Hours of my life were spent dreaming of what life with a dog would look like. Long walks, late nights on the beach with friends, running through corn fields, exploring vast woods, swimming in streams, endless cuddles in bed and fur everywhere. But life never allowed for a dog. I had a top floor flat, a job that demanded long and unsociable hours at short notice, a crazy social life and a genetic disease, Cystic Fibrosis, which meant I was often ill requiring hospitalisation.
Life suddenly changed when I got incredibly sick and had to leave work. My then boyfriend Nick (now my husband) suggested I move in with him so he could help to look after me. Every night, just as he was falling asleep, I asked him if we could get a dog because I wasn’t in an office all day. “2017” he muttered as he softly smiled at the corner of his mouth and dozed off.
2 whole years away!
I started looking at dogs online. Raystede had allowed my family to adopt our family cat, Bentley, when I was younger and it was a Rescue Centre close to my heart. It was on the top of my online search.
“Come and meet Lucky!” I exclaimed one day. “Pleeeaaase”.
We went to see Lucky at Raystede. A collie cross german shepherd who probably weighed more than me. Nick categorically said that we weren’t having Lucky because he’d walk me rather than me walk him. But he explained once we got home that the little dog in the kennel next to Lucky looked really nice.
First thing the next morning I booked an appointment for us to meet her. I was elated - I was finally getting a dog!
A petrified, tiny black and white collie dog slinked through the door. Her eyes were so black, her paws left sweat patches on the floor and she spent the majority of our meeting either pacing or with her snout sniffing under the door to get back to into her kennel.
Most people would have walked away at this point. But Nick and I aren’t most people.
The Kennels Team were amazing. They explained very clearly that she would need a lot of work, time and patience. Life, for her, was petrifying. On the insistence of the Kennels Team, for the next 3 weeks I visited and took her for walks, spent time with her in the Meet and Greet room, my parents met her (they thought I was mad) and Nick popped in during his lunch breaks.
Then one day she came home with us. Rebel was our very own dog.
Rebel chewed every cushion she could find, she got out of the house and chased our neighbour’s cat, she was too scared to go for walks and petrified of going in the car. She had a bad belly for the first year and had to go outside to the toilet every few hours in the night (it was like having a new born baby).
She barked at the birds in the garden, tried to kill the hoover, she didn’t want to be touched and other than responding to a “sit” cue she was suspicious of doing anything because it seemed to be a predictor of something bad. Heartbreakingly, Rebel was also too scared to eat from a plate or drink from a bowl, forever scanning the room for maybe a hand that would hit her…
Our hearts were full of love and we realised we had a long road ahead of us to help our newest furry family member. I read an abundance of books on dog care and Nick didn’t sleep for a year as he was on night duty for toilet trips. We enlisted a couple of trainers who came to our house for 1:2:1 sessions (group training would have been too overwhelming) and started to see some improvement.
Rebel stopped eating the cushions, her belly improved with a change of food and some vet trips, she LOVED walking, chasing sticks and woofing at squirrels in the trees. We explored woods, cycled together, she joined our human and dog friendship group, spent loads of time with my family, she went running with Nick and paddled in the sea with us as the sun was setting.
I had never walked as much in my life! Suddenly, I found myself getting “better”. My lungs were gradually improving, my excruciating belly aches began to subside, my reason for surviving had increased tenfold. I was fitter, happier and getting healthier day by day. A rapidly declining lung function suddenly started to plateau and then creep gradually back up.
Despite the leaps in progress for both of us, she was still fearful in many situations and, as she grew in confidence, she also started to demonstrate just how much help she continued to need. We acknowledged that we needed some more support and we enlisted a Behaviourist. She came highly recommended, fully qualified, works with vets, prepares reports for Court, trains agility, scent work, school dogs and medical assistance dogs.
And this is where the real progress happened.
Our Behaviourist didn’t train Rebel. She trained us. She explained how we could help Rebel to adjust further and empowered us to be her voice when strange men try to touch her or bikes cycle directly into her.
Rebel stopped trying to kill the hoover – she now walks up to it when she is hungry as it predicts treats! She can be recalled from a distance to our whistles, she enjoys coming into cafes, the pharmacy to collect my drugs, the office (yes, I got SO much better that I could go back to work a little bit!). She loves a sniff around a warehouse, finding the cuddly toy section in charity shops and appreciating the beauty of churches (she was a Bridesdog at our wedding). Rebel has visited National Trust properties, been to Wales, Scotland, Norfolk, Cornwall and everywhere in between. She even joined us on our Honeymoon. She loves an adventure!
When my dad was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago she sat by his side, she helped him in the garden (by emptying the wood from the bag and depositing it all over the lawn!) and was a source of comfort for the rest of the family as he deteriorated and suddenly died. She mopped up all of my tears in the weeks to follow and curled up next to me in bed as I gradually began to get sicker and sicker… she was happier with shorter walks, more Netflix and didn’t flinch every time I coughed or vomited. And then, as before, she helped me to get better…
With a mountain of love, patience, consistent positive force free training and lots of time Rebel has flourished into a confident happy dog. She has an abundance of dog friends, she is happy to be used as a “stooge” for reactive dogs and loves to play chase with her whippet and lurcher friends (they are great for herding).
Life is so much better with Rebel, our little black and white collie dog. She no longer slinks across a room. Her eyes are no longer deep black but a beautiful light hazel - they twinkle when she’s plotting sneaking into the neighbour’s front door to see the cat (yes, she does this!). The days of leaving sweaty paw prints on the floor and her snout sniffing under door frames are long gone.
I always wanted a dog.
I got a co-adventurer, a support network, a Netflix buddy, a miracle drug for my Cystic Fibrosis, company whilst I cried in fields in the rain and a happy face to share the elation of climbing a mountain.
I didn’t just get a dog. I got a very best friend. She just happens to have fur.