If I’m totally honest, that would be my biggest piece of advice for anyone wanting to start getting more active. Obviously in saying that, I am potentially doing myself out of work, but I really do think that a dog helps physical and mental health.
Let me talk you through my pack of mutts…
The old lady is Luca. I have had her since she was a puppy. She’s now 14 1/2. I am good friends with her beautiful mum’s humans (although sadly Bella, Luca’s mum, is no longer with us), and one day commented that Bella had such a beautiful nature that if ever she had puppies I would love to have one. Well a couple of weeks later it transpired she was pregnant!
I was about to start a sedentary job in a ski resort, after 2 years of skiing 4-6 times a week, so wanted a different focus to keep me moving as there wouldn’t be time to ski as much as I was used to. Luca helped no end with that. She also got me through a really tough time some years ago, when getting up to walk her was about the only thing I could focus on.
Next in our pack is Genie. She was a huge positive out of an awful negative. My partner, Steve, had two dogs – Apollo and Murphy – when he and I first got together. Apollo died very suddenly in 2012, and we were heartbroken. He was a huge personality (there are still things we do to accommodate him even now!) and losing him left a very large hole in our world.
We had a look around the local dog shelters, asking about smaller male crossbreed dogs (Apollo was a Rottie/lurcher cross), and at the closest shelter to our home the lady listened to our story, and then told us about a female Doberman who had just arrived. Erm. Right. So not smaller, or male, or a crossbreed! Obviously we met her and fell in love. Apollo had known she needed a home. She is the most beautiful dog, inside and out, that I have ever had the pleasure to meet, and I still can’t believe someone had abandoned her.
Genie is one of the dogs I used to run with when I was running regularly. She’s just a very very good girl!
About a year after Genie arrived, we sadly lost Murphy to cancer. 2 dogs. What a very sensible number to have. I mean, why would we ever want to get another one?
Well. Then I accompanied someone I know to see a dog that she and her husband were interested in adopting. I hadn’t realised prior to going but the meeting place was a house where the lady fostered lots of dogs. I have to admit that had I known that I might have hardened my heart better before walking in, but I hadn’t given it any thought.
And so I met Otis. He’s got short stumpy legs and a barrel-type body. He’s got jazz hands. He’s a smaller, male crossbreed. He’s utterly gorgeous in his own little way. And he had been utterly traumatised prior to coming to the UK. I won’t go too far into his story, but suffice to say when he first arrived to the fosterer he wouldn’t go in the house, he was terrified of everything and so on. By the time I met him he had come on just so much, it was amazing to hear Jeni talk about those first few weeks, but he still had a lot more layers of fear to lose.
He arrived to us a week or two later. All was fine until we tried to get him into the house. Yeah, doors were bad. However, he was and still is happy to learn. Happy to follow our lead. Happy to be pushed out of his comfort zone. This is a dog who didn’t want to be stroked when he first arrived and who now hops on the bed every morning for a cuddle. A dog who was terrified of going to the vet but now saunters in like he owns the place. It’s just beautiful to see how well he has come on.
Well, after thinking 2 dogs was the perfect number, we realised 3 was a pretty good tally. We were living in a tiny cottage, so there really wasn’t room for any more.
But then we moved house… To a larger property on 2 acres. Jeni, who had fostered Otis, innocently asked to come and see the new house, and immediately declared it perfect for Rum, who was her current foster. So, obviously powerless to the ways of these things, we did the necessary to adopt Rum.
Where both Genie and Otis had needed to take a while to find their feet and become happy dogs, Rum was on a different level. He was completely shut down. For the first 2 months or so that he was here he sat on a sofa in the hallway. He would let us put a lead on him to take him out to do his business, but otherwise he stayed on that sofa, not even venturing into the kitchen at meal times.
As with Otis, I prefer not to think too much about Rum’s past. I know enough to know his state when he arrived was entirely justified. Even now, over 4 years after his arrival, he is wary of people, he’d rather not be stroked, he won’t let us touch his collar, except when putting a lead on to go out of the house for a walk. And this makes those rare times when he does want a tickle on the nose or the ears just so special.
Well, by this point we’re at 4 dogs. With 2 people walking them that’s a dog lead per hand. Perfect. Definitely don’t need any more dogs. I mean we’re already getting all the benefits of dog ownership – the unconditional love, the endless walking, the floof all over the house. Why on earth would we consider more.
We wouldn’t have. But I saw Lydia on Facebook. And well, she was only 8 months and had already been rejected by two “permanent” homes, and had to go back into foster. I knew we had the space for her. I knew that whatever her issues were that had caused others not to want her, we would be able to cope. So I made the relevant enquiries, and she arrived a few days later.
Lydia is my other canine running buddy. She’s also our resident goat, preferring as she does to be high up whenever possible. And she’s such a sensitive little soul – she will stick like glue to either Steve or me if one of us is poorly or stressed. She gives just the best hugs. But hey, she wasn’t good enough for those other two homes. Crazy, if you ask me.
So, of course we stopped at 5. Yes, we stopped at 5 adopted dogs. And we fostered instead. Well, having seen the need for foster homes for Otis, Rum and Lydia, we figured it was a good way to help more dogs. And the first foster who came to us, Sasha, is doing so well in her permanent home. We still see her regularly, and she’s gorgeous.
Our 2nd foster, Atan, will be less easy to rehome on. His background is one of significant abuse, and since he’s a German Shepherd, he is a very bright dog who has learnt what he was taught. He learnt that men beat him, and that he must therefore bite them. Yeah, not so easy. From the way he responds to things, we learn more and more about his past. It isn’t pretty. I suspect the man of the house beat the lady of the house, too, as Atan shows in certain responses to things.
I have been advised that Atan should be put to sleep because he has bitten. And I can see why people might say that. However, I disagree. He is what that man has made him, he is not a nasty dog. We are slowly but surely undoing that. He adores Steve now. He is very much his dog, and I am just the lady who provides food and walks.
Back to where I started: If you want to get more active, get a dog. Just maybe don’t get 6. Seriously, though, dogs really do make you have to be active. They help keep you calm. They sense when you’re poorly. They lift you up with their silly antics. I know I’m biased, but watching these guys come out of themselves is just amazing. If you’re in a position to take on a dog, if you like walking and want to do more, if you have ever thought about running and would like a furry buddy, then go for it. I don’t think you’ll regret it.
Oh, and if you’re not in a position to get a dog yourself, I have one or two you could come and walk for me!