Have you ever thought about rescuing a dog from overseas? Let me rephrase that… Have you ever thought about rescuing TWO dogs? Big ones…? Ones you have never met…? When you’ve already got two big boisterous labradors treating your home as their own personal fiefdom as it is?
No? I thought as much.
Mike and myself however, we like a challenge. Well, Mike does… Me? I just cling on for dear life and hope to survive whatever he gets us into next. But with my hand very firmly on my heart, I have to say that Mike’s idea to adopt two rescue labradors from Hungary – through Wags n’ Wet Noses Dog Rescue – is quite possibly the best thing we’ve ever done in our twenty odd years together.
For the past four years or so – ever since our beautiful labrador pups settled into adulthood and brought us more joy and fun than we could have ever imagined – Mike has been intermittently sticking his phone in front of my face with pictures of sad looking dogs that need homes… Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a sucker where any dog is concerned, let alone an abandoned one, but as (due to Mike’s job) I was doing the majority of the doggy parenting at the time, I tried my hardest to stay strong and resist.
Earlier this year however, with Mike at home full time and happily taking on more of the doggy duties, he showed me a picture of a dog called Domino on the Wags n’ Wet Noses charity page. Domino was an old boy of around ten years old who had arthritis and was nearly blind; he’d been with the charity for almost a year… Abandoned to a kill shelter because he was old and not in great shape, it broke my heart to think that nobody wanted this lad in the twilight of his life.
It’s my personal feeling (and I have no scientific evidence for this whatsoever!!) that you can tell a lot about a dog from the look in his eyes. The thing that got me about Domino was that, despite everything he had been through, despite all the odds being stacked against him, despite narrowly escaping ‘death row’, he still had a look of hope in his eyes. I told Mike straight away that there was a place for this boy in front of our stove as soon as we could get him here.
Wags were amazing, they were completely up front about Domino’s many ailments, but we told them it didn’t matter to us that we were in effect providing palliative care, if he was well enough to travel and the journey wouldn’t be too much for him, there was a place for him in our home.
Whilst Wags arranged for Domino to be thoroughly checked out by the vet, they also let us know about another dog that had been with them a short while in case Domino wasn’t able to travel – a golden labrador/retriever called Boris (yes… I know what you’re thinking… more about the name later). There weren’t many photos of Boris but what there were showed a kind, gentle looking dog about aged five. As our other dogs are not much older we offered to take Boris on a foster basis with a view to adoption provided he settled ok with our existing two. The Wags team then put Boris and Domino together and they started to bond in the weeks leading up to being rehomed with us.
Now, probably a bit late in the day I admit as we had more or less agreed to take the new boys, I started to do some research about the charity. I had already signed up to the fosterers and adopters page and could see the many (many) happy adoptions that had taken place over the years, but I thought I would do some independent research nevertheless. It was at this stage that I came across a negative thread about the charity that, I have to say, gave me one or two sleepless nights. When you are taking on a dog (in our case ‘dogs’) that you have never met, you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t have moments of doubt – and this thread fuelled the few fears I had.
One of the posters in the negative thread kept saying that if you had any doubts about the charity (I hadn’t until I saw their thread!) or were uncertain whether you were doing the right thing, you shouldn’t adopt. This was the snippet that kept coming back to me so I let it roll around my head for a while.
After a lot of thought, the conclusion I came to was this: any time you decide to take a dog into your home – whether it’s a puppy from a KC registered breeder, an adoption of a dog you have met a few times or an adoption of a dog you haven’t met – they all involve a leap of faith. All I needed to be certain of was our ability to commit to these dogs and their needs and help them to settle into a pack with our existing two. And I was totally up for that!
Once I realised I had faith in our abilities to handle the uncertainty of two new and possibly very frightened dogs, I never worried about that thread again. I also knew from our dealings with the charity that they had our backs should we need any support.
After lots of messages back and forth between ourselves and Wags, the transport dates were agreed and the long awaited arrival of our doggies finally came around. All the dogs are picked up by ‘the happy bus’ and then travel overland in a climate controlled transport vehicle on an overnight journey to the UK. A few days before ours were picked up we were entered into a chat group with all the other adopters and everyone started to get very excited about the arrival of their new boys and girls.
At this point there was lots of advice from Wags about how our dogs were likely to be when they first arrived, their basic needs plus the major importance of a calm environment in which they could decompress from their journey. For the first few days it would be really important not to expect too much from our boys and just allow them to sleep and eat in a place that they felt safe, then to be on hand with cuddles and soothing voices for the bits in between.
