A Picture of Del

There's One More Angel In Heaven,
There's One More Star In The Sky....

When the first thing a scruffy little mongrel does is to walk into your lounge and wee up the furniture seven times then "angel" and "star" aren't words that immediately spring to mind.

This is the potted history of said mongrel and his transformation, at least in my eyes.

After my Jack Russell died on July 2002 I wasn't keen to get another dog, certainly not straight away. Instead I volunteered to foster dogs for a local dog charity while the dogs were waiting to be re-homed. As it turned out this little mongrel was the second dog I fostered, although the first to christen my furniture in such a dramatic way.

Before I could foster a dog my garden had to be inspected for security. That meant a dog proof fence at the bottom and various repairs/patches at both side before I was declared "secure". Because of their backgrounds many rescue dogs spend some time trying to escape from their new homes before they settle down.

On 20 August 2002 I collected Del from the vets at Wimborne, in turn he had arrived straight from the dog pound at Southampton where he had been in kennels for three weeks. He was checked over and the vet pronounced him fit, heart beating evenly and about two or three years old. He was a Heinz 57, a terrier cross a little bigger than a Jack Russell.

I put him in the back of the car to take him home but while I was reversing out he had made his way to the front and insisted on sitting on my lap for the journey home. Even though he wanted to be on my lap in the car he would never sit on my lap at home.

Advice from the charity was that dogs were to sleep in the kitchen and if they made a noise you were to bang on the door and shout "QUIET". I don't know what book that came from but it was not the right way to treat this little chap. He was found wandering the streets in Southampton in company with a Whippet and taken in by the dog warden. The charity took in as many dogs as it could from the dog warden with the intention of re-homing them.

So I didn't know his history but I got the impression he hadn't seen the inside of a house for a long time, if at all. I duly put him in the kitchen and closed the door, he wasn't happy at all and started whining so I banged on the door and shouted "QUIET". After doing this about three times I thought "this isn't working for this little chap". I went in to try and comfort him but he was far too wary of people for that to help so I compromised on the charity's instructions - he stayed in the kitchen and I slept on my duvet on the kitchen floor. He took the edge of the duvet just out of arms' reach. After three nights of this I decided I needed a softer bed so I slept in my bed but left the kitchen door open. A little later I heard the patter of furry feet as little mutt made his way to the lounge and slept on the settee.

The main characteristic of this little chap was his extreme nervousness and distrust of people. We didn't know his background but he had scars on his neck which looked as if they were made by a wire noose. During the time he spent with me, nine years in the end, he only barked five times - that is five individual barks. Three were when the doorbell rang while he was asleep which woke him suddenly and twice when I said "do you want a walk" and he got really excited. On each occasion immediately he had barked he ran off and hid behind the settee. I think that at some time in his early life he had the bark beaten out of him. That would explain his fear and distrust of people as well.

Anyway, I am jumping ahead a bit. After I had been fostering him for two or three weeks talk turned to re-homing him. Oh dear, I had become quite attached to this little chap and now didn't want to lose him, so I asked the charity if I could adopt him myself and fortunately they said yes.

The first thing we had to do was give him a name. The next one on their list was "Derek", we had reached the "D's". I wasn't too sure how that would go down in the local park so I suggested we use the shortened form so "Del" he became.

Until now Del had been walked in the garden on a lead, since the fence was now supposed to be secure against terrorists and robbers etc. I started to let him out in the garden without a lead. Within five minutes he found a gap we had missed and was off. I didn't discover this until I heard a massive squawking from the ducks at the centre of the village, when I went to see what the noise was I realised Del had escaped. Time for the dinner bowl trick. Every time I had fed him I banged his bowl with a fork, it worried him a bit at first but he soon came to recognise it as a good sound meaning food was on the table. I took his bowl in to the garden and started banging it with a fork. A few minutes later he appeared, wet, muddy and bedraggled but fortunately without a duck in his mouth. He got a small meal in his bowl - if the trick is to work there has to be food at the end of it! He came back through the same hole he got out of so I was able to identify and fix that. He did a similar thing a week or so later on the other side but got no further than the neighbour's garden so another hole fixed.

