I decided to volunteer at my local RSPCA centre in Potters Bar quite a few months ago not quite knowing what to expect. My reason of doing it was merely because i love dogs and knew I want to spend any spare time I have helping dogs in need. My career path as an actress and part-time drama teacher means I have irregular hours and therefore free time on my hands, so what better way of spending it?
On my first induction day, I was quite overwhelmed. There were so many dogs who looked so similar all just barking in their kennels. The centre seemed huge and overbearing with leads hanging up, dog treats on the side, sign-out sheets for when you take the dog for a walk and lots of barking!
My first day was tentative only spending about an hour there carefully putting dogs in and out of kennels with the help of a very experienced dog-walker. I didn't know the dogs, they didn't know me. There was lots of little tricks of the dog-walking trade to learn such as you remembering if you took the dogs from the inside or the outside of the kennel and making sure you don't put them back the wrong side leaving them to escape! And reading their notes well to ensure you don't take them past a dog that they have a hostile relationship with! And not getting too close to the horses in the fields when walking! There seemed too much to take in and I felt very stiff walking around with these unknown creatures!
But I stuck with it and months later, these 'creature's' are now dogs with such individual personalities. I know each one and their needs and temperaments. I know exactly how they will be when I get them from their kennel. And if they are doing to want to walk round with a ball in their mouth, or play in the compound area before they go for their walk. Or if the need a certain type of lead.
I have been going regularly three/four time a week always early in the morning. The centre opens from 8.30-5pm and I found there wasn't too many people going at 8.30am regularly. It isn't easy going at that time when they have been in their kennels all night and are just desperate for a run around and wee but it is quite amazing and rewarding to be that person who first takes them out into the open space first thing in the morning! I don't stay for an hour anymore tentatively walking around but at least 3-4 hours walking as many as possible!
Dogs can be shaped and brought up however the owner decides. If they are made to be vicious and 'status' dogs then they will have an unpredictable and angry temperament. If they are neglected then they may be nervous or even scared to be left alone hence bark a lot after they have been walked. They need to be treated with respect, love and care and they will be your best friend forever. It is never the dogs fault!
There is never an excuse to mis-treat these harmless animals. They all deserve a loving home and companions and it is heart-breaking to see them in a nervous, frustrated, scared and panicked state.
If you get to their needs and wants on a personal level and tend to that, then they can be the greatest most loyal companion a man can find.
I have grown so attached and close to these dogs who I could never distinguish initially and because I have taken this time and care with them, they know and trust me and that is only seeing them a couple of times a week for sometimes only 20 minutes! Think of days and hours with them!
I have a lot of favourites but one of my favourite girls is Phoebe. She came in whilst I was there as a stray with a collapsed womb. She was put in her kennel and was on quite a lot of pain-killers due to the pain. She had red eyes and was very disorientated when she came in. She was obviously treated with care from the staff but there are so many dogs to tend to, it is always very difficult for them. She was used to roaming around the streets and now she was put in a kennel with lots of other barking dogs. I took her for one of her first walks which was quite an experience! She didn't understand or know how to be on a lead and was pulling me about everywhere! She was definitely walking me. I didn't realise that she was quite nervous or horses and very weary of other dogs. She didn't like the restraint of being on a lead and was confused where she was! It was quite distressing to see. But now, a couple of months on, she is the most beautiful, loving, playful dog! She is fully better and able to run around! She still has a funny habits of sometimes pulling at your coat and scarf thinking it's a game! But she has been taught to sit and understands how to be on a lead. She is much more accustomed of other dogs and is truly a little star! She has a gorgeous face and is always smiling! She just loves to play and it is so amazing to see her progression. She will make a super companion to a loving family and I have no doubt she will find the perfect people soon.
There is an unfortunate stigma about the staffordshire breed of dogs ! They are bought up to be used as a weapon and protection to give someone a certain status or image. This is so sad and unfortunate to see. I bracketed them in this frame of mind a bit to be honest before I begun dog-walking. I would say around 70% of dogs at the RSPCA Southridge are staffordshire cross-breeds. My favourite smart boy being Edward! He is a gorgeous 3 year old Staffordshire Bull Terrier cross-breed who I was admittedly a little weary with at first. Now we are the best of friends. I always ensure I walk him when I go there. He is loveable and always rolls on his back for a good old tummy rub! He loves to chase the ball and especially loves treats. He is gorgeous and has a great temperament. It is sad that he has been in there for longer than others because of this stigma and perception of these particular breeds. It is wrong I assure you! It is the owner, not the dog. They are great, loving dogs at heart and once again, if given the right people and home, they will be great. My little boy Edward, is a prime example of a staffordshire cross-breed who is a harmless, loving, sweet boy in need of a loving home!
I could write for ages about my experiences and what I have learnt and I will continue to blog about the dogs I come across and success stories plus tips on the treatment of dogs and my walking experiences with these amazing animals!