Zero to Heartbreak in 48 Hours

An ordinary Tuesday, or so it seemed at the start of the day. Mr S had just gone off to the butchers for something nice for dinner when, mid-morning, my phone rang. It was our housing scheme manager, who asked me whether it might be possible to do her a big favour.

She explained that someone she knew had died suddenly and had left behind a little dog with no-one to look after her. The family either couldn’t, or by the sounds of it, wouldn’t take the dog. Could we help, either on a temporary or permanent basis?

There was no way I could discuss this unexpected turn of events with Mr S. Because of his severe hearing loss, he can’t hear the mobile if he’s out and about. So, taking a deep breath, I immediately said yes, that we would take care of the dog on a short-term basis. At this point I had absolutely no information at all about the dog, other than it was female and small. I fired off a very quick text to Mr S to let him know that when he returned home, I might not be alone!

We have been hoping that we might be able to get a dog so I’ll admit that, in the back of my mind, I wondered whether we might be able to consider a permanent arrangement once I’d had a chance to discuss this with him. But before we could start to get too excited, I needed to know more. A lot more.

Trying to find out more about her, and make the necessary arrangements to take on this poor dog, was rather complicated by the fact that our manager was off work with bloody Covid. Everything was having to be done by text and phone. Not ideal, by any stretch, but information slowly began to drip-feed in during the morning.

I learned that the dog in question was a Yorkshire Terrier, probably about 5 years of age. I was told that she was very much a lap/house dog, that she hadn’t been taken out for many walks but was house trained. What I half expected was something like this:

Figure 1: A Yorkshire Terrier Gray, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

OK, not usually my sort of dog, but needs must—she needed looking after, and pronto.

I found out a fair bit more about the circumstances around her being left behind, but I shan’t go into this out of respect for the owner’s family. I won’t use the little dog’s real name either, so let’s just call her Trixie.

I was informed that this little dog was rather highly-strung, ‘clingy’, and nervous, and was often to be found hiding under the bed or in a dark corner. That all sounded a bit ominous and challenging, but I set to and constructed a crate (a little home for her) out of removals boxes for her to hide in safely. I made a little mattress for this out of an old pillowcase and did a mad tidy up of anything in our flat which could possibly hurt a small dog. Fly tying involves a wealth of sharp and spiky things…

Then I waited, as she would be brought to us ‘some time’ today, together with her ‘belongings’. Before long, Mr S returned home so we were able to discuss things to a degree, though we really didn’t have a clue what to expect. At this stage, we also had no idea how long ‘short-term’ might turn out be. This was a potential stumbling block as we had booked a few days away in North Shields to celebrate our joint birthdays and wedding anniversary (all on the same day!), and this was imminent. Hmmm, what to do? Everything was uncertain, except that we knew we’d not be able to take the dog with us. There was no real choice, we had to put her needs first, so I got on the phone and immediately cancelled our booking.

At about two thirty in the afternoon, the doorbell rang and one of our manager’s colleagues stood there with a quivering bundle of short grey fur held tightly in her arms. Our first sight of Trixie was a little overshadowed by two big carrier bags of doggie accoutrements: a slightly grubby dog bed and fleecy blankets, an absolutely filthy food bowl, a few soft toys (one larger than she was!), a pile of puppy pads (more of this later) and a heap of pouches of Winalot dog food in jelly.

When she was gently placed on the floor in the hall, she immediately panicked and would have bolted given half a chance. A tall, leggy little thing, she’d come with a thin lead loosely looped around her neck but had no collar, so was in imminent danger of strangling herself. If, as we intended, we were to take her outside to wee that was the first thing we needed to sort out, so Mr S went out straight away to buy a harness and flexi-lead for her.

