Friday, 9 January 2015

Willow's Way - The Story of a Thai Rescue Dog

As she’s going to feature quite heavily in this blog, I thought I’d share Willow’s story so far. More of an info post really – and considering the short time she’s been with me, her story already has its fair share of twists and turns – her rescue, her journey to the UK, her running away, the six day search for her and now the settling in and learning that life can be fun. It’s definitely been a rollercoaster of emotions and she’s only been here three months!


Willow’s Way

I wasn’t too informed about the world of overseas rescues. I’d seen a lot of debate online about whether it was ‘right’ to adopt from abroad rather from your own country with many people against doing so “There are enough dogs in this country needing homes, let alone bringing more over.” Whilst I could see that side of the argument, I couldn’t agree - to me, all life is precious, regardless of its geographical setting.

At the beginning of 2014, I’d been looking for a young female dog to join our family and tentatively enquired with Thai based Soi Dog about adopting from them. At the time, the Soi Dog adoption process was a little out of my reach – so I continued looking. I didn’t want to make a quick decision, all I knew was that the dog that was going to join us was going to be a rescue, that it would need to be female, and be happy around other dogs.

In June 2014, after reading a Facebook comment by chance, I met the beautiful Sushi. Sushi was a Romanian Street Dog before she came to live here on the Isle of Wight – her story really touched me, and I ended up contacting her Mum to arrange a special photo-shoot. You can read about that here.
During the shoot I learned that Sushi had been adopted through a rescue called K9 Angels, and, after linking up with Sushi’s Mum on Facebook, I saw a photograph she posted of two 8 month old female dogs needing homes – they were based in Thailand and the ‘product’ of the Thai Dog Meat trade. The dogs were Willow and her sister Hetty, and from that photo, I immediately knew that Willow would be coming to live with me.

Willow and Hetty (with their already adopted brother Bobby) had been born in rescue. Their Mum, who had also already been adopted and living in the UK, had been pulled off a dog Meat Trade truck and taken to shelter. I won’t go into too much detail regarding the horror of the Thai Dog Meat trade in this post, but you can read more if you want to here (**Warning, some graphic images in link**)

So, late in June 2014 the adoption process began. Of course, none of the dogs were able to travel from Thailand until all three siblings had found their forever home – so I set off on a mission to find Hetty her perfect place to be. Almost immediately I received a message from a prospective adopter and better still she and her family lived here on the Island! With home-checks complete we heard that Willow, Hetty and Bobby were coming home!

On October 1st 2014 I made my way to the mainland to meet all three dogs. Bobby was to travel with the rescue up to Yorkshire and I bought Willow and Hetty back down here to the Isle of Wight.
I have a lot of experience with animals. I have studied animal behaviour, owned animals all my life and of course work with them daily – but nothing prepared me for Willow. She was a terrified dog. Every sound and movement sent her into a melt-down and she would shake from her the tip of her nose to the tip of her tail at a mere glance in her direction. I spent the following fortnight dedicating every minute to her to help her understand that everything was going to be OK…

The picture below was taken the day we bought Willow home, she settled on the sofa and didn't move for three days. 


…and then our world fell apart…Willow ran away.

I was devastated. I’d only had her with me for two weeks, she was a very special needs dog and now she was out loose in a strange country and I felt I’d failed her badly.

I had been suffering from an awful flu – I kept getting so overheated and had spent the morning of Willow’s disappearance sweating profusely. I decided to sit by the window with it cracked open so I could cool down a little – being sure not to let Willow near it. Then the post man knocked on the door, Willow ran and hid in a corner, Harvey barked and I went to answer it. The delivery was a large box of studio lights I’d ordered and when I bought it through the door Willow bolted, pushed through the cracked window, on to a flat roof, jumped off the roof and was gone. A split-second of stupid forgetfulness on my part led six days of relentless searching for her – it quite easily ranks as one of the toughest, most heart-breaking times of my life.

