A Shaggy Dog Story

Another dog? You are, said my friend of many years, quite mad.  She is right, of course. And if she sounded a bit like Lady Bracknell, well, she’s another of my theatrical buddies. But, to channel Oscar Wilde again, he once said, ‘you have to be yourself, because everyone else is taken’. And I am not myself unless my house is full of cats and dogs. Fortunately, neither is Ro.

When we lost our darling, smelly old Sprocker  a few months ago,  we listened to our nearest and dearest saying, hopefully, that perhaps two dogs was enough for their ancient parents to manage?  Then we decided that they were quite wrong, and embarked on a doggy waifs and strays hunt. And that is how, two weeks ago, we became the proud parents of a maniac called Patch.

We were alerted by a friend, who had seen his picture on Facebook, that a border collie was lurking in a refuge in Whitstable, and they were desperate for someone to take him on. So, after a phone conversation with Susie, who owns the refuge and devotes her life and money to rescuing animals, two weeks ago we packed our resident canines Connie and Blue into the car and sallied off to meet Patch. On arrival we were met with several ponies and a couple of splendid goats, but, deciding our garden was not large enough, we stuck to our guns and found Patch.

It was mutual love at first sight. We released all three dogs into a large field and threw balls as they played together. No problem with that. I had already asked if he was good with cats, and been assured that he had not been bothered by the ones at the refuge. As we had come a fair way to see him, and had our other dogs with us, Susie waived her usual rules and we signed the adoption papers, paid his exit fee, packed him into the car and started back for Brede. It occurs to me at this juncture she may have known a thing or two – she did mention a couple who had brought him back after two days.

We had taken an extra lead and car harness with us, and smelt a slight rat, so to speak, when it transpired that Patch had come supplied with neither. Unusual, we thought, for a three year old dog, ostensibly re-homed because his owners had not been able to take him with them to their new residence. But he had not been neutered or vaccinated either, so we suspected a bit of neglect here. Possibly because of large budget problems. Not everyone realises how expensive animals can be and we suspected a family had been given him as a puppy. He is white, and a lot of the old superstitions about white border collies still linger on, so he might have been difficult to sell as a working dog.

Anyway, we put our sturdy car harness on him and levered him into the car. It took him roughly ten minutes to break the harness. So for the next fifty minutes or so, Ro drove and I physically held him down on the back seat,  while  Blue and Connie peered anxiously over from their safe haven in the boot. I should probably mention here that Patch is quite a large boy. When we arrived home, he erupted out of the car into the drive and proceeded to charge around like Usain-dog. As many of you know, we have a custom-built chalet and run in the garden for acclimatising new additions to our family, giving them and us a bit of time and space. He finally settled into it with a large grin of approval and much tail wagging. And we and the resident dogs collapsed in a heap.

The following day we took him up to the woods with the others but it proved to be an abortive outing. It is a necessary safety precaution to get the dogs a certain distance from the car park on leads, and it quickly became obvious that Patch  had never walked on a lead in his life. Or indeed, ever been taken for a walk. We now think his whole life has been spent in a back garden with perhaps half an hour a day of children throwing balls for him when they returned from school,, because the only thing he seems to know about is catching a ball. And the lack of any real activity has left him genuinely hyperactive.

Well, he’s a quick learner. We’ve had to take a rain check on him walking in the woods with his mates, while he practices having a lead put on, also not pulling his handler over or jumping up. But we are getting there. He sits on command now, (well, most of the time!), takes a treat without snatching, and comes back when called – some of the time. So, yes, we are making progress, but slowly. Sadly he chased one of the cats, the nearly unforgivable sin chez Clewer, but we think he has sussed out that is a no-no, because I was SO cross with him – the one and only time so far!

One of the biggest problems was his tendency to proposition the other dogs. He seemed to fancy Blue like mad, Blue was not amused. So, ten days ago, we dog-handled him into the car again to go to the vets. We didn’t tell him why he was going – thought better not, really. I will skim over the fact that we had to be ushered through to the vets office to wait by ourselves as, on arrival, he skidded into the waiting room, promptly intimidating all the waiting animals and their owners.

By some miracle we got him weighed – approximately. And then two strong male nurses disappeared with him, promising to ring telling us when we could fetch him.  About 5 pm, they estimated.. It was about 10 am then. The phone rang at 1.30pm. Would we like to collect him?  Immediately? Everything had gone well, but he had come round from the anaesthetic rather fast. By this time we knew what that meant, and leapt into the car. The practice staff greeted us with relief written large on their faces. It took the same two strong nurses and the vet to control him as they handed (for handed, read ‘strong-armed’) him back to us, and we left with  cries of ‘Good luck’ ringing in our ears. Also orders not to let him jump, and to keep his buster collar on (that’s the Elizabethan collar to stop them getting to their wounds).

Of course, they knew as well as we did that both were quite impossible. Metacalm, sedation  and finally diazapan had had no effect on him at all. He split the collar and we abandoned it within 24 hours. After I, in desperation, dosed him with three diaazpan he slept for ten whole minutes. But his wound has healed beautifully, though as yet his libido does not seem to have diminished. And in a couple of days we have to take him back to the vet for his check up and first vaccination.  I imagine they are bracing themselves already. We certainly are!

So, where do we go from here? Well, it is not a totally new experience for us . Blue was reckoned to be a dangerous dog when we adopted him ten years ago, and was biting everyone including me. And he’s a smashing dog who wouldn’t hurt anyone now he doesn’t live in fear all the time. Sprocker was a disruptive maniac, but smaller than Patch so easier to control. Lottie, our wolf hound, pulled me over so many times I was black and blue for months, but she learnt to behave. And we have other shaggy dog stories, Kelly, Maisie, they were all a challenge at some point, but happily you forget all that when they finally become civilised.

We have changed Patches diet, which seems to be having some calming effect on him. As people can get a sugar-high, so dogs can get a preservative-high, so we’ve cut all preservatives out. We tried spraying pheromones around, but that made everyone dozy except him. We bought some highly recommended ‘Calm-eze’ tablets, but by the second day on them it became  obvious  that they were making him considerably  more hyper  rather than less, so we have abandoned them.  We have one more string to our bow – a ‘calming collar’ – it only has a limited life so we are saving it for our next vet visit but not holding our much hope.

But Patch is lovely. Not an aggressive bone in his body as far as we can tell, and we think quite bright. Just a dog with no experience of any kind of training or a proper doggy life. We hope, for all our sakes, we can remedy that. So cross your fingers for us all.





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