The Blog

Why Rescue Dogs Are Amazing

It's astonishing that dogs still love us humans, no matter what we put them through, however horribly we abuse them. That however traumatised, they can come back from the brink and live fulfilling lives.

I was humbled last weekend. In the midst of my hectic, human-obsessed life, I was blown away by a bunch of dogs.

Courtesy of the Kennel Club, I was at the Discover Dogs event at London's Excel - a celebration of all things canine that hopefully gave wannabe owners a clue about what they were letting themselves in for and to try and choose a dog that would be best for their lifestyle.

It also served as a precursor to Crufts for the serious pedigree dog breeders with heats for best in breed and had shedloads to buy and see for those already owned by the four-legged barking kind.

I was there as I'd been asked to judge the best crossbreed rescue dog class in the Scruffts competition, which is all about the mongrels.

I went from dog to dog across the bright green arena floor, in front of dozens of people in the audience sat round the perimetre (and randomly, Prince Michael of Kent), and chatted with each proud owner. The carer of every single pooch told me the most heartbreaking backstory for each of these incredible animals, how they had rescued them and painstakingly brought them back to health and happiness - and it brought tears to my eyes each time.

I had to judge each dog with not just on how cute, healthy and happy they were, but on the tale that had brought them to their tail-wagging present. (Btw, I worked at a vets for years, am a former dog owner and as a journalist, I know a good story, so I do have some judging criteria).

I heard stories of dogs at death's door, rescued from the backstreets of Greece, Spain and the Dominican Republic and all manner of sad places in the UK, with all the pet passports, quarantines, vets, love and months of tlc required.

I heard about dogs who were now so in tune with their rescuer owners, that they alert them when their blood sugar is low to avert a diabetic coma.

I heard the story of Vinnie, an adorable tiny ball of white fluff, who was rescued from a hideous puppy farm, where he had been kept in a box for years and had never seen outside or felt the sun on his back. Possessing the most exquisite underbite, Vinnie was now not just an ace pet, but showing prowess in dog agility.

There was Reggie, the Staffie cross, a six-month-old bundle of fun and energy who had come from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and was well on his way to being a carer dog to help kids with emotional issues.

Then there were the dogs who actually won the class. The chap I decided should be in third place was a beautiful big black beauty, an Alsatian/flat coat retriever cross called Haribo. He'd been rescued after he'd been sexually abused. I wish I was making this up. The backstory was, his male owner thought his wife was having an affair, so set up secret surveillance cameras in the home - and found out his wife was making Haribo do what no dog should ever do. Haribo had been deeply traumatised but had turned the corner to become a happy chap, thankfully.

The gorgeous Daisy Mae, nursed back to health and happiness despite her dreadful injuries

Second place was the adorable Daisy Mae, a terrier sort who had been used as bait in illegal organised dog fights. Again, it beggars belief and despite the cruelty and horrific injuries she'd suffered, she's become the sweetest, friendliest, happiest darling in the care of her rescuer.

However, the winner was Doodles, a black scruffle of a dog. Doodles' owner told me she'd suffered horrendously from depression for years previously, to the extent she'd tried to commit suicide numerous times, self-harmed, and struggled to leave the house. One time she had managed to actually get out, she'd found Doodles abandoned, starving and with his matted fur hanging off his emaciated body.

She'd taken Doodles into her care, and with months of time, love and affection, she'd not only saved him, but he'd saved her. She's stopped self-harming and now has a reason to live. Not only that, but Doodles has given her the confidence to set up her own dog-grooming business. From not even going out and wanting to die, to running her own successful business. That's the transformative power of having a rescue dog.

These stories make your heart swell as well as making you weep for the cruelty that man inflicts on animals.

The incredible winner Doodles the dog, who changed his owner's life

It's astonishing that dogs still love us humans, no matter what we put them through, however horribly we abuse them. That however traumatised, they can come back from the brink and live fulfilling lives.

And it's worth bearing in mind that however awful people are, it's also incredible humans that rescue these dogs. Judging this class also makes me resolute that I will always cheerlead folk adopting rescue animals rather than buying pedigrees. Animal rescue homes are overflowing at the moment with dogs like these who need to be rescued.

But if you must buy a pedigree or in fact any kind of dog (and remember, your trendy 'labradoodle' or 'cockapoo' is a mongrel and not a purebreed), for godssake make sure it's not from a puppy farm or from a pet shop - else you are helping the terrible trade from which so many dogs need rescuing - if they even make it out alive.

Remember the mantra - if you are buying a puppy, buy from a certified breeder where you can see your puppy with its mum, and preferably, with dad too. Do your research.

Make sure you're not just giving money to unscrupulous breeders or pet shops who are just after your cash and don't give a shit about the health and happiness of the animals they sell. Dogs are not just pets - they are sentient animals that feel pain, abandonment and cruelty. And they can teach us so, so much about forgiveness, love, and celebrating life. To the extent that sometimes, they rescue us too.

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