Paula wanted to share her story to help other people who are considering adopting a dog from rescue. By no means does she want to discourage people from doing so, but she does want to encourage you to trust your gut, be assertive and to ask for as much information as you need to enable you to make an informed decision.
When Paula adopted Mitzi she didn't know what she was really letting herself in for. Paula was an experienced dog owner but Mitzi was her first ever rescue.
Paula did her research and read loads about rescue dogs, she recalled how she was told many times that it takes about two years for a rescue to really settle and relax in their new home. Paula thought, like so many of us do, that 2 years probably wouldn't apply to her and her new hound, it was more likely to apply to more extreme cases than her Mitzi.
The rescue told Paula that Mitzi was very sociable with other dogs and didn't warn her of any aggression issues whatsoever. Paula really wanted to help and she was keen to provide a happy home for this lovely Rottie-cross. Once Mitzi was in her new home however it became very apparent that she was in fact dog aggressive and aggressive around food….. and it did take almost exactly 2 years for her to settle in!
Paula felt that if she had just been warned of Mitzi's aggression issues then she would have been prepared for them and ready for the challenges and expense that lay ahead.
Paula told me she felt fortunate to be in a position to work with a behaviourist with Mitzi, afterall it's not an expense that everyone can afford. There was no support from the rescue for Mitzi's behavioural issues.
Paula eventually decided that she would like to bring another dog into the home. A dog that Mitzi would feel ok around and that would perhaps help her to feel more comfortable in the company of other dogs.
Despite Paula's experience she wanted to help another dog in need. Paula told me that at the rescue where Mitzi came from the dogs were in 4ft by 3ft cages which were bare. No dog beds, no enrichment and they shared each cage between two dogs… whether they were dog reactive or not. It was a case of get on or be put to sleep.
Paula visited a number of rescues to search for her second pup but eventually returned to the same rescue that she had adopted Mitzi from. She had also volunteered with them as she was so keen to help the poor dogs that had wound up there.
When she saw Riley, he was sharing with a female mastiff who wouldn't let anyone near him. He appeared in a bad way and the female was quite bullish and domineering. Paula felt she had to help Riley.
She returned for a second visit with Mitzi, it was important that the two could be introduced successfully to see whether rehoming Riley was going to work for everyone.
The rescues way of introducing the two dogs was simply to put them in a room together, off lead and see what happened. Paula tells me now how she so wished that she had been assertive at this point and insisted on a gentler introduction. She recalls feeling 'it was a really risky situation, but I just wanted to get him home'. Despite this poorly orchestrated introduction, luckily it went well and it was decided that Riley would indeed join their family.
Riley was unwell with kennel cough but she was told this was common in kennels as it is incredibly hard to get on top of in that environment. He also had an ear infection so he was sent home with antibiotics for treatment.
When Paula collected Riley she was given 30 days free insurance and she read through the papers and saw that a head tilt was listed as a previous health condition. She spoke to the rescue about this and she was assured the head tilt was just related to the ear infection but that they had to document it to cover themselves.
Paula's gut told her to push harder about this and to ask more questions, but she so wanted to get Riley out of that environment and safely home with her that she ignored it. Instead she got home, put Riley on her own pet insurance and got him to her vets the following week for a check up and treatment.
Well, the vet was astounded at what she had been told. Riley had a bad case of pneumonia and there was no treating the ear infection until this was successfully treated. It took 3 months for Riley to recover from the pneumonia. He was a very poorly dog indeed and was pretty much sofa bound for those months.
Once Riley had recovered from the pneumonia it became apparent that he was in fact what Paula describes as a 'super aggressive dog'. Any behavioural assessment that was undertaken at the rescue would have been completely useless because he was so sick.
Paula returned to the same behaviourist that had helped her with Mitzi and it was he who noticed that Riley was having issues with his sight. Paula returned to the vets and they did an MRI. They found that his vision was indeed impaired due to a tumour behind his eye likely caused from impact of being beaten. Riley had not had a happy life, he was covered in cigarette burns and now the extent of his past was becoming clearer.
In August that year Riley had developed another tumour on his neck. The vet had said he was unlikely to live beyond Christmas.
Paula had now spent thousands on veterinary care for Riley and she got back in touch with the rescue to see whether there was anything they could do to help. They simply told her she could return him.
Paula had well and truly bonded with Riley and if we're honest that probably happened before he even left the rescue, when she saw him in the state he was in all she wanted was to save him. She felt that his fate if she returned him to the rescue in any event would simply be that he'd be put to sleep.
Four years later Riley is now living out his senior years happily pottering around Paula's large garden. He and Mitzi get on just fine and occasionally even snuggle up together. He's too disabled now to go out on walks and he has moments of senility but he has a safe and happy forever home with Paula. Mitzi is doing brilliantly and is now fine with other dogs!
Paula says she wouldn't change what she went through as she has helped two wonderful dogs in need. But her only regret is that she wasn't more assertive. She wishes she had insisted on being present at a vet check for Riley or that she'd pushed harder around the insurance papers. She knew that he seemed unwell and the head tilt on the insurance forms did set alarm bells ringing. She probably would still have adopted both Riley and Mitzi had she known the truth about them, but it would have been an informed decision. Instead she feels that she was conned by the same rescue, twice.
Dogs cannot tell you what has happened to them. But if you can try to separate your emotions and take a step back, you can assert yourself, ask as many questions as you need thus empowering you with information to make an informed choice for both you and your dog.