It’s National Dog Day and Juliet Meyers wants to celebrate the joy a rescue dog can bring.
Before getting my rescue dog Homer, I’d been considering getting a cockapoo puppy; a cocker spaniel and poodle hybrid. “Cute looking, they don’t shed much – perfect for urban living” went the West London mantra. I’d had umpteen conversations about the best colour (“Apricot!” chorused the residents of Chiswick). They are wonderful dogs, but then I started looking at rescue websites.
Aside from the ones that had been ill-advised presents, so many of the dogs I saw had been saved from puppy farms, where, as Pupaid states, “The dogs and pups are usually kept in horrific dark conditions, totally unsocialised and riddled with both infectious and inbred, often incurable, diseases.” I tried to adopt an older schnauzer who’d had multiple litters but she was terrified of people and needed another dog already in residence.
I met Homer 10 months ago when he was moved into a foster home. He’d been abandoned with his brother and sister in Portugal at just 15 days old. Apparently a lady looked after them for a while but then they were put in a ‘kill shelter’, where they faced death if nobody picked them up quickly.
His brother and sister were taken to Germany by a charity, and thankfully the wonderful Many Tears Animal Rescue (based in Wales) saved ‘my boy’. They paid for his vaccinations, passport (complete with the prerequisite photo of him pulling a sad face) and transit to the UK.
When I met him, he was wary but I was smitten, so I returned a week later.
His breed and colour were irrelevant. His story and quirky face grabbed me. But people always ask what he is. He’s a Portuguese podengo médio, which sounds like a type of nippy hatchback, although he’s clearly crossed with something else too.
His foster mum said the moment she loves the most is always, “When they get their new collars on.” Maybe it’s the dog adopter’s version of putting a ring on someone’s finger to signify eternity. Sadly for him, I’d got such a big identity tag made, he looked like a medallion man.
I’ll never know why Homer has a chunk of his ear missing. It might be from when another dog attacked him. Others think he was tagged. It’s just part of him now, and, like his previous life, it doesn’t seem to bother him anymore.
Podengos and their Spanish cousins, podencos, are often kept at the point of starvation and used to hunt. Then they are either killed or dumped at the end of the season.
Since having Homer I’ve bumped into so many dog owners with horror stories of what their rescue dogs had been through. But here’s the beautiful thing: as the owners are telling the stories, the dogs are standing there wagging their tails with a ball in their mouth. Their transformation is the most satisfying thing to behold.
Having a rescue dog can take time and a lot of repetition. Perhaps as a result of living in so many places, Homer has separation anxiety and panics when I leave the house, so I run around the supermarket like I’m on Supermarket Sweep, flinging things in the trolley to get home before he frets. But he’s making progress as he increasingly understands I’m a keeper.
And he’s finally having the puppyhood he missed out on. He plays more and more. His jubilation when we get home means he jumps around like a springbok then does somersaults out of his basket. His confidence has soared so much so that he shook audience members’ hands when I did a show with him at the Edinburgh Fringe this month. He even insisted on sitting on the sofa with some of them.
People’s kindness to Homer has restored his faith in humanity, and mine too. They’ve helped him go from nervy to frankly quite cocky. In a dog-friendly cafe recently, he left my side and nuzzled under the blanket of a woman who was breastfeeding. I immediately gushed, “So sorry, he’s a rescue dog.” She didn’t seem moved so I added, “He didn’t get his own mother’s milk.”
I do tend to invoke the rescue-dog excuse from time to time, like when he stole butter off my sister-in-law’s kitchen island. She was sweet about it and said, “Well, he’s known poverty.” Or when, like a teen of yesteryear hiding his porn, he hoarded five pitta breads under the base of his dogbed. Or when he stole a puppy’s cake at the dogsitter’s. He’s an adept little bugger.
For our one-year anniversary, he’ll be getting his own cake. People comment that he’s really fallen on his feet with me, and I joke that he’s like the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but I just think he deserves as good as any dog who hasn’t spent the first year-and-a-half of his life in various cages.
Besides, I could never have got a cockapoo; they’ve got the same hair as me and we’d have looked ridiculous together.
Juliet is hoping to tour her show This Flipping Rescue Dog Has Ruined My Life in the next year (mostly in small dog-friendly venues) including at NCF Comedy on 12 November.
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Juliet Meyers is a writer (for radio and television), comedian, feminist and middle-lane swimmer. @julietmeyers