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‘On his first night, none of us thought it would work’: The reality of adopting a rescue dog


By Lauren Heskin
17th Dec 2021
‘On his first night, none of us thought it would work’: The reality of adopting a rescue dog

As Irish dog charities receive a record-high number of requests to take dogs, tadopting a rescue dog is not easy but it's one of the most fulfilling things you'll ever do

This week, Dogs Trust Ireland announced that they had an 83% increase in calls from members of the public asking if they could take their dogs. This follows a huge spike in people adopting dogs during lockdown 2020, when everyone was at home and in search of some canine company.

However, much like Christmas, a dog is not just for lockdown. Most of the Irish dog charities have pretty strict requirements before you can adopt a rescue dog – they don’t like to give a dog to just any home. Typically, you need to have a secure garden, commit to a certain amount of time at home as well log your exercise capacity. It’s definitely a process, and many charities have received criticism for such requirements. Too often, frustrated by what they see as “roadblocks” to getting a dog, people opt to buy a puppy instead, many unknowingly coming from disreputable puppy farms where dogs are kept in terrible conditions for the sole purpose of breeding for sale.

However, these requirements are designed to avoid exactly this situation. They are trying to ensure that a dog is a good personality and lifestyle fit for you, as the dog you might want might not have the temperament you desire. However, puppy farms, for which Ireland is notorious, don’t require that kind of information. They’ll happily give a gorgeous hound puppy to an apartment owner without a word of warning that these dogs love to bark, or an over-bred French bulldog to a young family who might soon struggle with expensive veterinary bills.

Adopting our dog

We adopted Buster from Dogs Trust last December. We had a boxer who had passed away and it took a year before we felt ready to bring a new doggo into our lives, which happened to coincide with the Covid canine adoption boom. We felt we wanted a Staffie of some kind because we knew we could manage a big dog and bull breeds are often the ones left behind.

He arrived in the Dogs Trust bus on December 3, 2020, skittish and with a resource-guarding issue, which had been flagged to us ahead of time. This mean, unused to having toys or things of his own, he became very protective of them. He was okay with food but if you tried to pick up anything near him on the floor, whether his toy or your shoe, he would snap.

Buster on the day he arrived

He had been found straying so we knew almost nothing about him, not his age or his past. He had clearly been a pet at some point – he could sit and give paw on request (in exchange for food, of course). However, he would back into a corner if you went anywhere near his hindquarters and was absolutely terrified of the new chain lead we had bought him. So it likely hadn’t been a great home.

His first night with us, he refused to sleep in the palatial doggie bed we had prepped for him. Instead, he slept in a chair in the far corner of the living room, curling up so tightly he looks like a tiny baby goat.

For the first few days and weeks, Buster had absolutely no interest in us. You could touch him but he didn’t really care for affection. Between this and the excessive guarding that had us all on edge, none of us was sure the adoption had been the right call. 

This is all to say that it was not and still is not easy. Dog’s Trust was wonderful in their follow-up care, connecting us to its dog psychologist to talk us through managing his guarding issues. We started working with him, training him, feeding him at regular times, playing with him and allowing him to just move among us.

After two months

They say it takes a rescue dog three days to decompress, three weeks to settle in and three months to feel at home.

We knew we would eventually warm to Buster as we got used to having a new dog around the house again, but we were completely unprepared for how much he would change. Slowly, he realised he was here to stay, that he could have multiple toys, be fed regularly and be given affection whenever he requested.  You could physically see his body physically relax, the whites of his eyes disappeared and his ears, previously always on alert, flopped down,

It has been a total transformation from the growling, tightly wound, disinterested dog that had come to us. Now, he likes to have a paw touching everyone as he splays, tummy exposed, on the sofa. He’s now even a little too affectionate, especially with people on the street. He’ll inevitably shove his nose into the hand of anyone who gives him any kind of eye contact. I regularly turn around on a walk to find him, paws on some strangers chest, getting his ears scratched.

His welcome, whether I’ve been gone for a month or just popped out to put out the bins, is one of my favourite things in the world and if he thinks he can get into your lap unnoticed, he’ll do his very best. He’ll tuck his head under your chin and then, with all the subtly of an elephant, shimmy his hind legs up, grappling up your shins until he’s comfy.

After six months

However, he is not perfect. He still lets out a low growl if you touch his bum unexpectedly and I have to warn others not to pet him there. He still chews things he shouldn’t. He does not like other dogs running up to him, he prefers to ignore and be ignored. He won’t give you his toy (or your sock) without a fight but he trusts now that we’ll give it back and we trust that if we stick our hand in his mouth to fish out the dropped AirPod that is not food, he’ll eventually relent.

Nor are we perfect. I love his bouncy welcome when I come in but understands it spooks incoming guests. I get tense when a see a dog bolting towards him, putting him on alert before he even starts the interaction. But we all work at it. A dog is for life, as is the training and that applies to both of us.

Dogs are not just for Christmas or for a few months while you’re working from home. They take time and effort and commitment. If you’re thinking about getting a dog, please adopt a rescue dog from a charity. Not only do they want to find a good home for their dogs, but they also want to ensure it’s the right dog for you. Go through the process, answer the questionnaires, have the home visit. The result will be a dog that will thrive in your home and bring a new level of joy into your life. It’s so so worth it.