Tea and Dog Biscuits: Our First Topsy-Turvy Year Fostering Orphan Dogsby Barrie Hawkins
Barrie and Dorothy Hawkins don't quite realize what they are getting themselves into when they take on the challenge of rescuing and fostering orphan dogs. Every canine character has a surprise in store; among them are Monty, the dog with a taste for cheese; Oscar, who has never been walked or played with but finds a new zest for life at the age of twelve; and
Barrie and Dorothy Hawkins don't quite realize what they are getting themselves into when they take on the challenge of rescuing and fostering orphan dogs. Every canine character has a surprise in store; among them are Monty, the dog with a taste for cheese; Oscar, who has never been walked or played with but finds a new zest for life at the age of twelve; and Digby, the enormous ex–guard dog who, when he’s not squashing daisies, is squashing Barrie’s foot. Barrie and Dorothy welcome them all into their hearts and home, doing whatever it takes to change the dogs' lives for the better—and in the process changing their own lives, too.
"Uplifting true story of how the author and his wife became involved in dog rescue and rehoming. There are plenty of tears and smiles along the way." Your Dog magazine
The Washington Post
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Tea and Dog Biscuits
Our First Topsy-Turvy Year Fostering Orphan Dogs
By Barrie Hawkins
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 2009 Barrie Hawkins
All rights reserved.
Squashing the Daisies
'He was a guard dog.'
'A guard dog!' I repeated.
'In a car breakers' yard in the East End,' Cecilia added.
I stood in silent contemplation for several moments as the implications of that piece of information sank in. A couple of months earlier my wife and I had decided to help dogs that needed a home. Since then we had taken in a few – this would be the seventh orphan – but the others had all been family pets.
'Was a guard dog ... How long ago?' I asked.
'Two or three hours,' Cecilia replied.
I stood in silent contemplation again, this time with my mouth open.
Where's Dorothy? I thought. This would happen when Dorothy isn't here. My wife was usually there to take charge when the dogs came in.
Cecilia was looking at me intently. I felt I was beginning to look hesitant in front of her and needed to offer an explanation.
'Dorothy mostly handles the dogs,' I said. 'I deal with the people.' At least, that was the plan.
'I bet you he's a poppet,' Cecilia said.
I turned and looked at the former parcel-delivery van in which Cecilia had brought the dog. I remembered that she'd always had a Volvo and I asked her what had happened to it. I think I was filling in time, putting off the moment before we had to open the back door of that van.
'He's too big to get in the Volvo estate,' Cecilia said.
I looked up to the heavens.
Cecilia forced a smile. 'Only joking, Barrie. The engine seized. They said I'd never put any oil in it.'
I had the suspicion that this was her way of preparing me.
She turned to the van. 'Isn't he quiet in there?' She turned back to give me another smile, this time a reassuring one. 'He could be so laid-back he's gone to sleep.'
In her urge to reassure me Cecilia was losing sight of reality: despite not doing rescue work for long, I knew enough to know the dog was not going to be having a snooze.
I went to the back of the Transit van to try to get a glimpse of what Cecilia had brought us, but somebody had painted the windows black.
'He is tied in, isn't he?' I asked.
I had already learned some valuable lessons about handling strange dogs. One of them was that if you open the door of a vehicle with a dog inside it is likely to leap out – and, in our circumstances, run off. I had learnt that when a dog comes to us, Safety First dictates that the dog should be secured in the vehicle used to bring him. Especially if he is not brought to us by his owner – as in this case.
Cecilia shook her head and endeavoured to look contrite. 'I know he should have been, Barrie, but ...' Her voice trailed off.
'I meant to – I know it's a lot safer – but I didn't put him in the van.'
'You didn't put him in?' This was an interesting piece of information.
'No, the men at the yard put him in.'
'So you haven't handled this dog, Cecilia?'
She shook her head again.
'I can't deal with big dogs, Barrie, I only want to rescue Yorkies and littlies. That's why I brought him to you.'
Now she put on the pleading voice, a voice that I was going to hear many times in the future, had I but known it.
'Oh please, Barrie, please take him. I don't know what I'll do if you don't take him.'
