Friday, 21 December 2007

Where there's a will...

..there's a way and, da-daaaaaa, we did it! In the past two weeks, we've managed to save every dog we hoped to and all except for young Gemma, who cannot travel until after Christmas anyway, are now in the UK and in foster homes. A huge and massive thank you to all who have helped - it's been really inspiring that so many of you responded to the Christmas Appeal, particularly those willing to open your hearts and homes to a rescue dog at this time of year.

It's good news all round, really, as we've managed to save Finn's tail (well I say "we" but it's entirely down to foster mum Jan who has been so diligent). Then there's lttle Gemma, who went sick when she came out of Dunboyne pound, but has now made a full recovery. Oh, and Tickle's cast is off and an x-ray reveals her leg has healed well. Above is a pic of her on Salisbury Plain yesterday morning on the dog's mammoth Christmas morning walk in the traditional pouring rain.... (That's a clump of dry grass in her mouth, not some unfortunate furry thing.)

So now to more important things. Who to wear the ridiculous Christmas hat this year...? Tickle refused. She doesn't think it's fair that she should be some kind of Christmas poster pup for Black Retriever X Rescue given that she is neither black nor a retriever. Boz (right) was willing enough but didn't really get into the Christmas spirit. ("Er... exactly why have you lifted a dog my size on to the window sill...?")

Maisie (left) gave it a shot despite protesting that she was way too posh (being a purebred flatcoat an' all although we don't tolerate any of that purebreds-are-superior nonsense round these parts). Luka, though, pulled off the impossible (below). He wore the stupid elf hat and still looked dignified.

Happy Christmas!

Sunday, 2 December 2007

The BRX Christmas Appeal

Christmas is a bloody awful time for dogs in Ireland as the whole rescue system grinds to a halt.

The rest of the year, it works like this: a stalwart band of volunteers, come rain or shine, go round the pounds, taking photos and posting on the internet descriptions of the dogs in danger. The UK rescues monitor the Irish rescue boards and make offers on dogs they think they can help. The Irish volunteers then get those dogs out of the pound and into foster homes and kennels, where the dogs are vaccinated and usually neutered.

The dogs that don't get offers and are not reclaimed are put to sleep and many thousands of young and healthy dogs die needlessly in Ireland every year. It is not usually out of meanness on the pound's part (although there certainly are awful pounds, with 100 per cent euthanasia records, that volunteers can't reach); it's often because they have to make room for the next raft of strays and surrenders coming in.

For the lucky dogs that get offers from UK rescues, there's a 10-day wait until they can travel to the UK on one of several transporters who tirelessly take the overnight ferry to Holyhead or Pembroke - a pretty grim journey at times. The UK rescues meet the transporters at various drop-off points, often at the crack of dawn at motorway service stations. It must look very suspicious, but of course for the lucky dogs it's the start of what will hopefully be a wonderful new life.

But at this time of year there's a problem: the transporters stop mid-December and don't start again until January, which means that there's a mad push now to get as many dogs as possible out of the pounds, foster homes and kennels. That way, there's still some small chance of survival for the dogs coming into the pounds over Christmas.

All of which is a very long way round of saying that I have offered on as many dogs as I can in the past couple of weeks. As a result, I have black retriever x's like Echo (top), Danny (right) and Henry (below) coming out of my ears - and nowhere for some of them to go.

They are all lovely. They all deserve a chance. And we could really do with some help. If you could offer a temporary refuge to one of them, you really will be helping to save a life. A donation towards kennelling costs (our only option if we can't find enough foster homes) would also be a huge help (and it's very easy and totally safe to donate via the PayPal button on the bottom left of our home page, here).

The Black Retriever X Rescue website is now getting an astonishing 6000 hits a month so I know there's a lot of you out there.

Thank you to all those who have supported us in the past year, particularly those of you who have opened your hearts and homes to one of our wonderful black retrievers. Very special dogs. Very special people.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Tickle gets the boot

It's wet and muddy and miserable and we've had a terrible time trying to keep Tickle's splinted leg and foot clean and dry. There are dog boots available but of course they're dog-foot shaped and Tickle's foot is currently encased in a straight-up-and-down cast. So how on earth to protect it?

The genius solution (if I may say so myself..) is a cut-down child's wellington boot - £3.99 a pair from Woolworths. If you get the right size, it simply wedges on with no other fastening required.

Tickle's leg is encased in vet-wrap, that amazing bandage that only sticks to itself. I have a spare roll of it, so can add or subtract it to ensure a good fit for the boot.