The next four or five hours were tremendously difficult to witness. The poor little thing was utterly traumatised, tail tightly tucked underneath her, she was cowering, shaking, and crying, quite unable to settle. She panted and paced and circled and whimpered and shook. She kept her distance from us, mostly staying in the hall near the front door, I think looking for a way to get back home. She was extremely wary and didn’t want either of us to come near, so we reassured her quietly from a distance and let her choose if and when she’d accept us coming closer.

We thoroughly scrubbed her ghastly bowl and put fresh water down for her in the kitchen, with a second bowl in the bathroom, along with one of the puppy pads. Ostensibly, this is what she was used to using with her owner! Later, I discovered that she had spent much of her time barricaded into the owner’s kitchen with a food and water bowl, her bed, and one of these bloody puppy pads to wee/poo on, so had little choice. No bloody life for this darling girl.

It soon became obvious that she was frightened, but she was a smart girl. She made it clear that she didn’t like the damn puppy pads and figured out that she could wee over the shower drain in our wet room instead. She was refusing to drink though, and we had no idea how long it had been since she’d had clean water, so her wee was very dark. I have to say that I was quite concerned about this.

In fact, my concerns about her were now growing. More conversations with our manager ensued. It seems that whilst she was probably loved, the owner wasn’t a well person and had precious little idea of what a dog actually needs—had she never been taken outside? Albeit unintended, and from ignorance rather than malice, Trixie had suffered considerable neglect.

We established that she’d been with her owner for around two years, but had been acquired as a rescue dog, having been abandoned previously. She was generally fearful of strangers, especially men. Reading between the lines, we figured out that she’d been on her own for over 12 hours at a minimum after her owner had died, then had the police traipsing in and out of her owner’s flat. This just got worse and worse. No wonder this poor little dog was in such a state.

Furthermore, no way was Trixie ‘about 5’ as we we’d been initially told. Having been around dogs for most of my life, I’d put her at a good 7 or 8 at the very least. I could see a slight bluey haze to her eyes, which indicated to me that she was probably developing cataracts. She was thin to the point where you could feel every vertebra, but her abdomen was tight and distended. She also seemed quite hot to the touch.

Her coat was an absolute disgrace. The extremely short cut was abysmally done, patchy, uneven, and rough, with no trimming around her feet. She was almost bald in places and had odd tufts of longer hair elsewhere on her body. To be frank, she looked as though she’d been attacked with bloody garden shears! Apparently, her owner had paid someone for this mess too—we were told that a couple of weeks ago she had so much hair she couldn’t see out and looked twice her size.

Her coat wasn’t silky like a Yorkie’s should be (Yorkshire Terriers have long, flowing hair, which keeps growing), but dry, rough, and dull. She was also itchy, evidenced by her scratching at her ears and nibbling at her skin and toes. She didn’t smell pleasant as a little dog should, bless her, and had terribly bad breath. This suggested to me that her diet was likely to have been crap for some time, and that she may have had an allergy. She refused flatly to touch the food we’d been given for her and, having smelled the stuff, who could blame her.

Her poor feet were in the most shocking state. Without walks outside on hard surfaces to naturally wear them down, her claws had grown so long they were distorting her little feet. Possibly even worse, though it’s a hard call, even though she was thin, and her tummy swollen, she had a noticeable golf ball-sized lump tucked under one of her back legs, a tumour? Oh no, could this poor girl possibly have doggy breast cancer? This isn’t uncommon in Yorkies, but we’d need to get her to see a vet to confirm this. Ringing around all the vets in the local area, we found she wasn’t registered at any of them, so we began to wonder whether she’d ever been taken to one.

Slowly, with constant, gentle verbal reassurance, she gradually began to calm and settle a little. By now, she’d begun to allow us to stroke her occasionally but was still on high alert all the time, and very jumpy and wary if one of us moved. As evening drew near, we fitted the new harness and took her outside to wee, which initially confused her. We praised her at every step.

Unmistakeably scared, but clearly willing to please, she actually seemed pretty relieved to be outside. She managed very well, including being encouraged to come down/up a flight of stairs. We were reluctant to carry her as she seemed flustered and uncomfortable when being picked up. She might possibly even have found it painful.