She took hold of a strand of her long unbrushed hair, twiddled it round a finger and hung her head. A woman who, when it came to rescuing dogs, had single-handedly chased an armed gang of illegal hare coursers, now managed to look helpless.
'You did leave his lead on him,' I said. It wasn't a question.
Having done rescue work for years, she would know that it's easier to catch a dog if it has a trailing lead you can jump on. This prevents having to grab the dog, which is not to be recommended if you are a stranger and it is a large dog.
I had a comforting thought: Dorothy will be home soon. Then I remembered that she would be going after work to join Jolly Jumpers, a trampolining class. I couldn't ask her to miss the first class. She would be having fun leaping about on a trampoline while I was leaping about trying to grab hold of a big dog I'd never met before.
'It's Dorothy that mostly deals with the dogs,' I said.
Yes, I know. You said before.'
There was nothing else for it but to get him out.
'OK,' I said. 'We'll just have to open the door and grab his lead so that he can't run off.' I hadn't noticed that Cecilia had remained silent when I spoke about the lead. 'But as he doesn't know us he might hang back – if he does, I'll call his name.' I marched across to the van.
Cecilia stayed where she was.
I put my hands on my hips. 'Come on, Cecilia. You've got to help. I can't do it on my own.'
She walked slowly across to join me. Now I was at the van doors I had butterflies in my tummy and her reluctance was adding to their number.
'What's his name?' I asked.
Cecilia shook her head.
'You don't know the dog's name!'
'Don't get angry with me, Barrie.'
'Cecilia, how did you manage not to even ask his name?'
'He hasn't got one.'
I fell silent.
'He's never had a name, Barrie. He's just been "the dog".'
Cecilia had stopped me in my tracks. They never even gave him a name? Surely nobody would have a dog and not give him a name.
'Hadn't they had him long then?' I asked eventually.
'They've had him years. He's a big mature male.'
The van had twin back doors. My hand halfway to the handle of one of them, I paused. A dog of mature years is much less likely to take instructions from a stranger. He is much more likely to be confident and assertive.
'And Barrie ...' Cecilia screwed up her face to break painful news. 'He hasn't got a collar on.'
It took me a while before I could speak. 'You are joking! How do I get hold of him when we get him out?'
Cecilia shook her head. 'They've never had a collar on him.'
I sighed again. Not even a collar! I could feel my forehead was damp with sweat.
Cecilia took hold of my arm. 'Barrie, the man grabbed his mane – he's got the biggest mane I've ever seen on a dog. Oh, and Barrie – he's got a huge chest and this enormous neck. And that wonderful mane is almost ginger.' She nodded enthusiastically. 'He's like a lion.'
I sighed again. The longer I put it off, the worse it would be. I took hold of the handle on the back door. No sound came from within. I tightened my grip on the door handle and hesitated.
It was then that Cecilia pulled the other door open. Something flew past me at head height, something mostly dark, a blur of fur. I managed somehow to stop myself falling over backwards onto the gravel, straightened up, stared into the empty van for a second then jerked round to see where the blur had gone.
It was standing in the middle of the lawn.
A big dog. A very, very big dog.
'Barrie, look at that gorgeous mane. Have you ever seen anything like that? Don't you think it's like a lion's?'
The Lion-Maned Dog stood, a solid, motionless mass, in the middle of the lawn, four feet planted on the grass, squashing the daisies. He stood there, staring.
I had started the rescue work because I loved dogs, especially big dogs, and German Shepherds (the breed that used to be known as Alsatians) in particular. Before me stood a magnificent example of that breed.
He was not looking around to see where he had been brought to, as I would have expected. He was looking at me. If it is possible for a dog to have a glint in his eye, then this dog did. He stared at the pale-faced, bespectacled male with middle-age spread, and I could tell what he was thinking. He didn't see me as a challenge.
I can't do this, I thought. But I had to. I had a dog to whom I was a stranger, a guard dog out of a car breakers' yard, with no name and no collar and no lead and somehow or other I had to get hold of this dog and put him in one of our dog pens so that he and other people would be safe.
