Rescue dogs are the best breed of all

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Since emigrating from the United Kingdom in 2001, foster care volunteer Ruth Simpson has guided more than 70 dogs into new, loving homes.

Meant to be: Barney with owner Ruth Simpson

Since emigrating from the United Kingdom in 2001, foster care volunteer Ruth Simpson has guided more than 70 dogs into new, loving homes. One of them, Barney, was a homeless hound in urgent need of care when Ruth agreed to take him in more than 12 years ago. After a challenging start to the relationship, it soon became obvious that Barney had found his place in the sun.

By Ruth Simpson

It was late February 2003 and my boyfriend (now husband) and I had been volunteering at the Dogs’ Refuge Home for a little over 12 months, after emigrating from the UK to Perth in January 2001. We had become regular foster carers and already had looked after a litter of puppies and a dozen refuge inmates who needed a break from the kennel environment. On this particular day, I happened to be home when the phone rang and it was no surprise to hear the refuge’s trainer at the time on the other end of the line – he’d got to know that I in particular was a complete pushover for a homeless hound in need.

“I’ve got a dog here and he’s going downhill fast, if I don’t get him out soon I’m not sure if he’s going to make it,” said John. “Can you foster him?”

“I’ll leave now and see you in half an hour,” I replied.

And that was it. The rest, as they say, is history. That’s how Barney Simpson entered our lives.

Named Bruiser by his previous owner and surrendered to the refuge with a brother (who we never met), this kelpie/staffy cross was, to put it mildly, absolutely terrified. In fact, after all this time, he’s still the most terrified dog I’ve ever encountered.

John introduced me to him in the training field where he cowered at my feet with his tail between his legs and proceeded to shake violently. Who knows what happened to this eight-month-old puppy? Had he been violently abused, or had he just been left in a garage somewhere receiving zero socialisation, meaning the outside world was a terrifying place. Either way, I agreed with John that this dog was badly in need of help.

And so, Barney Simpson left the refuge with me that day. He had to be carried to the car and immediately hit the deck, ducking below the window line during the half hour drive home. I still remember to this day pulling into the driveway, opening the back of the car and him staring back at me, probably wondering what I was going to do to him. It was impossible to prise him from the car, so I enlisted the help of a neighbour and we lifted him out, while all the time he shook violently. I recall thinking, if ever a dog’s going to bite me it’s now, he’s absolutely terrified, but he didn’t and that moment marked the rehabilitation of the dog I love with all my heart.

To say the next six months were challenging was an understatement. Barney hid behind the garden shed for the first three months, only being coaxed out occasionally for food. I spoke to the trainer at the refuge to ask his advice – “What do I do to help this dog?” I said. “Keep pulling him out of his comfort zone,” he replied. And so, I slowly started taking Barney for a walk to our local park. These ‘strolls’ were highly embarrassing because Barney didn’t want to go for a walk, he didn’t want to leave the backyard and in fact “walks” consisted of me dragging him up the road while he tried to scoot into every passing bush to hide. When he wasn’t cowering behind a large native plant, he had the brakes on, refusing to go anywhere.

After many weeks of this, we decided that we couldn’t handle this dog, and thought he’d be far better off being rehomed by someone with lots of time and patience – and most of all someone who knew what they were doing. And so, given my background as a PR consultant, and because I was also volunteering at the refuge doing their publicity, I decided to do a story on Barney in the local paper, which was published by the incredibly supportive Subiaco Post, which still publishes countless dog stories for the refuge every year.

To cut a long story short, Barney was rehomed three times, and each time he came back to us. Eventually, we came to the realisation that perhaps he had decided where he wanted to live. He had unfortunately proven quite destructive in other people’s homes, but with us he was never naughty, just very scared.

And so, after he returned back to us from his third trial home, Mark and I were worn down by his beseeching eyes and gentle, though anxious, nature which by this time saw him velcroed to our side. We decided that he wanted to live with us, and so in June 2003 we made the decision that he was meant to be ours, and off I went to the refuge to officially adopt him, still, to be honest, wondering how things were going to work out.