I decided I had to train him from scratch, i.e. take him back to when he was a puppy and try and move on from there. I had one major advantage - he was totally food oriented, in fact if he saw anything that could be food on the ground while we were out walking he could pick it up and hold it in his mouth before you could blink. He didn’t eat it immediately, he seemed to want to bring it home. He also preferred water in puddles, he did get used to a water bowl eventually but was never really comfortable with a bowl.

I got a supply of treats and thought I would start with "sit" and "come". Immediately his nervousness came out - holding out a hand with a treat in it made him very suspicious so he ran away and hid. I guess in the past somebody doing that had resulted in bad treatment of some sort. In addition any click or beep would make him jump, fireworks and thunder terrified him to the extent he would find the smallest, darkest, corner he could and push himself in it while trembling and with his teeth chattering. On one occasion he managed to force himself into the hi-fi cabinet to such an extent I had to empty it out to get him out. I spoke to the vet who suggested tranquillisers and I also called in a dog behaviourist. The combined effect was that after about six months Del would sit and come (but not too close) and he would take a treat out of my hand. The behaviourist obviously trained me well!

We walked on Gorley Common every day, except when it was raining - Del's view was that only idiots go out in the rain. He had a trademark that all the other dog walkers recognised, his tail was always straight up bobbing from side to side as he walked. He had always been on his lead up to now but with his training complete I decided he should be allowed off lead. I armed myself with a tin of treats to persuade him to come back to me and let him off his lead. He didn't appear to notice at first, then he walked away a bit, then he started to run. He had a whale of a time, running a bit, exploring a bit, walking a bit - and I kept close behind.

As we got close to the car park I called him back with the aid of a treat and went to clip on his lead. Oh no, he wasn’t having that, one hand out was OK but two meant trouble so he ran off. I kept trying until in the end the treat tin was empty and he was disappearing into the distance. I had spent about an hour playing this game and I was stumped so I decided I would drive home and get his dinner bowl, while I was there I called the charity and told them I was having problems.

When I got back to the car park there were five people there, with various connections to the charity, but no sign of Del. I prepared a small meal and started banging his dinner bowl, all of a sudden he appeared covered in sand with his tail wagging like mad. As he was eating his meal we surrounded him and I managed to clip his lead back on. Our walk had started at 12:30, and we got back home just before 6 p.m.

I decided that off lead walks were off the agenda for the time being. I also felt quite despondent, if this little chap didn’t trust me after about nine months then would I ever gain his trust?

He was never a lap dog, he once jumped on my lap when a firework went off and once again towards the end when he was quite poorly, in hindsight probably much more poorly than I had realised. What I decided to do was work on getting his trust, and getting him to come to take a treat if I held two hands out - then to try and stoke him with the second hand. It was slow, hard, work and I even began to wonder if he might be better off with somebody else. I was also angry – not at him but that somebody, somewhere, had treated him so badly that it didn’t appear he would ever trust anybody again.

In parallel with this I had been trying to persuade him to play. He had no concept of running after a ball or rope so I played to his instinct for food. He had a plastic ball, about 5 inches in diameter, with holes in it that you could put treats in. If the ball was rolled on the floor the treats would come out. He got the hang of that in minutes and became as good at ball control as David Beckham, although I had to come to the rescue if the ball went under the furniture. He also had a couple of different shaped Kongs that would take soft food or treats - he didn’t need training for this, he got the hang straight away!

We hit a plateau then for a while, he would come to me if I held two hands out but although he sat on the settee with me it was at his end, not mine.

One night while I was watching television I heard him move and a few seconds later he lay down next to me and put his paw on my leg, I stroked him and he stayed there for a while then went back to his end of the settee. This was a major break through, from then on every evening he would come up and put a paw or his chin on my lap, or even curl up right next to me. It had taken nearly two years to earn that level of trust from this little chap.