On a warm, sunny Tuesday afternoon our tiny village felt lazy and peaceful. No pedestrians and few vehicles had passed by since Cecilia's van had turned into the drive. This peace and stillness was what I needed. I knew enough to realise that the Lion-Maned Dog must not get agitated or excited. I needed him to remain calm. But what to do? I quickly ran through the alternatives in my mind.
There was only one thing I could do in the circumstances.
I spoke to him.
I think I may have spoken to him too quietly: the Lion-Maned Dog apparently hadn't heard me tell him that he was a good boy. He remained standing motionless in the middle of the lawn.
When Dorothy and I would try to find a home for this dog later, breaking the news that he was a former guard dog from a car breakers' yard would not make him an easy choice for those seeking a family pet. As I stood facing the Lion-Maned Dog across the lawn I had to shut out of my own mind an image of the guard dog in our own local breakers' yard. Better not to think about how he would attempt to bend the bars with his teeth if customers approached his cage. The proprietor had once volunteered the information that German Shepherds had forty-two teeth and he thought his dog was trying to bite one person for every tooth.
Like two cowboys in a Western, this dog and I faced each other under the hot sun. Who would draw first?
I suddenly remembered that Cecilia was still with us. Without moving my head I managed to look sideways: she was a third motionless figure, a spectator. I was about to tell her in a calm voice not to make a sudden movement when she raised her arm and began jabbing a finger in the direction of the roadway. A coach was pulling up by the end of our drive, some two or three car lengths from where I stood. A coach? It came to a halt, the passenger doors opened, and a tall man in a uniform jumped out.
'Right,' he said in a loud, authoritarian voice.
A small, ginger-haired lad was the first to follow him, leaping off the step. Then the others. Squeezing out of the coach, spilling onto the pavement and the verge. Thirty? Forty?
On a Tuesday afternoon in our peaceful, isolated village – a village with no shop, no school, no pub, where the most exciting thing in the village is the pillar box, where the only people I ever see on foot are the Commander taking his dogs for a brisk walk and the vicar – a troop of Scouts landed at the end of my drive. I know very little of the modern Scouting movement and do not know whether today they go on route marches, but with their clomping boots and commanding leader the small boys certainly had a military resemblance.
My eyes swivelled round to the Lion-Maned Dog. His ears had gone up; he had turned his head to look behind him. Almost certainly he could not have seen a Scout troop before. Almost certainly it was far more human beings than he had ever seen before all at once. What would he do? Possibilities rushed into my head. Would this guard dog start barking at all these people who had suddenly appeared? Would he rush over and leap up at them? Drag them off? Savage them? Would he savage me?
Then the lawyer in me thought, have I used reasonable skill and taken reasonable precautions to control and secure this dog? I have not.
The last of the coach's occupants jumped out: the others were forming themselves into a column, just the other side of our low garden wall, which had shrunk since the last time I looked at it.
Having no children of my own I'm not very good at guessing their ages but I supposed these were Cub Scouts. They were surprisingly quiet for a large group of young boys; perhaps they had been instructed not to disturb the peace of the village residents. This may have contributed to the Lion-Maned Dog's puzzlement – I'm sure his brow was furrowed – and left him wondering how to react.
'Barrie!' I heard Cecilia speak in hushed tones. 'Barrie, he was originally a police dog. That's good -he's used to doing as he's told. Give him a command. Tell him to sit or something.'
Well, that probably is good news, I thought. Yes. She should have told me that before. Yes, that's what I'll do.
'He was definitely a police dog, they just couldn't keep him because he wouldn't let go of people once ...'
Her voice trailed off. Even she realised this had not been the right moment to tell me that.
I was just about to give the dog a command when the troop leader turned and spoke to his charges.
'Ready?' he asked.
This prompted the ginger-haired lad to point at the Lion-Maned Dog in the middle of our lawn. 'What a big dog.'
The troop leader turned round and looked at the dog. Then in a booming voice he shouted, 'Right – COME ON!'
The Lion-Maned Dog spun round. His body stiffened. Oh, my goodness. Was he about to join the Scouts?
For several long, long moments he made no further movement. He gave no sign that he was interested in or disturbed by the troop leader and his invading force outside the garden.
Then suddenly he sprang off- in the opposite direction to the Scouts. I was left gawping, then turned to see his tail disappearing round the corner of the cottage. He was gone. On the loose, no lead, not even a collar.
