How it all Started…by Emma Billington
I was never allowed a dog as a kid and rightly so, looking back, as both parents worked full-time and dog walkers were unheard of. In 2001 I returned from university in Glasgow to live with my parents in Manchester. During the night I would hear the pitiful cries of an animal in distress.
I questioned the neighbours but nobody knew where this noise was coming from. I was haunted each night until I heard it once in the day and went to find out. I went down the road a bit to a rundown house. I made my way into their back garden and the sight of a beautiful, skeletal little Staffie girl, chained to the concrete, surrounded by her own faeces and tail between her legs is still as clear now in my mind. Just two doors down from my parents’ house in Sale and no one even knew she existed. A breeding machine, she was the start of something that has changed my life beyond comprehension.
Meeting My First Dog
I started walking her (ironically she was called Lucky) and I learned that they had acquired her from Manchester Dogs Home, unneutered and with no home check…standard. The owner, who suffered from serious mental health problems, had been letting any dog mate with her and selling the puppies in The Loot for £20 each.
At work (I hated my office job, as a computer programmer) I used to watch each minute tick away on my computer screen and I felt so worried about her. I felt an empathy for her as I sat there so unhappy, lonely and desperate to get away. I would use my holiday allowance just to sit with her in the garden, but overall I had such a small amount of time for her the guilt would torment me. The love and loyalty of a Staffie is one I’d never known. Nothing compares to it.
Trying To Get Help
I called the RSPCA, who came to see her but reported that there was nothing they could do. She had a leaky kennel and water (that I had put there for her) and apparently that’s all that’s required. I had been so sure that the RSPCA would save her when they saw her. I called Manchester Dogs Home in despair. They said they don’t have time to home-check and upon complaining that they send out dogs who are then being bred, creating more of a problem, they said they don’t have the facilities to look after the bitches when they haven’t been neutered. Things are still the same.
I decided to move to a flat nearby so that I could take Lucky more of the time (my parents would not allow her in the house at theirs). Shortly after the move, I went round to take her off the chain and she wasn’t there. This was unheard of. The same thing happened the following weekend. The third time I visited, there was a much bigger dog on the chain. It growled and appeared vicious when I went near (I later learned this was just fear).
A Mistake That Still Haunts Me
I finally got an answer at the door and was told Lucky was dead and that that dog was called Sandy. My heart broke, I collapsed on the drive in shock and to this day I cannot talk about her without my eyes leaking. I loved that poor, loyal, olive eyed Staffie and I never saved her…it is my one regret. They had let her off the chain and she ran to my parents’ house looking for me but scarpered when she realised I wasn’t there. She was run over on Washway Road in Sale in 2004 and that I wasn’t there for her will hurt forever.
I had to have time off work sick, I couldn’t talk. I got laughed at for grieving for a “neighbours dog” and I couldn’t bear to go back to see Sandy for weeks. When I finally did I felt like I could never love her like I did Lucky. Yet, what I did know, was that I could not let her suffer the same fate and that I could actually save her. I found a dog walker for her but knowing it would only be a half-hour of freedom each day, with the remaining 23.5 hours chained to the floor on her own, and it was not enough.
My Escape From The Corporate World
I decided that enough was enough. I applied for a mortgage, backed by the good wages of the job that I hated. Once I had my house I handed in my notice, ‘won’ a banger of a van on eBay (which I had signed with a big pink paw) and set up my own dog walking company in 2004. Sandy could then come to work with me each day. Happy Days!
Sandy was scared of people when I met her and, unlike Lucky, didn’t appear to get on with dogs at all. I had some ‘interesting’ walks and I had to figure her out. She was one of the most complex dogs I have met and I learned most of what I know from her. I admired her spirit and she stole my heart without me even realising.
I would do group dog walks so I got to understand pack behaviours and the dominance displayed by Sandy was really interesting as other dogs weren’t afraid of her and absolutely loved her for it. The dream was to open a dog nursery, somewhere she could be safe each day.
Growing Daycare 4 Dogs…With One Goal In Mind
I finally opened Daycare 4 Dogs in 2007. It was the first of its kind in the North West and people thought it could never work. The dream was to open rescue and when you have a dream that means everything, you just make it work. The rescue was clearly going to be hugely costly and so needed a successful business behind it. What better than to set up something that allowed dogs with loving families to fund a rescue for those without homes?
