Tails of Love
By Penny Gutridge
This is a series of doggy profiles with a sting in the proverbial tail. It hinges upon a handsome fellow named Digger (1974/1989).
Digger was an inspirational dog and this little story reflects the joys of living with Scotties in my formative years and what I learned from them about all manner and variety of other dogs.
'Digger' - waiting by the gate
It began by sharing life with a Cairn terrier (Tuppy) as a child, by graduating to a Westie in young adulthood (Chippy) and then discovering Digger, a true and hardy Scot whose courage and stamina endured even through sufferings associated with diabetes and Cushings disease in the last three of his fifteen years. Digger’s only flaw was a deeply ingrained belief that he was a VERY BIG DOG, no doubt the result of growing up and living with Huw, a German Shepherd (1973/1981), Boru an Irish Wolfhound (1982/1989) and Luke, a grey merle Collie (1982/1998).
Digger and Huw
Digger and Boru
Jack and Luke
All shared a rural existence around the hills, forests & beaches of North Wales from pups to their last breath. All were confident, cheerful, affectionate and disciplined (enough!) and they lived as part of a mixed pack of dogs, cats, & humans - young & old.
However, it so happened that the pattern of my lifetime with dogs, in multiple numbers & varieties, saw a significant transition in 1989 following the deaths of Digger & Boru. Quite by chance there came about a shift of emphasis from pedigree dogs, chosen as pups to be part of the family for life, to dogs of various ages, sizes, mixes and experiences encountered in adversity. The shift began with Luke, scooped up from a filthy farmyard for a fiver on an impulse in 1982, was repeated with Jack (1989/2005) a Lab/Rottie mix abandoned in an emaciated condition at our vets’ surgery aged 3 months and became fully established with Badger (1993/2007) a JRT/Collie mix acquired from RSPCA rehoming kennels then already about 2 years old. This shift was consolidated in 1998 with the arrival of Nina from our local dog helpline i.e. PAWS (Providing Animals With Sanctuary).
The years 1989 & 1998 were signposts to the future & what has occurred since will, hopefully, explain my concluding comments.
A new era began with Nina
Through Nina (1998 to 9th July 2012 - please see the postscript re Nina) came an introduction to, and closer involvement with, PAWS. Initially, this was as Nina’s adopter, then briefly as a trustee; and later, preferring ‘hands on’ activity as a volunteer, by regularly providing transport for dogs moving between the pound, the vets, and the rehoming kennels, doing some home checks and, occasionally, fostering an ‘oldie’ who had come from the pound with health problems and/or ‘issues’ and needed assessment in a home environment prior to permanent placement.
As a result of my experiences with rescue dogs over the last decade I’ve learned a great deal about the relentless abuse, neglect, exploitation and betrayal of ‘man’s best friend’ not only as perpetrated by individuals but also by society in general; the romanticism, ignorance, indifference and often short lived outrage in response to reports of suffering. Consequently, I joined the Dogs Trust and, as a Christian committed to the ideals of St. Francis of Assisi, I became a life member of Catholic Concern for Animals.
Make no mistake, we are NOT a nation of dog lovers!
Now, having admitted a commitment to rescue dogs, what about an update? As I write there are five dogs sprawled at their leisure around the cottage and garden. Mama Nina is a GSD/collie mix (4 years of age on admission to PAWS and now 15 years old). She was rescued from a miserable existence shut in a dark barn without adequate nutrition, exercise, animal or human companionship. Although rehomed quickly by PAWS she ‘did a runner’ from her placement and was hit by a lorry causing a severe leg injury. She was found by a member of the public and reclaimed by PAWS. The new owners felt unable to cope. The vet had difficulties treating her mangled leg but after 3 months wearing a caliper, and being nursed at home by PAWS organisers, she came to live permanently with us. Nina presented as self effacing (i.e. ‘just ignore me, I don’t really exist!’) and profoundly nervous, but she showed no sign of reactive aggression. She settled well with Jack, Badger and the two then cats (Spider & Flax). Nina remains a key presence.
Postscript added 3rd August 2012: Nina died at home on 9th July 2012, aged 18 years. Arthritis, impaired vision and hearing, plus a long-term heart murmur, had been manageable without undue discomfort and she remained a contented matriarch until brief ‘petit mal’ type fits suddenly increased in frequency and intensity. It was time to let her go. Nina died as she had lived – with gentle, calm dignity and with her pals close by. The whole family give thanks for her life and longevity, and her unfailing trust and devotion.
Pebbles is also a GSD/ collie mix and was born in the rehoming kennels after her mum was admitted in whelp. She joined us as a 7 weeks old pup (year 2000). Mum was successfully rehomed after weaning the pups and so were Pebbles’ five siblings. Pebbles was cherished by a delighted Nina and now, in mid life, is a working PAT (Pets As Therapy) dog visiting two dementia units and a residential care home weekly. Although she is self appointed top dog at home she is always calm, non assertive and gently responsive to all her elderly fans.
Postscript added 1st February 2014: Pebbles suffered a severe stroke on Christmas Eve 2013 and, after several days of intensive care and TLC at home, it became evident that she would never be able to stand unaided again or walk. On New Years Day 2014 Pebbles left us for Rainbow Bridge.
(Article written 2010)
As pets have such a limited lifespan compared to ourselves, periods of loss and sadness are inevitable, and we faced this most recently when Jack eventually succumbed to ageing and severe arthritis and then Badger died after several months of debilitating fits. Both were 16 years old. Our two cats died too during this period, but Pebbles & Nina continued to thrive and new kittens arrived (Tinkerbell & Tomos).
