At the end of July 2012, we went to visit a dog rescue centre in Fortaleza. It is run by a lovely woman called Sandra, who informed us she had 52 dogs needing to be re-homed, we all hoped one of them would go home with us.
There were dogs of all shapes and sizes, Sandra brought them out in groups into a main pound and told us what she knew of their stories. Many of them had come to her half-starved and suffering from various injuries, in some cases deliberately inflicted, others the victims of road traffic accidents. We were looking for a medium to large-sized dog and one dog stood out for me, a beautiful black collie type dog, he stood looking at her adoringly, I felt sure he would be a good dog with some training, my only concern was that Sandra said he was very jealous, not a good idea with an eight year old child in the house and other dogs.
More dogs were brought out and put away, non caught my attention like the collie type had done so I asked to see him again, Sandra said that first she would let out the last two dogs, not because she thought we would want either of them, one was very small and the other had been with her for over a year and she doubted would ever be re-homed as he wouldn’t let anyone near him, but she made a rule of always letting all the dogs out regardless. Having released the two dogs into the pound she went back and got the black dog out for me to see again and we stood talking about him, while Neu went to stand in the shade.
Sandra was telling me the black dog was one of her favourites, he clearly only had eyes for her and was not the least bit interested in me, then Sandra looked towards where Neu was standing and said words to the effect of “Oh my God! Would you look at that!” The dog she had just released, the one she said wouldn’t let anyone near him, was standing on his hind legs, his front feet firmly planted on Neu’s stomach.
To say Sandra was surprised is an understatement, she said the dog, called Billy, had been in a very bad way when he first came to her, showing signs of physical maltreatment and very scared, hence he wouldn’t approach anyone, nor would he let anyone near him but he had quite clearly chosen Neu, our hearts went out to him and he came home with us. He wasn’t over keen on getting into the car but once there he lay down on the back seat next to me and was as quiet as a mouse for the 2 hour journey home. Back in Prainha the fun began.
There is no road to our house so we have to walk over soft sand the short distance from the end of the road at the school, unfortunately we arrived just as school was finishing for the day, the noise of the children coming out was too much for Billy. Looking for all the world like a cartoon caricature of a shocked dog, hair on end, trembling all over and with his eyes almost standing out on stalks, he refused to get out of the car. We sat and waited until the majority of children had gone and then tried again. This time I got him out of the car but he refused to walk, sat down and dug his feet in the sand, he wasn’t going anywhere. Neu had gone on ahead so there was nothing for it, I was going to have to carry Billy, he’s a bit big for carrying so we made slow progress but finally made it home.
Once in the house, Billy was determined he wasn’t going anywhere else and would not leave the room he had first entered, nor would he eat or drink. We gave him as much love as we could and after about 2 hours his bladder got the better of him, he rushed out side, did a quick pee and rushed back in again. Finally he felt secure enough to eat and drink a bit but really only felt safe if he was sitting on one of us.
Over the next two weeks we gradually got Billy to leave the room and sit outside, then explore a little deeper into the garden, finally I got him to walk right round the house but he was scared of everything, any little noise would send him flying back to the safety of the corner he had claimed as his, he wouldn’t play with the other dogs and if they showed any interest in his food, he just let them have it, he wouldn’t eat anything if we or the other dogs were near by, only If we backed right off would he take a small mouthful to be eaten while keeping a very close eye on us, any movement at all on our part and he would drop the food. Poor dog, goodness only knows what he had been through.
When we took the other dogs out, Billy showed no interest in coming with us, after a couple of weeks we decided the only way he would come out was if we forced him to, I put him on the lead and with a lot of gentle coaxing got him out of the garden but then once again had to carry him for a bit. Out on the dunes we sat down, Billy sat behind me and rested his head on my shoulder, for all the world it was like he was saying, Yes well this is fine but can we go home now.
Gradually our walks got easier, he still had to be coaxed out of the garden but I no longer had to carry him and then one glorious day he decided to play, it was such a fabulous moment, first he began to dig in the sand then he ran chasing after our dog Totti, round and round, before having a good roll in the sand snorting, he had finally decided it was safe to be happy, it was so good to see and it made me cry.
Sandra had only been able to tell us he was in a bad way when he had come to her, we suspect that he has received some severe beatings, he seems to have trouble breathing through his nose, perhaps it was fractured or broken at some point, he certainly reacts badly if you have a stick in your hand which made sweeping near him a little difficult at first but he has never shown a hint of aggression towards us and although he is still not that interested in the other dogs, he loves playing with our son.
Very slowly Billy has relaxed, though he has some funny ways about him and he still doesn’t like to eat if anyone is nearby, though he no longer lets the other dogs steal his food. He has decided that he should be out side at night, only coming into the house during the day, usually only into the kitchen but increasingly coming to find me in my studio. He still doesn’t like sudden loud noises and firecrackers (which get set off here for all sorts of occasions) send him into fits of high-pitched squeaky barking but where as at first he would be difficult to calm down, now we just call his name and he stops his noise. Best of all he quite clearly adores all of us and we adore him.
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