Do you have a rescue pet, a wet-nosed loved one with a “sketchy” past? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below. All but one of my pets since childhood has been a rescue, a mutt, a “pavement special” as they say here in South Africa.
Disclaimer: for a writer, I have absolutely no originality when it comes to naming cats.
For cats, I had “Midnight,” my first kitten from a forlorn litter under a porch up the street, “Tinkle,” a calico who peed on me after I found her in a parking lot, “Cueball,” a white, mangy fleabag who was as smart as he was mouthy and loving, and “Shaggy,” my crazy-haired, gray mewing Maine-Coon-mashup who we adopted from a shelter in 1998 and lost to cancer just this year.
I was only mildly better at naming dogs. I’ve only had a few dogs: “Pup” was technically my dad’s dog, a hunting beagle who could catch a rabbit just on the command “Hunt ’em up, Pup!”; Pippin was my first rescue dog, picked out of a cage of almost a dozen husky-shepherd mix puppies, and with us for sixteen beautiful years; Alex was the only dog I’ve ever gotten from breeder. He was a black labrador retriever with a typical big heart and clumsy body.
Our dog now is Baxter, a rescued, black labrador retriever. He was re-homed twice before he came to live with us, and we would never send him to a shelter. Baxter enjoys an extensive family. Kurt’s parents call him the “grand-dog” and our nieces and nephews I’m pretty sure enjoy spending more time with him than with us.
Tell me about your favorite wet nose!
This weekend I volunteered at Wet Nose, a Right-to-Life animal shelter near Pretoria. (“Right to Life means that no animal is put to sleep, unless it is in severe suffering and cannot be saved.”)
As volunteering goes, they make it a very easy and convenient process. I filled out my paperwork and considered my options for the day: grooming horses or donkeys; grooming and playing with cats in one of the catteries, or walking; grooming or sitting with dogs from the kennels. And let’s not forget the other animals cared for at Wet Nose, like rabbits and goats, and many more volunteer opportunities.
Since it was my first time, I chose to walk dogs. After all, volunteering is a mutually beneficial experience: the organization gets extra hands at no charge, and I get the close contact with a dog I’ve been craving, and the knowledge that for a little bit of time, I’ve given an animal companionship, exercise and entertainment.
They have an easy and smart system for keeping track of which dogs have been walked: once you’ve walked a dog, simply clip a “Thanks!” sign to the door of the kennel, letting others know they’ve already been walked. I surveyed the rows of kennels and picked, for my first walk, a large Boerboel named Sally. A Boerboel is a type of mastiff, my second favorite breed after a labrador retriever.
Sally was afraid of the collar at first, and it took me nearly 5 minutes to get it over her neck. She was a master of evading and ducking the slip chain, and I think next time I’ll try a regular collar on her, in case her fear was related to the clinking of the chain. You don’t always know the history of a dog in a shelter, and while I’m no Cesar Milan, I’m comfortable assessing whether a dog is fearful in a way that’s threatening to me, or fearful in a way that I can still work with. Sally was clearly not aggressive, and I sweet-talked that collar over her head after getting her a little more comfortable with me.
Once the collar was on, Sally was a dream. She walked by my side, leaning on me a bit when a smaller dog approached her. She is clearly a submissive girl, and is so eager to love and be loved that she should be on a fast-track to adoption.
“Gentle giant” is a frequent term for several mastiff breeds, and Sally certainly meets that standard.
My friend, Claire, meanwhile, picked a cute little pup named Gizmo for her first walk. Claire is working through some problems with her back, and needed a dog that didn’t have as much weight behind its pull. He was a lively little boy, as most Jack Russells are, and at two years old, he’s not quite done with his pup-sanity. Which made him kind of awesome. He trotted along with Claire, and played with her, and wanted to play with my timid Sally, who was twice his size but half his bravado.
Along the dusty road we walked, passing a little cantina-style cafe with a welcome sign inviting dogs in for a water and treat. We planned to stop on the way back but missed closing time. Next time we’ll walk a little earlier so we can add the cantina experience.
