03 May 2010

Finding my 'fido fix'

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that I recently started working in London, which means that in the week I'm living away from my husband, hounds and Taz, the cat.

Most weekends I plan to come home to Lincolnshire as I really miss the hounds in the week and by the time the weekend arrives, I can't wait to see them again (and hubby of course)! It also means that I can't help the Lincolnshire Greyhound Trust, the charity which I work for on a voluntary basis.

Last weekend, I spent the weekend 'down South' and by the Friday, I was really missing my 'Fido Fix.' So, thanks to the power of the Internet, I Googled to see if there were any local dog rescues nearby who allowed volunteers to come and walk dogs. Luckily I came across the wonderful Stokenchurch Dog Rescue and after a quick phone call on the Friday I was all set to walk Echo, a four month old Collie/Lurcher cross, at 10.30am on the Saturday.

So, Saturday morning - with the sun streaming down -  I found myself travelling down the M40 to Stokenchurch Dog Rescue. Despite all the years I lived down South and travelled this route, I'd never really noticed the rescue until now, or maybe it's just my memory playing tricks on me! After introducing myself, and filling in a volunteer form I was introduced to Echo - a four month old, Collie/Lurcher cross - who'd been found as a stray pup.

As you can see from his picture, Echo was a little bundle of absolute loveliness.  I was asked to walk Echo for 20 minutes, as being a pup they didn't want to overtire him.

I checked whether I could use treats before we set off and then we started our walk together. I'm generally used to walking dogs the size of my greyhounds and a bouncy puppy was certainly a different kettle of fish.  Echo was very excitable, but soon calmed down and took everything in his stride.

When he didn't pay any attention to the cyclists or the fire engine that passed, I made a big fuss of him and gave him a treat. However, when he showed too much interest in some of the other dogs (I'd been warned about this), we just walked calmly by (well I did, anyway) without a word from me.

At the end of the walk, I handed Echo back to the centre staff and was asked if I'd like to walk another dog. I readily accepted and was then introduced to Ben.

Ben was a 2 year old Patterdale Terrier, who had been rescued from his abusive owners. I was informed that Ben was afraid of men with deep voices and was wearing a muzzle to prevent any mishaps.

Ben was lovely but I could see how fearful he was, particularly of men. He'd obviously been trained to basic commands as he knew "sit" and "wait" but at the beginning of the walk he had a tendency to stop, drop to the ground and flatten himself out; not wanting to move or go on.

With gentle persuasion, and the use of some tasty treats, Ben became more accustomed to me. I used the treats as a reward for him coming to me when called and ignoring cyclists (there were a lot of cyclists out that weekend and apparently Ben's terrier instincts generally kicked in when he saw cyclists)! By the end of our walk, I felt I had gained a little bit of Ben's trust as he did allow me to stroke him without tensing up, or showing signs of stress.

The next weekend I stay down South I'll certainly volunteer my dog-walking services again. It was the perfect way to get my 'fido fix' and to build on my studies,  but more importantly it gave these rescue dogs the chance of a good walk, time away from the kennel environment and the opportunity to socialise with more humans.

Many dog rescues can't survive without the help of volunteers and if you have a few hours a week to spare, why not consider helping a local rescue centre? There may be no pay, but the satisfaction of knowing you've helped a dog in need is worth its weight in gold.

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