In 2005 I was asked to take on a 6-month Italian Spinone puppy. She had been rescued by some clients along with her mother into a home with 2-other dogs. The previous owner had no time for them, he had rescued the mother, had a litter from her, sold the rest of the litter but kept one. The litter were born and raised outside in the garden.
The new owners realised there were issues as soon as they entered the house and couldn't bare to leave the puppy behind, they thought, they could deal with taking on 2-rescues at the same time. The mother had guarding aggression and was guarding the puppy from the other dogs in the house. I had had Italian Spinone since 2001 and had been working in the animal industry for a few years already, hence we were asked by them to consider taking the puppy.
I was between dogs as unfortunately we lost our Italian Spinone at 4-years old. We were waiting for our next Italian Spinone puppy as the female's season was late. The first thing I did was check with the breeder to see how they felt about us taking on a rescue puppy when we were waiting for one. They knew my background and felt happy with the situation.
We (husband and I) went to visit the puppy in the rescuers home, she had been there approximately 3-days. The mother had already given the other 2 dogs a substantial bite each for going near the puppy. We were presented with a puppy that was trembling, too fearful to move away from mum or approach the two people that had initally rescued her from her previous situation. We sat down as far away as we possibly could from her and her mother to try and avoid making the situation worse. Within a very short time, minutes, she had approached my husband and initiated some contact with him. She then sat underneath his legs and wouldn’t return to her mother or the other people. We both knew we couldn’t leave her in that situation though we were unsure as to the depths of her issues, but a 6-month puppy couldn’t be too messed up, could she? Wrong, there is a whole load of issues that can be present by that age, our new learning curve began that day!
We took her home straight away the same day and it was very apparent that she wasn’t comfortable with women. I had a lot of work to do to earn her trust. We allowed her space to do her own thing and generally took things slowly via decompression.
On top of this she:
· Wasn’t toilet trained
· Had no bite inhibition (like a baby puppy but with all her adult teeth)
· Had no social skills within a home (she had been born outside and pretty much left out there until being rehomed at 6-months)
· Did not know about ‘normal’ household noises; hoover, washing machine etc
· Did not like fireworks or loud bangs
· Did not like or seem to know about traffic – an issue as we lived on the outskirts of London
· Did not like strangers (especially women)
· Apparently inherited her mother’s guarding skills over; beds, food, bowls, anything stolen (which was many things)
· Did not know how to play with toys
· Was underweight = always hungry would try and steal any food item directly from your hand or plate
· Had worms, fleas and ear mites
Of course she had to go for a veterinary check as she needed some treatment. She was very scared and tried to bite the vet whom I knew well, he told me I was making a big mistake. She would urinate herself even if we looked at her the wrong way in the first week. That first week was a huge challenge and we did question if we were up to the task of helping this puppy.
She was okay with other dogs, this really helped as I was dog walking at the time. She came to work with me and met the other dogs, she was happy to be with them and this helped our relationship. She also really liked our cats which seemed to help her, she would often cuddle up to them. They were used to dogs so accepted her quickly, especially the big street cat I had rescued.
What happened next; I embarked on a Degree in canine behaviour and training spurred on by her to try and learn as much as I could to help this girl out. We had decided to move to Norfolk also so another hurdle to climb!
We had to do a lot of work on her fears and build her confidence up slowly. We had to work super hard on training exercises such as leave, come and fetch so we could get things back from her. She was an expert at finding treasure on a walk once she could be let off lead so these skills were vital. Once we moved to Norfolk and had settled in, I remember she found a dead pigeon, I thought uh oh now we are in trouble! I asked her to fetch it just as I would anything else and luckily, we had done enough training with enough generalisation that it worked a charm! That seemed a real turning point for use.
In the summer months we would keep up with general exposure to strangers as it was easy to accomplish with the space in Norfolk and the tourist trade. She would always regress in winter but then ease back into it in summer. The new puppy came along and became her best friend instantly, they were exactly a year apart in age both born in May. She learned to move herself between him and me on a walk if someone was approaching us rather than running away or reacting.
She developed health issues, first with her gait. A referral to an orthopaedic veterinarian revealed a spinal issue that was affecting the nerves in her back legs. The foreman were too small in her spine, these are the holes in the vertebrae that the nerves feed through.
Next came the bloating, we knew it was a potential issue with the breed but hadn't experienced it before. By now I had a career as a qualfied veterinary nurse which gave us a head start in an emergency. Luckily for her she never had a full gastric torsion due to quick acting veterinarians. We had a new routine when she bloated, get her to the vets, give her heavy pain relief and burp her! Pain relief is needed due to the stomach size pushing onto all the other organs, this created a vicious circle. With increased pain came more airphagia (gulping of air) which increased the bloat and size of the stomach. She had very obvious signs of bloat, agitation to begin then trying to eat anything and everything (pica) then came the airphagia (gulping large bites of air and lots of lip licking).
For a few years we went back and forth, I knew she was 'quite right' but all tests came back negative again and again. First she developed some round lesions on the roof of her mouth, swabs revealed dead tissue, then cracks in her nose. She was diagnosed with Vasculitis, inflammation of the veins which doesn't allow oxygenated blood to reach the tissue, her tissue was dieing. She was medicated and the wounds healed. Vascultis is a symptom of underlying disease, most commonly Lupus - the test for this came back negative but it was assumed she had it. Another symptom is UV sensitivity, her nose was always worse in the summer.
Her overall body condition reduced, her coat changed and then came the bald patches. Now the tests came back with a result Cushings disease and low B12 on top of her other issues. Almost on top of this we had an acute onset of pancreatitis, she was having a really rough time, but we stabilised her and she perked up for some time.
Cognitive decline started to set in and her puppy issues reared their head again. Not to quite the same extent but they were there and they did cause us all some issues.
We had to implement a lot of management techniques towards the end of her life to keep her happy and the balance at home right for her and the others (we had five dogs by then). In her last 6-months of life her eye sight began to fail, she developed separation related issues at night so we had to let her sleep upstairs. We generally have them down stairs as they are very hairy and slobbery. As she had a spinal issue she couldn’t walk up, but she was a smaller girl so we would carry her up, then carry her down in the morning. This solved all of our night time issues and she slept happily until morning. She couldn’t always hold on as she had when younger, if we weren’t awake one of us would get a gentle mussel onto us. Normally it was me as we had become quite firm friends once we moved to Norfolk.
Then it was time to say goodbye to her, it was hard especially with everything we had all been through together. Her nick name was grumps but her real name was ‘Chaira’ a beautiful name for a beautiful dog. Taught us many, many lessons and had bags of character, always missed, always treasured. There are many more details to this story but I won’t bore you with any more. Most rescues will come with some baggage, others will come with lots of it both mentally and physically.
Chiara 2005 - 2016