A Sick Rescue Dog and an Unexpected Dilemma

The ad claimed he was a spelevink, a Swedish word meaning prankster, but I suspect that was rescue-dog-ad-speak for ultra-cute-pain-in-the-ass. They believed him to be a two-year-old Border Collie mix and ‘probably castrated’. Umm, ok. His tail may have been amputated or bitten off in a fight. Or, we later deduced, his proud stump could be because his main DNA is not Border Collie at all but Australian Shepherd (a tailless breed originating from the US. Go figure.) Whatever his heritage, he wasn’t telling.

We knew for sure that he’d been found in Dublin, answered to the name Jeffrey, and obeyed the commands left and right. He also looked like our last dog’s doppelgänger and our nine-year-old girls were enchanted.

Our old dog had died six months previously, and we all agreed that he’d be happy to pass on his accessories to a rescue dog but that Jeff deserved a new blanket to call his own. So we called at the pet shop and emerged with a sheepskin basket, leather collar, lead, bowls and new toys. After all, rough living had earned him a little luxury, right? Right. And what if Jeff could still smell our old dog and felt threatened? Well, exactly.

From Day 1, when he hopped into the car without a backward glance and barked all the way home, Jeff was all singing and dancing. Or, in his case, all teeth and good intention. He served his new family well: as a bed warmer, chief food taster, and defender against all men and beasts who entered his forever home

He ate everything, offered and pilfered. Never with his back to the world. Small spaces and towels terrified him. Multistorey car parks petrified him. Male friends were asked to refrain from wearing black and he wasn’t above nipping the heels of joggers.

And every time the adults in the family were reconsidering the wisdom of keeping this furry bag of pick ’n’ mix qualities, he’d wriggle his scrawny ass onto the sofa, drop his chin on a knee and go to sleep.

After three weeks and another nip, we rang the dog adoption organisation for advice. They immediately recognised the problems, and admitted if we brought him back they would euthanise him. Right then. Dilemma decided.

That was all ten years ago. A regime of tough love and exercise slowly killed his demons and taught him that the world did not rest on his bony shoulders. He could trust us to defend him. Feed him. Love him. He morphed into his inner pup — a  sweet-natured family dog.  He was, we all assumed, totally rehabilitated.

Until now.


Last Friday, Jeff was diagnosed with acute pneumonia and admitted to the intensive care unit. If all goes well, they said, he may be able to come home on Monday/Tuesday. They asked us to wait until the following afternoon for a routine update by telephone.

As promised, they rang on Saturday. And asked us to come and collect him. His fussing and fretting was detrimental to his recovery, and he may do better tanked up on their medication but sleeping with his family. We were given explicit instructions, told to return him the following morning and asked to collect him again in the evening. And so we’ve gone on. They leave a cannula taped to his leg ready for his return.

We assumed this behaviour was our daft mutt being a homesick scaredy cat. The vet explained that Jeff’s strong reaction to hospital life was not entirely attributable to his huge attachment to his family. The root of Jeff’s distress, she believed, lay in his history of being turfed out of his home to fend for himself. Rescue dogs do this, she said. We’ve treated loads that simply can’t settle. These dogs still believe it’s on them to get themselves out of this tricky situation, and if that takes chewing themselves free of a drop tube or climbing a cage wall with a 40-degree fever to find an escape route, they’ll try.

We’ve never balked at running Jeff back and forth to the animal hospital. Our only rule of thumb is to do what’s best for him. But understanding that his background is still haunting his subconscious and governing his instinct, even now after ten great years, is humbling. This little dog, who loves us unconditionally, is still scared of being left behind.

So, for any other rescue dog owners out there, this story might be worth bearing in mind if your own dog falls sick. If they fret badly in hospital, ask about the possibility of allowing them to sleep at home. It might make all the difference.

As I’m writing this blog (Wednesday), Jeff has once again been admitted to hospital. He’s too sick to return home tonight and must be sufficiently sedated to make his stay bearable.

I ask you to cross any spare fingers for his recovery.

  • Pien

    Oh deary, I have my fingers and toes crossed! Poor little lad! What a story… hope hè Will be fine soon! Bless xx

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