A rocky start

Rocky - top slice

He wasn’t a Labrador, and he wasn’t healthy.

Eleven days before Christmas Day 2016, a couple purchased what they thought would become a much-loved pet; a Labrador puppy, fit and ready to go home, up for sale on a classified advertising website. They agreed to meet the breeder (or so they thought) in a car park. Money changed hands, and the wriggly ball of fluff named Rocky came home with them.

Within hours of bringing him home, Rocky, was flat, floppy and very ill. There was clearly something very wrong. He had vomited several times during the night and had an upset stomach too. He wasn’t interested in food, and although he tried to drink water, he could not keep it down. Desperate for help, the owners rang the breeder, but there was no reply.

Less than 24 hours after he was bought, Rocky was at the nearest vet. He would need special intensive treatment if he was to survive. Caught totally unprepared for a very sick pet and unable to afford private vet fees, his owners rushed him to our Victoria animal hospital and made the heartbreaking decision to part with him, asking that we find him a new home should he recover.

Tiny Rocky was in a collapsed state when he arrived at our Victoria animal hospital

Deathly disease

“Rocky was at death’s door when he arrived in our care,” said Amanda Marrington, Blue Cross Animal Welfare Officer. “He was weak, emaciated and suffering from parvovirus and we didn’t think he would survive the night.”

Parvovirus is a highly infectious disease that can kill puppies quickly. It is entirely preventable with a simple vaccination. It is very contagious in unvaccinated puppies, especially where hygiene is poor, so sadly, the other puppies in Rocky’s litter are likely to have suffered a similar fate.

The advertising of puppies online, before completing the sale at a public location, is an increasingly worrying trend, and more and more dangerously ill pets who have been bought in this way are being treated by Blue Cross vets.

Rocky pup - learning stairs
Rocky needed encouragement to eat when he was at his most poorly. We were so worried for him.

Rocky needed intervention fast if he was to make it. We placed him in our isolation unit to keep others safe from the potential spread of infection, and to give him a quiet space to rest and recover. 

Hannah Dennis, Veterinary Nurse at Victoria, was one of a team who made sure he found the strength to survive.

Hannah explains: “It was touch and go with Rocky. Puppies that young are at real risk of death from parvovirus because if they can’t eat and are losing fluids, they aren’t getting the vital nutrients they need to survive.

“Rocky needed encouragement to eat. We fed him by hand every two hours, little and often, to build up with strength without giving him too much and making him sick.”

Hannah offered the youngster tiny mouthfuls on a fingertip and eventually he began to fancy eating from his food bowl on his own. This, and the fact he kept trying to chew through his drip, were positive signs that Rocky was on the road to recovery. 

Rocky pup - paddling pool

And so, after nine days in intensive care, Rocky left the hospital and travelled to our Hertfordshire rehoming centre.

“Our job was to start Rocky’s education,” explains Sarah Miller, Animal Welfare Assistant, who began Rocky’s training. “Because of his illness he was starting his training a bit later than he should have done and we noticed he was very mouthy, which is a sign he was probably taken away from his mum too early. We introduced him to lots of new experiences including going in the car, meeting dogs, and listening to household sounds.

“We also made sure he had lots of time to play, run around like a mad thing and sleep, and of course lots of cuddles!”

Bringing up baby

Learning how to cope with being around people and other animals, and about reacting to different environments and situations, is a process called ‘socialisation’. It sets a puppy up for life as a family dog, and should be started at around three weeks. 

Rocky’s breeder didn’t do this, and because he was at death’s door in our hospital, we were unable to start the process as early as we would have done with a healthy homeless puppy. 

A puppy who lacks experience with the world will find many things that we take for granted scary and is very likely to grow up to be a worried dog, so Sarah and her colleagues were keen to begin socialisation with Rocky as soon as they could.

Tracy and her family have continued this process with Rocky in his new home.

One sure-fire way of getting Rocky some experience of a home was to put him in one. So on Christmas Eve, our Volunteer Foster Carer, Becky Andrews, picked Rocky up and took him home to enjoy the festivities with her family – and he even enjoyed a little turkey dinner and the customary afternoon snooze. 

Becky says: “Rocky truly was the best Christmas present I got. He had such a fuss made over him due to the circumstances of him coming to us. I had family over and they all fell in love with him. We put a little red ribbon round his neck on Christmas Day. 

“Rocky was the fourth dog I had as a foster, so I had already been through them going into loving homes. Although it’s sad to see them go as you do get very attached, but knowing that Blue Cross does appropriate checks does make it easier to let them go. In some cases a puppy really is just for Christmas.”

One month after Rocky came through our doors, weak and ever so poorly, he left us to become part of the Meadows family.

Rocky pup - with Sarah

Home at last

Buying a happy, healthy puppy

We're a rehoming charity so we'd always recommend getting a pup from a rescue, but we know many people choose to buy a puppy for lots of different reasons, so we've put together this helpful guide to help puppy buyers avoid pitfalls and make the best decision for your family.

Buying a puppy.

Tracy Meadows had grown up with big dogs, had always wanted one of her own and her son had shown a keen interest in getting one, but with work commitments it had never seemed like the right time. We caught up with Rocky and his new family five months after he left Blue Cross, and he has proved he was worth the wait.

Tracy says: “I said to my husband, Ian: ‘When I see the dog and look into their eyes, I’ll know it’s the right one.’ We went up to the centre with open minds, but when we met Rocky in the puppy play pen, he ran to me for a cuddle, then he looked at my husband and ran to him, and I saw my husband just melt!”

Rocky’s mouthing problem – brought on by his troubled early days - did continue into the home, but the family was prepared to work with him to solve it.

“We knew that was going to be the case because he had no bite inhibition so he was a challenge, but we’ve trained him and had advice from the centre,” explains Tracy.

“He was terrified of everything in the kitchen, because he wasn’t brought up in a home environment and probably lived in a shed or something. We had a list of things to help him with and ticked them off. One week we’d focus on saucepans, next week it’d be the kettle.”

Rocky with family
Rocky is Tom's best friend and has become his motivation to work hard to achieve his dream of becoming a vet. Photo courtesy of Tracy Meadows.

Rocky’s training is continuing in his new home and he’s found a love of exploring the great outdoors, enjoys swimming, and has brought the family together. He lives an idyllic life alongside fellow Hertfordshire rehomee Nigella, a rabbit, a second rescue bunny Benson, and five chickens.

Tracy says: “He is a very affectionate puppy and is always on the go, and he really makes us laugh with the antics he gets up to. 

“We’re now out walking every night with him, and wherever we go, Rocky goes. He loves travelling in the car. Really he’s brought us all together; we’re doing more things as a family because of having a dog, so we’re exploring new places.”

And for 14-year-old Tom, who had spent years trying to convince his parents the family should get a dog, Rocky has become the motivation to work hard to achieve his ideal career in animal welfare.

Tom says: “Rocky simply means the world to me now, he has changed me for the better. He just seems to brighten up the day for me. I think digging deeper, the bond I have with him is unbreakable. It's like he understands me and can cheer me up no matter what. 

“Rocky gives me hope, the thought of what he has been through drives me to pursue my dream of becoming a vet. Now I have Rocky with me I can overcome anything.”

— Page last updated 06/12/2017