Our dog was a rescue dog and we had him for four amazing years. He was lucky enough to make it out of the council pound and find a home. He went on to battle cancer. He was our best friend. He captivated everyone that met him. What makes our story different from so many others is that he was a 'type' dog.
"Home desperately needed for dog - will be PTS."
This was the text received by my partner Nick as we relaxed at home one evening. It was from a member of a small local dog rescue we had adopted our last rescue Staffie Maggie from, and had sadly lost to cancer three months earlier. I was still very much mourning the loss of our beloved Maggie, and adjusting to life without her was hard. I kept telling myself I wasn't ready for another dog but when the text came through we knew there was no time for the luxury of being ready. We simply couldn’t allow a dog to be put to sleep when we had a home to offer.
When Nick enquired for details, it turned out the poor dog had been picked up as a stray with another dog, a German Shepherd, and was in a terrible condition. He had spent his seven days in the council pound suffering with pneumonia and was pulled out in the nick of time - just two hours before he was set to face euthanasia. A kind gentleman from a German Shepherd rescue took one look at the dog who had been picked up alongside the German Shepherd he was rescuing and just couldn't leave him there. He was now faced with a desperate search for a home, all at his own expense as the German Shepherd rescue could not fund a dog that wasn't one of their breed.
We soon noticed that he was covered in scars. It appeared he had a badly healed broken rib and what looked like a fractured bumpy skull
He was placed in boarding kennels where, for two weeks, he deteriorated further and a decision had to be made on whether this was really fair. After constant advertisement and numerous pleas for a home, the future looked bleak for the poor dog. One last-ditch attempt text message sent to all the local rescue contacts resulted in us getting involved. Without hesitation, we said we would have him and due to his poor condition we would make the journey to collect him the following morning. The rescue who had homed us Maggie vouched for us in terms of being suitable owners with a suitable home, and we received the green light.
All we knew was that he was a Staffie-cross. We had experience of Staffies, previously rescuing two. We knew of crosses, also; Maggie was suspected a cross with a Bulldog, and my sister-in-law's Staffie with a Jack Russell.
The drive down was filled with excitement. The thought of having a dog in our lives again was truly wonderful. I hadn’t realised how depressed I had become without one. We found the kennels and waited patiently as they fetched 'Jim', as the staff had affectionately named him. After a few moments, he emerged from around the corner, pulling on the lead and wagging his tail excitedly. He was tan with white paws and a cute white stripe down his head, and huge brown eyes. He was stunning, so happy, literally smiling from ear to ear the way only dogs do. He ran straight to us and greeted us, jumping up and wagging his tail. It was love at first sight.
We got into the car and I realised he wouldn't have eaten yet that day. He was so terribly skinny, devouring a small bag of treats I had brought. He then leaned on me in the back seat, resting his head and watching the road disappear behind us as we pulled away. He knew he was being rescued.
In the days that followed we spent lots of time bonding with our new family member, who we named Buddy. We soon noticed that he was covered in scars. It appeared he had a badly-healed broken rib and what looked like a fractured, bumpy skull, on top of his which was what can only be described as an imprint from a ring, as though he had been punched. I couldn’t bear to think about what this poor boy might have endured.
We started feeding him up, bought him some toys and got him booked in at the vets. Our first priority was to get him a thorough check-up, and get him microchipped and neutered. He also had a bad case of 'happy tail' that needed treating, from anxiously chewing his tail in kennels and then wagging it and knocking the wound open.
At the first appointment, this exciting honeymoon period abruptly ended. The kind vet that saw Buddy brought it to our attention that he was a 'type' dog. She went on to say that although she had no problem treating him, because of the type of 'nationwide' practice it was, we were not guaranteed to see her each time, and another vet might not share her understanding nature on the subject.
We were in shock, and very confused. We got him home and spent endless hours reading up on type dogs, Pit Bull-types, reading about breed-specific legislation, reading horror stories... We sat desperately in a panic, debating 'What next?' All the while, our sweet boy looked at us with innocent eyes from his bed.
We could not put Buddy back into kennels where he had struggled so badly with his physical and mental health
We educated ourselves as much as we could and looked at every option available to us. Buddy was certainly no danger to anyone, and having had two dog-aggressive and powerful Staffies previously, we were already very responsible and vigilant when out on our walks. We knew we would never allow Buddy off the lead and were seeking out a dog trainer.
The key question we faced was whether we would we go forward to the authorities. Surely it would look better? Surely they would hear his story, and work with us to ensure we were responsible? This was an option we ruled out pretty quickly once we came across one particular story - the story of Lennox.
I contacted a specialist non-profit organisation for advice. They requested I email a photo of Buddy, and immediately replied that he would definitely be classed as 'type'. Although he looked so much like any other Staffie, it was his long legs that would mean he would be viewed as a danger to the public. I was advised that although exemption was possible and the preferable course of action, there were no guarantees of the outcome. Buddy would need to be bombproof before we put him forward; the assessment process is very 'in the dog's face', so to speak, using stressful situations like cornering the dog to see how they react. It could also mean Buddy would be taken from us for an unknown length of time while the process was undertaken. That thought was utterly heartbreaking. We could not put Buddy back into kennels where he had struggled so badly with his physical and mental health.
And so began our plan to keep him safe. We never went back to the first vet. Instead we decided to go to the vet's we had used for Maggie, some miles away, but they were very understanding of rescue dogs. It was a huge risk, but we trusted them. The clinic's owner's first instinct was that Buddy was a Staffie-Boxer cross and they had no issues in treating him. We had him microchipped, insured and neutered. We walked him at dawn and dusk, sticking to side streets. We drove away from home for walks out of the neighbourhood whenever possible, and backed the car right up to the front door to get him in the house. We also reached out to a dog trainer whose website spoke of his expertise in working with 'red alert' dogs, police dogs and dog-aggressive dogs – he would be able to give us advice and determine Buddy’s true temperament. We took another risk and contacted him for a consultation.
