How Schnauzerfest Changes Lives – and not just the dogs
Through Schnauzerfest big things happen for dogs saved from puppy farms. Since 2014, big sums of money have been raised, eyesight has been restored to a large number of dogs and big friendships have been formed, human and canine. The astounding ripple-effect that Schnauzerfest creates is seen in many stories. I document all that I can, some I publish, others I cherish privately, knowing there could be a limit to how many life-transforming Schnauzerfest stories people might like to read. But here’s one I have no hesitation making public, for several reasons. Mainly because it’s a story of courage, compassion and commitment arising from an agony of bereavement. It’s a story of looking forwards, to a future enriched by the presence of two dogs for whom the past is unbearably awful. It’s the story of Anne, Steve, their beloved dogs Mabel and Bella and their much mourned dog Toby.
In Anne’s words…
It might seem odd that watching Mabel thundering down a beach with the biggest smile on her face followed by Bella barking and wagging her tail reduced me to tears. The fact they looked like puppies is astounding. You see Mabel and Bella are not puppies they’re aged 7 and have never had the chance to run. In puppy farms that doesn’t happen. Until rescue, they’d been used as breeding machines, until they were no longer profitable. I cried because this is what they should always have done if they’d wanted to.
So how did they come into our lives? Rewind 3 years. Walking our schnauzer, Toby on a Dorset beach we heard about something called Schauzerfest. Some time later, we turned up, a little nervous, for our first Schnauzerfest walk in Hampshire. We soon learnt that as well as being a fun and welcoming walk, there was an important fundraising purpose that I was unaware of. I met Donna and Twinklet who was being carried in a sling (read her survivor story here). I won a copy of Saving Susie-Belle in the raffle which I read before the day was out and our love of Schnauzerfest and DBARC began.
After a lot of thought and conversations with Janet and Donna at DBARC we felt we could offer a puppy farm survivor a good home, and in January this year Bella joined us. Toby was losing his battle with Lymphoma but instantlly rallied to this terrified girl who had never been in a home before and only trusted him. With Janet’s advice to ‘acknowledge her past, but don’t feel sorry for her’ we began our journey. She loved Toby and within days was walking with him off lead.
At the end of February Toby lost his fight with cancer. We were all howling (Bella the loudest) but knew we could do something about her pain. We had a care plan in place with DBARC and set off in the snow to ‘borrow’ a friend for Bella. I was absolutely broken and feeling guilty, but this was for Bella not us. The trust placed in us still humbles me, as in that snowy yard we were trusted with another puppy farm rescue and with tears on both sides I was soon holding a grey bundle in a red fleece. Enter Lush, an ex kennel mate of Bella’s at DBARC. Ironically one of the photos Schnauzerfest used to explain how their funds are used was of this little dog, and one I’d taken weeks before when she was in my husband’s arms, at that time totally blind. Now she was looking up at me with restored eyesight and no other expectation at all.
Reintroducing these 2 ex kennel mates was very emotional; they knew each other which made them happy. It’s unusual to have 2 puppy farm survivors and no ‘lead dog’ but these were unusual circumstances. I was anxious and felt the weight of responsibility that these poor girls would not be let down ever again.
Who was I kidding? Lush was never going to be a ‘borrow’. How could anyone give this scared girl who was starting to like being in a house back, to wait for someone else to adopt her. So Lush was adopted, we changed her name and Mabel became Bella’s official new sister.
So was it easy having 2 puppy farm rescues? No, not always! Has it been rewarding? YES a thousand times over. Would I do it again? I hope that I don’t have to, and puppy farms are stopped, but I don’t think that will be soon, so yes, I would rescue again, every time.
What were the key challenges ? Planning – Toby was the ultimate chilled dog, he just slotted into our life. Medically Bella and Mabel need to be considered, eye drops twice a day every day. They were already seeing the benefits of their time in rescue, but needed good nutrition and they didn’t understand there was always water and they would never go hungry again. They had little muscle tone so walks tired them, and they needed to have little and often exercise. They adore being outside. Bella was car sick (we think she was just anxious, as it’s rare she’s sick now) Neither could walk on a lead (that is still work in progres).
We went to the annual Schnauzer walk in Dovedale this year and as everyone set off, our two went backwards, sideways then after a long while forwards. In early days with us, they couldn’t go up or down stairs. They’d never encountered them. I put stickers on the French windows as they’d not encountered glass. Normal things terrified them – they were scared of us. I naively thought after a week or so this would go, and I was going to become a ‘puppy farm dog whisperer’ and they would be bounding to meet me as their saviour. Reality check time! they spent 7 years incarcerated in a hellhole, how trusting would anyone be?
Add to that their puppies were taken away (and dogs do grieve), I’d say they have what we would call post traumatic stress syndrome, and clear mental health issues. But time is something they and we have, and I quickly realised i could not care less about them becoming ‘normal dogs’ (if such a thing exists). I just wanted to make sure they started to experience the good life, and feel safe, anything else is going to be a bonus. I take this very seriously.
Mabel is very sensitive to noises. She hates the bleeps of the microwave and the dishwasher and hides when I dry my hair. Was this the electronic feeding machines in the puppy farm – who knows ? Bella still prefers to observe cuddles happening to Mabel, but a cheeky sense for humour is emerging which we adore. The wins though are amazing – seeing them get excited for walks, how they enjoy treats and their first icecream was a real tear jerker. Bella batting a ball for the first time, (as they dont understand the concept of play) and how they greet us by barking and wagging tails like crazy (before running away). We use a buggy to get them used to crowds and give them a safe place when we’re out (oh and to get them into pubs!) My local supermarket (if they’re well zipped up) has not yet found my ‘babies’ have tails and beards.
They went to France this year and really were amazing – they loved it. They adore the caravan and time away, and relish being outside walking and sniffing just learning to be dogs really. Following something I learnt from Janetta’s books with Susie-Belle, we’re loading them with new things and experiences, (most take them out of their comfort zone) but they’re safe and learning about the caring world they now have and we love them unconditionally.
We have had so much help and encouragement from too many to list, but they know who they are particularly at DBARC and Schnauzerfest. What advice would I give.? very difficult for me to answer, as like a new parent there is oodles of advice out there and each dog is unique. I’m a total novice at this and have to watch and be aware of their comfort zones, but I would say if you have the space in your heart the patience and the time for one of these desperately let down special dogs then go for it. Listen to all advice and work out what is good for your dog. Oh and as they have never lived in a house before, buy a good mop and bucket and be prepared to use it!
Anne has this year joined the Schnauzerfest behind-the-scenes team and her help and contributions have been invaluable. It makes me thankful every day that good people do good things for the dogs, just because they can, not because they want any public thanks or applause; but I’m eternally thankful for everything Anne is doing, for her own dogs, and those who we help with Schnauzerfest.