Written and photographed by Rachael Sylvester
I’d been a DARG (Domestic Animal Rescue Group, Hout Bay) Foster mom for about a year when I met Ally. It was the usual routine: I went to DARG, saw her, texted the boyfriend, he ignored the text in the hope that I wouldn’t bring yet another dog home, I ignored the fact that he ignored and brought her home anyway! She was my ‘kind’ of dog, chunky and mental – a proper dog! But when I brought the brindled girl home, I had no intention of keeping her…
Going off course
It was to be the usual routine, keep her a few weeks, learn her quirks and iron out as many issues as possible whilst collecting enough photographic footage to convince another family that she was their pavement special of choice.
However, with Ally it started going off course from day one; firstly, I’d loved and let about fifteen fosters go already at this point (to good homes, may I add) – my heart was sore. Secondly, she seemed to need me a bit more than the others. In retrospect, she was no doubt taken away from her mum too soon and treated too roughly in her early life. This made her wary of strangers. At the time, my gut feeling was that she needed protecting, she needed ME. With Ally, I knew that no one would have her back, understand her fears, and protect her from herself quite like I would… She also has severe elbow dysplasia; this means she’s often in constant pain, which makes for a rather twitchy dog. We saw a specialist who didn’t recommend surgery at that stage and Ally now has a better diet than your average pro-athlete, as well as pain killers on hand.
I held off for a few weeks, until DARG were actually ringing me to see what I’d done with their dog, and then I caved and posted a light-hearted story, ‘Diary of a foster failure: foster mom comes clean’, announcing that I was adopting Ally.
Safety and hope
Shortly after adopting Ally, I had to travel to the UK to get my work visa; thanks to the wondrous new visa regulations it only took me a ‘quick’ two months. While I was gone, my long-suffering boyfriend and Cathy (of Woof Shack fame) looked after Ally, but, as the weeks rolled by, I got more and more worrying updates: ‘Ally’s snapping at people’, ‘Ally won’t let people in the house’, ‘Ally’s limping more’…
By this point, Ally and I had created an understanding: I’d be the over-protective one so she could relax and be the sweet puppy she was always meant to be. When something scared her, she looked to me and I’d reassure her that all was well. I’d had to leave: my visa was up, I’d border-hopped twice to delay the inevitable, however, one simply cannot be an illegal fugitive and rescue dogs at the same time. Believe me – I tried! The trouble was, Ally wasn’t ready for me to go; she wasn’t confident in herself yet. And, without her militant mummy, she went and developed a huge case of ‘Stranger Danger’.
So there I was in England, receiving phone calls which said: ‘your dog’s being aggressive’ whilst hearing the truth, which was: ‘your dog’s scared’. It was heart-breaking and frustrating as hell.
When Ally feels safe, she’s divine: sweet, silly and loving. More than that, she accepts and takes care of every rescue I bring into the house and, needless to say, it rains rescues in my house! I guess I’m writing this to all the rescue parents who are having a hard time, who deal with the disapproving glares of people who assume you raised your dog wrong whilst what you’re actually doing is cleaning up another human’s mistakes/cruelty on a daily basis.
I refuse to suffer under the social pressure of having to have a ‘friendly’ dog, a dog who you can chuck into any situation and it will just wag its tail. I stepped up to a ‘difficult’ dog; I stepped up where most would have jumped ship. Nowadays, I proudly defend her safety boundaries! I agreed to be Ally’s owner – that means her protector. And, just as I know she’d protect me with her life, I accept and protect her… exactly as she is.