I decided that he really must be allowed to walk off lead on the Common, he needed to be able to run about and have some independence and I would, somehow, have to manage it. So armed again with a tin of treats we headed off for our walk and the great experiment. I was nervous and consequently fumbled getting his lead and him out of the car. He decided to take matters in his own hands and jumped out then set off on his walk. I followed behind all the way round Gorley Common as he followed his "standard" route and back to the car where he sat by the back hatch waiting to be lifted in. If a paw on my lap was break through then this was total break through. He trusted me now and was saying "you can trust me too, give me some freedom and I will do the right thing".

That was now true in so many other ways too. I trimmed him myself, I would pick him up (that was also allowed by now) and put him on the table and he would just sit there while he was brushed and trimmed. The deal was a treat after each leg was done plus one for the head and ears, one for the body and two for his tail and rear end. He was the same on his visits to the vet, pick him up and put him on the examination table and he would just sit there and allow the vet to do anything. Poke him, prod him, stick a thermometer up his bottom no problems. Except for one thing - he would never open his mouth for anybody, I did wonder if he kept he Crown Jewels in there.

We moved home twice and he was as good as gold both times. As long as he had his blanket on the settee and his bed in the bedroom he wasn't worried where we were. He had a very accurate body clock as well. When it was time for his walk he would go to the lounge door and just sit there looking at me, no whimpering or whining, just a look. The only time his body clock let him down was at dinner time, GMT or BST made no difference, I always got “the look” an hour before his meal was due.

During one of his regular examinations the vet noticed a heart murmur and said we needed to keep an eye on it. About a year later Del started having bouts of coughing that would last several minutes, he would also cough after drinking. After investigations and X-Rays the vet said his hearts was enlarged and occasionally pushing on his trachea thus triggering the cough reflex. She prescribed Fortekor which he then took regularly and seemed to help a lot.

After our second move at the end of his morning walk in the gardens Del would run the “Home Straight” to get home for his breakfast. One morning at the end of his run he stopped, wobbled a bit and fainted. It was a Sunday (of course) so I ‘phoned the emergency vet and talked it through. As Del had recovered and seemed fine we agreed I would take him in on Monday.

During his examination the vet said the heart murmur had moved from grade 3 to grade 5 and he prescribed Vetmedin and Frusemide in addition to the Fortekor. They were effective for several months but gradually Del’s coughing was getting worse and lasting longer. It didn’t phase the little chap though, he still enjoyed life and his walks, although he didn’t run the home straight much any more.

In July 2011 he started to deteriorate rapidly, he still enjoyed his morning walk and breakfast but then spent the rest of the day asleep. He then lost interest in the afternoon walk. On 26 July even going out for a wee was a struggle for him. He was no better by the 28 July so I took him to the vet thinking this was probably the end. The vet carried out an X-Ray and ECG and suggested Digoxin on top of the current medication. The next day, 29 July, Del had really lost interest in everything, his trademark tail in the air had gone and his head was drooping. I knew then that he couldn’t go on, he was fading in front of my eyes. I called the vet and said I really think this little chap has had enough, how she understood me through the tears I don’t know but she said come down in half an hour. By then she had cleared the surgery so I was able to walk Del straight into the consulting room. I put him on the table and he sat there, good as gold to the last, with my arms around him while he had his injection, then he just quietly went to sleep in my arms.

I am writing this on the Sunday, two days after he died. It’s mainly to help me come to terms with losing the little chap but also because he deserves a memorial. A little dog who was so badly abused in his early life that he lost trust in people, but who worked to regain that trust and, in the end and despite my fears, became a total softy.

Never a lap dog by any means, all he needed was to be trusted so he could show he could get it right. And he did, all the time, every time, a true little gentleman to the end who never, ever, let me down.

So rest in peace my little Pudsey Bear, nobody can ever hurt you again now and I will remember you always.