The red fleece, by the way, is made by Hotterdog. We don't approve of clothes for dogs. Oh no - not for our rufty-tufty beasts. We got this only as an alternative to an elizabethan collar which the vet wanted Tickle to wear to foil the little witch's attempts to remodel the top of the splint. Really. And if we've also brought her a black one, too, it's only so we have a spare.

The saga of Finn's tail

We have a gorgeous red setter boy in foster with us at the moment. Finn arrived from Ireland a couple of weeks ago in a sorry old state - very thin, smelly and with a raw wound to the of his tail. Earlier this week, we thought we would have to amputate it - sad in such a beautiful boy, but tails in a strong, waggy dog like Finn often simply don't heal and the kindest thing to do is lop 'em off.

But last Sunday we finally took the plunge and let Finn off lead for the first time (in a very safe place, over a mile from the nearest road). For the first time since he arrived with us, Finn could run free. And, boy, did he run! He also poo-ed for England. Afterwards, foster mum Jan took him home and he slept the sleep of the truly-content for perhaps the first time since he'd arrived.

On Sunday evening, when Jan re-dressed his tail, she was astonished: where there had been blackness and a deep, semi-infected wound, there was now fresh pinkness. It looked 100 times better than it had just 24 hours previously. So we had a dilemma: Finn was booked in to have his tail amputated the next day. The vet had told us in no uncertain terms two days earlier that "there is no way that is going to heal". Should we go ahead with the amputation the next day or not?

Well of course not! Finn deserves a chance. And perhaps all that exercise and ridding himself of what looked like a month of compacted stools finally jump-started his immune system into action.

It's still not a pretty sight, let's face it. Foster mum Jan apologises for this picture which she thinks looks rather rude!

Now you really didn't need that mental image, did you...?

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Tickle breaks a leg...

Two weeks ago, on an unseasonably warm afternoon, Jon and I took the dogs down to the river in Marlborough for a swim (and a bit of duck acclimatisation...). Tickle only learned to swim in the summer and wouldn't win a style competition, but she's fearless. After a few minutes, she spotted some cattle on the opposite bank and swam over, leapt out of the water on to a wooden slatted pier and raced towards them, barking, totally ignoring my shout to come back. I saw her slide on the slippy wood and then she screamed - her left foreleg had slipped in between the slats. Clearly hurt, she hopped back to the bank, crying. "Well perhaps that will teach her not to chase cows" I said to Jon, not very charitably. I didn't think she was badly hurt.

Now Tickle is a gutsy girl usually (see here). She wouldn't dream of showing any vulnerability in front of strangers. But with us she's pretty vocal if she bumps or bruises herself. On a late summer evening walk a few months ago, she came hopping back to us holding up a front leg and then cried all the way home. Once home, she sat on Jon's knee and continued to cry. I was so convinced she had broken it I dragged my vet, Juliet, out of a dinner party. But it was just a sprain and within 24 hours Tickle was back to her usual self, terrorising Boz at breakneck speed round the garden.

So down at the river I thought she was putting it on a bit. Tickle is so nimble-footed I couldn't believe she had really hurt herself. But she stood forlornly on the bank opposite us, still crying. The river was too deep for us to cross, so Jon set off towards the bridge, 100 yards down river. Tickle, though, so needed to get back to us that she suddenly launched herself back into the river and swam awkwardly over to us. Jon helped her out and picked her up. She was sodden and shaking and still crying. We sped to the car and took her straight to the vet. An x-ray revealed the horrible truth - Tickle had an ugly chip fracture of the larger bone that runs from her shoulder to knee. It was three-quarters through the bone and unstable. Juliet splinted the leg and sent us home with a stern lecture about keeping her really quiet. She also gave us a bottle of ACP, a sedative which would help counter Tickle's natural tendency for mayhem.

As I write this, Tickle is on the sofa beside me, upside down and dreaming. She's doing really well - alternating between demanding cuddles from Jon (left) and hopping round the house and garden. The vet would have a heart-attack if she could see her go up and down the stairs and jump on and off the sofa. But Ticks is a smart girl. She hops around holding her bad leg up and is really careful. There have been a couple of yelps when she's caught the leg on something, or one of the others has knocked her, but she seems more comfortable as every day passes.

Thank goodness for the ACP, though. I hate having to drug her, but the alternative is worse. The other morning, before I had given her the morning dose, she was out in the garden and she came flying towards me terrifyingly fast. We have been warned by the vet that if a knock causes the fragile bone to break through, it will mean an operation and weeks of crate rest so I've been much more careful since then.

We miss our sparky girl, though. Every morning, Boz tries to play with her and he looks terribly forlorn when I have to stop him. As you can see, though, Luka is not about to give up his favourite spot on the bench for anyone. Unlike Boz, he's undoubtedly enjoying the peace and quiet. I've told him to make the most of it.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Blimey... shouldn't they be free?