To the rescue: Ruth with Barney, left, and Poppy.

That was 12 years ago now, and when I think back to those days, as I write this, I’m filled with nostalgia. Mark and I were 30 and Barney was with us throughout that whole decade – and I’m pleased to say he’s in his usual position, asleep at my feet as I write this, in fact I can hear him gently snoozing.

I can honestly say that Barney has had the best life I think a homeless dog could have. He has had constant company, given I work from home, which is just as well as he never likes being left on his own – but that’s okay because he hardly ever is. Barney has been camping with us, slept in the tent with us, he was pictured in pretty much every photo when we spent several years renovating our old 70s house – and for much of that time he had splashes of white paint all over him given he was never far from our side as we painted walls and ceilings. Barney has joined us on beach holidays, weekend breaks and countless trips spent down south with friends and their own four-legged rescue dogs. When he hears the tailgate of the car go up – he immediately jumps in and adamantly refuses to get out – even if that means boxes, bedding, food and all the paraphernalia needed for a trip away is slotted in around him.

But the most wonderful thing about Barney is that, over the 12 years we’ve had him, he has enabled us to foster over 70 other homeless hounds in need of help. During that time, we have been foster owners for the Dogs’ Refuge Home, who we will always support as they were the wonderful organisation that rescued him in the first place. On occasion, we have also fostered for other rescue groups that have had particularly desperate dogs needing help, including Wish Animal Rescue, SAFE and even Rottweiler Rescue. And Barney has (mostly) welcomed them into our home, whatever their size, shape, temperament or age. He’s shown them what to do, where to pee, how to behave and even how to find the patches of sunlight that he adores and seeks out throughout the day as the sun moves over our house.

We have been proud to help transition all of those 70 dogs into new, loving homes – and we managed to resist adopting any of them, believing that as long as they found wonderful homes it was as good as us keeping them. But inevitably, we were bound to foster fail again at some point – and this has only just happened, in March 2015, when by chance I happened to see a Gumtree post about a stray dog that was abandoned in Lancelin on the Australia Day long weekend. I contacted the person who had found her and offered to help transition the pup to the safety of the Dogs’ Refuge, which resulted in a five-hour drive to rescue her. And because the shelter was full at the time, she came to our house during her quarantine period. Again, the rest is history, and we ended up adopting Poppy the puppy, another scared little girl who is the spitting image of a young Barney but who is growing in confidence every day.

If there is one thing I could wish for, it would be to enter Barney’s head and scrub out all the bad things that happened to him in his first eight months of life, before he was rescued by the shelter and came to live with us. But obviously that’s impossible, though I’d like to think that the wonderful life he has had – and continues to have – has possibly made up for the bad start he had in life. He’s certainly a completely different dog to the one we adopted over a decade ago. He adores his walks to the park and races up the street every morning, super keen for an adventure. He’s obsessed with the ball – and will do anything for it – which has been a great way to persuade him that life isn’t quite so scary after all. And most of all, he is the most wonderful ambassador for refuge dogs generally – in fact he’s living proof that a scared, nervous homeless hound can flourish into the most beautiful, happy, loyal companion that, given a second chance, will seize life and love it to the max.

Barney Simpson, you have made us laugh pretty much every day you’ve been in our lives, and have been the most loyal dog we could ever have wished for. Yes, sometimes I’m reduced to tears when I think that, at 13, you’re now in your twilight years – but hopefully you will have many more beach adventures, swamp walks, balls to chase, cuddles and treat-filled kongs. We love you Barney Simpson – and the newly arrived Poppy Simpson is becoming greatly loved too. What’s more, you prove that rescue dogs are the best breed of all.

– on behalf of The Simpsons – Ruth, Mark, Barney and Poppy

Ruth is Principal, Shine Communications, in Perth, Western Australia.

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