaned up well. The coat took a lot of work and the assistance of a
professional groomer. He settled seamlessly into our existing pack, and
within a week or two the inevitable happened, and I caved in to (this
time my daughter's) pressure and said he could stay. One more didn't
seem to make much difference by that point.

Cards on table, I never wanted to get into this fostering game, I was
very aware of the risks. I have "over-commitment issues" with almost
everything I do. Nik's argument was "You have your sailing, why can't I
have my own interest" which is fine and fair, except I don't expect
Nikki to sail my boats for me. But it is what it is, and I wouldn't be
without any of them.

After Bear though, I did draw a line. It was clear that if we didn't
start rehoming the dogs we took into foster, we were either going to
have to stop taking them or were going to have to move the kids out to
make more room. Truth be told, that line should've been two dogs ago,
but the idea of life without Jack or Bear is patently ridiculous.

So we started moving them on. Some were much harder than others, none
have been easy to part with, and there have been a few very, very near
misses that almost stayed. But no more failures. I've lost count of the
dogs we've fostered and rehomed, though if pushed could name them all,
tell you the story behind each, tell you which ones played ball, which
were particularly treat focused, who liked a tickle or a scratch and in
which particular, special spot. They stay with you even after they've
moved on, and that's one of the perks of the job.

We've currently got two in foster, a couple of pups; the lovely,
scrumptious baby Bella then, more recently, the slightly older Digger.
That's breaking my usual rule of no more than one foster at a time, but
Digger was the usual story: out of time, facing the needle, and we were
his last resort.

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