Tigger gives Sarah a kiss as they paddlebaord together on the river

The wonderful thing about Tigger…

Not only did Sarah take a chance on an unwanted staffie, but now she’s taking on tough challenge to give back to the charity that gave her Tigger…

It must have been very lonely in the stray kennels, particularly for a dog as worried about the world as Tigger was. He couldn’t have been further away from the bouncy and self-assured animal of his namesake of the AA Milne classic children’s tales.

Tigger waited with the dog warden for a week for his owner to claim him, but day after day his wait proved hopeless and no one stepped forward to take him home. At this point the local authority could have put him to sleep if they could find no one to take him on, but luckily for Tigger, the team at Blue Cross Tiverton rehoming centre knew he could make a family complete if he was given a second shot at happiness, and welcomed him into the shelter.

Kerry Hall, an Animal Welfare Assistant at our Tiverton centre in Devon, remembers the worried soul arrive: “We took Tigger on from the dog warden when his seven days were up,” she said.

“He was very shy and showed behaviours that dogs often use to try and diffuse or stop conflict from happening, called ‘appeasement behaviours’, so he was obviously very worried of us at first, which is really sad to see in a dog. He spent a lot of time with his tail tucked between his legs.”

Tigger jumps for joy through the waves at the beach
Tigger on arrival at our centre
Tigger was very shy and spent a lot of time with his tail tucked between his legs when he first arrived at our Tiverton rehoming centre

Tigger was not in the best condition either and was underweight; signs that he hadn’t been treated well by whoever had abandoned him. He would need plenty of tasty meals to get him to a healthy weight, as well as help to overcome his demons.

Kerry explained: “To build his confidence it was all about getting him out and about and playing with him at his own pace. By giving him lots of food and gently introducing him to playing with toys and balls we were able to help him understand that people weren’t something to be fearful of.”

Tigger’s confidence grew and he soon found his bounce, but he remained worried of men in particular.

Pamela Barlow, Blue Cross Animal Behaviour Coordinator, added: “Being scared of men is, more often than not, because of a lack of socialisation. Between five and 12 weeks puppies have a key socialisation period and if they don’t have good experiences with something or someone in this time they can become fearful of it later in life.

"This is something we’re continuing to help his owner with now Tigger’s in a loving home.”

Tigger and Sarah snuggle on the sofa

Sarah Franklin knew exactly what she wanted in a pet, and when our team heard the words “I’d like to rehome a staffie”, they jumped for joy. Blue Cross takes in over 400 unwanted and abandoned staffies every year.

Because of the much-maligned dog’s unfair reputation, they take an awful lot longer to rehome than breeds that don’t come with a stigma attached. And what makes their long length of stay even tougher is that bull breeds tend to hate kennel life because being around and snuggling up to people is all they really want to do –  a need which, as hard as we try, is difficult to meet in kennels like an owner can in a home environment.

I wanted to offer a dog that hadn’t necessarily the greatest start a good life Sarah, Tigger's adoring owner

Sarah, who rehomed Tigger in March 2016, was on the lookout for a faithful hound to join her in her adventures exploring the great British outdoors. She explains: “I love staffies. I love the fact that they smile, and he’s the perfect size; he’s a medium sized dog and he’s quite energetic, but at the same time he’s happy to chill out and relax. And he's just a funny little dog, you can take him anywhere and do anything with him.

“I wanted to offer a dog that hadn’t necessarily the greatest start a good life, because I’m quite active and outdoorsy so there’s plenty of opportunity to take a dog along on lots of trips and adventures. We do all sorts together. We go hiking, he comes out running with me, we do agility together – which Tigger is miles better at that I am – he comes paddleboarding, we’ve been sailing and canoeing; pretty much everything!”

Tigger and Sarah paddleboard

Doing activities with Sarah has helped Tigger to overcome some of the anxieties he has and grow in confidence thanks to the strong bond they have. Sarah is patient with Tigger and has worked with him using a behaviour technique called ‘shaping’ which encourages dogs to think about decisions they choose to take and rewards them for getting it right. It is hugely powerful for building a dog’s confidence and is lots of fun.

Sarah encouraged Tigger to become comfortable with the paddleboard by placing it in her kitchen and giving him a treat every time he interacted with it.

She explains: “It lead to him eventually voluntarily jumping on to it and he’d get loads of treats. I think he thought it was another bed, and he’d sleep on it! At that point I knew he was very happy with it so then we took it out to the water. I just took it really slow with him, starting on some very calm water. But I didn’t need to worry too much as he just jumped on and was absolutely fine! He took to it really well.”

I love staffies. I love the fact that they smile, and he’s the perfect size Sarah, Tigger's owner

Tigger sits on the front of Sarah’s board and when the water is calm, he lies down and has a snooze. He wears a doggy lifejacket in case he should fall in and his swimming skills fail. Spending time with a gentle, patient and dedicated owner has done the world of good for nervous Tigger and Sarah can see the hard work paying off.

“When I first got him you could tell he was nervous about putting a foot wrong, and he didn’t know what was right or wrong and was concerned that he was going to do something that I wasn’t going to like, so I went full positive reinforcement training and just taught him that he can make choices, and even if he makes the wrong choice then nothing’s going to happen. What happens is that he gets a treat when he does what I want him to do instead. 

“It’s boosted his confidence massively. It’s helped improve his focus; we often go where there are lots of other dogs but he keeps his focus on me, and then goes off and plays afterwards.”

Tigger chills out on the sofa
Tigger has landed on his paws with owner Sarah, who gave him the home he thought he could only dream of

To say thank you to Blue Cross for finding her perfect pet and paddleboarding companion, Sarah is undertaking two gruelling challenges in just 10 months to raise funds and help even more pets who, just like Tigger was, are in need of loving homes.

This October she will climb to Everest base camp; which at 17,600ft is no small feat for anyone, let alone for someone who lives sea level. Tigger has dutifully taken on the role of training buddy and has been out and about with Sarah scaling hills and mountains in the UK in preparation. He is also enjoying accompanying Sarah on her training runs for her second challenge; the London marathon, next April.

We’d like to say a huge thank you to Sarah; not only for her great efforts to raise funds for sick and homeless pets, but also for taking a chance on a sad stray staffie and giving him the home he thought he could only dream of.

— Page last updated 17/12/2021