Life changed by a photo
They say a picture speaks a thousand words, but in Flynn’s case, it probably saved his life.
The photo of his forlorn face appeared in an online advert giving him away to anyone who could collect him ‘urgently’ that evening. Thank goodness it was a kind soul who came across it first.
The alarm was raised with Hope Rescue, a dog rescue charity Blue Cross often works with, and a volunteer rushed to pick him up. Days later, the greyhound-staffie-cross was in the care of our rehoming unit in Newport, Wales.
Not only was the one-year-old so thin you could see his ribs, he had a poorly stomach that wouldn’t heal and was carrying mental scars that we suspected were caused by miserable conditions in his past.
Flynn, who was believed to have been living tethered outside, spent his days in the cosy home rooms of our Newport unit and nights at a nearby kennels.
Once the Blue Cross team caring for him had his trust, he very quickly latched onto people to feel secure.
“He was a very affectionate and sweet dog,” said Chloe Sims, Animal Welfare Assistant. “He was always trying to squeeze in a cuddle with us and was very pleased to see us each morning.”
And it wasn’t long before his snap on the Blue Cross website caught the eye of Jade-Marie Fleuriot, 30.
“I think what drew me to him was that he looked like he just really needed a bit of love,” she said.
Jade-Marie and her partner at the time took the bus all the way from their home in London to visit Flynn – they clicked with him instantly and collected him the following weekend.
“He seemed vulnerable, lost. He didn't really know his place in the world. He didn't understand what a family was,” said Jade-Marie.
They knew that Flynn had many issues to overcome but, having volunteered for a dog rescue charity before, Jade-Marie was confident that she could handle anything thrown at her. It wasn’t plain sailing, though.
It took months to overcome his tummy troubles as he had many allergies, but eventually – through trial and error – they found the food and treats that kept him happy and well.
Meanwhile, having had little to no training from his previous owner, months of hard work also went into shaping Flynn into a confident, well-behaved boy.
Jade-Marie, who now works for Blue Cross, explained: “Like any dog that has been through quite a lot, which he obviously had, he struggled a bit with trust. And then a little bit with understanding that when we were leaving him, we weren’t leaving him for good.
“When we first got him, he also didn’t understand that food would always be readily available to him. So as soon as we left, he would be sniffing at anything and everything to try to get any food he could, in a panic. He would go into complete survival mode.”
Routine was key; feeding him bang on time every day, and slowly and carefully building up his time alone.
“After about two months he could be left on his own properly without stressing. We’d come home and he would just be on the bed, which was huge progress,” said Jade-Marie.
The biggest challenge was teaching Flynn to stop mouthing. He’d never learnt as a puppy not to do this, so it took a huge commitment from Jade-Marie and plenty of support throughout from the Blue Cross Behaviour Team to get him out of the habit.
“It took about a year,” said Jade-Marie. “It was always just play but, the problem is, that type of play would come out when he was anxious. I was commuting into work with him and he got nervous around a lot of people. So, we would get on a train and he would focus that energy on me, jumping up and mouthing my arms.”
She continued: “He’d be jumping up at me like a puppy, but because he didn’t look like a puppy anymore, people would think that he was a full-grown dog attacking me. Of course, it wasn’t that, he just had no boundaries as a puppy and didn’t understand what was socially acceptable.
“People didn’t understand his background, so how could they know that he was a bit broken, and that I was essentially trying to fix him.
“That’s the sort of pre-judgment that comes with it that you worry about. So, actually, the one beautiful thing about having a dog is that you learn not to care so much about what people think. You learn to be much more like a dog and take each day and moment as it comes.”
Jade-Marie tried all kinds of different approaches, such as redirecting Flynn’s play onto balls, but found the breakthrough came with teaching him the ‘watch me’ command and rewarding his focus on her.
“Eventually, after about a year, and a lot of very good help from the Blue Cross Behaviour Team, we kicked it,” she said.
“It was a struggle and it took a lot of consistency, but I just wasn't willing to give up on him. He was amazing in every other aspect and I knew he deserved so much more than what he was given from the start.”
She added: “And I’m convinced that’s why my bond with him is so strong, because we had to work through these problems together. I’m so much more attuned to his body language and what he needs. He’s definitely the same with me. I’d do it all again, in a heartbeat. I don’t regret a thing.”
Flynn has now been with Jade-Marie for four years. And just as she has transformed his life, he’s been by her side as she adapted to big changes in her own.
After her relationship ended two years ago, Jade-Marie moved into a house share with Flynn, who still spends every other weekend with her former partner.
“We sort of found each other at the right moment in our lives,” she said. “I was about to go through a really big change and Flynn just needed someone who was patient enough and could give him love.”
She continued: “He helped me hugely; we went on so many sunset walks that helped clear my head. I would sit down and watch the sunset with him by my side while I made some life-changing decisions. It was such a weird, turbulent time and he just got me through it all.”
Flynn now lives with Jade-Marie in south London with four other housemates and she says that he has come out of his shell even more since they moved in.
“It’s a really unconventional family but there are four more people to love him,” explained Jade-Marie. “We may not be a husband, wife and two-point-five children, but we’re better. He goes into each of their rooms. He gets cuddles. He greets them at the door. He just loves them all and would have never been this sociable otherwise.
“We're not the traditional family. But he's made his own family out of us.”
Not only is Flynn’s laid-back nature well-suited to his living situation, Jade-Marie believes that sight hounds, in general, are great dogs for people living in London.
“A lot of people think that lurchers and greyhounds – because they’re so slim and fast – require so much exercise and couldn’t possibly fit in in London. But, actually, they’re pretty lazy so are the perfect city dog. And because of their prey drive, there’s less wildlife for them to chase in busy London parks.”
Both Jade-Marie and Flynn have come a long way since meeting all that time ago, and it’s clear that they would be lost without each other.
“I had wanted a dog for years but hadn’t been in the right position. And I felt like a little piece of me was missing until Flynn came in. It all just clicked into place when I got him.
“He’s a completely different dog now – so placid and chilled. If you think about how far he has come, it’s beautiful to see.
"That’s the great thing about getting a rescue dog – the effort you put in is so worthwhile when you see what comes out. He’s amazing and I just love him so much.”