Don’t believe anyone who says that adopting a dog is easy. It isn’t. I almost fell out with my husband before we finally got ours. It wasn’t the adoption procedures that were the problem but the fact that neither of us could agree on what we wanted.
I’ve always had a preference for small dogs while my husband is more of a Doberman and Mastiff fan. His admiration is understandable given the intelligence and physical robustness of these breeds but I’ve always found them a bit intimidating. I have less than fond memories of being pinned to a friend’s couch by her excited Doberman who when he wasn’t drinking my tea was lashing my face with slobbering kisses. I’d also heard enough horror stories about large dogs destroying the beautifully decorated homes of their owners and I wasn’t ready to be a victim of that behaviour. At the other end of the spectrum my husband’s opposition to small dogs was as absurd as it was funny. In principle he wasn’t against them but he was convinced that a “real man” (whatever that is), wouldn’t be seen dead with a dog that some people would put in a handbag. I thought he might change his mind after talking with one of our friends, a retired wrestler and the proud owner of a Yorkshire terrier, but he wouldn’t budge. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. As children we had grown up with dogs and now that we were in our middle age we really missed their companionship. Apart from that we weren’t able to go to the gym as often as we would’ve liked and regular walks with a dog would partially atone for those missed workouts. But if we couldn’t agree on the breed we would never get past square one.
I had spent months on the internet looking at various dog websites and if I hadn’t found Gus on dogsblog.com, I might probably have given up. This cheerful two year old male collie cross wasn’t built for a handbag but he was medium sized and that made him a good compromise. My husband was as bowled over by him as I was and the following day we phoned the kennels, but it was too late. Gus had been re-homed which meant we would have to start all over again. We pressed on and found Rigas, a Grand Bleu de Gascoigne who was living in a Greek animal shelter. Neither of us had ever heard of this breed and from his photograph he wasn’t exactly petite. Personality wise he ticked all the right boxes but he was still a hunting dog and although he was retired he probably hadn’t lost his huntsman’s instinct and might run for miles if he picked up a scent. Could we deal with that? I didn’t think so! Our friend Carmel, a UK volunteer with the Greek registered charity Friends of Animals, encouraged us to broaden our options even further. Would we consider adopting Socrates, a five and a half year old German shepherd cross who was living in the Nea Filadelfia shelter with Rigas? Possibly, but why couldn’t either of these dogs find a home in their own country?
As Greece’s financial crisis deteriorates there’s been a steady rise in the number of animals living in shelters or dumped on the streets because their owners can no longer afford to keep them. Life for strays is tough at the best of times and the internet is littered with harrowing accounts of dogs and cats killed or injured on the streets. The ones in the shelters are lucky at least they’ve got access to excellent veterinary care and plenty of TLC. But as the Eurozone struggles to find a way out of its mess the plight of many animals will only get worse, forcing the charities to look abroad for adopters.
We checked out Socrates’ details and he seemed like a nice dog but at 30 plus kilos he was a bit of a heavyweight, albeit a gentle one. He’d spent the first four years of his life living in a park with a homeless elderly man and his menagerie of animals, and was taken in by the shelter when the owner died. Within a year there were two other owners including a man who had to go abroad a month and a half after the adoption, and a businessman who gave up on Socrates because he couldn’t cut it as a guard dog. It didn’t seem right that this gentle doe eyed bundle of fur couldn’t find the stable home he so obviously deserved and before I knew it I found myself agreeing with my husband when he said we should take him in.
Socrates and his new dad, John, opening a Jubilee party in Surrey
The weeks that followed were the longest of our lives. In between the updates on Socrates’ progress were the home inspection (we passed it with flying colours) and the preparations for his arrival. Where would he sleep? What type of bed should we get him? Which company did the best pet insurance and where was the nearest vet? At the same time we didn’t know how our friends and family would react once they knew what we were doing. On the whole they were enthusiastic although one or two of them advised us to get out while we could as a dog that big was bound to be hard work. We didn’t care we were only interested in giving him a loving home.
It’s not everyday that I’m overwhelmed by emotion but I cried with joy when we collected our dog from the kennels four days after he left Greece. He was everything we expected apart from his scaly teeth and whiffy, slightly matted coat. No matter we thought as we coaxed him into the back of the car, the vet and the dog groomer can deal with that.
Do I regret having a dog that’s different to what I originally wanted? No, because in life you have to make compromises. Maybe I could’ve stuck to my guns and insisted we got ourselves a pint sized dog but there’s no guarantee it would have been as gentle or as well behaved as Socrates. That’s not to say he’s perfect. He does have a few anxiety issues and he has yet to fully grasp basic recall commands, so for the time being he’ll be confined to a leash during his walks. We’re not losing any sleep over this as we’ve signed him up to a training programme to build his confidence. Would I encourage my friends to adopt? Absolutely, but only if they’re sure they can handle the responsibility because it doesn’t matter whether the dog is from the UK or abroad it might have health/emotional/behaviour issues. Owning a dog is a life changing event but it can also be an extremely rewarding one.
Every hour with Socrates is a pleasure and we’re constantly touched by his puppyish fascination with the sights, sounds and smells of his new environment. I look forward to more of these moments. And remember that size isn’t everything. Big dogs can be just as affectionate as the ones in handbags.