I got my first dog in June 2011, a lab X retriever who was being given away free to a good home as a puppy. She was the puppy from hell, although looking back, maybe that was just because we were all learning together and we didn’t realise how much hard work a puppy is. In May 2012, I was diagnosed with, and then treated for, a chronic condition that made me realise that I might not always be here to look after my dog. It also made me look at life in a very different way.
I love my dog, and would love a house full, but two things stop me: 1) a husband and 2) that illness.
To get my dog fix, I started walking dogs at Mornac SPA after joining Verity’s legendary Birthday Woofer Walk in November 2013. I love being with the dogs, and my equally dog mad friends. I can’t go as regularly as I’d like but I’m still going when I can, falling in love with any of them if they will sit for me or my biscuit, and feeling great that just a few hours of dog walking makes a huge difference to those dogs.
However, the thing I love most is fostering. I took the plunge with Arnold, a setter X who was really struggling to cope with life in the refuge. It didn’t take him long to find his feet and fall in love with Daisy, and he spent two months with us before he found a great home with a friend of a friend, so I know he is happy and loved. I’m on my 9th one at the moment. He’s 10 yrs old, and you can tell. He’s a bit creaky, has scars from his previous life and gets upset when Daisy bounces in to him. He came to us after six weeks with another fosterer. Before that we don’t think he’d been in a house, so it really is a case of trying to teach an old dog, new tricks.
The wonderful thing is watching him gain his confidence. He got very attached to me very quickly, to the point that he would bark if I left the room and shut the door. After two and a half weeks, he’s just relaxing enough to let me leave without having to follow me every time. He still goes in to melt down sometimes if I’m gone for too long, and I can be sitting in a different room and he can run right past me in his panic to find me, but he will also lie in the garden listening to me “singing” along to my ipod, just happy to be exactly where he is.
We’re still dealing with the occasional accident in the house, I have to creep out of the lounge at bedtime, I have to crate him when I leave the house and cajole him in to eating his dinner as he’s not interested in food. Some food upsets his stomach and he’s still really thin, so food is a constant challenge. We have spent hours cat training him, but he now follows the cat whenever he can, and curled up to sleep with him for the first time yesterday!
That is with a dog who was described as “not easy”. I’m guessing that meant difficult, but we have been careful to set boundaries for him and all of our foster dogs, and haven’t had a difficult one yet. We have had one who escapes (but only as far as the nearest bin), two terrified setters, one of which we spent a lot of time chasing round the lounge to catch him to go for a walk, a retriever X who tried to mount everyone and everything in the first 24 hours of arriving, but is still my favourite and three young ones, so lots of puddles and piles to clean up, but only for as long as it took to do a bit of intensive toilet training!
They are all different, and the adult ones usually come with baggage, but they soon settle in to a routine and become part of the family. I have loved all of them and am always a mixture of happiness and sadness when they leave us. The joy of knowing I have helped each of those dogs on to a loving home, far outweighs the upset I feel when they go, and I do get upset, but I know there will always be another one who needs a helping hand.
I live in Poitou-Charentes in France and foster for Orfee in English. I walk refuge dogs and cuddle the cats at Mornac SPA, just outside Angouleme. There is always room for more volunteers and fosterers.
If you’re in a different area of France, maybe we can find somewhere for you to do your own refuge dog walking or cat cuddling. Find our website at LAARF or for a quicker response on facebook at LAARF – SPA Volunteer Network