Houseguests and furever homes.

A couple of weeks ago, our friend Tess came to stay with us for a week while her people, the G family, went away. Tess is a 14 year old husky x who was rescued from the RSPCA as a 5 year old. She has been a beautiful family companion who has been very gentle and patient through the grasping clutches of three small children, and she is definitely a people person.

The G family brought Tess to meet our dogs and see the yard about a week before she came to stay. It was important to introduce her to each dog individually, with Bolo wearing his muzzle, and make sure they would all get along. We were particularly concerned about Ishka reacting to another female on her turf, but all of the dogs were happy to meet and she them. Czar in particular was very excited about a new playmate, and Tess had to remind him several times that a grand old lady like herself was not going to romp with him. It was also important for the G family to see our yard, and feel comfortable that Tess, who has a history of escaping, was going to be safe. We were keen to ensure that her heart would not be overly taxed if she touched our electric fence. All round, it was a successful visit, and it was agreed that Tess would move in the following week.

Tess at Mt Margaret 2012.

Tess at Mt Margaret 2012.

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Tess arrived and was, naturally, initially anxious. However, she didn't howl all night long, and happily claimed a dog bed as her own for the rest of her stay. She was happy to sit back and watch the younger dogs play, especially if she could do it at our feet, carefully positioning her head to catch some ear scratches. I was happy to oblige, as Tess has the softest coat I have ever seen. It was a joy to stroke, softer than our Bolo's fluffiness, and much much less coarse than Czar's wiry fur. It sparked a lot of discussion about what kind of husky x Tess might be. She was wider in the face, shoulders and hips, with folded ears and no guard hairs, but her markings and undercoat showed classic husky markings. Our eventual theory was potentially labrador?

Tess was a very considerate house guest, happy to get along. Ishka didn't particularly like the competition for her daddy's attention, and refused to look at Tess, who ignored the boys and kept looking at Ishka as if she was hoping for an invitation to have a girly chit chat bonding session. All in all, a peaceful situation, but the house was feeling pretty full with five dogs underfoot.

Ishka watching Tess watch Ishka, using the reflection in the window.

Ishka watching Tess watch Ishka, using the reflection in the window.

It never rains but it pours.

So, of course, just when we were feeling pretty full-up, we had another house guest arrive. 

Update: for the current status of NVSDR and their dogs available for adoption, please check my article 

 

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Little Mac had been in the Melton Pound before Christmas and the folks from Northern Victorian Sled Dog Rescue got him out. I had volunteered to help out with transporting any rescue dogs or other chores while I was on holidays, so when they needed a place to house Mac for a night, they got in touch. No way could I say no! Six dogs it was - for one night at least.

The very kind KA from NVSDR went out to the pound to meet Mac and do a "temp test" to see what kind of temperament he had. She touched him, played with him and offered him food. He showed no sign of aggression, even when KA moved food away from him, and handled him while eating. She was really impressed with his personality - a little timid, but very loving and sweet. Mac had been at the pound for more than the eight days during which his owners could have collected him, so he had been declared officially homeless. In some pounds, he would have failed the temp test because he was keen to jump up and lick faces, which is often declared a "menacing" behaviour in large dogs. Once a dog has failed a temp test, the pound will often deem the dog unable to be rehomed, and euthanase it. Because criteria for temp tests are varied, and sometimes kept secret, they lead to a lot of controversy. Fortunately for Mac, the Melton Pound were happy to hand him over to a rescue group to be rehomed.

We collected Mac from KA and brought him home. As she'd told us, he was a bit nervy and filthy dirty with extremely long nails. He'd been scoring free meals from the man who turned him into the pound, so he wasn't too underweight, but he'd obviously never seen a brush or a nail clipper, let alone a bath. The pound put his age at around 18 months and called him a husky x, but there was even less visible husky in him than in Tess! J and KA both thought he was on the young side of 12 months, and debated whether he had some German shepherd or some Rhodesian Ridgeback in him.