We weren’t out long, but when we got back to the flat she settled into her smelly dog bed, tucked her little nose into the corner of one of her blankets (I didn’t dare wash them as the smell was at least familiar to her) and fell asleep for a while. The poor little thing must have been completely exhausted.

Figure 2: Totally exhausted
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We took her out again around 10 pm, by which time this good girl had realised that she didn’t have to rely on a bloody puppy pad and could let us know if she needed to wee. She continued to have brief periods of pacing and crying off and on through the evening and into the night, but we kept reassuring her and telling her she was safe. No way could we leave her on her own overnight, so we settled down and prepared to doze in our chairs.

Sometime in the early hours of Tuesday/Wednesday I laid on the sofa and she jumped up to sleep near my feet, not actually touching me but close by. Progress! By Wednesday morning, she would come for a little stoke if I called her name and was gradually building more confidence. She wouldn’t eat any of the pouch dog food I put down for her, but she did drink some water and accepted a couple of tiny pieces of roast chicken, taking them daintily from my fingertips. Going outside for a short period seemed to brighten her, and she’d settle for a while afterwards.

But then, by mid-morning she started being sick. Not surprising after all she’d been through but distressing for her and for us. This set her back considerably as she was obviously expecting to be told off for making a mess on the carpet and she looked completely panicked. Being reassured instead confused her somewhat, but you could see her process this surprising turn of events. She continued to be sick through the morning, even when we went outside for wee breaks. Not being told off, but soothed, seemed to make a big difference to her though, and when she started retching while on my lap, I gently held her, stroked her, and spoke quietly to her while she was sick (all over my legs, in fact, but who cares).

From then on, she seemed to recognise that we wouldn’t be cross with her, and we’d take care of her. She started tentatively ‘asking’ to be cuddled, placing a hesitant paw on our legs and looking directly at us. Having finally finished with the sickness, she eventually accepted a few small pieces of ox tongue to eat, and she drank quite a lot of water through the day, which relieved me enormously.

Over the course of the day Mr S and I had talked at length, and by now we knew that, much as we’d like to, we couldn’t keep this darling girl permanently. Had we been able to, we’d have kept her in a heartbeat. It was a terrible decision to have to make, and almost impossible to remain pragmatic in the face of this sweet little girl. We wanted her to have the best life possible for her final years.

She really needed comprehensive attention for her various health problems. If we kept her, we would be taking on a big, possibly huge, financial commitment. This was something which we can ill afford, and pet insurance would be very unlikely to cover any existing health conditions. I’ll admit that I was also pretty worried that it would break me if the vet, with whom by now we’d already made an appointment for a full health check as we didn’t know how long she’d stay with us, gave us bad news.

But the biggest obstacle of all was this: we are on the waiting list (albeit a lengthy one) for an assistance dog from Hearing Dogs for the Deaf for Mr S. However, they simply will not consider anyone who already has a dog under 10 years old. We had no way to be 100% sure, but it appeared that Trixie was a few years younger than that.

We spoke to our manager and explained the reasoning behind our decision. She was just so grateful that we’d taken her in for now, but got started by contacting the RSPCA to look for a permanent home for Trixie. They were made aware of her full circumstances and still said they wouldn’t take her. What?

In retrospect I’m really glad, as I’ve spoken to a few people since who have confirmed that the RSPCA isn’t quite the benevolent organisation I’d imagined. I’m told that they’d have put this sweet, scared little lady in a kennel, or worse, which would have destroyed her burgeoning confidence completely.

At this point I was advised that her owners family had said that, if we couldn’t offer her a permanent home, and another home wasn’t found, they would pay for her to be put to sleep! I was, and remain, absolutely livid about this callous attitude. I appreciate that with a sudden death they may be in shock, but…

I told my manager that’d happen over my dead body. No. Effing. Way!!!

