Opinion: Please don’t give up on your rescue dog – they’re so worth it 4 months ago

Opinion: Please don’t give up on your rescue dog – they’re so worth it

"He did more than settle, he made us the family of five we now are."

Last week, one of my colleagues reported on the massive increase in people giving up the dogs they got during lockdown as restrictions ease.

Dogs Trust revealed that they had received 515 requests from those who adopted a dog during lockdown now looking to give them up, with 240 of those requests being made in June alone.

When I read that statistic, I pitched writing an article on my family's experience with adopting a dog from the charity at the height of the pandemic last year. My editor asked me if this was because I can't imagine why anyone would want to give theirs up.

"No," I answered honestly. "Because I can."

You see, while the #AdoptDontShop narrative is a romanticised one – and for good reason, given the amount of dogs left in shelters while others are bred – it's often underestimated just how difficult it is. I know, because I was one of the ones who underestimated it.

I think people who go to adopt a rescue dog somewhat believe that as many of these dogs have been mistreated or neglected, they'll automatically adore those who adopt them and shower them in the love and affection they've been denied for most of their lives.

But unfortunately, that isn't often the case, and when those dogs don't respond to our affection in the way we expect them to, we take it to mean they'll never be happy with us – or maybe even anyone. And so back to the shelters or rescue centres they go.

I was in New York on a year-long J1 when, some time in early 2020, my parents and younger sister first told me they were looking at adopting a rescue dog from Dogs Trust. I joked about how of course they'd choose to get a dog when I was moved out despite myself and my sister pestering our parents for years, but I had second hand excitement through my sis.

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The dog they were looking at was named Beuller, a male Rottweiler with an estimated age of between five and seven. My dad had a Rottie when he was younger and often told us stories of how misjudged they are, so none of us were intimidated by the breed.

Dogs Trust staff found Beuller roaming around near a dangerous main road not far from their centre in Finglas. He was malnourished, in need of neutering and his coat was matted. It took a few staff members to coax him into the van without getting too near.

Beuller looking a lot slimmer at Dog's Trust, courtesy of Kim Murphy

At the centre, it took them two weeks just to get a collar on him because of how frightened and anxious he was. He was noted as not having aggressive tendencies, but as being reactive to other dogs, which implied he hadn't been socialised.

He was also later discovered to have spondylosis, a spinal condition where bone spurs develop along the vertebrae and usually affects dogs ten years or older, but can sometimes be caused by injury.

My family kept me updated on the centre visits to Beuller, sent me pictures and showed me his online 'for adoption' profile. When the time came to do an overnight home visit, everyone was optimistic.

But it didn't go to plan. He was restless in his anxiety; he wouldn't allow anyone to rub or pat him during the day, instead walking past or dodging their hand, and at night, his unrelenting pacing went on and on.

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After two nights of broken sleep and little interaction from him, Dogs Trust came to collect him as my family said goodbye in tears.

A few weeks later at the end of March, the sh** hit the fan with the pandemic and I found myself cutting my visa short to come home out of the world's then-Covid hotspot. While my family were delighted to have me home safely, it definitely felt like they were mourning what could have been with Beuller.

 

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A post shared by Beuller (@beullertherottweiler)


He played on everyone's minds – especially when it came to my sister, who never stopped talking about him. I was home about two weeks when my parents rang up to see if we could try him again, this time mostly outdoors to see if it would help with his anxiety.

This time seemed to go much better, and so he continued staying with us until we formally adopted him. But even after the papers were signed, we still faced a lot of issues and wondered whether he'd ever truly settle.

For one, his trust in us was sporadic. My sister quickly became his number one, and he soon became her shadow. But when it came to the rest of us, he seemed to be okay with us one day and completely uninterested the next. He was particularly cautious of my dad, the only man in the house, and would sort of duck away from his hand whenever he'd try to pat him.

 

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A post shared by Beuller (@beullertherottweiler)


He also didn't want us coming anywhere near him with a leash, harness or muzzle for quite some time. As Rottweilers are on the restricted breed list and thereby have to wear a muzzle in public, this proved difficult when walking or taking trips to the vet.