Being my sister's birthday, we had to head out, so we arranged Mac in a crate with a juicy bone. He seemed pretty happy when we left, but not so when we came back. He'd been in the crate a bit longer than his bladder was able to cope with, and everything was a stinky mess. He got a quick warm bath, which he initially disliked, but then happily paddled in, before being settled out in the dog pen for the night. 

I slept peacefully through the few hours, but poor J was kept awake by the puppy yipping and howling out in the pen. Despite the fact that we'd gone to some effort to keep him separate from our dogs, because we hadn't had time to introduce them separately as we had with Tess, J eventually decided to press Frankie into baby-sitting duty out in the pen. Fortunately that kept the little guy quiet!

Mac's ridge of fur along his spine may be heritage from a Rhodesian Ridgeback ancestor.

Mac's ridge of fur along his spine may be heritage from a Rhodesian Ridgeback ancestor.

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Mac meets the pack.

Mac meets the pack.

In the morning, J finished the introductions in the backyard, and Czar was thrilled to finally have someone else to play with. Bolo thought Mac was hilarious. Ishka still wasn't very impressed about having another potential rival, but Mac took her warnings to heart and stayed clear. Tess had been collected by her family the evening before, so the spot at my feet was available and the leggy little guy flopped there after the games had worn him out. Eventually it was time to say goodbye, and I loaded him up for a short trip to meet S from NVSDR. Just in time too, because J was eyeing those long legs and lean build and definitely thinking of how Mac would work in harness!

Mac and his new friend Granite.

Mac and his new friend Granite.

S and S run the NVSDR from their place up in Shepparton and own some beautiful Alaskan Malamutes that we'd met at the Royal Melbourne Show. They were able to place Mac into a big sled dog family and he has happily settled in there. He even fits in with the Alaskan Husky look at this kennel! We're looking forward to seeing him over the racing season.

Mac is lucky to have found a "fur-ever" home, but lots of other dogs like him don't. S and S tell me that they have to constantly check out webpages of pounds, shelters, dogs for sale, and free to a good home ads to find sled dogs at risk. Once they've built up a relationship with a particular pound, like they have with Melton, they often get phone calls about dogs that are in those pounds, but if the pound is suspicious or unhappy with a rescue group, they may not notify them about unclaimed dogs. Sometimes, pounds are less than cooperative - Mr G told me that each time Tess has escaped, a phone call to his pound (not Melton) has resulted in no help at all, even when she has been sitting right there, wearing her collar, tags and microchip. Of course, unclaimed dogs are at risk of being euthanased, or being PTS (put to sleep).

If a dog is unclaimed for more than 8 days, as Mac was, then S says "Section 84(Y) of the Domestic Animals Act.... allows us to rehome the dogs as long as we provide evidence that the dog has been desexed and microchipped before hand." This means the rescue group has to pay for all the vet bills, care and housing. Often this will be done in the home of a breed-experienced foster family, especially if the dog needs vet care or rehabilitation, like Bolo did. Then the rescue group has to find suitable adoptive family, usually providing breed education and advice about safe fencing. Its a long and tedious process with many potential pitfalls. I asked S and S how they stay positive.

How do we stay positive? It's really REALLY hard. I struggle with it a lot because we see so many horrible situations, however seeing a dog rehomed to a family that loves it like they love life itself is an amazing feeling. That's what keeps us positive.

Another member of the sledding community, T, who has recently taken in his fifth (I think, T let me know if I counted wrong!) rescue dog, Kodi, told me 

I love rescue dogs as I really feel the appreciate what you are doing for them. As they are a little older they grow into their new home a lot faster and show and adjust their personality to their new humans much quicker. Each day you see a new side to them, whether good or bad, which always makes me smile.

I know that J feels the same way, especially when we're sitting here with Bolo or Czar stretched out on the couch between us, Ishka at J's feet and Frankie putting his head in a lap for some pats. They may not be the fastest sled dog team around, but they give us a lot of joy, loving their runs and races. And I can't stand toilet training dogs, so having older dogs is a big bonus for me. I can't wait until we buy our own place, and can foster more often.