Angie Aspinall: The Year of the Dog

Posted on September 28, 2012

If you’ve read my first blog post for Limping Chicken, you’ll know that after sudden profound deafness in my ‘good ear’ last year, I started to long for a dog.

I thought it would help me feel safe and secure and would give me something on which to focus my attention while off work with vertigo and trying to come to terms with my deafness. You will also know that instead of getting a dog, my husband (Richard) and I got chickens. (Long story – but the abridged version is here.)

Well, despite loving the hens far more than I ever thought I would, the desire to have a dog started to return earlier this year and this time we decided to do something about it. Richard’s only proviso to getting a dog was to acquire one which didn’t shed so I started to do some research. Together we drew up a shortlist of the types of dogs we might like to have.

The top of my list was ‘Westies’ for the simple reason that I met one in a shop once and when I crouched down to stroke it, it put it’s paw on my knee and melted my heart. I’ve been smitten with white Westies ever since! Other dogs on the ‘would like’ list were long-haired Jack Russells (like the one Alys Fowler has); Parsons Russells and Jackadoodles. Friends on Twitter suggested others – but those I just listed were all the main ones in the running.

I then started to look up where we could buy them from in our local area. I could only find pups for sale and we didn’t really want a puppy. Richard suggested scouring some dog rescue charities’ websites instead as that would be a good way of getting an older dog.
The first site I tried was a local charity but they were looking to rehome mostly Staffordshire bull terriers and the like.

I then came across the Little Dog Rescue charity and immediately saw an advert for Shirley – 5-6 year old Westie in Bexley Heath. She looked perfect! I read her story and was immediately drawn to her. She had been through so much adversity (and cruelty) and yet sounded like the most adorable sweet-natured dog. I figured she deserved some love and attention and a loving home.

The information on the forum said she was in a pound about to be destroyed when the charity rescued her. She’d been found on the streets with another Westie: they’d been turned out after a 5 year stretch at an illegal puppy farm. She’d had countless puppies, sold at £500+ no doubt but had been repaid by being turfed out with green teeth and a matted coat.

The charity ensured her teeth were sorted and that she was given all her jabs and stuff and, in no time at all, her foster carers had her looking clean and healthy and behaving like the perfect house guest. In return she rewarded them with impeccable behaviour and masses of affection.

I showed Richard the story and he agreed she was the perfect dog for us. Well – perfect for me as a ‘first dog’. (I think Richard was hoping for a little ‘adventure dog’ – a lively Jack Russell who would be into everything – but here was Shirley offering just what I was looking for – love and affection – and wanting just the same in return – perfect!)

“Get an application form filled in,” he said. So I did! There I was: 11.30 one night in bed, filling in a form to ‘adopt’ a dog to fill that dog-shaped hole that had appeared in my life. It felt like such a positive thing to do. We would make this happen!
I joined the forum and posted a message to Shirley’s foster carer, Christine to let her know we were interested in meeting Shirley with a view to giving her a home.

As luck would have it, we were due to travel to London (from our home in Yorkshire) later that week for Richard to do some work with the London Aquarium and Horniman museum. I was just going along for the ride and I’m so glad I did as we managed to arrange to meet Shirley on the Saturday at Christine and Tony’s home, which turned out to be just half an hour away from where we were staying in central London. We inadvertently broke the rules by meeting the dog before getting feedback on our application form but neither us, nor the new fosterers knew that until it was all arranged. (Sorry LDR people!)

So, on the hottest day of the year, we ventured forth to Bexley Heath where Christine and Shirley would be waiting for us. There they were on the footbridge at the station!

Initially, Christine’s greeting was a lot more enthusiastic than Shirley’s – but to be fair, Shirley had no idea who we were or why we were there. We walked to Christine’s house, impressed by how well Shirley walked to heel on a lead. Amazing considering that she was at least 5 and never would have been taken for a walk until 8 weeks’ previously.

Once we approached the quiet street where Christine and Tony live, Shirley was let off her lead and she showed us how she knew the way home. She went trotting up the path and, on seeing Tony, she started to wag her tail as she ran to greet him. What an affectionate thing she was!

We sat in the garden, in the shade and the hot little dog lay panting, trying to cool down on the slabs next to the garage. Once recovered, she was happy to come to us when called and sit and be stroked. She would come with a mere click of the fingers too.
Over the next couple of hours, we learned about her routine and her likes and dislikes. She even demonstrated the little dance she does when she knows that her dinner is being served.

It was clear that she didn’t really know how to play: Christine and Tony had bought her toys but they said she didn’t seem to know what to do with them – much as they’d tried to get her interested. Richard said he’d be very keen to teach her how to be a dog and to run and play and he got down on the lawn to roll around with her. It was clear he was as smitten as I was!

We all had a good laugh as we watched her trying to ‘stalk’ a pigeon which had landed on the fence. She gave a little bark, which was more like a cough. Tony said, “Could you hear that?” (Obviously I’d told them about my hearing loss.) I laughed and said I could just hear it with my hearing aids in. “That’s as loud as it gets,” he said. Well, that was music to my ears! I’d been worried about a bark sounding horribly loud through my hearing aids as high pitch sounds can sometimes be excruciating for me – but, with this little lady it didn’t look like this would be a problem.

Wondering what to do with ourselves for the rest of the day, Tony recommended a trip to Greenwich and the Cutty Sark. This required a trip to a different train station so Christine kindly offered us a lift. I got to sit in the front with Shirley on my knee. She was as good as gold in the car and didn’t try to get out when the car door was opened at our destination either. We said a sad goodbye but hoped it wouldn’t be long before we’d be welcoming her into our home.

I’m delighted to say that after Richard put up a new fence in the back garden, we passed our home inspection (as we’d passed the application process).

It’s now three weeks after meeting Shirley and this weekend, I’m going back down to London to bring her home to Yorkshire. And, henceforth she shall be known as ‘Tilly’. (Richard vetoed the name ‘Shirley’ and we both liked the name ‘Tilly’ so, ‘Tilly’ it is!)

Angie is journalist, food and travel writer, photographer and co-founder of #Yorkshirehour on Twitter – as well as having a full-time job in local government. She’s also a wife, chicken-keeper, gardener, foodie and WI member, living in Glorious Yorkshire. Angie started going deaf in one ear at the age of 30, then suffered total sudden onset hearing loss in her ‘good’ ear in 2011. Her husband and her chickens keep her sane – or as close as she’s gonna get! You can check out her website, blog, twitter account, Facebook and Linked In.

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