The search for Willow went viral online. Already being a member of a lost pets search group, I had a huge team with me looking everywhere and anywhere for her. I had happily given time before to search for other people’s dogs, never in my wildest thoughts did I think I’d be calling on the help of the team to help find mine. The Isle of Wight community came out in force, and 100s of people sent messages of support for the search. Willow became the Island’s sweetheart and everyone prayed she’d be found safely.

The search seemed to go in slow motion, every minute seemed like hours. The whole team were exhausted and it seemed we’d searched every inch of the area. But, on the sixth day  I received a call from the owner of a local farm.

“That dog you’re looking for, I've just seen her. She came to my door, then ran off.” 

Whilst we didn’t know for sure, there had been sightings of a dog on that land for a couple of days, and I had already set up a feeding station amongst the trees and bushes on the farm land and had been monitoring it. I’d scented the land and placed her bed and a toy with the food. I was worried that some of the sightings of her from a distance might have actually been foxes and didn’t want to pin my hopes on this sighting too much, but my heart was in my mouth! I rallied the troops who all came out once again in the dark and rain to help me find her. They paired up and placed themselves around the sighting area in case she ran into roads. I made my way into the farmer’s field.

It was dark – really dark! And, being honest, I was a bit scared too, I never have been a fan of the dark. It was raining and it was cold, I had not really slept for six days and was still poorly, but all I could think of was to find my girl.

Putting my brave head on, I tucked a walkie-talkie in my pocket (the other being with a member of the search team outside the field) and walked into the sheer darkness, down to the feeding station I had set earlier – afraid to put my torch on in case she was there and it scared her away. Would a terribly frightened dog, who had only known me for two weeks trust me? Would I scare her even more? I desperately didn’t want that to happen and I was so worried she’d bolt out of the fields into the busy road. As I got to the general area I set the feeding station, I had to climb over a barbed wire fence – with all the rain and mud it was tricky and I needed the torch to see – shining the light over the fence I saw that all the food at the feeding station had gone, and at that point I knew, in my heart, it had been Willow eating it and not foxes or badgers. My adrenaline was pumping from fear and hope and anticipation of what would happen. I re-fed the station and made my way back up the field.

Stopping half way, I turned round and shone the torch at the feeding station. Eyes! I saw a reflection of eyes! They stared straight at me and within a split second they were gone. I radioed through to the team to tell them – but I couldn’t make out whether it was a fox or in fact Willow. With the offer of the use of night vision glasses from one of the team, I made my way up the field to collect them, setting a second feeding station further up before doing so.

Returning to the field, I had the intention of going back to the first feeding station to check if the food had in fact been eaten, but first I took a look at the second station. Trying to figure out how to use the night visions, I was faffing – dark and rain wasn’t helping and I began to panic again – then I saw her! I could see my beautiful Willow through the night visions – she shot a look at me and was gone! I fumbled with the glasses trying to get them to focus on something, anything – and then I heard the tinkle of dog tags behind me, I turned, looked down – and there she was! Right at my feet wagging her tail! My knees went from under me as I bent down to her. She jumped up, putting a paw on each of my shoulders as if to say “Where have you been Mum?”

The next bit is a bit of a blur – I remember holding on to her with all my life, I remember radioing through to the team and trying to tell them I’d found her. I remember the team rushing to me and cars skidding into the fields like a scene from Starsky and Hutch and I remember getting into a car with her. I remember seeing all the team taking peeks through a cracked car window to catch a glimpse of this dog they’d worked so hard to find. I remember seeing tears in those eyes and feeling the absolute elation of everyone involved.

Moments after I found her.

We’d found Willow!

She was desperately thin – she was skinny when she arrived in the UK, and six days of running had taken its toll on her. Her little paws were red raw and she was exhausted. We took her home and I spent the next week healing her, feeding her and, well,  just looking at her!

My fears of whether she would trust me disappeared. That moment, when I heard the tinkle of her tags on her collar, she put all her trust in me. She set aside her fears – and I promised her there and then that I would earn that trust for the rest of her days. We became a team Willow and I.

