My story, my philosophy, my life.
No healthy dog should ever be put to sleep...there is always an answer.
I've learned a lot about horses and dogs, and I have never had one put to sleep...and I never will. I've been bitten and injured more times than I can count, but I will never fail to rehabilitate any of the animals I work with.
I learned about animals by being a little brave and using my instincts...and I'm still learning using those methods today...those instincts have never let me down.
Once you understand the language and psychology of an animal...you can influence them, and help them achieve a balanced state. Sometimes it takes a real effort, but it is always worth it.
I've known for a long time that I would in some way end up working with animals...and it was always going to be dogs and horses...I just knew.
Looking back, I can see why this happened...because I was surrounded by these creatures from a very early age...and I was totally fascinated.
Where I lived was pretty quiet, and so was I...I was a terribly shy little boy, (some things never change!).
I would go off exploring on my own in the countryside. There were a number of horses living locally to me, and I used to watch them through the fence as they played and fed together. I learned that if I made any noise, they would immediately become alert and move away...so I would crawl through the grass really slowly to get near to them...I was like a little snake!
What I learned after a while, was that these horses knew I was there...I could actually see them looking at me...but because of how slow my approach was...and the fact I was being very respectful of their space...they had started to trust me.
After a while, I could stand up at the fence and they would just get on with their business...I couldn't believe it.
Then, in a moment of madness, I decided to climb over the fence and approach the horses...this was a big mistake.
Because I was so nervous, the horses immediately scattered... except one big female! She raised up and stamped right in front of me...and she kept stamping...until my skinny butt had literally jumped the fence. It took me weeks to get my confidence back, but my patience was rewarded with a life changing moment.
I was so terrified of this big female horse, I would crawl to the part of the fence furthest away from her...hoping she wouldn't see me. As the weeks went by I got closer and closer, and the other horses just didn't care about my presence. I climbed the fence again...but this time I did it very slowly...and just stood on the other side of the enclosure looking at the ground. I did this every day for weeks, and each day took 1 extra step forward (I actually counted the steps!) It took me so long to get near these horses, because my steps were so tiny. Some days I would take half a step, but still count it as one full step anyway! Eventually I was standing within feet of a big group...OF BIG HORSES...and they just carried on eating!
I think I had a moment!
I'm not sure why, but I decided to start copying what the horses did...I still don't know to this day what I was thinking...maybe I thought they would see me as a horse if I mimicked them...I made some very silly noises!
One day I decided to grab some grass and pretend to eat it (because I thought I was a horse now!)
I actually did start chewing the grass...but you only do that once!
As I was doing this, one of the horses came right up to me... and just stole the grass out of my hand...I nearly soiled myself!
Within days, I was feeding the big female who had previously made it very clear I wasn't welcome. What I had learned, is that you need to gain an animals trust before you can enter their world...and with horses, you just need to take your time, and stay calm...then they let you in.
What about the dogs?
I had never really had any contact with dogs, except the dogs that I would see if we went into town. This changed when we moved house.
I made my first real friend (outside of school) when we moved house...(we only moved about a mile away, but there were more neighbours). We would be out all day every day exploring the world and generally being boys. One day we where climbing over walls and fences into other peoples gardens, when we came across a very loud, and very big Staffordshire Bull terrier...he was very annoyed we had come into his territory...he scared the living daylights out of us. We jumped the fence, and literally sprinted home!
The next day, I went back early...on my own.
In my stupidity, I thought that if I used my 'horse whispering' tactics, this dog would trust me as well. Wow did that backfire!
Every time this dog saw me, he would charge at me, and he wasn't kidding at all. Luckily, he was on a long chain, connected to a post. This ability to get near him, without him being able to reach me...turned out to be one of the most important lessons I have ever learned.
Because I knew this dog could only get within a certain distance of me, I could climb over the fence, and stand far enough away to stay safe...and of course...I naturally calmed down! At first he really didn't like this and would literally lift off the ground to try and get to me...but then he changed.
I went back really early each morning without my friend so I could concentrate on being slow and quiet. After a few times of climbing into this dogs territory, he just stopped lunging at me.
The simple reason...I wasn't scared any more. This dog had given me everything he had...but I kept coming back, and because I knew he couldn't get to me, I never took a step backwards...so he just gave up!
This dog was chained up every day, starved of affection, and basically a lonely guard dog...but his tactic had stopped working...so he chose to be submissive.
The next time I turned up...I was carrying food in my pocket!
I started throwing bits of bread, apple and anything I could steal from the fridge to give to this dog...and he would eat everything!
I got closer and closer with each visit, and he never barked or lunged at me. What I hadn't worked out at the time, was that he had stopped seeing me as a threat and intruder, and now saw me as a source of food...I was basically a vending machine, but that was better than being a meal!
I still don't know why I did it, but I just decided to feed him by hand. I walked towards him, and I was right within his striking range, and he just walked up to me and took the food. This was the last time I was ever afraid of any dog.
I didn't know it at the time, but this dog had changed me forever. I went back every day for a whole summer, unchaining him from his post and running with him and my best friend for hours...chasing birds, squirrels and just bonding with this amazing dog...I even introduced him to the horses.
I remember the first day I introduced him to my friend...I had this huge dog who weighed more than me, on a 20 foot chain, that also weighed more than me, and he was dragging me across a field where my friend was standing...looking utterly terrified... and I just shouted..."don't worry he's friendly now"...I had no clue what I was doing!
We went back every day, and we never once met his owners, and never saw a person on any of the occasions when we 'stole' their dog...but I'm sure they were watching us and knew what we were doing.
We spent months kidnapping this dog after school and at weekends, he went everywhere with us, and he never showed any kind of aggression towards us.
Then one day...he was gone.
After playing all of the previous day, I took my 'four legged friend' back to his house, chained him up and went home. When we came back the next day, he wasn't there. We came back for several days, but he was never there.
I found out that while he was out walking with his owners, he had chased a neighbours cat, who ran in front of a car and was killed...they put my friend to sleep.
I cried for days...I never even knew his name.
Today, any time I can spare, is used to work alongside some other like minded people, and between us we help as many people and dogs as we can. When people do give a donation or use our services, we simply use any money to help a dogs home or rescue centre, or we will rescue another dog ourselves.
This will never be a business to us, because when you make it about money, then you're doing it for the wrong reasons.
We believe in the power of community.
Many of the people we work with actually give up their own money and time, and actually volunteer at rescue centres, so that they can help animals...and that is why I have the absolute privilege of calling them my friends.
Sometimes we get hurt physically, and sometimes we see things that break your heart...but we also see how great humans can be... when they're helping others.
This is my life, and until my life ends...I hope it always will be.
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