It’s hard to think back to 2009. So much has happened since then, and us and almost everything about us is different… it just seems like a lifetime ago, if you know what I mean. I guess in some respects it is a “lifetime” ago. Milly’s “lifetime”, or at least her lifetime with us. That is a very sad thought that I’d probably rather not dwell on.
Instead let me share some memories of how Amelia [no surname] joined our family, and became Milly Smith.
After months of badgering Matt finally relented and agreed we could get a dog. Or rather I could get a dog, and the dog could live with us. Picture small child “please please pleaaassseeeeee can I have a dog. I promise I’ll look after it all by myself and walk it and do everything”. Well I think we can all agree that I upheld my end of that deal.
Matt had dogs before I met him. Rizzy, a yellow lab, was his first and then after she died Chip joined the family. When the family stuff changed, Chip stayed with his Mummy but Matt still used to dog-sit occasionally. This was the set-up when I met Matt and after I moved in to the Bungalow, I saw quite a lot of Chip, along with Sophie’s kitten Tia, who used to travel back and forth when she did.
Other than 2 barely touchable rabbits when I was at middle school I had never had pets before. I am sure I applied the same badgering technique to my parents to get them, so that’s a 100% success rate. Although, being honest, I wasn’t as good at looking after them as I was Milly. I think food and water was ok but my poor mum got the raw end of the deal with the hutch cleaning most of the time. One of my Girl Guide friends had several rabbits and eventually Flopsy and Mopsy went to join them.
So having Chip and Tia around was new ground for me. Chip was all the things Milly was not – easy, take anywhere, dog friendly – although I didn’t fully realise how golden that was at the time! He was completely loveable chocolate-ness.
Tia and I didn’t bond so well to begin with. I’m not a cat person. Or at least I wasn’t then. I always found them unpredictable. My benchmark was Spooky. The cat of my childhood best friend Kathryn (with a K) Bromley. She calls herself Kate now.. has done for years actually but she was always Kathryn to me. Kathryn and I were best pals at primary and middle school. She was the oldest in the year, versus me being almost the youngest. She was normal sized, whereas I was tiny, and she used to stop the other children from picking me up and playing with me like I was a doll. I’d dare anyone to try and lift me now haha. Before we finished middle school Kathryn moved away. To Shepperton. Which on checking Google maps, I now see was a mere 3.5 miles away from my family home in Sunbury. I could cycle that in 20minutes! But when I was 11 it was the end of the earth. Luckily for us Kathryn’s mum was really good friends with my parents, had been for years (and still is!), so meeting up at weekends was easy. We used to have sleepovers a lot. Kathryn was responsible for my first dabble into black eyeliner…. no surprise to hear that it probably didn’t suit me then either. Saturday night at Kathryn’s usually meant a video (showing our age) and a family sized bar of Dairy Milk, bought by my dad from Threshers on the way to drop me off. Normally joining us for said video was Spooky. Stroking Spooky was like playing Buckaroo. It was only a matter of time before she took a COMPLETELY UNPROVOKED swipe at you. That set my expectations for a “cat”.
The Bromley’s also had Jarvis, a lovely rough collie (think Lassie) who we used to take out walking a lot. I don’t ever remember having to hide behind a tree with him. Other than the cat, the dog and the eyeliner, Kathryn and I shared loads of great times and I have some happy happy memories.
So back to Tia. Eventually, after a rather challenging flea incident, her and I finally got along.
In early 2011 Chip moved to Spain with his Mummy, and lived out the rest of his days very happily in the mountains. I know that he was loved and cherished and left a huge, huge gap when he passed away. I only saw him once or twice after he moved, but I will always remember him as the adorable old teddy bear that he was. Tia had gone to live with a feline brother in the home of a friend and although I haven’t seen her for myself I know Sophie has had updates over the years.
It was the presence, although temporary/part-time, of these two in my life that made me realise what I was missing by not having a pet of my own.
And so begun the badgering -> agreeing -> searching-> finding process.
It was agreed from day one that we would rehome and not get a puppy. So trawling the Rescue websites began. I don’t remember how long it took but eventually Amelia’s little profile appeared on the RSPCA website. I wish I still had a copy of it 😦 It def said that she wasn’t good with other dogs, but it said that she knew “sit, paw and her name on command” and that she was “good when groomed” and “ok when left”. We arranged to go and see her.
She was living at the Brighton RSPCA, which is just on the outskirts in Patcham. We learnt from them that she had been rescued from Ireland originally, and since coming into their care she had been rehomed twice and – clearly – returned twice. The first time with a family, who committed to training and rehabilitating her, but they returned her with such a damning account of her behaviour that the vet was booked to come and euthanise her. I can barely type that without my stomach turning. Thankfully the RSPCA had the experience and sense to make their own assessment, and quickly realised that “this dog is not what those people described”. I guess it was easier for them to paint that picture than admit that they couldn’t give her what she needed. Sadly it’s very easy to deflect blame onto something or someone who cannot defend themselves. After that she was rehomed again with a single chap, who progressed her training very well, but after 9 months had a change in circumstances and could only walk her after dark with a muzzle on. So again she was returned, and there she stayed for months and months. Nobody wants an old dog, and certainly not one with issues.
