Peter and I have talked many times about getting a dog over the years, but with the transient nature of our lives, it was an impossible dream. That all changed today when we walked into our local RSPCA shelter at Tuggerah.
To be honest, I’ve gone to the shelter most days since moving here, like some crazy cat woman, prowling around, checking on the various ‘inmates’. Each time I leave feeling heart sorry and struggling to control my emotions as I’ve read about the various misfortunes that brought them to the shelter. As I walk back out into the sunshine, I feel guilty. I feel I’ve raised their hopes, then dashed them again by walking away. The most heartbreaking cases are the dogs that glance up at you sadly and just resume what they were doing (usually nothing) as if to say, ‘what’s the point, she’s not going to pick me anyway.’
Animals in cages have always provoked a strong response in me. I have a vivid recollection of being about six years old in the pet shop in Kirkcaldy with my mum. The old pet shop had all the pet supplies at the front, and then you walked up to little stone steps to the back of the shop where all the cages were lined with sad eyes, watching you as you approached. I still remember the smell of the sawdust on the cage floors. One particular Saturday, there were some desperately sad, yelping puppies all jumping over each other, standing on their back two legs trying to get my attention. My little six-year-old heart welled over with love and compassion for these little guys. “Don’t worry, I’ll save you,” I said earnestly to them. Quite how I would save them hadn’t even entered my mind at that point. I went to find my mother who was talking to a shop assistant.
“Mum, mum, mum … sure it’s cruel to keep puppies in cages? Sure it’s cruel eh?” (read in Glaswegian accent)
Thinking back, my mother must have been mortified. Here we were at the pet store with all the cutesy animals, caring staff and prospective families and I’m proclaiming loudly how cruel it all is. It was obviously an effort to shut me up when she hissed, “yes, yes it’s cruel now leave me alone I’m talking.”
I took her at her word and marched back up the stone steps to the waiting puppies.
The security system was easy enough – it was simply a hook that kept the door closed. With single-minded purpose, I lifted the hook and – oh my word – the puppies who had been standing on their back legs against the door came flying out. I barely had a second to react. All the puppies had swarmed around me jumping up and barking and yipping in excitement. “We’re free,” they seemed to say. I felt sky high happiness flood through me. All these puppies were free and they loved me.
That joy lasted about 30 seconds. The puppies invaded the shop floor as someone hastily shut the shop door before the pups all made a bid for freedom out on to Kirkcaldy High Street,
Mother appeared from nowhere and pulled my arm with such force down those stone steps. I had no clue what was going on. “Mum, mum, mum did you see the puppies?” I am naively keen to claim this victory in the face of cruelty. “I set them free. You said it was cruel too didn’t you…” I’m slow to pick up on the vibe.
Eventually, I began to sense mother was not as into animal liberation as I’d first thought. We had to stand on the shop floor until all the puppies were rounded up, and then someone said – “you can go now, but please don’t bring your daughter in here ever again.”
To this day I get a thrill remembering that moment.
As we stand in the RSPCA shelter, I look at the 3 pups in the end cell. We move on to the next one, then the next one. Our eyes settle on ‘Dee’ a one-year-old cattle dog. She looked at us with those sad ‘what’s the point’ eyes and we thought ‘maybe’ … sadly this was a cattle dog who preferred to eat chicken rather than round them up. In her profile we found out that she would not get on well with chickens or small livestock – and I’m afraid we wanted chickens and small livestock. You barter with yourself – maybe we didn’t need to do all that – but then the other voice in our head said – well we’ve got all that land – that’s part of the plan. So Dee was not meant to be – for us at least.
I returned to the puppies, jumping over each other. Their little hopeful faces reeled me in again. Nowadays the doors are locked. You can’t just unhook a little latch and let them all run free. So we asked for a cuddle with one of the black and white pups who seemed more timid. Maybe he would have more of a chance to thrive away from his dominant brothers. He cooried his way under my neck and licked me excitedly. It was obvious the older brother was used to being the one picked out, not this quiet little guy.
And that’s how we met Sebastian, an 11 week Kelpie cross pup who was part of an unwanted litter. A pup was not part of the original plan – and certainly not a working dog like a Kelpie – but I wanted to give this guy a chance, a new start in life – the chance to be free. Sometimes that’s all any of us need isn’t it? A second chance or the offer of hope?
Seeing that door swing open and having that puppy handed to me in my welcoming arms made my inner six-year-old child’s heart soar sky high with happiness once more. We were saving Sebastian!