Having always, both as a child, and as an independent adult, had my dogs from puppyhood, including four mastiffs who came at between 7-8 weeks of age, I was at first reluctant to consider taking on a rescue dog. However, as I am out all day working on an average of 2 days a week, a puppy was not really an option. My sister had had a rescue dog of general Heinz variety whom she was sure used to sell the Big Issue in Edinburgh (he was very Scottish in character and had a shaggy, streetwise look to him) who had quickly settled into her house and was a friend to all. In addition, as your esteemed editor Lyn Say, who had bred my last two wonderful mastiffs, had suggested that I at least look at a rescue dog, I did.
When I contacted the society I was told that they had a very suitable brindle dog called Max, and, after having had the mandatory inspection of my house (and, I assume, of me) for general mastiff-owning suitability, I set off for Norfolk, some three hours away. When I arrived, there were five mastiffs about the place: three bitches and two dogs. One of these was called Harry, and he was in a dreadful state. He had been found scavenging from bins in a city and was stick insect thin, with very weak hind legs, fur missing, and a totally charming nature. He seemed to think that I was just the very best friend he would ever have. Max, on the other hand, who was with two of the bitches in a large field, whilst a bit curious as to who I was, nonetheless ran away every time I went near him, apparently thinking it was a game. In truth, I did not really look at him properly at first because I was so touched both by Harry's plight and by his affectionate nature that I wanted to take him with me. However, I was told that it was feared that Harry might not survive, and if he did, he might not be able to walk properly. In addition, he could not be allowed to leave until he was in a fit state and there was a proper prognosis. I was encouraged to take Max, who was 4 3/4 years old and had come to the society as a result of a marriage breakdown. Max seemed as uncertain as I was about the desirability of accompanying me, but was persuaded into my car, provided with a large sack of food and an enormous chain collar. In truth, I had not expected that I would be returning with a dog at all, but had expected to return on another occasion, which I might well not have done, given Max's offhandedness where I was concerned and my general uncertainty about taking on an adult, rescue dog. How glad I am that I was so persuaded.
When we arrived home Max quite quickly settled in, albeit he was evidently not a completely confident character. Nonetheless I soon appreciated his finer points. He is a very polite, thoughtful, dog. The arrangement was (note the tense) for him to sleep downstairs in his own bed. My bedroom is upstairs, but I live in a converted barn and the room is a gallery with a glass front overlooking the main sitting-room. After a short while Max took to coming upstairs in the night and putting his face next to mine. I am sure he was checking if I was still breathing. He would then go back down to his own bed, or so I thought. Some weeks after his arrival I became aware that the sofa in the sitting-room was getting marked, yet Max had at no time made any effort to climb onto it, and I had never seen him on it. Whenever I came down to breakfast Max would be curled up in his bed which is in the room below my bedroom. One morning, after having had my breakfast (and Max his), I went upstairs as usual to clean my teeth, but when halfway up I suddenly remembered something I needed to fetch from the kitchen. I ran back down and I was just in time to see Max hastily clambering off the sofa. Clever Max had known instinctively (or from his previous owners) that he was not allowed on the sofa, and he also knew that if he heard me moving about in my room upstairs it would not be long before I came down, in fact that he would have time to get into his own bed and act innocent. After that episode, I would watch him from the window in my bedroom and see him get up on the sofa once he was sure that I was in my bed. I have not stopped him from doing this, but now keep the sofa covered at night.
My son comes on the days when I am away as Max quite clearly suffers from separation anxiety. 'Quite clearly' is not in fact an appropriate description. He shows none of the usual signs of it, such as barking, howling or destroying things when alone, but on one occasion I had to be away for 3 days and my son could not come, so I had to arrange for him to go into kennels for 2 nights. After dismissing all the cold, concrete-floored dispiriting commercial kennels I visited (and was appalled by), I was told of a woman who bred Newfoundland’s and occasionally took in dogs. I contacted her and her place seemed perfect: the dogs who came to her (maximum 4) slept in stables with grass runs and in one case, on a human bed. I took Max there on the appointed day and when I left my last sight was of him sitting on this large bed with the kennel-owner sitting beside him. I felt it was as good a place as he could be. When I returned to fetch him he was, of course, pleased to see me. I should make it clear that Max was of an affectionate nature, not anybody's for the price of a pat or a biscuit as Harry had been, but once he had had a ten-minute conversation with you, he was prepared to give you the benefit of any initial doubt. When we arrived home from the kennels I could not believe Max's reaction. He hurtled round and around the garden, jumping hedges, spinning in circles and generally running completely wild. After over half an hour of this I brought him back in and had to calm him down. I believe he would be jumping still if I had not done so, I also believe that he had thought that he was being given away again and was simply overjoyed to be back in familiar surroundings. I have never taken him to kennels again, and never would, even though the place he went was as good as it gets.
In the fifteen months that I have had him Max has won over almost everyone that he has met, including people who are not known to be dog-lovers. He shows a great interest in conversing, sitting in front of you cocking his head from side to side in a fashion I usually associate with small, terrier-types. He is very well-mannered, and makes every effort not to be clumsy, having a very dainty backwards walk (truly comical to behold) when it becomes necessary to extricate himself from whatever narrow corner of the house he has been investigating. I suspect that he lived in a small house before which possibly had a lot of breakable items, he is so very delicate in his movements when in a confined space. At the beginning, he used to raid my handbag for chocolate having discovered that occasional KitKats reside there - necessary blood-sugar providers for me, potentially fatal for him, so I no longer keep them there - and was once discovered with my mobile phone in his bed. I like to think that he is calling his friends from the rescue society telling them that there is hope, and homes can be found where they will be loved and appreciated.
As a footnote I should say that some weeks after Max arrived I was asked if I would also take Harry, who had made a wonderful recovery. It was both a difficult and an easy decision: I did not want to reject Harry but by then I knew Max well enough to know that he was a very loyal and devoted type of dog with a deal of insecurity who, much as he might enjoy a playmate, would suffer painfully from jealousy. Harry had such easy charm that he would (like all charmers) easily seduce casual acquaintances and the more reticent Max would be overlooked. I could not allow that to happen. Harry was rehomed a while later. Max has a devoted following and now there are several people I can call on to come here to look after him on such occasions as I absolutely have to be away.
Finally, Max has removed all the doubts I had initially about taking on a rescue dog, and, particularly taking on an older one. Whilst he has certain fears - the noise of metal objects and raised hands in particular which suggest at least some past mistreatment - he is not excessively nervous, he is not aggressive, he is not possessive of the absurd pink and yellow fluffy, once-upon-a-time squeaky toy he keeps in his bed and likes to show to me at least twice a day. In short, he is a totally lovable and reliable and often amusing companion.
December 2011, each year I hear news of Max here is this years update.
Max is now 9 years old and very healthy. He is a lovely dog and thankyou for pushing me towards getting a rescue dog.