Doting on Duke

16th Aug, 2019

Written by Lynne Wilhelm, co-owner of Retreat 2 Eden

Professional photography by RailTime Photo

Duke used to struggle with anxiety which occasionally led to aggression. His owners asked Retreat 2 Eden to take him in and work with him so that a suitable home could be found.

We soon realised what a special boy he was – he was a fast learner and eager to please, which helped him to progress quickly. The more confidence he built, the less he became anxious. Soon he was ready be offered for adoption to the right home.

Duke needed someone who could understand him in times when he became anxious, someone who’d be gentle with him, experienced in handling dogs like him, and someone who’d spend a lot of time with him. We also needed someone who was willing to come and spend time with him here to see if it was a good match.

Elizabeth King fell in love with Duke the first time she saw his photo. After seeing him from a distance when visiting us, she couldn’t get him out of her mind.

It wasn’t long before she came to visit him and spend time with him. When the two of them met, it was clear that Duke felt the same way – he loved Elizabeth from the moment he saw her.

The photos of him after adoption clearly show that the match was perfect for him. Happiness radiates from him in all the photos.

Thank you, Elizabeth, for giving Duke the home he needs to grow in every way.


By Elizabeth King, Duke’s new owner

I saw Duke’s photo like all the others that come into Retreat 2 Eden needing homes.

My Facebook newsfeed is flooded with photos of dogs needing homes from all over, and while it’s very sad for me to see them all in dire straits, you can’t adopt them all.

But there was just something about Duke. I may sound like a crazy person, but it was as if Duke spoke to me from just a photo.

I didn’t say anything to Lynne Wilhelm, co-owner of Retreat 2 Eden, but he kept running around in my mind.

Something about Duke

I had to visit Lynne for some of her medicine for one of my horses. There, I saw Duke from the other side of the fence. Lynne and I were chatting about all kinds of things, but my attention was on this gorgeous dark-coloured dog the whole time.

Duke was clearly extremely anxious and seemed very nervous, pacing up and down, whining a lot. It seemed he had no idea where he belonged; he was there for only a few days and still needed to settle in. I dropped question after question about Duke while we were discussing other things.

I thought of a million reasons why I didn’t want to get another dog. I’ve recently lost a Spaniel I adopted and promised myself I wouldn’t get another; we were very close and my heart was broken. I have four other dogs, of which three were adopted, and I really didn’t need another one.

But, still, Duke stayed in my mind, and although I couldn’t put my finger on it, it felt as if he belonged with me for some reason or the other. 

I didn’t say anything to Lynne, but whenever we chatted, I’d ask how he was; I was delighted at the progress he was making. She and Johann have a gift for working with these dogs – they do amazing work.

First option

Then Lynne messaged me, saying she wasn’t sure why I’d asked about Duke, but there was someone interested in him  and she wanted to give me first option, should I be interested in taking him on. I explained that I really didn’t want another dog, but I was feeling very drawn to him (I might just have been having a midlife crisis of some sort!).

Three of my dogs are seniors and spend their days mostly sleeping wherever I’m working on the farm. But the last dog I adopted is a Border Collie named Sally, who’s extremely jealous of me and never leaves my side. I didn’t want her to be upset with sharing me with another dog. Duke would need full attention and serious training if I took him in, and that would mean Sally would have to share her space... 

So, I asked Lynne if I could bring Sally to meet him, and if she showed any dislike in Duke, I wouldn’t take him. She and Johann went out of their way to accommodate my request.

Remarkable progress

When I walked up to Duke, he greeted me as if he knew me, tail wagging and very friendly, yet we’d never met before. I fetched Sally and it all went surprisingly well. I took both of them for a walk, and they were very excited about it. Well, that was that, and the only thing left was to get a home check done.

What was really remarkable was how much Duke had changed in just three weeks of being at Retreat 2 Eden. He had a confidence about him and walked with pride. Gone was the anxious, nervous dog I first saw over the fence. He even seemed bigger, no longer trying to make himself small. He still needs work and is adapting in a new environment with new friends, but the transformation has been absolutely amazing.

While I’m a stock farm manager currently, my passion lies with working with abused horses, especially those with nervous aggression. They’re much easier to rehabilitate than dogs, but it comes down to the same principles. I do positive reinforcement and clicker training on horses mostly but have some experience with “problem” dogs too.

My training methods and rehab work on horses is what led me to meeting Lynne many years ago. I have an understanding for nervous animals, and rebuilding their confidence is a very rewarding job.

All will be fine

Duke was very nervous on the way home, but eventually he relaxed and leant against my shoulder. I hugged him and told him, “Don’t worry, I’ve got you, all will be fine now.” He put his legs over my lap and lay with me holding him while trying to drive and change gears.

When I stopped at home, he couldn’t get out fast enough. He looked around and had a roll on the grass. I took him and Sally for a walk, then introduced the dogs to him one by one. Later, he got to meet horses, then sheep and chickens. 

He was so very tired and slept the deepest possible sleep for the rest of the afternoon. Early in the evening my crazy cat jumped through the door, walked up to him and sniffed him over. She turned her back and began grooming herself. Well, his expression was priceless, and I’m sure mine was too. 

A special soul

Duke has not showed any aggression towards the cat or any of the dogs or animals on the farm. This I put down to all the work done by Lynne and Johann, who socialised him so well with the dogs and other animals there.

He loves playing with Sally in the dam and fetching the ball. She’s very chuffed at finally having a mate to play with her who likes all the things she does. 

Duke sleeps next to my bed with Sally like a true bodyguard. He also seems to have employed himself as head of security on the farm and is extremely alert. I get greeted with loud barks and happiness, even if I’m out for a only a few minutes. I’m hoping to teach him soon that riding with Sally on my bakkie doesn’t mean being taken away from me. Currently, he doesn’t want to know anything about getting into a vehicle, which is understandable. 

I recently introduced him to clicker training and started his first lessons in recall. It went fabulously – he’s very eager and very intelligent. 

He’s a fabulous and very special soul, and I look forward to the day that he trusts fully again.

About Retreat 2 Eden

This organisation aims to assist in the healing of abused and hurting animals and people. This includes their K9 Hero Project, which helps to retrain and rehome ex-service dogs where possible, or give them a retirement home. Their small farm is based near Port Alfred in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. Read about their work with retired service dogs here