We returned with Sally and Gizmo, where they each had a nice long drink of water from the buckets that are kept full for them all day. I walked the aisles again, settling quickly on an even larger, more rambunctious-looking fellow named Rambo. I thought at first he was part Great Dane, but Rambo is also listed as a Boerboel. I could tell immediately that Rambo is a strong doggie, but with such a charming personality that you might have to watch before he steals your snacks, and your heart.
Rambo let me slip the collar and leash on easily. He turned to the door of the cage, ready to pull me out behind him, when I realized…
I was locked in.
The first advice they give you at the desk when you sign up to volunteer, is not to let the latch part of the kennel door close behind you, because it can only be opened from the outside. I’m guessing this advice is repeatedly given because until you do it, you don’t really quite listen.
There is no use hollering for help, because (a) the louder you are, the louder all the dogs in the surrounding kennels bark, making it impossible for anyone to hear; and (b) the dog in the kennel with you may become nervous at your own nervous or fearful state. I tried to send a text message to Claire, but the signal was blocked by the concrete of the kennels.
Thankfully, I already knew to stay calm, because the same thing happened to Claire on one of her first volunteer days at the kennel. Eventually someone will pass by, so it’s best to settle yourself, focus on spending quality time with your new bunkmate, and keep a watchful eye for a human. Or, in our case, volunteer with a buddy, because someone will be watching for you to come out.
Like any learning experience, I’m pretty sure you only learn the lesson of locking yourself inside a dog kennel once.
Sure enough, Claire re-appeared, with two dogs, a pair of kennel-mates, brother-sister Jack Russells named Opal and Ollie. Soon we were on the red dirt road again, my Rambo pulling slightly ahead of me on the lead, and her siblings determinedly investigating scrub to the side of the road, in full hunting instinct mode.
Rambo, while easy to put the collar on, is not a big fan of being led by the collar. Thankfully, however, he’s as obedient as he is handsome. I would say his name, and he would turn toward me. If he felt resistance on the lead, he would turn around and come back to me, leaning hard into my frame, and looking up as if to ask, “Could I please have a scrub around my ears while we’re stopped?” I obliged, and even patted my chest, inviting him up for a good cuddle and scratch under his neck.
We would stop frequently, as Opal and Ollie were intent on peeing and sniffing, and standing alert when they smelled or heard something in the weeds. Rambo’s reaction, for all his boisterous bravado, was to jump and run to me and lean when he heard the rustling of weeds, or anything startling. He has some old scars and a few little growths like any dog that’s had some mileage on him, but he was another sweetheart, asking only for a little extra attention, a lot of exercise and a lot of one-on-one loving. Rambo is already 7, and he deserves a nice home for his last several years.
We reached our turn-around point and headed back, cutting past the horse and donkey fences on our way. A beautiful horse acknowledged our passing by stomping the ground a few times before turning back to his eating. A pair of donkeys were tussling like teenagers, and as if on queue, one let out the most magnificent bray.
We stopped to admire a pair of donkeys in a stall with a foal, before saying goodbye at the desk. I inquired about the tougher dogs to walk, because while I loved Sally and Rambo, I knew that anybody could walk them with ease, and I want to return for more of a challenge, to take out a dog who not many people are comfortable walking.
Treats are welcome at WetNose, and when I return I’ll be taking not only dog food and doggie snacks, but apples and carrots for the horses and donkeys.
Or join me in their September 28th fundraiser, “Homeless Animals Day 2013” Bring your own doggie or walk one of theirs. I recommend gentle giants Sally, or Rambo, or frisky cuddlers, Gizmo, or Ollie and Opal! There will be a flea market and food stalls, and guys, even a Beer Tent and Big Screen TV for Rugby!
For my international readers, I’ve asked Wet Nose if there might be a way that you can donate online, and am awaiting their response (not their fault…I only asked them this morning so they haven’t had much time to respond). Hopefully by my next volunteer post, I’ll have that information for you.