I can’t really begin to imagine what being in kennels must’ve been like for her. They say you shouldn’t “project” human thoughts & emotions on to animals. But I can’t help it, and so imagine that it was pretty traumatic. She was kept out of the main kennels, in the boarding block, because it was quieter apparently. She had just one neighbour – Stan the bulldog – whom she could tolerate.
You see the adverts on TV for the Dogs Trust and stuff, where eyes meet through a wire fence and it is love at first sight. Can’t say Matt and I had that experience. Milly was brought outside to meet us, and frankly she was completely indifferent to us, and totally distracted by what was going on around her…. #hypervigilant
We saw first hand her extreme reaction when Coco came round the corner to go back inside. She had a right go at him, and apparently due to dog walker error had bitten him on the ear only days before. Alas we were not perturbed, despite the massive adrenaline spike (me), and set off around the playing field with her. Nothing particularly eventful happened, which I know now to be a blessing.
After the visit and discussion we came home and pondered. I don’t really know who thought what, but I imagine I was rooting for her because of her history, and also completely naive as to what rehabilitating her might take. We must have both decided we wanted to adopt her, and the home check was arranged. Because we both worked full time I was a bit apprehensive about that visit. Sophie was with us 50% of the time and still at school so home early, Jamie was here too, Matt was working with his brother, I had some work from home flexibility, we had two sets of family living next door and I had scoped out a local pet sitter… I must’ve managed to convince the lady that we had it covered, and she gave us the green light. I know that often rescues don’t like to re-home when people work full time, and for certain dogs I know it would be an absolute NO, but my personal view is that for some dogs being at home alone all day sleeping on your sofa is still a better option than being in kennels. Milly was certainly one of those.
After Brighton got our approved report we spoke to them again. Milly was reserved but they must’ve been apprehensive about letting us have her because we went down again for another viewing (?). This time we saw her in action with Stan. She wasn’t massively happy but she could tolerate him at a short distance. We must’ve made the right noises and it was agreed that they would arrange the standard vet check before we could bring her home.
This was her on one of those pre-visits. The photo makes me feel a little bit sad because I can see she has a bit of sleep in her eye, but didn’t have a mummy to wipe it away with a bit of spit on a tissue. I can assure you I made up for that over the next 8 years, with regular tissue wiping.
The collection was arranged for Halloween 2009. I could barely sleep on the Friday. Excitement, anticipation and a good dose of fear probably.
We collected her around lunchtime but they still weren’t convinced about signing her over to us. Apparently the manager had requested that she come out to us on a trial basis. I guess they were expecting we would probably let her down as well. I can completely understand their thinking, but clearly they had underestimated little old me.
I have just dug out an email that I sent to my lovely Stateside friend and amazingly dedicated fellow doggie mummy Georgette that afternoon…
we just went to pick up our woofer so thought i’d share her with you!
6 year old Lab x Collie. very calm but really doesn’t like other dogs (eek!)
only been home a couple of hours so may be a while until she settles in.
will let you know how we get on!!!
She proceeded to settle fairly quickly that evening, and with no trick or treaters, or fireworks, we had a quiet night in with Sophie, Jamie and Jamie’s friend Mike. She was laying as close to Jamie and Mike as she possibly could.
Milly had a pink collar and matching lead. Rogz brand. I took it back to the RSPCA to re-use and replaced it with the first of what was to become an impressive collar and lead collection. On washing day you’d be forgiven for thinking we had a dozen dogs..
I did buy a direct replacement for the pink Rogz collar, but it always gave me a funny feeling when I put it on her so she didn’t wear it much.
So a collar, lead and a blanket were all her worldly possessions. The blanket was to give her comfort and help her settle. It breaks my heart to remember that it smelt a little bit of weewees. But, no matter, it went in her bed for a few days.
When I look back at the photos from those very early days I barely recognise her. Not just because she was actually black then, but just that she has this sort of faraway gaze. I didn’t notice at the time but she seems to be looking through me rather than at me. I know now it is because we hadn’t properly bonded. I was just an owner, not her mummy. You can hardly blame her for being not that attached to us, given her history she probably didn’t think she was staying. Again I know I’m “projecting human thoughts”, but whatever.
I had arranged with work to take a week of annual leave split over the fortnight following her arrival, working in the office in the morning but coming home every lunchtime for an afternoon off. I could have adapted to this working pattern permanently. Part time work would suit me very well, although the part time salary might not. From day one Milly settled fine actually. Although she may have wondered if her current domicile was merely temporary like the others, it wasn’t troubling her and she was sleeping through the night in the kitchen with no drama. I, on the other hand, was not. I was having very restless nights because I kept waking up with mild panic thinking about the tremendous responsibility of it all. Could I really do this?
Despite agreeing with the RSPCA to a “loan” with another discussion in a week or so, after 48 hours I just knew there was no going back. Whether it was borne of determination to succeed, a belief that I would, or just a realisation that I had to give it everything I could no matter what, my mind was made up. I “slept on it” for another couple of days for good measure but at lunchtime on Wednesday 4th November 2009 I marched into the RSPCA and had them draw up the paperwork in exchange for my donation. In a few flicks of the pen Anne Bond did the honours, Amelia was legally and officially mine. With a deep breath I walked out of there and never looked back, and so our real journey began….