about pet portraits artists melanie and nicholas
Tom, a Sheltie x Collie arrived with us a year old at the start of 2010. We knew he had been moved around a lot in his short life, he was born and kept in a shed in Ireland with his sister (possibly abused), rescued, chipped, snipped, vaccinated and then moved to Wales. He was rehomed in a flat with his sister but the family were unable to handle him so a month later, keeping his sister, sent Tom back to the rescue center. This must have been very hard for Tom, as his sister was probably his only companion and source of comfort, now he was alone. When we first saw him, he came bounding up to us and put his front legs around Nicks legs and wouldn't let go. They say the dog chooses you and he had chosen us! The following is our story about tom, how we dealt with his problems and his happy life....
Toms symptoms in a nutshell when we first had him was that whenever another dog came close, he would start to bark ferociously, lunge towards them teeth bared (although never got close enough to bite), pull on the lead and be hugely energized. He would not listen, had no interest in any kind of food and in extreme cases he would get so stressed his tongue would go blue. The only way to stop this was to take him away from the situation. These issues also extended to people, the presence of any stranger whether in the street or a visitor to our home, would send Tom into a similar display with lots of barking. He was nervous of everything, generally lacked a lot of confidence and suffered greatly with separation anxiety. The funny thing is, Tom is a really affectionate, sociable dog once he is comfortable with people he loves them!
We first found that he had a dog issue when we took him for a walk and met our local vicar walking her three King Charles Spaniels along the lane. The noise from Tom was so bad – the squealing, the whining and barking, it brought our neighbour rushing out from her house as she thought someone had been run over! We wondered if this would ease over time, after all he had only been with us a short while and he probably needed to settle but unfortunately it didn't.
When Tom was in the rescue centre he did live with other dogs, however we wonder if being moved from pillar to post 5 times, he could have somehow been protecting us. Also being cooped up for the first 6 months of his life in Ireland, along with, so we believe, being beaten, could have severely effected him.
The Local Puppy Classes
So we booked him into puppy classes and although the classes's were for 7 weeks we could go at any time during the full calendar year. We took Tom each week but couldn't get him though the door. As soon as he saw another dog he barked with teeth bared and the echoing of the hall made it worse. Everyone – and I mean everyone knew about us right from the start. We persevered and went every week in order to use the hall to sit and watch the classes to get use to Tom seeing other dogs.
Everyone was really nice, however because it was run by 4 trainers, they all had their own idea of how we should be dealing with Tom. None of them had the answer but individually gave us advice as to what we should be doing – BUT all glaringly different and conflicting advice. We were utterly confused as to what to do in the end. I think if you had a well rounded dog, they could teach it, however bring Tom and his problems into the equation, it was an utter disaster. After 4 months we pretty much gave up and felt that we needed to find a single trainer, with perhaps more experience.
The Local Trainer
We found a trainer about a 40 minute drive from us who mainly did obedience and agility. She had a ménage where she did open air classes and this seemed a much better environment for Tom to be in. We started with 3 one to one lessons and then she placed us in the rescue group with 7 other dogs. Some weeks Tom would be fairly good, and after the initial lunging and being energized he would calm down through the second half hour, but any sudden movement from a dog and Tom would still react. The obedience training was great though and opportunity to try agility, which he loved, it was really good for him.
Sadly after 7 months things were getting worse. I found it a huge struggle to do the obedience in the class while I was being pulled and dragged around whilst he lunged for the other dogs and at that point I still had no clue as to how to stop him from doing it. The advice I was getting from the trainer seemed to be more about me as being the problem. If I was stronger with him, if my voice was stronger, if I was tougher and firmer, if I held the lead correctly then Tom would be better. It was as though I was supposed to be changing my personality and if I did, Tom would not do the things he was doing. I knew in my heart this wasn't right and for my own sanity I had to stop. I was exhausted mentally and physically and I felt my bond with Tom was lessening as the weeks went by. I began to dread the lessons, my confidence with Tom was at an all time low. The last lesson with Tom just wasn't right and we felt that we had come as far as we could. We decided to stop going and take a few weeks to decide what to do next.
After about two weeks of mental recuperation we decided that we should probably get a behaviorist for Tom. We spoke to our vet and a variety of people 'in the know' but no one could really recommend a local behaviorist to us. We started to look around on the internet and one site stood out to me. I read the whole site and thought - this is the guy for us! Peter MounseyAshclyst Dog Training Exter is a dog trainer and behaviorist and specializes with dog aggressive dogs and if anyone could help Tom, surely it would be him. The most important part of his site, for us, was his client testimonials section. This huge list details the problems displayed by each dog, a brief outline of how Peter helped, followed by feedback from the owner. Reading through these cases, we were amazed at the similarities between Tom and these dogs. The only problem was he was 190 miles away!
I rang on the off chance, hoping that he could either help us or would know someone who could. Upon chatting to him he said he would be able to travel up to us for a home visit, if we could do two environmental's in Exeter. We were happy with this and booked him for that following Thursday after completing a long questionnaire about Tom that he could study before he arrived.
Peter stayed for 5 hours, the first two hours were talking about Toms problems, overcoming some issues we had in the home and then working with Tom and Peters own dogs which he uses as 'stooge' dogs. He has three beautiful rottwilers called Robynne, Tara and Callum. Up until this point you have to remember we have never been able to let Tom near another, dog let alone be off the lead with one. Within half an hour Peter had worked with Tom and his two rottweilers and they were wandering around our garden quiet happily. It was a miracle! We then went out on the lane and did some more important work with the dogs, some lead work and traffic work. Within 5 minutes Tom was walking to heel as good as gold. We have to stress here that no harsh training methods were used.
