Twinkle’s first year
Today marks the first year anniversary of Twinkle-Berry coming to live with us, so she has been out of the puppy farm for 13 months as she spent a month with Janet being fostered. It’s incredible to think that a year has passed, it seems to have sped past, although in other ways, it’s hard to remember life without Twinkle.
Despite them both spending many years in a puppy farm, Twinkle has been a completely different dog to live with than Susie-Belle and has very different needs and problems. Where Susie-Belle had many more physical health issues that needed attention, Twinkle appears to be in good physical shape, but the psychological damage has been greater, or, has affected her in different ways than Susie-Belle. A bit like humans, where the physical problems can often be healed with correct care and are visibly seen to be healing and better understood psychological trauma retains its hold for a long while after the danger and harm has passed.
The most profound issue we have had to deal with, has been Twinkle’s instinctive aversion to being touched, handled or approached. This is more than likely a reflection of the combination of severe lack of human contact in the battery farm – dogs have been found to be kept in their hundreds with just one or two people providing the bare minimum of food and water to keep them alive and productive. Coupled with lack of human interaction, what contact there would have been for Twinkle would not in any way have been caring or gentle. Dogs in puppy farms are roughly manhandled and so any approach by humans once they are rescued and placed in homes, can’t be recognised by them as anything different. In their early years, they learn to fear humans. This is such a terrible travesty of what a dogs natural reaction to humans should be. They have evolved alongside humans by not fearing us, but by recognising a mutual need for love and contact. Puppy farming destroys that in dogs and is one of the most upsetting features of the hideous trade in dogs for me. The utter confusion of emotions that dogs must suffer in the breeding places is painful to dwell on.
It has meant we have had to learn how to approach Twinkle with calm, slow movements if we are not
to spook her and have her run away. Although her panic has significantly subsided over the year and in recent weeks has got a lot, lot less problematic, it is still a regular thing for her run through the house away from me if I approach too suddenly to, for example put on her lead, or offer a biscuit. We have developed very clear set of routines for doing things where she will allow it to happen without anxiety overriding her wish to be peaceful. For example, she chooses to go and sit in her bed to have her harness and lead put on, she will rarely allow it to happen anywhere but in her bed. This, after a year of doing it at least twice daily. Still now, she is not comfortable unless she is in the “safe” place of her choosing.
Last week, I was sat on the sofa and Twinkle walked through the house past me. I noticed it and wondered what had caught my attention. I realised it was because she had walked past me…..not run past me….not skittishly sped past me to get to where she was going, which was to help Michel in the kitchen. To have her move at a gentle walk in her own home without feeling the need to fly around from safe place to safe place was a milestone that has taken a year to reach.
Speaking of the kitchen, one thing that has really helped us with her, is that Twinkle-Berry is as much a gourmet dog as our Susie-Belle is. She has really embraced our foodieness and this has undoubtedly helped her to learn that we are here to provide nice things, not to harm her in any way. She is also a very bright dog, which it took me a few months to recognise, but it was around last April time that I realised she was extremely observant, watching and learning from the other two, constantly seeing what was going on and what she was expected to do. Once recognised, I tapped into this with her and started to train her, something that we haven’t really done much of with Susie-Belle. It always seemed a little mean to make Susie-Belle work for anything when she had endured a life-time of suffering. But with Twinkle, teaching her to sit, to respond to verbal commands and hand signals, really helped her to overcome her instinctive anxiety around us as she focussed on what was being taught and what this meant for her – a delicious reward. She is such an eager girl to learn, it’s been beautiful to see her flourish as she channels her natural curiosity and intelligence into learning what most dogs would have learnt in puppy hood.
Twinkle is a beautiful, damaged, difficult dog in many ways to help as she is not able to let us cuddle and shower her with physical affection in the way Susie-Belle does and the ways we would like to. But day by day, little by little she is starting to let go of her terrible traumatic past and move on to accepting that we are not here to harm her. She has always got along well with other dogs, she is happiest and most relaxed when she is out and about on her walks and is a playful girl. In the early days with her, she would often be a bit too enthusiastic and run straight up to dogs full of her amazing energy. It would slightly alarm me as I know not all dogs are going to appreciate such a bracing introduction. She has had the odd verbal telling off from dogs and thankfully she has quickly learnt her canine manners without getting into any bother and now greets dogs more politely. Again she has learnt to take her lead from her big sister Renae and now will usually see what Renae does before following, and as Renae is very savvy when it comes to dog communication and socialisation, I rely on her to keep Twinkle on track. So far, so good.
All in all, our first year together has been as brilliant as we could have hoped for. While Twinkle-Berry has been more challenging in many ways to help than Susie-Belle was due to her more dramatic and unpredictable responses, it has been a very rewarding challenge to rise to. What it has shown us very clearly, once again, is that all dogs are highly individual. So, where there may be similar traits and the life in a puppy farm that has been shared causes characteristic problems, how they manifest in any dog, must be individually understood if we are to help them to live the lives they should be living. Much of what we learned with Susie-Belle has helped us greatly with Twinkle, but in other ways, she has required different help and approaches. But ultimately, it is patience, time and love that does it. By surrounding her with love and giving her a peaceful, quiet home with her sisters it enables her to gradually head towards a fear-free life and she is most certainly well on track to that. We know that she is doing her very best to learn that love exists and we will keep helping her to feel it every single day of the rest of her life.