It took longer than I hoped but finally, 4 years down the line, the daycare became profitable and I was able to start the rescue. Unfortunately, at this point, I hit another brick wall. Every rescue I contacted said I couldn’t help them (primarily as I would not separate dogs into kennels). My rescue dream was not to own kennels, but for it to run like the daycare where dogs could play and have a life, not knowing they were homeless at all but feeling loved, surrounded by a big family and sleep on sofas. I wanted people to see them, unstressed and unfearful, playing, interacting and living like normal dogs.
Dogs 4 Rescue Is Born
I knew I needed land to run the rescue in the way I had dreamed. I searched for months when suddenly an old farm repossession came up only 20 minutes from our daycare centre. The market had slumped and no one was interested so I got it at a good price for what it was. Obviously, I had no savings but my lovely parents, who were now convinced by the dedication to my mission, loaned me the sum of their life savings and retirement pot to buy it. Seeing Sandy running through the fields and surveying her new home was one of the best days of my life.
People, myself included, don’t like going to rescue centres as they are so upsetting. I wanted ours to be welcoming and to encourage people to rescue and quash the rescue dog stigma and I was not going to bow to the pressure and do the same as other rescues.
Yet Another Uphill Struggle
Getting dogs into our rescue proved near impossible as no other known rescue would let us help them, as we wanted to keep the dogs together and avoid using kennels. Then, like a bolt from the blue, one of our daycare customers brought in a dog they had just adopted, a street dog from a charity called Twitchy Noses in Bulgaria.
We’d learned that new dogs are typically overwhelmed when they first encounter the daycare environment and, as they are used to living as an individual dog or in a small pack, need much slower introductions. Not Rexy! She appeared at daycare and walked into the room completely unphased by the 40 or more other dogs in the room. It was as though she understood the dynamic and it was totally normal.
Rexy (with her two badly mended broken legs) was one of the warmest dogs we had ever met. She was so happy, grateful of everything. She loved daycare and she stole our hearts. I contacted Rachel from Twitchy Noses offering to help her dogs and she jumped at the chance. We were over the moon and from that day we were able to properly launch Dogs 4 Rescue in October 2013.
Our First Dogs From Bulgaria
We received our first two dogs from Twitchy Noses Bulgaria in October 2013. Laika, who had been shot in Bulgaria after scavenging for food near a restaurants was left doubly incontinent. We kept her but she has to wear nappies. We also received Bobby who we call ‘The Silver Fox Dog’. Sharon, who manages our daycare kept him.
Both dogs are still loving life and going strong. Luckily we got better at letting dogs go after we failed with these two!
Saving More Dogs…This Time From Cyprus
And so…to Cyprus Dog Rescue! An old school friend who lived in Cyprus shared a Facebook plea from one of the many pounds over there.
I reached out, inspired by our Bulgarian success, and was introduced to Andrea Siddons of Cyprus Dog Rescue. We clicked immediately and a friendship was formed with one of the most genuine people I could have wished to encounter.
Andrea devotes her entire life to saving those she can in a country where they are also treated like vermin. Her heart breaks every day with the horrors, yet she fights on because they need her.
Here she is on one of her many visits to our daycare (where many of our previous rescues now attend as owned dogs) getting cuddles with some of her previous rescues that are now safely in their forever homes.
The Sad Reality of Dog Pounds in the UK
Of course, the pounds here in the UK are full of dogs 99% Staffies. I love Staffies dearly but I’ve learned, they are one of the most overbred, misunderstood breeds and are incredibly difficult to rehome. At Dogs 4 Rescue, we save who we can and work diligently to change perceptions on poor Staffs. It’s a battle finding a home for each one, but people tell us we are helping change their minds about these amazing dogs and each time we do, that’s another success story for the Staffie.
A Sad Ending To A Happy Beginning
In November 2013, only a couple of weeks after we had realised the dream and set up the rescue, I awoke to find a lifeless Sandy. She had died in her sleep beside my bed. My heart broke again. I will miss that girl forever but unlike poor Lucky, this time I have no regrets.
I managed to save Sandy and give her the best life I could. I would not have wished her to go any other way and for that, I am very grateful. It is because of her that I now have a wonderful home where I am surrounded by so many amazing inspirational dogs and I have the job of my dreams. I owe it all to her and Lucky too. Their legacy will live on.