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Dogs Trust gave us tips on trying to get him used to them by placing them on the ground and throwing treats or bits of meat to at least get him near them and smelling them until he eventually let us put them on.

He got used to the leash first, but has only really gotten receptive to the harness early this year. And he still absolutely hates his muzzle – who'd blame him, have you seen how humans coped with wearing masks the past year and a half?! – but he at least holds still enough to let us put it on.

 

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A post shared by Beuller (@beullertherottweiler)


Walks themselves were often stressful due to his non-stop anxious pulling and near choking of himself. He was scared by loud noises of roadworks or big lorries, but we also noticed he seemed sort of fascinated by everything.

With his initial anxiety to the leash and his curious staring, it felt like walking a puppy who was exploring a scary but interesting world for the first time. And so we wondered if he'd ever been given a proper walk before he was rescued.

His health conditions affected his moods too, which took us a while to realise. We noticed the change to a more upbeat temperament when he'd received his spondylosis injections, and quickly realised that just because Beuller loves a food doesn't mean that particular food loves Beuller.

 

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A post shared by Beuller (@beullertherottweiler)


We tried a few different ways of getting him to sleep. After the issues during his first visit, we thought maybe he was more of an "outdoor dog," but this quickly brought its own set of problems.

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He'd either loudly howl a really sorrowful cry (which we later realised was the result of bad dreams), we'd wake up to find he'd have dug at the grass or flowers, he'd make himself sick from eating compost despite having gotten full meals and (hypoallergenic!) snacks throughout the day, or he'd rip out and chew at the cozy bedding we made up for him from his very own shed.

I'll be honest, we were tired. It felt like each of us were trying every single thing we possibly could to make it work, but we weren't sure he wanted us as much as we wanted him. It was fairly obvious he had PTSD from either being physically mistreated or just left alone chained up somewhere for years, and it felt like the life we were trying to give him – the life he deserved – was being destroyed by it.

We considered giving him back a few times. We spoke with Dogs Trust sometimes for advice or new suggestions, and once at our wit's end when none of us really knew what to do anymore.

With their help and support, we began to realise that just like with humans who are healing from trauma, he needed time and patience. The problem wasn't us, and so it wasn't something that we could 'fix.' All that could be done was continue to give him love when he let us, try to teach him what not to do (like eating compost!), and truly just wait it out.

And he did settle. He did more than settle, he made us the family of five we now are. He loves cuddles from each member of the family now – actually, he prefers rubs from all four of us at once like the pampered pooch he is. If you stop rubbing him before he prefers, he'll nudge or gently nip to get you to continue.

 

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A post shared by Beuller (@beullertherottweiler)

He's been such a comfort as the world fell apart. Watching gut-wrenching news day after day, my anxiety was somewhat eased when he'd plonk himself beside me and I'd instead have to focus on rubbing his belly. My sister and I set him up an Instagram page, which a few of his Dogs Trust carers follow to keep up with him.

He's so comfortable with us now, unafraid to be his goofball self. He sleeps indoors in a plush bed, plays games of chasing, tug-o-war and hide-and-seek with my sister, loves napping against me on the sofa, adores pre-bed rubs from my mam, and likes a bit of rough-and-tumble with my dad.

I'm so glad lockdown gave each of us the time to really bond and work with him because our efforts paid off so well, and we can really see that he now knows this is his forever home.

 

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A post shared by Beuller (@beullertherottweiler)


I want anyone who is struggling with a rescue dog right now to know you're not alone, and it isn't your fault. It's not your dog's fault either, and they probably do know how much you love them in their own little way.

But by whoever, in whatever way, for however long, they've been hurt before. And as is the case with humans, it takes time to trust that that won't happen again. Don't let the current problems rob you of the future joys, laughs and love that come with owning a dog.

 

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A post shared by Beuller (@beullertherottweiler)


If you're struggling with a dog as restrictions ease, you can sign up for a free "Life After Lockdown - Bark to Basics" pack to help you and your dog transition back into normal life here.