Bella came to our family as an emergency foster on the 11th March 2022. She was surrendered to Saving strays and had initially been in another foster placement that failed due to her separation anxiety and destruction level. Hannah delivered a skinny, stinky little fire rocket to our house to mix with two very over-excited children, a cantankerous cat and four rabbits! Bella is a 9-year-old bone mouth Shar Pei (less wrinkly than the Chinese version). They’re known for their fierce loyalty, guarding and predatory skills. Most of all they are known for being obstinate. As a primitive breed, she had honed predatory instincts and our 16yr old cat (also Bella) and rabbits (failed fosters) were all hunted and chased with the speed of lightning when she escaped grip, or a door was left open. They require strong leadership, consistency and pack hierarchy and will then choose to do whatever they want regardless. They are noisy (sniffly, sneezy, snoring), not easily trained and the most loving, loyal dogs you could ask for. There were a few lengthy messages to Hannah and Hayley about what kind of placement this poorly behaved, anxious, predator would need. We had pre-empted an appointment at the vet prior to her arrival for potential anxiety medication and for kennel cough so she could go to doggy day-care if needed down the line.
“…she fell in love with that bed and we couldn’t get her out of it!”
The first 24 hours were not great. In fact, the first 24 hours were blinking awful. I questioned if we had the time or the capacity to be able to manage this dog that was so anxious if anyone moved, she went into hyper drive. She was a limpet, stuck like glue to anyone that left the room. She couldn’t be left alone at all, 30 seconds she was huffing and whining, at a minute scratching and pacing, at 3 minutes she was destroying things. She was poorly trained, had no recall, easily distracted, didn’t know how to play, reactive to other dogs and a hunter for anything fluffy that moved. Prior to being a human nurse, I was a veterinary nurse for another well-known rescue service, I had to pull everything I knew from the back of my mind from 20 years ago to try and start helping this beautiful, but damaged, girl. We had already ordered and plugged-in pheromone treatments for the dog downstairs and the cat upstairs. Security and comfort were the next needs. 1st night she slept on a blanket upstairs in my daughter’s room.
The next day we bought a soft, wrap-around bed with removable insert and a hot water bottle (lukewarm and ½ full), this represents body contact. It was the best buy I will ever make; she fell in love with that bed and we couldn’t get her out of it! Night 2 she stayed in her bed alone downstairs, I had to drag her out of it to go for a wee the next morning! Instilling some good pack leadership (one person delivering food and instructions) we spent the next 3 days getting to know and trust each other. Lots of long walks to ware her out and not asking to much of her. Responding to be called, good eye contact anything that resembled relationship building she got treats. Within those three days she relaxed and stopped following everyone around as much, day 4 we had to go out. Radio left on, a bone to chew with other chew toys, baby gate up and prayer as we locked the door. We were detained much longer than anticipated but came home to a dog that was happy to see us and the only thing destroyed was a packet of treats that had been left within reach. By the Thursday (day 6) we went to the vets to get her kennel cough and the original plan of discussing meds went out of the window. Bella was a different dog; we were a different family and we were all pretty much slotting together. The vet listened and brought up the conversation of meds as that’s what we had booked in for. I clearly stated that she did not need them and was doing remarkably well. The vet then said, “I don’t think she is going anywhere.” I agreed. Over the next week we transitioned her diet to raw, she was less stinky on the new diet and her bowels a lot more consistent, she put on 0.6kg in 10 days (emergency vet appointment due to chasing a cat through a fence!)
Roll on to day 21 (April 1st) Bella is now no longer a foster and a permanent member of the family. I have no magic wand; the work we have done and results we have had with Bella has come far more quickly than any of us would have expected or imagined. As she snores loudly, taking up two of the three seats on the sofa next to me as I write this, please know that troubled dogs can become amazing family pets with a lot of love patience and understanding. Ours happened quickly but would normally take 6 months or more. She still has work to do but she is becoming more responsive to us, is no longer reactive to other dogs in the same way. She is ours and we are hers. This is our love story.