Monday, 13 July 2015

Chuck's Rescue: Saving a Deaf Dog

american bull dog photoOn a Sunday morning in May, he looked up at me with a vague sense of familiarity. His grey speckled snout was bleeding from distress in a concrete block, and he looked vacant. He leaned into me, and I knew what to do.

I knew that he was my dog.

By this point, I had been walking him every weekend for six weeks. I became a volunteer at Cardiff Dogs Home after meeting him outside Pets at Home, and although I walked other dogs, I would always walk him first. He would drag me down the lane, and steal a Starbucks cookie out of my sister's hand. 

His name is Chuck, and he is a deaf American Bulldog. His face is a mosaic of salt and pepper spots, grey whiskers and honey pot eyes. He was in kennels for three months, and strange faces walked past him as they looked for something smaller, something easier. He was only 18 months old, and he loved everybody as if they were an old friend.

He's been ours for two months.

Here's what no one tells you about rescue- it's not like a Dogs Trust advert. Dogs don't know to be grateful, or to be on best behaviour. They don't understand why they've been shipped from pillar to post, and they don't know how long it will be until you surrender them back into that shadowed grey block of lost and broken hearts.

Our first two weeks with Chuck were extremely difficult, and frustrated tears and exhaustion were tattooed on my face. He would bark at us for no reason, and he would get frustrated that he couldn't communicate with us. He wouldn't sleep (and still doesn't during the night). He was not a calm dog, and he was difficult. Rescue involves an intense decompression period, where the dog tries to settle itself, and it can take months for a dog to accept you as it's home, as the leader of it's pack. During this time, you rarely see the true nature of the dog. 

I wanted so badly to help him, and to make him forget what had happened to him. I felt like I failed him. 

This doesn't happen with every rescue dog, but no one prepares you for it when it does happen. No one tells you. We expect them to come home and be so relieved to see their own bed that their instinct forces them to settle. We expect them to be a pet, but they don't know how.

We tried everything we could. More exercise, less exercise. We changed his food and altered his routine. We didn't sleep, or eat, and we had to bring in a dog behaviorist to help us manage his problems. His deafness leaves him startled easily, but he is comforted by seeing our mouths move in a silent dance. He knows he cannot hear us when we talk, but he knows that he's happy that we try.
american bull dog photo

american bull dog photo

american bull dog photo

There's a lot that we don't know about Chuck. His only story was that he had followed a woman and her dog home from their walk, and was so petrified he was taken into the homes on a pole. 

I know that someone has hit him, and I know that it was a man. I know this because he flies across the room if Rhys has startled him, or if he thinks he's misbehaved. I know this because it took almost six weeks for him to trust Rhys entirely. I know this because he is terrified of a man in our building, an unfamiliar face that disturbs a ghost from the past. We are fixing him, because someone else couldn't love him the way that he deserved. He knows that his history is a secret that only he knows.

Chuck is a bit of a brat, and he has moments of acting like a tormented little gremlin. We call his alter ego Chuckles, because he smiles at you before having a tantrum. Chuckles is the one who pulls your clean clothes off the side when he wants to go for a walk, and Chuckles is the one who jumps into the window and hides behind the curtains. Chuckles loves Rhys in the day, and me in the night, akin to a child who plays it's unknowing parents against each other.
american bull dog photoamerican bull dog photo

He's afraid of a lot of things. He's afraid of the dark all of the time, and strangers some of the time. But he's not afraid of me.

He hides bones in the sofa and in his bed, and uses his nose to cover them with old cushions before retreating to ensure that no one has taken his bone in the five seconds since he buried it. He's desperate to salvage the things that are his, and to keep them safe.
american bull dog photo
He carries his food bowl across the room with his teeth to have his dinner in front of the television, and he likes to sleep separately from us, even though he gets scared when he leaves the room. Last week, he woke my mother up at 5am by snuffling her face, and at waking she found she was about to have a hypoglacemic attack. He is smart and sensitive, and although he's not exactly sure how to show love, he knows that he feels it and rests his paw on your hand. 
He can't hear me, but he knows that when I comfort him that I tell him this.
You are home now.
You are our family.
You are safe and sound.