BY NIGEL BEAN
On my return home from work one day the good lady remarked that Hunter – our Labrador American bulldog cross – just hadn’t been the same since his Dad was sent over the rainbow bridge. I had noticed this as well, he appeared uninterested even in his food and his zest for life was missing.
The solution we both agreed was to get him a playmate, not a big dog mind but a medium size dog. So we contacted the local adoption centre and explained our situation and they invited us down for a meeting to assess our suitability.
Our local adoption centre was started in 1963 by a lady who found a dog tied to a tree. She took it to the local police station where she learned if nobody claimed it within the week it would be put to sleep. She was horrified at the thought and claimed the dog, took it home and phoned around until she found willing foster parents. Chiltern Dog Rescue was born – no dog is put to sleep there unless it is very ill or injured and the shelter is staffed by a team of great volunteers. (This centre also has a reputation for not handing out their dogs willy-nilly. Go there and explain you’re out the house eight hours of the day and you’re politely shown the exit. Say you’re at home most days and you have a dog already and looking for a companion and you will hear the bolt slide quietly behind you – you won’t be leaving without seeing a good selection of dogs.)
So we found ourselves on a nice sunny day standing in the exercise paddock and to our surprise they brought out a Jack Russell terrier. Hardly medium size but we did want a doggie that would keep Hunter on his toes. We walked this Jack Russell around and he was a lively little fellow but we were both concerned that his interest was in the woods behind the fencing – we both had premonitions of losing him for hours on end. See chart for explanation:
The next out was another terrier called Blossom and she was a little stunner – playful and friendly, more into us than the woods, and a very likely candidate.
Then came a little tri-coloured Jack, so we surmised they thought a terrier is what our big boy needed to perk him up. Again a really friendly little 8 month old tyke, playful and falling over her own feet as she went.
We were given time to decide and agreed to phone back the next day with our decision. But on the car journey home we wanted to take Blossom and the tri-coloured Jack. And we had to remind ourselves the reason we were there, to find a companion for our big boy.
In my mind, Blossom it was – and the good lady was also very keen on her. However the tri-coloured Jack had done something very special, she had glanced back at the good lady as she was led away and that was proving to be a big factor in her decision making. And so it was to be, after a few hours of deliberation, the little, tri-coloured Jack.
The following day the good lady went to pick her up and was given the do’s and don’ts of owning a terrier, apparently they’re not dogs they are terriers, as we were soon to discover.
On arrival back home my partner started to have doubts about the arrival of the newly named “Niki” as she looked at our six stone American Bulldog Lab Cross compared to the few pounds in weight of the terrier. She phoned me at work, “she’s tiny in comparison” and “what if he sits on her” and “I’m worried the cat’s going to beat up on her” and “Perhaps the adoption centre got it wrong”.
We decided to give it a week and see how things went, which is just as well. In that time the cat had been well and truly owned and could only be found in high places in the same room as the tyke. Not that there was any viciousness involved – just terrorising, blocking her path, pouncing on her and holding her down. One lightning fast and carefully aimed cat’s paw with claws drawn would sort out the big dogs. The cat had certainly put Hunter in his place.
A few weeks after that I hear sounds of whimpering from the living room. They continued for some time and I thought would go in and watch the dogs play together – after all that’s why we adopted Niki.
There sat upright in the middle of the room was Hunter and his look said it all – a miserable expression that said please help me dad. I still couldn’t see the problem until he went to get up – Niki dived in to latch on to his back leg, biting down on and hanging onto Hunter until he was forced to try and cover his legs again by sitting down. I could see Hunter had a lot more to think about now, like how to avoid being terrorised.
I also noticed what a quick learner Nikki was. One miserable and rainy day I called her for a walk. As usual Hunter was excited and chased his tail in circles in excitement but there was no sign of Niki. I found her on the settee on her back in the submission position wagging her tail – clearly she heard the rain and was not interested. So I enticed her down with a bit of chicken. Next day, there was perfect weather and not a cloud in the sky but there was no Niki when I called for a walk. I found her on the settee on her back and angling for another treat, so I duly obliged and secretly admired her guile.
Niki was rapidly moving up the house pecking order and had her sights firmly set on me next – she’d worked out who wore the trousers. She never wanted to be number one after all she could never reach the fridge handle to get at the chicken. Her goal was sharing number two slot with our daughter. She was cool to hang out with when number one (Mum) was watching a boring film with number three (Me), she also took her dinner plate to her room – another good reason to win her over. So one day she simply broke contact with me and remained aloof – visibly only tolerating stroking.
With number one, the tyke moved effortlessly into the role of baby and played those maternal instincts like a harp. Number One cuddles and kisses her and if number three dares intervene for a stroke, snarling teeth appear from under the blanket – and this makes number one feel even more special.
Communication is also now exclusively done through number one – they read each other like a book. The tyke tells number one when she wants a walk and number one turns to me and says “Niki wants a walk”. This is not that straight forward – I have to go to the fridge, get her a bit of chicken and offer that as a reward for something she wants to do anyway. How clever is that?
I am sure a fair few dog owners out there will be rolling their eyes as I once would have as a dog owner, but remember it’s not a dog, it’s a terrier – and they have their own rules.
If you have time and want a dog then there’s no better place to contact than Chiltern Dog Rescue. Please click on the link below and donate generously to them if you can: