I remember uploading Corky onto our website with a whole host of other dogs available for adoption and knowing full well that he would be the hardest of the lot to rehome. His foster had described him to me as a nervous dog and he hadn’t really lived a conventional companion lifestyle, so integrating him into a new home was going to be challenging. Corky was abandoned on the doorstep of a wonderful lady named Barbara when he was just a puppy and for two years he lived with Barbara and her other rescue dogs, some of which were fosters, some of which were adopted. With a full time job and the number of dogs Barbara was caring for reaching double figures, it was impossible for Corky to experience the true feeling of being a companion. Luckily he was able to receive food, water, shelter, love and socialisation with other dogs. Barbara has one of the biggest hearts I know, and there was no way she would have turned her back on the puppy that was dumped on her doorstep, but she wanted him to have a proper home, which is why I offered to help find him one. His photo was uploaded onto the Wild at Heart Foundation ‘Adopt-a-Dog’ page, and we hoped that the enquiries would roll in.
Sadly, they didn’t. His long, floppy ears and shiny black and tan coat were what drew people to view his page, but after reading that he was a nervous dog that would need patience and consistency to help him adapt to a new life, a lot of people decided he wasn’t the dog for them. He’d been on the website a good few months when one afternoon I received a message from Nikki Tibbles, the founder of Wild at Heart Foundation, simply stating ‘Louise Redknapp likes Corky’. Admittedly it took me a while to process how casual the message was, and of all the people that had visited the website how amazing that it should be the Redknapps that had enquired about him, even despite his nervous disposition. And so we got the ball rolling…
A few weeks later, I was in Gatwick airport waiting to board a flight to Cyprus to go and collect Corky and escort him to his new home. Despite being so heavily involved in dog rescue over the past two years, escorting a dog to another country was a new experience for me and the fact I was responsible for doing the whole thing alone was pretty daunting, but exciting never the less. Anyone reading this who knows me and my ability to turn the simplest of tasks into a total disaster is at this point likely praying that poor Corky makes it to the end of this story in one piece. If you’re wanting to read about the actual integration process, skip to near the end of the post, otherwise you can just continue to read about the series of events that ensued upon escorting Corky to Mallorca.
Upon arriving in Cyprus, I made my way to Limassol to meet Corky in the flesh (or fur) for the first time. Barbara had advised me that he was going to be nervous and was unlikely to approach me, although when I got to her house Mr Confident was stood behind the sliding doors yowling at me with the deepest bellow of a voice. I’m a total sucker for hounds and I just fell in love with him the minute I heard that howl and saw those ears. He was gorgeous. Barbara opened the door to let him out into the garden with us, and sure enough he avoided me like the plague. He wouldn’t come close for a while, but his tail was wagging and he was trotting about with his nose in the air. His body language suggested he was comfortable, but he clearly wasn’t used to meeting new people. It was clear however that he was very happy amongst the other dogs, and when he saw them coming for a stroke he eventually approached me to sniff my hand, but you were lucky if you managed to stroke his nose or the top of his head.
I lay in bed that night thinking how difficult it was going to be to integrate him into a new home with people he didn’t know. Barbara was the only person he really knew, and he was too nervous to even let her have a proper cuddle. The best way to describe him was skittish. He was happy and excitable, but seemed constantly on edge and anxious. Although I had my doubts I kept telling myself that he would settle with time, but I was worried about being responsible for him for the next 24 hours when he wouldn’t even let me touch him.
The flight was the following evening, and from Larnaca Corky and I would fly to Athens, and then onto Palma. I was prepared for resistance when it came to putting him in the crate ready for the journey, but I wasn’t prepared for it to take almost an hour. By the time we had finally got him in, me and Barbara were sweating like crazy and panicking that we wouldn’t make the flight. Then to make matters worse, the crate was so big it wouldn’t even fit inside the car so we had to dissemble it again! Corky was blankly staring at us and making no attempt to remove himself from the situation despite the chaos that me and Barbara were causing around him: removing everything from the boot, folding down the back seats and desperately attempting to squeeze parts of the crate haphazardly into the car.
We raced to the airport knowing full well that we were going to be lucky if we made the flight, and as Barbara parked the car I ran in with Corky on a trolley. I put in that much effort that he slid off the side and a passerby had to help me lift him back on. I was a woman on a mission, I just wasn’t executing it very effectively. Before he could board the flight he had to be weighed, paid for, and his crate needed to be x-rayed. His passport was checked, we filled up his water dish and attached it to the front of the crate, and then secured all the fastenings with cable ties before sending him off on a conveyor belt to be taken to the plane. After a quick goodbye to Barbara I had to dash through passport control and security (sorry to everyone who didn’t hear my reasoning for queue jumping, I saw those looks you gave me but it was necessary I promise) before sprinting to my gate which was obviously at the other end of the airport. Also, it’s not possible to sprint in flip flops so I don’t even want to imagine how ridiculous I looked attempting.
