Poppy's plight and pleasure - the tale of a rescue dog

When you take on a rescue dog, you can't always be sure of what you're getting.

We were fully aware of that when we adopted Poppy.

It wasn't a decision taken lightly and it's not something we've ever regretted although sometimes we wish there weren't so much of the ratier in her and just a little more Cocker.

Poppy first came to our attention after we had visited a local show at the village hall organised by a nearby refuge for abandoned dogs and cats.

At the ripe old age of eight Poppy, we were told, had been "rescued" from owners who had over time collected more than 30 dogs, many the result of interbreeding.

Not surprisingly they had found themselves unable to cope.

A little less easy to understand perhaps was how come these people had never heard of the possibility of spaying their animals and instead had kept an ever-increasing pack in the most miserable of conditions.

When Poppy arrived at the rescue centre, she was undernourished, unhealthy and desperately in need of some TLC.

Over the next three months she was nurtured back to good health, neutered and vaccinated, but time and time again passed over by curious visitors as a likely pet because of her age and her less-than-generous helping in the looks department.

Let's face it, even by canine standards Poppy is no beauty.

Surrounded by larger and more aggressive dogs at the shelter, this mild-mannered mutt, who apparently never barked, had even sustained a nip in the rump which had required a few stitches.

We've kept dogs for several years now, always buying puppies with pedigrees longer than your proverbial arm and pampering them as befits any of man's best friend and perhaps oftentimes more than a little OTT.

Although harbouring some doubts, we felt it was about time to return some of the affection and joy we had received over the years to a dog less likely to find a home - in other words one entering dog dotage.

After contacting the shelter directly, we spent hours discussing the advantages and disadvantages of another dog - especially one whose past and character wouldn't necessarily be immediately apparent.

We did our homework, pouring over the sites of other rescue centres, looking at one "I need a home" face after another, reading the profiles of dogs who had spent far too many years chained to a post, kicked, beaten, abused and neglected, or whose owners had died and there was nobody willing to take them on, or the pedigree dog thrown on to the scrap heap after years of factory breeding, or puppies that as adults had outgrown, out-chewed and out-eaten their initial cuteness, or simply those handed in because someone in the family had discovered after a couple of years that they suddenly had an allergy.

Each story seemed more chilling, more moving and certainly sadder than the last.

So with all that in mind and full of informed good intentions, we made the journey to Poppy's shelter - just for a visit - and although we didn't exactly "crack" for her on the spot, her plight certainly tugged at our animal-lovers' instincts.

Still there was the unresolved issue of how she - or any other adult dog for that matter - would fit in with our "pack". So we bid farewell and promised to return a week later with a couple of our hounds for the sniff 'n tell session.

And return we did, taking Poppy and our two beasts for a spin in the car to see how they all travelled together, followed up by a romp in a nearby field.

All seemed hunky dory, even if Poppy looked more than a little confused by our imploring requests to "come" and reassuring "good girl" (she is French after all) but after an hour of doing only what dogs can reasonably do in public, all three appeared to be happy with the natural order of things and we decided in the time honoured tradition to say, "We do."

That was a couple of years ago and the "quiet, shy old gal who doesn't enjoy car trips" has become almost fully "Cockerised".

She "sings" with the rest of them when the morning chorus begins, gets overexcited at mealtimes, is affectionate towards us and spends car trips staring out of the window bravely announcing her presence to the passing world.

Yes, she seems to have taken it upon herself to lay claim to the same pedigree the others rightfully have.

Except she's not - a Cocker that is - as witnessed by the reaction of a family member visiting from the States who, on first catching sight of her exclaimed, "But that's not a Cocker".

And then there's that dominant streak of "ratier" she retains which means she's an ill-disguised She Devil towards cats and a potential threat to any small creature that might unintentionally find its way into the garden.

Vigilance is a byword as far as we're concerned and thankfully we've had the time, patience and ingenuity to be able to avoid potential problem areas.

But for all that, the pros have far outweighed the few cons and my fervent hope is that the time she has spent with us has brought her as much happiness as she has given.

Still we can't help sparing more than a passing thought for the thousands of other dogs here in mainland France (and of course elsewhere), abandoned and/or mistreated through no fault of their own.

Yes I know there are probably more important things in the world, and I'm not advocating that animals be put above human beings.

But as the supposedly superior species on this planet, we have an obligation to protect and treat our environment and all creatures accordingly and it's a sad fact of life that we so often fail.

I'm not looking for back-slapping praise, nor do I intend to come across as all sanctimonious, but if there's anyone out there thinking about getting a dog - or any animal come to that - why not take a trip to the local refuge and see what really requires a home.

And if you do, talk to those who run the shelter, ask about the history (if known) of the animal and spend some time getting to know its character and behaviour.

Maybe go away and have a damned good think about whether you're capable or willing to take on the responsibility, and bear in mind it might have been mistreated or require educating.

Pose more questions; as many and as seemingly foolish as you like, and if you decide to take the plunge, don't be afraid to ask for follow-up support and help.

After all, you don't want the pet you've adopted to become another one of those animals that finds itself back at the refuge some time later.

Bon courage.

Since the 1970s I have worked and fund raised with the Old English Sheepdog Rescue in the uk always having more than one dog, 4 at the moment, only one dog has ever bitten me simply because she is deaf and at 18 months old and 4 owners later had been kicked from pillar to post because she wouldn’t obey commands how could she she's deaf, she was terrified of humans it took 12 months and 3 bites to gain her confidence now she is as affectionate as any of my dogs and far better behaved, a little bit of love and time is all it takes

What a lovely story so beautifully written, Ed and myself have always rescued dogs,chickens,and know how hard it can be in the early years of adoption.

It's so refreshing to read posts like this .