For the first month I was so scared she’d run away again I couldn’t let her out of my sight. Walks were fraught with tension as I’d wrap her lead around and round my hand and check and recheck the special harness I’d bought for her. But now, a couple of months later, that fear is subsiding. She sticks close to me and we’re working through her fears –but we still have a long way to go!

Because so many people were involved in Willow’s search, I decided to document the next part of her journey on her Facebook page which I had set up before she came to the UK. You can follow her over there on Willow’s Way – and of course I’ll be doing fuller updates here on the blog.

So, that’s Willow’s story so far! She’s currently sat on the back of the sofa, with her chew between her paws, looking out of the window and garumphing at people walking by. She is happy and settled and I love her dearly.  I’d love it if you stayed with us to follow more of our adventures!

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11 comments:

  1. Wow, that's an amazing story. I've fostered an extremely fearful dog and I know how challenging and rewarding your relationship with Willow is and will continue to be.

    I see that you're new to blogging. You might enjoy checking out the 5th Annual Pet Blogger Challenge. It's a fun way to meet other bloggers. You can learn about it here: http://gopetfriendlyblog.com/youre-invited-to-the-5th-annual-pet-blogger-challenge-on-january-10th/.

    I'd also love to introduce you to my friend Mel Freer who is currently fostering an extremely fearful puppy mill dog. She also lost a previous foster dog for 12 weeks and recovered her through the kind of massive effort you did with Willow. If you don't know her already, you can find her here: https://nodogaboutit.wordpress.com

    Congratulations on the new blog. I look forward to seeing what else you have to share with us.

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    1. Hi Pamela - it's good to meet with people who have/are going through the same experiences. Thank you for linking me to Mel, it will be interesting to hear about her ups and downs too. I will also take a look at the 5th Annual Pet Blogger Challenge. Exciting!

      Your blog is a wonderful read by the way!

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  2. I'm very glad you shared this touching story. Clearly you and Willow were meant to be! Every pet parents worst nightmare is a pet running off. With all of the traveling my pets and I do, I am constantly running "what if" scenarios in my head. On the plus side is a what if the community goes into action to help like when Willow was missing. That is so touching!

    Have you considered doing any training with Willow? Often taking positive reinforcement training classes or getting involved in a dog sport together can greatly improve fear and trust issues. I have met some amazing success stories in overcoming fear in many of the dog sports my dogs and I do.

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    1. I was stunned at the response from local people - it was, and they were incredible. For weeks after I received calls from people wanting to know she was OK - even one from someone who had been on holiday here from the north of England telling me she hadn't stopped looking for the whole of her holiday. There are so many kind people out there aren't there.

      At the moment we're just working on getting Willow socialised. She won't be near any other people or dogs other than her own 'pack' at home. So, lots of walking to get her used to sounds, and people - it's going to be a long journey...but I can see we'll make it - at Willow's pace. The I think we might try some agility - I think she'd be a star at that!

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  3. An amazing story. I'm so glad you were so persistent and found her. As a person with a fearful dog, my greatest fear is that she'll get lost and not be able to trust any people to help her. You lived out that nightmare, and I'm so glad it turned out well.

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    1. Even the rescue I got her from were convinced she wouldn't come back to me and I'd need to use a humane trap for her - I'm so glad we didn't have to go down that route and that she chose to approach me. I hadn't felt we had bonded before she ran away - but when she put those paws on my shoulders, we were bonded for always :)

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  5. What a special story. So glad that you were able to be that special person in Willow's life.
    Anxious and fearful dogs are so hard to work with but so rewarding in the end. :-)

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  6. Helping Leo get to Toronto http://www.gofundme.com/mgcozs?pc=14_tw_1 via @gofundme

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  7. This sweet THAI dog has a chance to come to Canada from Thailand - where is not safe, please follow and support his journey and share his story.

    http://www.gofundme.com/mgcozs

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  8. So you'd get a kick out of the chance to add a canine part to your family. When you arrange a puppy reception, you're much more inclined to locate the best pooch for your circumstance.
    dog adoption

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I love to hear from you - ask questions, give your point of view or just meet new people in the comments :)

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