One or two people are astonished that we charge for our rescue dogs. They think they're doing us a huge favour by offering a home to a needy animal. I can of course see their point. But rescues cost a lot to run , even one like Black Retriever X that doesn't have expensive kennels to maintain. The truth is, we can't survive on goodwill alone.

Some rescues charge quite a lot for a rescue dog - sometimes up to £200. I've always felt this is quite a lot so, until recently, we've only asked adopters to cover the £65 it costs us to bring a dog over from Ireland. Anything over and above that has been voluntary. Most people are terrific, it has to be said, recognising that there are often considerable costs apart from transport - vaccinations, kenneling, flea and worm treatments, neutering etc. People do, on average, give us about £100 - and sometimes more, which is fantastic. But a couple of weeks ago, I received a cheque for just £30 for a dog that cost us probably £300. It was a good home and I'm way too much of a softie to go back for more, but it has made me think again about adoption fees.

My day job (yep, I have one!) has always had to subsidise the rescue - to the tune of at least a couple of thousand pounds in the past year. My partner Jon and I have a successful small independent television company, but when you have your own business there are always times when cash flows a little more readily. So from today, we've decided to charge a minimum adoption fee of £100. It will undoubtedly mean we can help more dogs, so we hope everyone understands.

Friday, 5 October 2007

The art of matchmaking...

I met Kym my friend 15 years ago when I lived in London. She was a dog-walker then and became one of the very few people on the planet that I would trust to walk my flatcoat Fred (left) - then my only dog and precious beyond words.

Fred died a few years ago and I moved out of London to Wiltshire soon after. Kym, meanwhile, is now a full-time mum. She has a great kid, three-year-old Stanley (cool name eh?) and still lives in north London with her headteacher partner Gary.

Seventeen years ago, Kym found a young collie x tied to a park bench. She took Molly home and had her until earlier this year when she was finally put to sleep. She was soon on the phone asking if I could help her find another dog and, a a couple of months ago, I suggested she came to meet Dylan, a young lad from Ireland.

Dylan (right) is a lovely boy and we had found a lovely home for him with a great family in Gloucestershire but it hadn't worked out. Dylan suffered from bad separation anxiety which made him hard to leave, and he was a bit of an escape artist. Next door were very valuable, pregnant llamas. After a month he came back to us.

I called Kym and suggested she came to meet him. Kym thought Dylan was wonderful and, even better, Dylan was great with three-year-old Stanley - playful and very gentle. Kym went home and called a couple of days later to say she would love to have Dylan. But, in the meantime, I'd had an email from Corine in East Sussex who was looking for a dog with agility potential to be a companion for her flatcoat x. Rally.

Although I knew Kym would offer Dylan a great home, I felt Corine could offer an even better one - a really active, rural home with the added benefit of another dog for company. I told Kym I had changed my mind because my gut instinct was that Dylan would do better in the East Sussex home.

Kym was extremely upset, as she had a right to be. I had all-but promised Dylan to her. We didn't speak for a little while and I felt rotten about it. But Dylan went off to his new home and it's been a great success. He is proving to be an agility star, a great pal to Rally - and, wonderfully, Dylan has been fine shut in the kitchen at night on his own, something he couldn't cope with in the first home.

Then, two weeks ago, Scamper (below) arrived from Ireland. He is just gorgeous - a collie x, not a retriever, but with all the best retriever traits: playful, kind, gentle, bright and the cuddliest dog imaginable. He got on fantastically with my gang (who can be a bit fussy...) and is just about the loveliest, easiest boy we've ever had. As Scamper was just his 'pound' name, we re-named him Ollie, which suits him perfectly.

We already had a home lined up: Janice and her family from Dorset, who had adopted Snoop through us earlier this year. Janice was looking for a companion for Snoop and was taken by the pictures of Ollie on the website. But when she and one of her sons came to see him, there was no instant chemistry. Although some people are happy to let a dog grow on them, others need to feel that immediate "yes!" and Janice was one of them. As lovely as Ollie is, he just wasn't the dog for her.

The next day, an email arrived from Moira who a few months ago had first fostered and then adopted Holly, a little spaniel/collie x from Ireland. Moira has worked absolute wonders with Holly, who is a bit of a livewire. But Holly has an obsession Moira has not been able to cure her of: cats... And Moira lives next door to... a cat. Worse than that, Moira lives next door to at cat owned by a family with children who are scared of dogs, particularly an athletic spaniel/collie x who climbs trees to get at their cat. After months of work, Moira had finally admitted defeat and decided she must rehome Holly.

