Monday, 28 September 2015

More Leo less cancer.

For a blog entitled “Leo after cancer” there seems to be a lot of talk about cancer and not much in the way of Leo. So let me correct that right now.

Leo is a border collie cross who I adopted from the Dogs Trust in Kenilworth when he was aged 10 months old. I first saw him on the Dog's Trust website and I immediately fell in love. Matt and I had always wanted a dog, and we decided that once I was 100 days post transplant, and feeling well and capable of looking after the day-to-day needs of a dog, that it would be a good opportunity to adopt because I would be able to be at home a lot to help settle the new pooch. So for my birthday at the beginning of July, Matt bought a whole heap of doggy paraphernalia including bowls, leads, treats and toys. That week we went to the dog’s home and saw this beautiful creature curled up on his bed while his kennel mate, a much larger dog boxer-type dog called Jasper, bounded back and forth barking and peeing all over the place. We knelt next to the glass window and Leo tentatively made his way towards us and considered us for a while before heading back to his bed and curling up once more. I think we were smitten from that moment. We had a look around the home and one other collie called Dexy stood out to us because he was completely white with a black pattern on his face which made him look like he was wearing a batman mask.

We filled in the form with both Leo's and Dexy’s details and asked to speak to one of the rehomers. They informed us that Leo was a nervous and worried chap who would need a lot of time and space, that he was disinterested in food, toys, and people. Dexy on the other hand was a wild manic thing who needed three hour-long walks a day. My heart broke for Leo, and I knew that Dexy wouldn’t be a right fit for us because I wouldn’t have the energy to look after him.

There wasn’t much information to go on with regards to Leo’s history except that he had come from Ireland, that he was chained up a lot, and that he could clear a 7ft fence. Apparently the Dog’s Trust receive a van load of dogs from Ireland each week due an overwhelming amount of strays in the country and a lack of resources and facilities to deal with the demand for rehoming. My Grandad was an Irish orphan too, so perhaps that’s one of the reasons I felt such an affinity for him.

We said we would like to meet Leo and they arranged for us to see him. He trotted in and I just wanted to rush over and scoop him up but we were told that we would need to let him approach us on his own terms and that physical contact would need to be built up gradually. We were also told not to make direct eye contact as he might perceive it as threatening. When touched or stroked he would freeze completely, but he was better than we thought he would be and pottered around the room nibbling biscuits and treats that we'd scattered on a large duvet in the middle of the room. There wasn’t much to discuss, we both knew he was the one.

A few days later we returned to the home for a pre-adoption talk including a special chat with the dog behaviourist to help us with caring for a nervous pup. And afterwards we took him home! He settled in so much sooner and so much easier than we imagined. There have been a few teething problems along the way and things we have had to learn. There were the obvious housetraining issues in the first few weeks and if he was left alone in the kitchen while we popped out we would invariably return to a thoroughly scavenged bin, whole loaves of bread torn up and eaten, things knocked off the kitchen counters etc. He even flooded the house once after jumping up and accidentally knocking the tap on (I am sure it wasn’t malicious!). This caused carnage in the way of broken sugar caddies, a ripped up calendar, destroyed door frames and torn up bedding as he was probably terrified by the ordeal. Luckily, with the exception of the door frame, there was no lasting damage. It was just a learning curve for us all and we eventually figured out that a bin lock and a crate were our best options.

He eventually learned to trust us, though he was very wary of Matt at first, and still is of some men. He is incredibly bright and I taught him basic commands such as 'sit', 'lie down', 'come', 'paw', 'in your bed', and 'up' within weeks. At the moment we are working on 'stay'. He loves his treats and is easily bribed with a tasty morsel, but he also has a stubborn streak and often refuses to move from his favourite spot on the sofa, especially if he knows it is bed time. When he first came home he was completely disinterested in all toys, it was like he didn’t know what play was. If he saw or did something which got him excited he wouldn’t know how to react and he seemed afraid of his own instincts. I had to train him to like toys and to see play time as a fun and rewarding activity. I began by treating him every time he looked at a ball, then making him work a little harder, for example, treating him when he touched the ball with his paw and eventually picking it up with his mouth. Now his favourite thing is tennis balls. The kid lives to play fetch. He also loves rope toys though these tend to be destroyed within days and he has two soft plush toys: an elephant named Elliott and a rat named Rufus but for some reason he doesn’t destroy these.

Now he is the biggest fuss pot out, verging on clingy. He loves to run upstairs and get into bed with me the moment Matt closes the door to go to work. And recently he has been a real daddy’s boy because Matt takes him on his long walks and plays fetch at the community centre. During my most recent admission to the QE for my GvHD he stayed with Matt’s mum and dad for two weeks because Matt was away for the first week and then was working full time and visiting me on the evenings so it wasn’t fair to leave him alone for so long. He became very settled there and I think that because he has been so transient in his short life, from wherever he was born, to wherever he was homed, to being rescued in Ireland, to the dogs trust and then to us, he probably thought that nanny and grandad's was just his next home, so when we brought him home again he seemed to regress somewhat and began whining at night which has been difficult for the last few weeks.

Yesterday we took him for a walk around the reservoir and he was off lead for the majority of the time playing fetch and his recall was excellent. I felt like such a proud mama! Sometimes I forget that we’ve had him for less than three months, I can’t remember life before we had him and I can’t believe how much love I could have for such a beautiful creature.

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