The night we picked up Doddsy (Domino) and Finn (Boris) is one I will never forget. It was very emotionally charged as both we and the dogs met for the first time. Luckily we have a van with a seat in the back and after Dodds had had the biggest wee I’ve ever seen a dog have, we were able to load both boys in there for me to to stroke and talk calmly to whilst Mike drove us home. Once back at ours, we gave them a little walk around our courtyard on their leads, then it was inside for a good drink and settle down for the night in our boot room which we had made sure was cosy with comfy dog beds. (We did put a crate in there, with a blanket over the top, in case this would make them feel safer but neither one used it so we took it away after a couple of days).
The next morning we took them out in the courtyard on lead, then set off on a very short walk to a nearby field bringing our other two dogs along just seconds behind. Once in the field they all had a good sniff then we returned to the house together. We did keep the new boys separate for a few days other than at walk times or during runs in the garden, so that they had chance to decompress without being bothered by our existing two, but within a week they were all milling around the house together. (We were delighted to find that both of the new dogs were house trained – having expected to need to teach this. We only ever had one or two minor, stress related, accidents right at the very beginning).
In our case, the dogs were very needy in the beginning. They wanted constant handling and reassurance and we were more than happy to provide this, but we also were keen to ensure that our compassion for their situation didn’t lead to bad habits. So for instance if either dog tried to climb on us (which Finn did a lot in the beginning) we turned away until he had four paws on the floor then turned back to praise him with soothing words about what a good boy he was. This really worked for both dogs and once they realised neither they nor us were going anywhere, they totally chilled out. I should also say at this point, that it only took two days for us to tell the Wags team that we definitely wanted to adopt Boris (and then we promptly changed his name to Finlay!).
All that being said, I realise every dog is different and some may withdraw and just want to be left alone until they are sure of their surroundings, which can take much longer than a week. As I said above, it’s just about working out what the dog needs and having faith in your abilities to provide it when they arrive. The Wags team and the adopters facebook page are full of people who’ve been through the process and are only too happy to answer queries – the Wags community is an invaluable part of the adoption experience we found.
A few weeks after they got here – as advised by Wags – we had a visit from an government import inspector who checked the papers of both dogs and confirmed that all their documentation was in order and everything was completely legal and above board.
After three really happy months during which both dogs’ characters really came to the fore (Doddsy the naughty old boy, caught heading out of the kitchen with a bag of flour he had quietly lifted from the bottom of the larder, and Finn who just wanted to cuddle everyone he met) we came down one morning to find that Doddsy had passed away quietly in the night.
It wasn’t entirely unexpected – we knew the extent of his health problems, but he had been on such good form we had hoped for a bit longer with him yet. The day he died he had seemed so sprightly – paddling in the sea and carrying his beloved plastic donut every where he went – I honestly think he thought to himself, ‘Well, if I’ve got to go soon it might as well be after a day like today… I’m happy and I’m loved and it’s not going to get much better than this.’ I’d like to think so anyway…
To say we cried buckets when Doddsy died is an understatement, but I can honestly say that all the tears and heartbreak were one hundred percent worth it. As the Wags team said when we told them of his passing, we were the ones who got to show him that he mattered. We will always be grateful to them for giving us that honour. We still talk about our Doddsy all the time and relive the many funny things he did to make us laugh during the short time he was with us. I love to think that this old character – who could have so easily been just another casualty of a system that doesn’t care too much about old, infirm dogs – is now a legend in our house and amongst our friends and family. RIP Doddsy – you were the best of boys.
But the story doesn’t end on a sad note; Finn has settled in brilliantly – he’s a big excitable, blonde bear which is why we are glad we changed his name – you know, to avoid comparisons with anyone similar…! We’re now at the stage with Finn where he can walk off lead with our other boys on most trips out without fear of him wandering off. Mac and Angus love their new brother and Mac has even been known to cuddle up beside him which has hitherto been unheard of!
…And three months after our dear departed Doddsy, Mike’s at it again! Showing me pictures of handsome old boy Chisholme here, who of course I have agreed must come to sleep in front of our stove this winter (I mean look at those eyes!) So the story continues, and I’m sure there’ll be more posts to come about the exploits of the pack here at Balcary!
For anyone who is reading this post because they are thinking about adopting a Wags Dog, you are doing a wonderful thing. Our boys have both been amazing, no aggression, walk on lead nicely, a real love of people and so obviously grateful to have been given a second chance (or maybe even a first – who knows?) to be part of a family. I know everyone’s journey is not so smooth and I’m not selling fairytales here, I can only relay how it has been for us. I do hope your experience is like ours though – and all the many other Wags owners on the Wags adopters Facebook page – and if you’re planning to take on an oldie then there’s a special place in heaven for you, of that you can be sure!