I mentioned Holly (left) to Janice. The whole family drove up to meet Holly last weekend. And it was love at first sight. Phew! Holly will be going to her new home shortly.

But we still had Ollie and a surprising lack of enquiries about him. And then, suddenly, I thought of Kym. Ollie even looked like her old collie x Molly. (Holly... Molly... Ollie... hope you're keeping up here!)

Kym, her partner Gary, and their son Stanley came to see Ollie last weekend. They absolutely loved him and Ollie, not much more than a pup himself, was just fantastic with Stanley who is a little boy with a real affinity with dogs. (Stan and Ollie... now how could that NOT be a match made in heaven...?!) The picture below, completely unposed, was taken last Sunday and shows three-year-old Stanley with Ollie on his right, and our Tickle on his left.

Some rescues won't rehome to families with children under 8. One has to be so careful. But Ollie had been with me a week and I know he is bomb-proof. He is also a much better choice than Dylan for a London home: he doesn't have a strong prey-drive; doesn't leg-it on walks and is a very obedient boy. London's roads and traffic are a scary prospect when you don't have a dog that has great recall.

So Kym, Gary and Stan took Ollie home with them. Yesterday, Kym called to say they already love him to bits. Stan and Ollie are the best of buddies - rolling around together on the floor, with Ollie being so incredibly gentle with young Stan.

A couple of days ago, Kym's partner Gary turned to her said: "You're so much nicer with a dog around."

Now that's true of many of us, isn't it?

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Dundalk Dogs

Worrying news from Dundalk, just north of Dublin... Lovely Ann Moore has helped save so many dogs in danger at Dundalk Dog Pound, including several black retriever xs rehomed through us - Bob, two Daisies, Jenny, Callum, Sadie, Baby and our very own Luka (pictured). But Ann is currently not able to get access to the pound to get dogs out before they are put to sleep.

There are two reasons why. First, Ann has been told that she can no longer come in at 8am on put-to-sleep day (a grim weekly event) but from now on must come in at 9am when the pound opens to the public. But Ann has a job that starts at 9am, making it impossible.

The second reason is... politics. Dundalk Dog Pound has the contract to put down unclaimed dogs from nearby Meath. These dogs arrive at Dundalk on Tuesday eves and are put into a stable at the back, away from view. Ann has managed to forge a good relationship with the Meath wardens who now alert her to specific dogs coming in to Dundalk that she may be able to help. Unfortunately, Dundalk staff have now said they cannot give Ann access to the Meath dogs, saying it isn't their job (which, in truth, it isn't but, hey...)

This is very bad news for all the strays and surrenders that end up at Dundalk as many more will die. I appeal to everyone involved to sort out their differences and resolve the situation. At the end of the day, it's the dogs that matter.

The stray situation in all of Ireland, not just Dundalk, really is totally unacceptable and is in urgent need of governmental reform. Although many UK rescues do what they can to help, over 16,000 perfectly fit, healthy dogs are put to sleep every year in Ireland.

If you can spare a moment, please, please sign the ANVIL (Animals Need a Voice in Legislation) petition. ANVIL is campaigning hard for change in Ireland. Here's the link to both the petition and more info:

Hello and welcome!

I have been meaning to start a black retriever x blog for some time - and here it finally is! The idea is to give some insight into what goes on behind the scenes of running a rescue - particularly the trials and tribulations of finding the right homes for our dogs.

This week, we finally found the right home for lovely Dewey (above), who arrived with us from Ireland about a month ago.

We thought we'd found the perfect family for him a couple of weeks ago - an experienced couple with grown-up children who lived just yards from the sea, with someone at home all day and a good-sized garden. But it turned out that, when in the house, Dewey would be restricted to a fairly small kitchen.

I managed to convince myself that this was OK (Dewey lived outside in Ireland) and so I left him there on trial. But I returned home and had a horrible night worrying about him.
Dewey is such a cuddly, lovable boy and I just couldn't bear the thought of the family sitting watching telly in the sitting room in the evening while he was shut in the kitchen on his own. So the next day I went and retrieved him. Did I do the right thing...? I think so - but I'd be interested to hear what others think. We've now found Dewey an idyllic home for him in Oxfordshire with Mark and Barbara, a couple whose dogs are very much part of the fabric of their house (even if he doesn't have quite the same sofa privileges as he enjoyed here!). He also has Amber, a gorgeous three-year-old wolfhound x girl for company...

Here they are getting to know each other. When I called on Friday, Dewey sounded like he was having a lovely time and was really settled (or perhaps that was just exhausted from playing with Amber for hours...!).