The trainer carried out a full behavioural assessment of Buddy. He had no worries whatsoever - what he encountered was a loving, once social and slightly fearful but very food-driven, obedient dog. He gave us hours upon hours of sound advice regarding the law and was happy to continue training Buddy to work on his socialisation. His advice was not to go forwards to the authorities but instead work towards making Buddy ‘bombproof’, with all of us as prepared as possible should the worst happen and he was seized. The trainer put us in touch with a client who was in the same situation; we met with her and she showed us some great dog walks ‘off the beaten track’.
In that first week following that first vet appointment we had been sick with worry. My anxiety was through the roof. We lived in complete fear, unable to comprehend Buddy being seized from our home and killed because his legs were longer than an average Staffie's. But life with Buddy became wonderful. We felt truly connected to him; he was my son, my best friend, my rock, all rolled into one.
In 2014, we got the devastating news that Buddy had cancer. He had a rash on his tongue; we never in a million years imagined our boy could have something like lymphoma. The prognosis for lymphoma is poor and we were given a life expectancy of between six and 12 months if treatment started immediately. When we got back to the car I broke down crying. Buddy licked my tears and stared at me eagerly. He was telling me it would be ok.
Just the smell of his head and the feel of his cheeks in my hands calmed me to my very soul
We had monthly chemotherapy sessions and Buddy handled them like complete champ. He had to be administered drugs by mouth and by drip and had countless blood tests. The vets were always amazed with his happy nature throughout; even the most placid of dogs could snap or complain but Buddy was just so happy to be seeing all of his pals and getting a few treats. With time and the news of the cancer, our constant fear over his breed lessened somewhat. We started to enjoy life with our boy. While we never forgot the constant risk hanging over our heads, we were determined to make our time with Buddy count. We enjoyed some carefully planned holidays together, glamping, staying in safari tents and log cabins by the sea. We were determined that Buddy would still experience life within our fearful restrictions. He missed out on so much, simple joys for any other dog, but where possible we planned trips out for him away from other people, who might recognise what he was.
When I fell pregnant with our son, Buddy would cuddle his head up to my bump, all evening, every evening. He had a strong sense of when people were upset or anxious, and would naturally seek to reassure them. Friends and family were in love with Buddy; he always lavished visitors with a wonderful, calm, understanding affection. Even my cousin, who had been extremely fearful of dogs since childhood, was able to sit with and stroke Buddy. As someone who had battled with anxiety quite badly in the past I realised one day just how well I was doing, and that Buddy was my unofficial therapy dog.
As we bought our first home and gave birth to our son, Buddy held us all together, providing much needed cuddles and support. Just the smell of his head and the feel of his cheeks in my hands calmed me to my very soul. My maternity leave could have been a very lonely and isolating experience with Nick working, but I had my faithful friend right by my side, with unconditional love always. If we napped upstairs he would follow and lay beside me. He had a way of reassuring you with his positive presence.
As our baby son grew into a toddler and we enjoyed many happy days as our new family of four, Buddy's health began declining. He had rallied against cancer. Not six months or 12 months but three years down the line, he was still in remission. We were so proud of him. The chemo had been put on hold as he just didn’t seem to need it, but there was obviously something else troubling him. The vet suspected a tumour on his pituitary gland, as he wasn’t enjoying his food and was losing weight rapidly. With the guidance of our vets we had to make the heartbreaking decision to say goodbye to our boy. As I held him I told him, "Thank you". He gave us so much. Life would never be the same without him.
Whilst I feel relief that 'we made it' and our grieving mantra has been that 'they didn't get him', I know many other dogs that won’t be so fortunate
As we grieved, an overwhelmingly bittersweet notion was constant within us. Yes, he was poorly, yes, he battled, yes, we had to say goodbye, but ‘they’ didn’t get him. He was with us. It was old age in the end. A tragic relief washed over us that we all made it. We looked back at the days of obsession, the worry over nightmarish visions of police officers pounding on our door and seizing him with a choke pole. We truly were lucky and grateful. While it’s always devastating to say goodbye, we were able to, and he was with us - a rare luxury for dogs like Buddy.
Buddy never got to walk round his local parks and beauty spots on hot sunny days. He never got to attend training classes in a group or go for the Good Citizenship award as we had once hoped. We never got to walk him proudly, meeting other dogs and owners. We are angry in sense he never got to live life quite to the full. But we did our best and he was loved. He was warm, he was comfortable, he was spoilt, and he was so, so loved!
I felt so strongly that his story should be heard, a story of normality and what these dogs deserve. In the right hands 'type' dogs are no different from any other breed. Who knows what Buddy's true potential could have been free of this ridiculous law. Whilst I feel relief that 'we made it' and our grieving mantra has been that 'they didn't get him', I know many other dogs that won’t be so fortunate. They are not allowed the chance, because it is too risky to go forward and exempt your dog, because of the pure uncertainty and biased around the law and the assessment process.
They are not just ‘type’ dogs, not demon dogs, branded an easy target of blame for the many failings of humans. They are vulnerable, let down and sadly often victims. They are loving dogs, loyal dogs, silly dogs. They are therapy dogs, they are nanny dogs. They simply require responsible loving owners as all dogs deserve.
I hope I have done Buddy and the many others out there some justice in telling our story. And my message to Defra? Please stop killing innocent dogs.