By the time Peter left we were elated. Our confidence had risen, our spirits had risen and after all of the terrible times we had experienced with other trainers, this was a huge step in the right direction and we were ready to practice what we had learnt.
We had booked our first environmental for the following Thursday and traveled to Exeter to work with Peter's Rottweilers and also to get out and about to meet other dogs on the lead. We did lead work walking passed dogs, we had Tom on the 20 foot lead in the park (so we could grab it if needed) and also visited a very bust train station with trains arriving and leaving, people boarding etc. Tom did very well and we left with a plan of action to follow before the next environmental.
We spent a good couple of months putting into practice Peters advice and then had our second and final environmental in Exeter. It was wonderful. Actually is was pretty amazing. We arrived and met Peter along with a dog walker with two of the dogs she walks which were very laid back - a lab and a collie. We let Tom off the lead and walked around the park with all three – no barking, no lunging, no extra energy, just a happy go lucky dog. We then worked with Tom and Peters dogs, again no problems.
We spent some time walking around Exters main high street working with people, children, busy traffic, buses and any dogs we met along the way. Our end goal to be able to pass dogs we encounter whilst on a walk without any adverse reaction from Tom was working and we were on the road to success.
The Hip Displasia
So once we had all gained confidence with Peter and his training we thought it would be fantastic to be able to get out and about with Tom at last. The following year we went on a summer holiday with friends to North Wales and walked Tom up Snowdon. Snowdon is the highest mountain in Wales and we walked a long way up...and a long way back down!! Tom was amazing, he had so much energy wasn't tired at all from the trip and enjoyed every minute. We had a few incidents with other dogs during our week stay but on the whole it was a good learning curve for us in how to handle Tom and remember our training while out and about. The photo below is of Tom in North Wales on the coast.
In the september we had noticed that he was starting to become a bit stiff, as the colder weather came it took him a while to get out of bed and get going. We took him to the vets where they anesthetized him and xrayed him to find out what the problem was and they found he has hip Displasia on his left hip. The vet believes it was from a trauma or injury in the first year of his life before we had him. We will never know what happened to him before he came to us and we try not to think about it.
So he's on glocosimine tables and a course of metacam as there was some muscle wastage where he hadn't been using the leg for a long time. We had always known he bounded like a rabbit when running in the fields but though that this was just one of his funny quirks. We were advised not to run him in the filed's and to walk him steadily so as to make sure he placed both legs on the ground to strengthen the muscles. This we could do and we followed the vets advice!
Cruciate Cranial Ligament.
So the following May 2013 having been doing so well Tom had an incident where he yelped while running and was lame on his left side. Worried that he had hurt his hip, off to the vets again with him for another anesthetic and xray. The vet said that the hip was doing well, however he had broken the crucial cranial ligament in his knee and he would need surgery to fix it.
The operation went well, he was in over night on a morphine drip and they said he handled it all well. The vets were utterly wonderful and know us and Tom and his 'nervousness' quite well and we couldn't have asked for a better set of ladies to look after him.
This takes us to the present day and sadly Tom had too many complications with his legs. We went through 4 weeks of recovery but all the strain on the second leg was too much, it also had the disease and he damaged it while walking and was in much pain. He began to go down hill very quickly within a matter of days. With this and his hip displasia he was in a lot of pain, even though he was on pain killers, his little body just gave up the fight. We had to make the tough decision to put him to sleep on Sunday 30th of June 2013. We miss him greatly and he will always be in our hearts.
Tom in the Garden....
Here's Tom in Summer July 2011. Nick filmed this on his ipod and had the camera up the wrong way so its a very arty shot in the middle of the screen but its quite comical. Tom playing in a trug of water....
The illustration and poem below were created by a wonderful lady and her husband - Jon and Moon. Jon wrote the poem and sent it to us, we had tears in our eyes when reading it, and it bought it home as to how lucky we are to have Tom with us. Moon asked if we would like it illustrated and of course we jumped at the chance! Moon has illustrated it perfectly with our little cottage, Nick and myself - she has got us just right, with me wearing wellies all the time too, I practically live in them! And then there's Tom looking towards his new home - absolutely perfect! Thank you guys! : )
A member of our family has written a very moving poem about Tom. Fred is a very prolific poet and has written children's stories for his grandchildren and poems for them too. We are honoured to have a poem written for Tom by Fred and we hope that you all enjoy it too.
Toms Poem - By Fred Starr
He enters the room so softly, his head held high and proud;
He likes some individuals but isn't so keen on a crowd.
He heads straightway to Melanie, or Nick if she's not around;
He prefers a quiet approach, he's nervous when a noise is loud.
He will take what food is on offer, and some that most certainly is not;
He prefers the cold cuts if it's possible, he's not too keen when it's hot.
A cake waiting there on the table is tempting and smells very nice;
He gobbles all he can manage although he had to climb on the table twice.
He hates being alone in the garden, a toy is no recompense;
He barks and he cries quite loudly, he even attacks the fence.
But as soon as he hears Melanie calling, his character reverts to the norm;
He knows she's coming to get him and soon he'll be back in the warm.
He thought he might try the headphones, as Melanie often did;
When Melanie got very angry he went to his bed and hid.
A replacement had to be found, assessments had to be done;
Although Melanie wasn't amused he thought it was good fun.
So when you read this poem, read it gently and please don't shout;
The subject of this material is Tom with the pretty snout.
He's a dog whose had his problems but now they are in the past;
He's found his Melanie and Nick and this time he hopes it will last.