Vespa's Story - One Year On

Having two dogs at one time was never a plan of mine. Nor was it something I ever thought I'd have to justify to other people or explain why I did what I did. James wasn't keen on having another dog; he wasn't exactly chuffed when he realised I had Custard when we first got together but luckily, the two of them are now inseparable and they love each other very much. We always joke that Custard is in fact James' dog and I'm just a third wheel within their crazy loved-up relationship. For reasons that will become obvious by the end of this post, I now feel able to talk about Vespa's story and how he came to be living with us and is now officially, part of the family.

I met Vespa at my old job; the one I left earlier this year where I was a dog handler. I wasn't originally based with the Yorkshire Terrier's but after landing myself a permanent position, I was put with them to develop my skills further and learn about a different breed. Yorkie's are infamous for being quite tricky, especially to train and gain trust in. I was working in a research centre and before anyone goes off on one about the word 'research', it wasn't animals rigged up to machines or testing medicines or cosmetics. The dogs and cats were literally just testing out new pet foods and they lived within a kennel environment. We were allocated dogs for consistency, to help build a bond with them and we were responsible for their day to day care. I was given two dogs within my first week and Vespa was one of them.

From the moment I met Vespa I knew he was going to be hard work. Very suspicious, fussy with food, lacking confidence and he had never learnt how to play. He never learnt how to interact with other dogs properly; he was confused, vulnerable and never 100% relaxed. I worked hard on building his confidence and his trust in me as his handler. I bought brand new toys into work to try and encourage him to play and have down time when he wasn't 'working' and I tried hundreds of different games with treats to try and stimulate his mind. I spent a lot of my own money bringing in new games and toys, all of which had to pass a test to make sure they were safe to use and each time, we failed at having fun with them. I put his name forward countless times for homing (basically if an animal didn't cope in the environment they could be homed) and each time I was told his case wasn't really bad enough. Months and months went by and despite my best efforts not to, I fell in love with him. We were always encouraged to not bond 'too' much with the dogs because after all, they weren't ours and could be reallocated at any time. My relationship with Vespa was never broken up and I was permitted to keep him each time a new allocation came around due to his reaction to a different routine with a new handler. We got on really well together and he built up a trust in me, a truly wonderful feeling when an animal feels they're safe with you.

Then back in July 2016, I injured my hand which resulted in me having to have 3 months off work. This was obviously short notice and Vespa was given another handler temporarily until I returned. I worried about him endlessly but looked forward to seeing him again and continuing our work, knowing full well we'd probably have to go back a few squares due to his suspicious nature. When I finally returned to work, the little dog I had worked so hard to build up was gone and in his place was a more nervous, on edge, terrified version of the animal I had grown to know. I immediately took things back to square one and whilst he recognised me and understood who I was, he just wasn't the same so I took things slow and literally lay on the floor so he was able to sniff at will and get closer if he wanted to. By the end of the first half hour, he was laying by my side and I didn't want to move. I wanted to stay there for hours comforting him and promising that I could somehow make him happier.

Then the bullying started. I say started, it increased as this 'lady' had already taken a dislike to me way before any of this with Vespa and she just so happened to be my senior who thought she was the queen of dog behaviour. She got repositioned onto my unit where I worked and it didn't take her long to notice Vespa's ways and blame me for the way he was. Anyway she could get me into trouble, she'd do it. I ended up having to be watched when training him, watched when interacting with him in anyway and I was forbidden to cuddle him anymore, to love him or enter his pen without a valid enough reason.  I remember being told off just for entering his pen to say hello to him. It confused him too. My anxiety went through the roof and I became very ill and nobody believed just how bad things had got between me and this other lady. Some even found it funny that she hated me so much for no apparent reason. All I was told by my manager was confront her about it but as anyone with anxiety will know, this is literally impossible. I started to resent my manager for not having my back, almost blaming me too and making me feel incapable of dealing with a workplace bully and I was so frustrated that the lady in question had been reported for bullying many times and nothing had been done. With the last bit of fight I had left in me, I put Vespa forward again for homing. This time it was taken seriously, but again I was told off for not flagging his situation sooner. I was furious. Not flagging sooner? I could count 4 times over 3 years that I had asked them to reconsider and was told he wasn't bad enough. Mortified, embarrassed and clutching onto any hope I had of changing this dog's life, I went home sobbing to James, crying for hours and hours feeling heartbroken. He knew full well of course who Vespa was and how much I cared for him, what his story was, the bullying and where we currently stood. Luckily, he understood what we had to do; we had to get him a home. I was prepared to get him a home with anyone, providing it was the right one. Being his handler meant I had some say in whether or not I felt the home was right when my workplace had found one, but Vespa's nature and the relationship we had and how much I had grown to know and understand what he really needed, made it clearer and clearer that his true home, was with us.

