Last week I met Henry, a new patient of mine, who needed his vaccinations. He was a handsome dog, with a lovely coat and 'puppy-dog' eyes and if he'd been one of my 'normal' patients, I would have enjoyed giving him an ear rub and pat. As it was, I didn't touch him at first.
As I took his history from his owners, I watched him very carefully and could see how frightened he was by his stiff pose and the way he was licking his lips. He was just back from the groomers, who is a friend of mine, and she said he'd been in a terrible state; his coat had been full of knots and worse. Despite his long fur, he'd obviously never been to a groomer before. She doubted he'd ever been washed or combed.
Dogs like Henry can sometimes show aggression when faced with attention from groomers and veterinary staff. But Henry was literally scared stiff. As I examined him, I could feel him tense and trembling and I was alert for any signs that he might growl or snap. But although there was no hostility, there was no sign of canine friendliness either.
Henry seems healthy enough. He is a little thin, but it's from underfeeding, not disease. He has very little muscle tone, probably from lack of exercise. Henry's owners had only had him a couple of days and reported he seemed scared of everything new at first - the car, the doors, the garden, but was gradually getting used to it all.The only thing he showed any sign of pleasure towards was their other dog, an older bitch. She wasn't too happy with his sudden appearance, but he was loathe to let her out of his sight. He watched her from a distance and copied everything that she did, she showed him how to behave and what was safe.
His new life will now be very different to his previous one.
Henry is one of the thousands of ex-breeding dogs handed over to animal rescues after their owners no longer have any use for them. He has lived in a crate for most of his life, and was allowed out to 'work' and run in the exercise yard with the other dogs only when no one was in heat. Henry probably wasn't very good at his job, which might explain why he was given up so early in his life, he's only 3. He's been lucky, most stud dogs are kept until they are too old to work.
There are lots of breeders who treat their breeding stock as pets and keep their retired dogs with them in comfort. But there are many more who discard their unwanted animals without a thought for what their future holds. The lucky ones end up in rescues, and find loving homes with patient owners who already have a resident dog.
Many Tears Animal Rescue is only one of many rescues that takes on ex-breeding dogs but they are one of the best known. Reading through the lists of dogs looking for loving homes may well break your heart a little but it's something every dog lover should do.
Remember these dogs next time you are looking for a new pet. Your family might not be suitable for an ex-breeder or rescue dog but please be aware of where these animals come from. Don't buy from a puppy farm or from a breeder that has multiple breeds and litters for sale. These are the people responsible for keeping rescues full of unwanted animals. They are in it for the money and don't care about their dogs.
Next week, I'm going back to give Henry his second vaccination. His owners tell me he's like a different dog now; he loves his walks, the garden and the sofa. He is showing them signs of affection and I'm hoping he might wag his tail at me. If he doesn't, there is always next year.
These things can take time.