My mouth was as dry as an old bone. I took two or three deep swallows and made off after him, taking strides as big as I could. I made it to the corner of the cottage in seconds and rounded the corner, my face screwed up. What was I going to see? What – or who – had he gone after? The gate to the back garden stood open. I shot past a large sign I had nailed to the fence when we first started taking dogs, painted in blood red: STOP! DO NOT ENTER – ALSATIAN MAY BE LOOSE IN GARDEN.
I stopped to look around. At the far end of our long garden, beyond one of the flowerbeds, I could see next door's cat running – although not seemingly in too much of a hurry – towards a gap in the hedge, followed a few yards behind by a large German Shepherd dog, also seemingly not in too much of a hurry. The cat disappeared through the gap; the German Shepherd crashed into the hedge. His head disappeared into the gap, then his body writhed and wriggled for a few seconds. He pulled his head out of the gap, shook himself, ran off along the hedge in search of a bigger gap, found it, launched himself into it, and got stuck again, but further in this time. After more wriggling he pulled himself out and set off along the hedge again to another gap. He was having fun.
Another twenty or thirty yards and there was a gap in the hedge that would be big enough to take him through into an adjoining field and freedom. Freedom to roam the village – and beyond. There are people out there in the big, wide world who have an unreasonable fear of German Shepherd dogs, who will cross the road to avoid one, or who will pick up their children or their Yorkie if one approaches. This would be his chance to meet them.
Earth, dust and dead leaves were flying up now from the current gap in the hedge, which Lion-Maned Dog was making bigger.
I put my hand to my forehead. If Dorothy were here she would say, 'Calm down. Don't panic, Mr Hawkins.' I quickly took some deep breaths. No, take s-l-o-o-o-w deep breaths.
Think! It's no good me running after the dog – he can run faster than I can. But I can't call him, he hasn't got a name. Just try calling him without a name? And look welcoming?
'Come on, boy! Here!' I called out. Lion-Maned Dog looked round momentarily then promptly ran on to the next gap. What would a dog trainer do? Or a police dog handler? And while you're thinking, walk slowly towards him.
I took two or three slow cautious steps. Lion-Maned Dog looked up and bolted on to the next gap. I didn't go any further.
Since we had started the rescue work we had become friends with a police dog handler. Now I realised the truth of what he had told us: you haven't got control of a dog unless you can get it to come. The secret, he had said, was to be more interesting than what the dog was doing. His advice was to squat down to the level of the dog, so you're not towering above him like a threatening giant. Then waggle your fingers about in the grass as if you are trying to find something.
I squatted down. Immediately, I realised that my head was about level with the dog's teeth. My movement must have caught the attention of Lion-Maned Dog; he turned his head. I put a hand down and wiggled my fingers about.
Some dogs have faces which allow you to read more easily what they are thinking. Lion-Maned Dog had such a face. And it seemed to me he was thinking, What's that idiot doing? He quickly turned back to resume his excavations of the current gap.
'ooohhh ... What's this?' I said. Then, excitedly, 'ooohhh – look what I've found!'
Lion-Maned Dog turned his head for the briefest of looks then hurried on to the next gap. The next gap was the one big enough to provide his ticket to freedom.
In case Finding Something Interesting hasn't worked, our dog handler friend had gone on to reveal the Technique That Never Fails. He told us that he himself had only ever done this once. It had been taught to him at police dog training school as the ultimate weapon. He told us it took guts.
From the squatting-down Finding-Something-Interesting position, roll over onto your back. Stick all four arms and legs up into the air and move them all about simultaneously in a cycling motion. Think of a beetle that's rolled over onto its back and can't get up again. No dog can resist that, the handler said – he'll have to come over to see what's happened.
Excerpted from Tea and Dog Biscuits by Barrie Hawkins. Copyright © 2009 Barrie Hawkins. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
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Meet the Author
Barrie Hawkins lives with his wife, Dorothy, in a rural village in Cambridgeshire, England. The cofounder and chairman of the German shepherd rescue group GSD Homefinders, Hawkins is a freelance writer and an experienced public speaker who often gives talks about his work with dogs.
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