Christmas 2006 brought a very special gift.
On Christmas Eve Rosie came as a temporary fostering arrangement triggered by an emergency at the rehoming kennels.
Space was needed urgently for two new admissions. Rosie (2006/present) settled immediately and later it was agreed she would remain here for life. A beautiful little yellow Lab/Beagle mix aged between 6/9 months, Rosie had been brought to the vets’ surgery by the RSPCA following a road traffic accident. She had no collar/tag and no chip. No one enquired about her and she was never claimed. The RSPCA paid for X-Rays and PAWS took long term responsibility for her care. Rosie, named for her devoted veterinary nurse, had a double pelvic break and nasty head injuries. She spent 2/3 weeks at the surgery followed by 6/8 weeks rest, recuperation and Tender Loving Care at the rehoming kennels. When she came to us she still had her baby incisor teeth! Now 3 years old, Rosie is a PAT dog too, visiting a children’s hospice weekly and a residential care home.
Attentive readers may have noticed the apparent absence of terriers.
Ah, but wait, enter our Archie (2007/present)!!
This rascal is much like Digger in personality. He has the courage of a lion (or a Scottie?), a total lack of discretion, angelic qualities and a mischievous nature. Archie was brought to the vets’ surgery by a member of the public following an accident, possibly another RTA. He was less than 12 months old.
His nearside back leg was badly broken; too badly to be successfully set & repaired. Vets decided on amputation. Again the RSPCA agreed to pay initial veterinary costs and PAWS took long term responsibility for his care and rehabilitation. When Archie and I met he was recovering from the anaesthetic following amputation and castration. Believe it or not, although he was supine, I was greeted with a smile and a wagging tail! The nurses had fallen in love with him and already named him Archie. Post op he too went to the rehoming kennels for R&R plus TLC then, once his stitches were out and he was ready to cope with new surroundings, he came to us. Two years on no-one seeing him swimming in the hydrotherapy pool or racing along the beach would ever guess that he was a three legged dog! Archie’s only flaw is that, like Digger before him, he thinks he’s a VERY BIG DOG!!!!!
Last but not least is dear Old Joe of indeterminate age (2009 - 21st July 2010 - please see the postscript re Joe).
Three months ago Joe was in the pound, unclaimed and due for euthanasia. He’d apparently been abandoned in his old age & infirmity and gathered up by the dog warden. A volunteer who happened to be there at the 11th hour, took pity on him and brought him away with the other dogs he’d been sent to collect. The vet’s MOT en route to the rehoming kennels revealed an enlarged prostate, probable testicular cancer and an urgent need for dental care. Poor Joe was very confused, disoriented & miserable. The kennels were worried about him and so it was decided to try fostering. He came to us. He had his operations and treatments from here and, due to an uncertain prognosis and lifespan it was felt to be unfair to rehome him when heart ache and/or considerable expense might result – so here he stays! Joe is a Collie/Australian Herding dog mix (we think!). He loves lying in the warm sun and ambling along the beach with Nina. Who knows how long he’s got, and whether resources (space, veterinary costs etc.) should’ve been reserved for a younger dog? Too late, the fact is a decision was made and honoured. Surely each & every day is precious and worthwhile for any old, sick dog destined for destruction but, by a chance encounter, reprieved at the last minute.
Postscript - added 26th October 2010: Joe was suddenly taken ill on 21st July 2010 and despite the very best efforts of Penny and her veterinary surgeon, dear Joe couldn't be saved and he is now at Rainbow Bridge. Joe is sorely missed by all his family XXXXXX
Why bother to relate to you all this sentimental hokum?!!
First, you’re reading this because YOU DO love dogs. You value and support STECS and/or other rescue organisations and so you understand the needs, feelings and possible reactive behaviours of dogs (young or old) displaced from all that has been familiar to them in the past. You appreciate that dogs, like us, are an essential part of creation; that they are precious individuals with distinct personalities and a right to life, dignity & respect. Perhaps we should try to remember that we too are animals and liable to be perceived by some as expendable! So, let us continue to treasure the dogs committed to our care and whose lives we are privileged to share for awhile, because for every dog that finds sanctuary today there are many more continuing to suffer abuse, indignity and neglect, or living in a state of continuous anxiety & fear. Dogs repay our commitment with interest. They share our lives with pleasure and without complaint and contribute to society in many ways – not least as working and assistance dogs who give renewed confidence, pleasure and comfort to us vulnerable humans.
However, in the modern world, dogs are dependent on us … so may we remain ever vigilant to cruelty and indifference and ever responsive to the need of others whether these be the needs of our fellow human beings or of the animals who live with and around us.
Archie (foreground) and Pebbles racing along the beach at Newborough on Anglesey
(their favourite place - 4 miles of golden sand and a forest alongside)
So, thank you Digger for being an inspiration and such a great pal
for all those years. We had some fun didn't we?!! Your photographs
still have pride of place at home and they always will.
We miss you very much. With love from all your family ... xPx.
‘Tiger Lily’ (a Scottish Terrier) joined ‘the clan’ on 16th October 2010, and 'Jessie J' (a 'rescued' Scottish Terrier from Many Tears Animal Rescue ) found a forever home with Penny and 'the clan' in October 2012. 'Ceilidh', a 'rescued' Westie, (also from Many Tears) joined this remarkable family on 6th June 2014. Images of 'Tiger Lily', 'Jessie J' and ‘Ceilidh’can be viewed in the ‘Tails of Love’ slideshow.