As I was sat on the plane slightly out of breath, still with my belt hanging round my neck from going through security, and reeking of dog and adrenaline I felt desperately sorry for the two guys who had to sit next to me, as, of course, I had been randomly allocated the middle seat. And just a couple of hours later I was darting through Athens airport in the same chaotic manner after I was one of the last off the plane and the chaperone who guides people with transfer flights to the relevant gate WENT WITHOUT ME. Unexpectedly I made it to my gate as boarding began and looked like the definition of a crazy dog lady after having to repeat ‘Is my dog on board?’ three times as the staff member didn’t speak very good English. Thankfully, we had both made it.
Our next and final stop was Palma, and the airport was very easy to work out so it only took me a short while to work out where Corky would need collecting from. I felt like security might have been lacking a little however, as two men brought Corky into the crowd of people collecting luggage and just left him there. No paperwork needed, no ‘is this your dog?’ conversation needed. Corky didn’t seem too phased I must admit. He was snuggled up with his blanket and I heard his wagging tail knock on the sides of the crate when he saw me. We had booked a hotel for the night, as introducing a dog to a new environment isn’t easy in the night, so we intended to integrate him the following day. Knowing that Corky hated the lead and would refuse to walk on it meant that I had to transport him everywhere in the crate. He weighed almost 30kg, with the crate adding an additional 10kg. I was having to move more or less the equivalent of my own body weight, and I’m only 5’3ft as well so trust me, it was difficult!
We lugged him into the taxi and then back out. I dragged him into the foyer of the hotel to later be told it was the hotel on the opposite side of the road, so then had to drag him back out and into the correct foyer. I then had to cram the crate inside the lift as I’d been allocated the fifth floor of the hotel (why?!) and then just to add to the drama, I couldn’t even fit the crate through the bedroom door, so I had to wedge it into the doorway and prop open the door so Corky could make his own way out when he was ready. It was like something from a Mr Bean sketch. When he emerged, he looked tired but happy to see someone that he recognised. Amazingly, we sat on the floor together and he let me stroke him. The next morning I even woke up to him giving me a nudge with his nose and then putting his front two paws on the bed. He was clearly feeling more confident and I was hopeful that perhaps he would settle most quickly than we first thought.
However, when Louise arrived at the hotel to collect us, we opened the door and Corky immediately panicked. He peed on the floor, ran into the corner of the room, and growled relentlessly. My heart broke seeing him so scared, even though there was no threat he was just so uncomfortable. We offered him steak and he turned his nose up at it and continued to growl, so eventually Louise took the plunge and approached him anyway. It wasn’t an aggressive growl, just a defense mechanism he had adopted in order to protect himself in an unfamiliar siuation, and once Louise was stroking him he stopped. He started again as Jamie came into the room with Blue and Rudy, their Sharpeis, but again, he gave up once he realised that no one wanted to hurt him. It was clear that introducing Corky properly to their dogs wasn’t going to stick to our normal methods, as taking him for a walk like we normally recommend was an impossible task, so instead we bundled him into the car and took them all straight home. It turned out to be no issue however, as he immediately latched onto Blue and Rudy anyway and followed their lead to the point where we were actually able to walk him up the driveway on a leash. It was obvious that he felt more comfortable around other dogs.
Once inside, he went for a sniff around and got his bearings. It was like watching a different dog. The previous day I had been introduced to an easily spooked, nervous dog that would avoid coming too close at all costs. Today I was watching a dog with relaxed body language and a wagging tail receive cuddles from his new family members. It was as though bringing him into a new environment had had an instantly positive influence on his behaviour. He wasn’t phased by men, which rescue dogs often are, and he was happy to sit and be stroked by Jamie. He even approached guests in the house. He was still nervous to some degree but the change in him over the space of the day astonished me. By the time I left to catch my flight home I was convinced that finding Corky his new home was the best possible thing that we could have done for him. Over the next day or so I was thrilled to hear that he’d found the confidence to climb onto the sofa, eat chicken out of people’s hands, and most importantly, they had been able to take him out on walks and he had behaved perfectly on the lead.
Corky is still being introduced to factors of every day life that he is yet to understand, but he is learning all the time and making incredible progress. Although he was never aggressive, his nervous disposition could have made him potentially one of the most difficult dogs to rehome, but his story has proved to me that being plunged into a new environment and shown love and affection is sometimes what is needed to help make the transition from a dog to a companion. Wild at Heart Foundation will continue to provide the Redknapp family with the support and behavioural advice they may need in the future to help Corky integrate as smoothly as possible. Although some areas of his behaviour will need more patience than others, the fact he has settled thus far shows that any dog is capable of becoming part of a family in due course given the space, consistency and reassurance they require.
What an experience!
Read all about Eve's experiences on her Dog Blog here