We were definitely not getting another dog; five was enough as it was. Looking online one day, an article caught my eye concerning a small animal charity called Serbia’s Forgotten Paws. Curious, I followed up some YouTube videos of the shelter and the dogs and my heart melted. Fur thick with snow, the air thick with howls, and volunteers desperately trying to ensure each dog had enough food from the little they had. Whilst dogs in this country can suffer greatly, Serbia does not share the same national love of dogs as we do, and without dogs being spayed, the parks, roads and streets are rife with unwanted, unloved strays. The Serbian government, like many, does not concern itself with the wellbeing of animals and only shows consideration when it comes down to how cheaply the dogs can be killed. With state-sponsored dog catchers and terrible weather to contend with, the dogs often have little chance of survival. Many find themselves caught and left in pounds. Horrendous conditions await; the dogs are unfed, so starved that many dogs often resort to eating each other, and icy cages ensure they die a cold, agonising death.
Yet Serbia’s Forgotten Paws and other small charities try to rescue as many as they can. Even with extremely limited finances, and the ability to only take in so many, the charity's determination and perseverance is incredibly inspiring for such a small handful of volunteers.
After showing my daughter Hattie the website, she decided that instead of a phone or jewellery for passing her GCSEs, she wanted to rescue one of the Serbian dogs. I rang up a lady called Jovana who, among other things, is in charge of rehoming the dogs in the UK. She offered us the perfect match.
“A little spaniel cross” she told us. And so what looked like a black little fox stumbled into our lives, and we called her Nina. Utterly adorable not only did she immediately fit in with our other dogs (even our most boisterous fat little Springador) but she was a massive help to my daughter, who after months of feeling useless and unworthy because of her depression, finally felt she’d done something worthwhile to have been able to give Nina a home. Their bond was instant.
On year on, I wondered if rescuing a dog would help my daughter again, who has been suffering from severe anxiety for years and had had to leave school because of the intense panic attacks. Shutting herself inside the house day after day, with friends no longer bothering to invite her out, Hattie was becoming increasingly lonely. I looked at her New Year’s Resolution list and saw she had written ‘save a life’. Together we’d been looking at a sweet young dog online and were ready to get her, when an emergency post was put up on the site. It asked if anyone would take in an overlooked, short-legged, bushy-tailed old terrier called Vincent because, like Vincent Van Gogh, the dog had only one full ear. Yet this dog was actually a little lady, and the charity worried that because of her age she might not survive the winter in the shelter.
I am proud to say my daughter decided that that was the dog she wanted, even though Vincent was not the prettiest of dogs, or the youngest. So Vincent joined the family and she was quickly renamed Pixie Lou. It was obvious she was going to be Hattie’s dog. Although at first a little shy, Pixie Lou, we soon realised, was a very big character on very little legs. Tottering around amongst the much bigger dogs, she would proudly tell everyone who was boss, and ensured she was treated as the Duchess she knew she was. She also seemed to understand that all was not well with Hattie, and that what she needed was herself; the Pixie Lou. Still, years on, Pixie Lou is Hattie’s shadow; wherever she goes, the Pixie Lou must follow. As my daughter has PTSD, she suffers terribly with nightmares, but now a (rather chubby) Pixie Lou will not leave her side on the bed - not even when the other dogs go out for a walk, not even for treats. She even refuses to come down to be fed, unless she feels she can leave her duties for five minutes. Then she is quickly scampering back upstairs to position herself on top of Hattie on the bed. She has appointed herself as her personal nanny dog, and I always know when Hattie is around and Pixie will always be spotted first, proudly leading Hattie safely round the house.
If only anxiety was more widely recognised as the real problem it is, and dogs were more easily allowed to be assistant dogs, Hattie could take Pixie Lou around with her. As it is she can rarely go anywhere, as she can’t take Pixie Lou into the shops, cafes and restaurants she likes and is stopped by her fear of overwhelming panic attacks. I’m sure having Pixie Lou with her would mean she could partake in more and more activities.
Getting Pixie Lou from Serbia’s Forgotten Paws was the very best thing we ever did for Hattie. Since then we have also adopted Maya, a 10-year-old German Shepherd cross who also would not have survived much longer.
This year we offered to take a foster dog on, as the snow has been so bad. With temperatures of -15 degrees Celsius, dogs have almost frozen to death. But I have told my daughter that this the last dog. For now.