Around the time of Schnauzerfest 2018 weekend I was contacted by Romy who was keenly taking part and helping with a few additional things on the walks she was involved with. Romy’s motivation to help dogs saved from horrible backgrounds is close and personal. She’d adopted Amber a few months previously and had learnt first-hand the depth of damage that the puppy industry inflicts on breeding dogs.
Romy vividly described Amber’s terror of humans and almost everything about them. How her skin crawled when she was touched, how passing through doorways, or moving from room to room in her home presented great challenges, day after day. How she had to muster courage to eat her meals if people were around, and hyperventilated when she was held. Readers of my books, in particular Saving One More will recognise the familiarity of Amber’s responses to Twinkle’s. I immediately empthasised with the challenges Romy and her family were facing to understand how best to help Amber overcome her profound fears. And also the celebrations and happiness which resulted when progress occurred.
This week marks 6 months of Amber’s new life, and Romy wrote to me updating their story. Her words evocatively mark this milestone on their journey together.
“Today is exactly 6 months that sweet little Amber came home with us. Skin and bones, fur falling out, stinky and terrified. It’s been such a learning journey for all of us! We regularly scare each other by accidentally being in the wrong place at the wrong time, make the wrong noise or walking in the wrong direction. But now we laugh about it and Amber does her full body shake-it-off and we start again.”
This is similar to how many of us experience life with ex-breeding dogs. A sense of humour is as vital as any more obvious quality we need, like patience, a willingness to love unconditionally; there are so many moments where if we didn’t laugh then we’d cry. The difficulties we witness our dogs having every day, to get through the most mundane moments is heartbreaking. But, opting to see the funny side when we can, even when things appear dark, is a vital ingredient in journeying together with a dog like Amber. They don’t need us to be somber or gloomy, they need us to show them that the way ahead is bright. We must keep our darker thoughts well away from them if they’re to push forwards to happiness with our confidence cushioning them.
“Amber can usually come to our hand but sometimes becomes scared again and can’t walk towards us. She can mostly walk on the floors and pass through doors but some days, something triggers a fear and she either freezes or the house turns into an ice-skating rink, legs going everywhere. Some days she’ll tentatively follow me around, others she’ll sit in her basket, watching.
Learning to be loved has been very difficult for her and nothing makes me happier than her bouncy excitement when I come home, or her eye-contact on a walk or a little tail wag. Amber is at her happiest on a walk! She loves to sniff and gets a lot of confidence from Lola, who is full of the joys of life. She even lets people touch her, though still averts her eyes.”
“I can let her off lead on the park tennis courts and she loves to follow Lola chasing her ball. When I think back to the long and traumatic process of getting her onto a harness and lead, I cannot believe it is the same little dog. Amber still won’t touch toys and is not that keen on antlers or yakkers. She’s accumulated a string of nicknames, each said with adoration and affection.
Amber still spooks at the tiniest of sounds and movements. The worst was recently when she was so ill. I decided to sleep downstairs in case she needed to go outside quickly. I brought a reading lamp down and when I turned it on, she completely freaked out and didn’t know which was to run. I can only think that maybe it seemed like a torch in the dark”
“When she eats, we remain quiet and don’t move around as she obviously feels vulnerable and we want her to be relaxed and enjoy meal times. She chokes if she feels the need to run when eating. Whenever I see images of what may have been her previous life, I want to cry, for her and others not yet rescued. But also smile with how far she’s come in being a loved little dog, not a breeding machine. To look at her, with her smart haircut, you would never know her background but her ‘Nervous’ lead still declares ‘give me space’ and be gentle.
We adore this precious little soul who has been entrusted to our care and couldn’t imagine not having her in our home.”
For many dogs the ghosts of the puppy farm continue to haunt them long after they are rescued. Amber has a way to go to put her past well and truly behind her, but I’ve no doubt at all that she will, in her own time and with the loving guidance and dedication of Romy and her family.