When I read Mrs Fever’s post for this prompt, as well as enjoying her narrative I was in agreement with her opinions regarding rescuing pets which have been abandoned by their original owner(s) for whatever reasons. I currently have a rescue dog but I’ve also been a regular supporter of a local dog and cat rescue initiative. I began volunteering when I lost a beloved dog to cancer and felt so wretched with that I hadn’t seen the early signs. In memory of her, I wanted to give back to the dog community.
My role was an ‘Auntie’ at this dog kennels, because my function was pastoral care. I was one of many giving rescue dogs love, while acclimating them to socialising with new people. I would pick a slot off the weekly rota (there was an 90 minute slot in the morning and another in the afternoon available) and come to the kennels in scruffy, warm clothes to sit with a rescue dog.
The kennel staff would either welcome me into their tea room, or the summer house (depending on the rota) where the surroundings were dog friendly. I usually brought my Kindle, a hot drink and some chopped up dog treats for my furry companion. I’d wait for the dog in question to be brought out to me. Having been told the dog’s name and a little about them, I could then behave in the most appropriate way. The door was shut and I’d be left for an hour and a half in their company.
The sofas and chairs were dog friendly, there was also usually a crate in the room. The purpose of a dog spending time with an ‘Auntie’ such as me was to gain a soothing respite from their potentially ‘jangly’ kennel situation where they were, of necessity, kept in close proximity to other barking and pacing dogs.
I was allowed to play with the dogs or read to them, strokes and cuddles were, of course, encouraged, but some dogs were not ready for that. Some sat by the door, or got into the crate, waiting for the kennel staff to come back for them. Even in those situations, I felt that I had at least helped the dog have a change of scenery and a rest from their usual noisy environment.
Can you imagine a well loved pet, used to living in a home with its owner, but their owner had to go into hospital, or worse still died, leaving nobody to care for the pet? It’s not cruel to be given to a rescue, but it is still distressing for that dog, because everything familiar is stripped away. Some dogs end up at rescues if they have been taken on by people whose situation changed – new baby, a move to a property where dogs were not allowed or the dog could not get along with another pet.
The rescue I worked with was also a boarding kennels/cattery, led by a passionate owner. It had a wonderful team of kennel staff dedicated to walking the rescue dogs and playing with them, as well as carrying out regular duties of cleaning, feeding and training. It employed a full time behaviourist, plus someone qualified in animal reiki to soothe the dogs holistically. In fact the rescue encouraged Aunties to learn the technique so I’m now trained in reiki too. Other volunteers helped by joining a rota to walk the dogs and a team of us utilised Facebook. We created a page for each dog, which was updated regularly until each rescue found suitable people to adopt them.
Some of the dogs were cute as a button and wanted to snuggle, some mugged me for the treats I’d brought or tried to help me eat my biscuit and drink my coffee too! Others jumped from sofa to chair to sofa, like a monkey in the treetops. The greyhound breeds often wanted to rifle through the bin or stand up tall to the counter in the tea room, sniffing for food. Some dogs were old or injured, but all deserved love and care.
It was important to be mindful of the dogs’ state of mind, some dogs had traumatic experiences before landing up in rescue. Bending over a dog, even to make a fuss of them, can seem threatening. It is better to crouch down so that your eye level and theirs are similar, then they can assess you. It’s quite ‘personal’ to touch a dog on their face or the top of their head, in a wolf pack this would be seen as asserting dominance. Most dogs prefer a new acquaintance to stroke their back or rub behind their ears; if you’re getting on really well, many dogs love having their chest rubbed or scratches to their neck/ chin area.
On the topic of eye contact, this can feel like a challenge to some dogs, not intense like a cat staring contest but along the same lines. Hence me reading my Kindle: I didn’t seem to ask or expect anything of them, which usually worked well. When they settled down somewhere in a relaxed way, I would reward them with a treat.
One staffie-cross rescue dog, whose previous owner had been a homeless man, preferred to approach me backwards, avoiding eye contact. He’d reverse his solid little body towards me and sit, watching the door like a sentry, his rump almost touching my toes. I was glad to hear he got a happy new home. Living on a remote farm, following his owner as he made his rounds of the fields and sheds of livestock each day sounds far preferable to watching over a homeless man’s sleeping bag and possessions, in all weathers, while he sleeps.
This reminiscence is submitted for Mrs Fever’s Memoirs prompt #8 Animal Click on the link to see what other’s have posted.