What made getting Vespa home so tough was the lady who was bullying me stood very firmly in between doing just that. She even put a huge programme forward for him meaning he had to be isolated and couldn't have any contact with any other dogs. I could go into his pen if I needed to do something with him like take him for a walk, groom him, health check or administer any medications he may have needed but nothing else. Some of the things she said to me were...

'you're no good for that dog'
'you've ruined him'
'I have never been more disappointed in anyone before you'
'he's a broken dog and it's your fault'
'he's bitten people and isn't safe'

I did the only thing I felt I could - prove her wrong. I wrote a huge essay to the head of homing regarding my history with Vespa and why I felt the right home for him was with me and my family. I had to have an interview and explain I knew exactly what to do should a behavioural problem occur, since I already had Custard at home and there was no knowing whether the two dogs would get on. Custard I wasn't worried about, we've yet to find a dog she doesn't love but Vespa is totally the opposite and doesn't mix well. I had virtually the whole of December off last year and the first week of December consisted of me waiting anxiously on a phone call telling me whether I had won his case or not. And I did, I was able to home my little boy and give him a brand new life.

Collecting him was bizarre and he was absolutely petrified. Everything he had ever known was changing and the poor little man didn't have a clue what was going on. Upon arriving back at Flat 4, I bought Custard outside to say hello whilst my Mum waited in the garden with him. I didn't want them meeting indoors because it was Custard's house and I had to consider how that might make her feel. But it was utter chaos. He barked non stop for ages and Custard didn't know what to do with herself. She kept looking at me then looking at him like 'what's his problem Mum?' and for a couple of weeks I barely left them alone together. Of course after the first day or so he mellowed down a bit, but he was still unsure of his new surroundings which I honestly couldn't blame him for but it was very unnerving as you wonder how long will it take for things to settle? Leaving the flat was hard for me and I had to separate them just in case anything happened whilst I wasn't there and one day I came home to find a note taped to my door from a neighbour saying he'd been barking non stop since I'd left.

Vespa's first day at home

The good news was that Vespa was home in time for Christmas. He got his own Christmas jumper and on Christmas day fell in the pond at my in-laws house (wearing the jumper I might add) which was bloody funny but it didn't seem to phase him too much. He had lots of nice treats and presents, met new family members which for him was a big deal and things started to improve. He was getting along with Custard, his confidence was visibly growing and before long the doubt I had in my mind disappeared. The reason I haven't disclosed Vespa's history before is until recently, he wasn't officially ours. He had problems with his legs that my old work place were paying for, so we were technically a foster family but he's now signed over and is an official member of the Woolley family.

Sometimes I look into his eyes and I can still see the same little dog I met nearly four years ago and every moment we have spent together flashes by like those cringy bits in films. He's wound me up countless times, especially when it comes to peeing up the coffee table and don't even get me started on when I need to trim his nails. Family members fell out with me when I said I was bringing home a dog with behaviour issues, after all getting a dog is a very big thing and usually when someone looks for a dog they don't want one that has issues. I got told I was making a huge mistake and had pretty much no support from anyone around me but James. Luckily it didn't take long before my Mum understood why I did it but even on the way to collect him, I remember pleading with her to just trust me as she asked yet again whether I knew what I was doing. I knew he belonged with us. Had I lost my mind completely or was there method in my madness? I didn't care what they thought back then, I had to help him. Even now, family and friends comment on how much he's changed from the dog I bought home that day who seemed like nothing but a burden.

A whole year later and this is where we're at. He's still not 100% confident with everything but then again there is something all dogs don't like. Custard for example isn't a fan of clattering cutlery but all you can do is try to help them become more comfortable. He's learnt to play, his manners are adorable, he loves cuddles and no, he's never bitten us and he's never bitten me in our whole time together. Custard really took Vespa under her wing and I don't think he'd have come so far without her teachings. You can see him watching her, assessing how she behaves and he will copy. It's a good job Custard is a positive role model and doesn't behave like an idiot because the last thing Vespa needed was to go even further backwards. She's been a real support to him and I don't believe he'd have come so far so fast without her by his side. We'd mentioned a couple of times before Vespa came home that Custard would really appreciate a friend yet we couldn't justify getting another dog. Funny how things turn out isn't it!

Vespa has now got a family and I know I did the right thing by him the entire time. No matter what anyone else says or thinks, I'm incredibly proud of the family dog he has become and it wouldn't be the same without him now. He's been at home with us a whole year today and I'm very happy to be able to call him our dog.

Thanks for reading,

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