On the night of 24 December, eyes will close and heads will lie down on pillows with giddy excitement in expectation of gifts to unwrap the following morning, but for one dog, every day is Christmas Day now.
Although amid the bitterly cold wintery spells of early 2018, a young cocker spaniel found herself all alone and without anyone to care for her, Prim now has a family to call her own and this Christmas will be her first ever in a loving home.
To look at her now, no one would guess that just months ago poor Prim had no way of protecting herself from the sub-zero temperatures of the harshest winter on record, as she had no fur anywhere on her body. She was cold and naked.
You can see from the photos taken of her at the time just how sad and pitiful the 10-month-old was when she first arrived in Blue Cross care.
With her tail tucked between her legs and her body crouched low to the ground, backing away and rigid with fear, our team immediately knew the tell-tale signs that Prim had been mistreated. She would have a long road ahead of her, but we would be there every step of the way to recovery.
Prim was found as a stray and picked up by the local authority before being taken in by Hope Rescue and then to our Blue Cross rehoming and advice unit in Newport, south Wales. She must have been ever so lonely. And how could she trust anyone when no one had ever shown her kindness?
The little dog, still in puppyhood, was suffering from an advanced case of mange. It had rid her body of any fur and left her skin rough and hard, and terribly itchy. No animal deserves to suffer in this way.
Just a few hours after Prim had arrived at our Newport unit, Manager Hannah Wiltshire, said: “It’s really upsetting to see Prim like this because the severity of her condition shows that whoever owned her let her suffer like this for months without any treatment.
“Had they sought veterinary help for her, her skin wouldn’t be in the state it is now.”
But Prim could begin to forget about her past now she was safe in Blue Cross care as we put a plan into action, doing everything we could to get her back on her paws.
To diagnose demodex mange, Prim had to have a skin scrape. Although this is a common and necessary procedure for dogs in this condition, it would have been sore on her already raw skin. We treated Prim’s mange with antibiotics and medicated baths. Treatment for mange is a marathon and not a sprint.
Hannah remembers Prim’s incessantly itchy skin causing the young dog grief: “She had to wear an inflatable buster collar during her kennels stay to make sure she couldn’t reach her itchy skin to nibble at it, but the little lady ended up going through our collection of collars as she broke about three!”
We also gave Prim a jumper to wear to provide her with the warmth she was lacking as her fur slowly grew back.
But it wasn’t just Prim’s physical problems that needed curing. Her sad early life experiences had left her broken, worried by people, and nervous of new places.
Hannah remembers: “She was just a scared spaniel who wanted to be your friend but she didn’t know how to be. She was terrified of everyone. When she arrived we had to coax her out of the van and she would crawl everywhere, keeping her body close to the ground with fear.
“I’ve worked with many, many nervous dogs over the years, and it is always so sad to see a dog with a body posture like Prim had when we first met because you know they are completely terrified. You just want to make everything ok for them.”
Fearful dogs need time, patience and baby steps to help them overcome their worries. When dogs have never experienced usual household objects, environments or situations before, they can become unsure of what to expect or how to feel comfortable. Prim bore all the hallmarks of spending her life up until the point of rescue in an environment where no one showed her affection, nor allowed her to explore the world. That she was nervous of going outside suggests she had been cooped up indoors. Combined with the fact that she came in at the same time as another abandoned dog who had the same type of mange, we believe Prim likely spent her early life in a puppy farm where fashionable breeds of dog were bred en masse and kept confined, without the necessary veterinary help, and where no one showed them what it was to be a loved pet.
Building up Prim’s confidence and helping her learn that it was ok to trust people was the first step on Hannah’s rehabilitation plan. Taking small steps would take time, but patience and dedication was the only way to help the utterly broken dog.
Hannah says: “Prim didn’t come out of her kennel for five days, she was that nervous. From day one she wanted attention and a fuss, but was too nervous to come close so I started off by just sitting on the floor in her kennel at a distance she was comfortable with. She did a little excited wiggle when I went in, but was too nervous to leave her bed.”
Over time, Prim grew confident enough to wander over from her bed to say hello to Hannah, who was still sitting on the floor in the kennel at this point. It doesn’t sound like much, but this was a real milestone in the young dog’s recovery as she finally felt able to place her trust in Hannah within a space she felt comfortable in. Giving fearful dogs safe spaces gives them the ability to become confident in their surroundings and sets them up for success with the next challenge they face, for example meeting a new person. Treats helped too!
Hannah adds: “Prim wanted to be your friend and do all the really fun stuff puppies should do, but she needed to work out how and we needed to be her safety net to help her get there. Over time, we added to her friends list.”
Today, Prim is a different dog, physically and emotionally.
She has a wonderfully happy home with new owner Megan Baverstock and two canine companions Woody and Sammie. This Christmas – Prim’s first ever as a pet – the former stray will spend quality time as part of a family, enjoying a festive dinner and long walks all together, before curling up with the gang, safe and warm on the sofa.
And Sammie will be able to show Prim the way, having been in her paws before. Sammie, now fifteen-and-a-half years old, was also once a stray dog. She was abandoned at six months old with a broken spine, which means she still has a slightly lopsided walk to this day. Megan rehomed the jack russell terrier from our Blue Cross Southampton rehoming centre, and was pleased to give another stray a chance at happiness.
“When I first took her home it was like she’d never been in the house before,” Megan explains. “She was really reactive at the TV and would bark at it, so I had it on but with no volume for quite a while. She’s a bit cowery at times, so I assume someone at some time has been hard on her, which is really sad to think.”
Megan built on the work Hannah and her team had done to help Prim grow in confidence and continued to take everything one step at a time. Walking the same route every day enabled Prim to become familiar and comfortable in her new surroundings, and Megan has used toys and food treats to make new experiences fun and exciting rather than scary.
Megan adds: “She has gained so much confidence in the three months I have had her; it’s hard to believe she is the same dog in those photos. She absolutely loves her walks and would run around off lead all day given the chance.
“As she had to have so many baths during her recovery she was very scared of water but after several walks that included rivers or the sea - and watching her doggy friends loving it - she has slowly ventured in and has finally learnt to properly swim. Out and about its nose down and grab all the smells you can!
“She has made some friends with my friends’ dogs but can be a little shy of unfamiliar we meet but I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect addition to move into my home with my existing dogs. She has brought out the playful side of Sammie and they play most days which is so lovely to see.
“We have recently been on holiday to Devon and am looking forward to so many more adventures with her.
“I feel so lucky to have found her, I really can’t imagine life without her now.”
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