So, I reluctantly started contacting smaller local(ish) rescue centres myself… As if she knew I found this tough going and emotional, this sensitive little lady nestled into the chair with Mr S, who’d fallen for her as deeply as me.

On Wednesday night, she quietly cuddled on my lap while I answered comments from my IFG article on GP (quite a challenge, typing stuff that no-one reads, one handed). Then she snuggled up to sleep on the sofa with me. Not for long, mind as I ended up on the floor because I didn’t want to squash her in the night. I left my hand touching her, so she knew she was safe.

Early on Thursday morning, we went out for a slightly longer walk in the morning mist, on soft grass bearing in mind the condition of her poor feet. She had actually come to me eagerly for her harness to be put on—a first. She really seemed to enjoy the new experiences being outside gave her, sniffing like billy-oh at traces of other dogs even though she froze when we actually met one. She didn’t seem to know how to react. Bless her, I don’t think she’d had the opportunity to be a dog very often in her life.

By Thursday, late afternoon, after a LOT of agonising phone calls, I was successful in finding someone who was very happy to give this beautiful little girl a permanent home. She (actually the wife of the live-in manager of the Animal Lifeline rescue centre) lives in a large house in the countryside with plenty of space, and has loads of experience with rescue dogs, especially the smaller breeds.

The big advantage of Animal Lifeline, a charity between Stoke and Leek, is that they try not to keep any of their dogs in kennels. Wherever possible, every dog is fostered in a home until a permanent, carefully vetted home can be found for them (Trixie will even bypass this step, by going straight to her permanent new home). The charity remains in contact with adopters for the whole of the dog’s life, supporting them wherever needed. They have excellent veterinary support and a strict no kill policy (unless on health grounds), even having a doggy end-of-life foster carer. The fact that it was their manager’s wife who wanted to give Trixie a home seemed a dream come true in a way.

The trouble is that in this all too brief time, little Trixie had started to put her trust in us, and she’d really got under our skin. Having to give her up ripped my heart in two. I was told that someone from Animal Lifeline would come that afternoon to pick her up, and barely had time to prepare myself for her to leave us.

A lovely lady who lives nearby, actually the doggy end-of-life fosterer, came to pick her up. I had really hoped I’d be able to go with her to reassure her on the journey and hand her over in person to her new home, but this was not to be. Distressingly, seeing Trixie lifted into a travel cage in the back of the car was the one thing I couldn’t handle. It broke my heart. I stroked her and told her I loved her and that she was going somewhere she’d be loved and looked after. But I couldn’t stop myself crying, and I’ve been in pieces ever since. Mr S has been pretty upset too and I honestly can’t remember when I last felt so heartbroken.

We know that we have done the right thing for her, but it hurts. The charity, bless them, have promised us that Trixie will be loved and well cared for, and that they are happy to keep us informed about her progress. I will speak to them for an update as soon as I can. In the meanwhile, I’m on tenterhooks as, however unreasonably, it feels as though we’ve abandoned her again. She’s such a smart little girl and has such a sweet gentle nature. We just want her remaining life to be perfect—she deserves nothing less, and she’s been through so much.

The flat seems empty. I keep seeing her darling little face and those hesitant eyes, expecting a soft paw asking for a cuddle. I hope she knows that, even though we’d only been together for so short a time, only 48 hours in practice, we loved her. I hope she’ll really soon see too, that with her new lady, she is safe and loved.

We’ll rest easier when we know that for sure. We just need to keep faith with the people we’ve trusted to take her. I’m a bundle of emotions at the moment: sad, angry, relieved, and worried for her. I so wish we could have kept her here with us, but it just wouldn’t have been the right decision for her. What I do know is that we will never forget her.

Figure 3: Our sweet little girl
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How can someone fall in love and descend into heartbreak in just a few short days? Rather easily, sadly. We’ve just done exactly that.

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