'I was nominated by my family to write the story of how we came to rescue Nancy because I was the family member who never wanted to get a dog. In the spirit of a Victorian pot-boiler you may as well know upfront that I have gone from perennial dog disliker and pet acquiring refuser to becoming the biggest Nancy lover on the planet and one of those “I never wanted a dog, do you know how much I love my dog” people you meet in the park.
Let’s go back: the road to Nancy started with my wife Anna and our daughter Bella campaigning for about 5 years to get a dog. My reservations were the usual ones: who will walk the dog early morning and late at night? What about the extra costs? What will the dog do while we’re at work/ school? And their rebuttals were the usual too: we will; it won’t cost much; there are dog walkers, sitters and even day care!
The ‘we want a dog’ campaign raged on unresolved until a friend happily rescued a dog through Wild At Heart and soon after I was planted in front of a screen with a scrappy sad eyed 2 year old pointer/ springer spaniel called Nancy staring at me from a shelter in Cyprus on the Wild at Heart Foundation website, while my wife and daughter delivered the longest Awwww I’ve ever heard.
Some irrational thoughts turned rational and then irrational again and suddenly we had applied to reserve Nancy. Wild at Heart Foundation handled the whole experience expertly and by the time we were in a parking lot off the North Circular awaiting Nancy’s delivery from Cyprus, we had been properly vetted, prepared our home in Shepherd’s Bush and bought about 150 different dog leads just in case.
Of course there was no real preparing for delivery day. Nancy poured off the back of the pet courier van, ran at Anna and proceeded to bury her face in Anna’s lap. That’s how it all launched - with about a minute long dog hug. You know when the universe gives you a wink that this was all meant to happen? It was like that.
The first week was a typhoon of ‘oh wow we got a dog’ and for Nancy, a typhoon of ‘oh wow I’m no longer in a shelter, I'm now a household pet!’ We made all the rookie mistakes - letting her run wild before installing a stairgate and setting some boundaries; misjudging walk times so she peed on the floor; not realising she would patrol the streets of Shepherd’s Bush hunting for discarded scraps of food if we didn’t pay scrupulous attention; taking her on the tube in the first week to her horror - while she got straight down to the job of being an ace pet. Within days, she launched what has come to be known as ‘the 200 year old stare’ where she locks eyes and looks straight through you the way psychics and fortune tellers do. It can give you the goose bumps sometimes.
Many people had said, You’re getting a rescue dog? Good luck with that! But Nancy was silent on night one when we went to bed and has stayed silent every night since. She barks on average three times a week - when we use the dust buster to snuffle up her omnipresent scattered hair. She’s eager to please and early on volunteered to do the household recycling - you can give her Amazon boxes, finished-with copies of newspapers and magazines, junk mail, with the command, ‘Nancy, recycling’ and she’ll grab it, take it to her bed and shred it. She loves the car and can’t wait to go for a drive - she sits in the back tall and regal and stares out the window - we call this persona ‘The Duchess’. She has a lot of different personae and they’re all somehow Nancy. That’s why we couldn’t change the name she was given in the shelter. She’s just so Nancy. Having said that, we’ve had her three months now and she has dozens of silly nicknames including Nancy Bear, Nani Bear, Nei Nei, Nancypants and N-Bear. She answers to all of them as long as whoever’s calling has food in their hand.
On WAHF's recommendation, we signed Nancy up for Hammersmith Dog Training school where six evenings helped us learn tricks like how to train Nancy using frankfurters - take a chopped up frankfurter to the park with you and watch how quickly training progress happens! They had all kinds of meats and it was via experimenting at home that we discovered Nancy’s weak spot - chorizo. Since then it would be fair to say that packs of chorizo have trained Nancy, we’ve had little to do with it. Everything from raising a paw to sitting on command to getting her to wait before crossing a street can be achieved by waving a slice of chorizo across her path. I’m now that vegetarian who looks forward to hitting up the cold cuts in the supermarket for my dog.
There have been some tricky times, too. When Nancy first arrived, she thought it was normal to leap onto the eating table when we had our meals and also to dive into the plants in the garden and eat fern heads for snacks and there was the time she slipped the lead and ran off down Chiswick high road after her first trip to the vet (I learned you solve this by standing still with your back turned, they then know it’s not a game and quickly come back) and the time she got a virus and had an upset stomach and messed up the living room like you can’t imagine. Then there have been all the things she’s eaten that have shredded our nerves: a balloon, the chewed off end of another dog’s lead, a leaflet, two hard boiled eggs with their shells still on, a child’s toy, 20 g of Chinese herbal medicine, a cinnamon bun and once when left in the kitchen for two minutes with 24 freshly baked cookies….24 freshly baked cookies. But all these challenges are outweighed by the way she acts when we get up in the morning and when we leave the room and come back in and when we come home - with ecstatic tail wagging and a kind of comedic Spanish dancing that cracks us up every time, followed by a frenzy of devotional licks and paw paw-ing. And how she behaves at night when she takes over half the sofa and makes the three of us watch a movie impossibly squashed together while she sprawls out cutely while we say, Awwww N-Bear!
Having recently survived the fortnight long Lassie movie of checking Nancy into dog boarding while we went on holiday, we’ve all arrived to the creep of Autumn feeling like we’re here now. It has taken about three months for Nancy to get used to being a pet and us to having a pet. We’ve gone beyond riffing on questions about how old she really is, what her background story could have involved and why she was abandoned and accept her with all her Cyprus mysteries. And we more or less know her quirks and routines and desires and demands and when to get the crocodile toy out and when to take her on a walk. Speaking of which, thanks to Nancy we now know everyone who lives on our street and there’s hardly a walk where one of us doesn’t end up talking to a total stranger. Socially, it’s quite incredible. Dogs really do open the world up.
I promised you a Victoria pot boiler ending, so here it is: there’s me, onetime perennial dog disliker and pet acquiring refuser at the wheel, racing to the dog boarder’s house to collect Nancy straight from the airport. In the back seat, my wife and daughter. We pull up. The front door opens and the dog boarder lets Nancy run to us. Nancy springs onto her back legs (one of her party tricks) and gives each of us in turn a two paw dog minute-long mega-hug. We take her to the car. She sniffs the bodywork knowingly and hurls herself inside. All the way home she alternates licking my wife’s face and our daughter’s face. I park outside our home. Nancy bounds at the front door and starts hysterically licking the lock and pawing the woodwork. It’s kind of crazy when you think about it. A car pulled into a village in Cyprus and drove off leaving her at the mercy of strangers who got her to a shelter. Now here we were pulling up at our home in London and thanks to Wild at Heart Foundation, Nancy knows this blue door is her door too.'
- Nick Johnstone