Today is my dog’s Gotcha Day. Being a rescue dog, we don’t know his actual date of birth so instead, like many other adopters, we mark the day we welcomed him into our home.
I remember that day – seven years go – vividly. He charged into the lounge, running across the sofa at 100mph before landing with a thud and looking at me expectantly. He spent the rest of the day by my side; every time I moved, he moved. He followed me to the kitchen as I made a brew, waited outside the toilet, and sat as close to my feet as he could while I read my book.
A skinny little thing, he ate a tiny amount of food before taking to his basket. He spent the first night crying in his bed while I lay awake in mine.
Learning how to be A Good Boy
But we knew what we were doing; we’d had a rescue dog before and within a few days the crying stopped, and he started to relax. Maybe a little too much. He was very different from my previous dog and it was clear he was going to have to learn some manners and how to walk on his lead. I remember many frustrating walks, teaching him not to pull, to wait to cross the road and to greet other dogs calmly.
Off the lead, my previous rescue never walked very far in front of me and continually looked back to check I was still there. This little chap was far more independent, and it took months of work on his recall before I felt confident to let him off the lead. But we got there – there were some very hairy moments, but we got there.
After a couple of years of growing up, learning and responding to his surroundings his true character came through. He’s such a cuddly and loving little fella who loves nothing more than falling asleep on me. He is brilliant in the car and quickly settles into new environments. He’s terrified of cats and scared of water. He’s also a complete hypochondriac; although has reason to grumble now he has arthritis in three legs.
As was the case with my previous dog, he’s a staffie. There are so many of them in rescue centres across the UK, which is upsetting. They certainly don’t deserve their reputation, but that’s a whole other post. When we’re out walking, he wears a harness with ‘I’m Friendly’ patches on the side. It’s my little PR exercise for the breed and it has meant lots more people stopping to chat with me and pet him (which he loves).
On learning he is a rescue dog people often tell me I have been lucky, because ‘you don’t know what you’re getting with a rescue dog’. Other than the cute factor, I wonder if this is main reason people choose to buy a puppy over adopting a dog.
Yes, in some cases a rescue centre won’t know a dog’s history; my own came with very limited information but a good rehoming centre will assess its dogs over a period of time so they can offer as much information on their behaviour and temperament as possible. I would argue that you don’t necessarily know what you’re getting with a puppy.
In either case, you must do your homework; learn what you can about the breed you’re interested in (or the breeder, if you’re going down the puppy route). Make a choice which fits with your lifestyle and be prepared to put the hours in to train your pet.
As for the cute factor, are you telling me this face isn’t cute?
Why dogs end up in shelters
There are a host of genuine reasons owners give up their pets, from terminal illness to housing restrictions. Then there are those who give their pets away because they no longer suit their lifestyle. I won’t link to the recent news story of a couple rehoming their dog because they had got a new sofa (FFS!).
The rescue centre I support has received dogs from people who can no longer afford to care for them and have taken the responsible decision to give them up. They have also found dogs tied to fence posts or left to roam, nursing horrendous injuries or illnesses. They have even taken in several dogs just days before they gave birth, going on to rehome both mum and pups (yes, you can occasionally find puppies in rescue centres).
Rescue dogs may behave strangely at first – mine didn’t know how to play, for example – but they’re adjusting to a whole new way of life, new surroundings and new people. Think about how you would feel if everything you knew and were familiar with (however bad) changed overnight.
So, if you’re considering getting a dog, please think about fostering or adoption. Your local rescue centre will guide you through the process and give you some good advice. Alongside Dog’s Trust and the RSPCA, there are many independent rescue centres and those who specialise in rehoming certain breeds, such as Staffie Rescue or German Shepherd Dog Rescue.
There are thousands of dogs like mine, patiently waiting for a cosy bed in a loving home. A home like yours…