From being a teenager, Irish Setters have been part of my life, some joined our family as pups from breeders and some, adult rescues. A lot of people have said to me, “I wouldn’t rescue a dog because you don’t know what baggage you’re taking on”, my response is, “I’ve never experienced a dog with baggage”. My rescue dogs have, shall we say, had “challenges” but they were no different to the “challenges” faced when rearing a puppy. Walking at heel on a lead, instead of pulling like a tractor and the endless attempts at recall were the two main issues, with all my dogs. They all have had their own personalities, but overall they have all been typical Irish Setters, handsome or pretty, playful, cheeky, stubborn and full of love!
After our first rescue Setter passed away, there was no question of not rescuing another one. I contacted the Irish Setter Breeders Club (as it was then) now the Irish Setter Rescue and Rehoming Charity and spoke to the Secretary. On hearing we had just lost our dog, she asked whether it was too soon to take on another one. I explained that although I appreciated for some, replacing their beloved pet straight away was unthinkable, I had never had that view. Homing another dog provided me with a new purpose and turned sadness into a positive experience. She agreed with me and said she felt the same, but recognised it is a very personal view.
Two weeks later, we got a call to say a dog had come into rescue. He was 18 months old from the working side of the breed. (They tend to be slighter in build with less feathering). His owners handed him into rescue for his safety as they lived on a farm and let their dogs have the run of their land. However, the Setter left to his own devices regularly left the farm and crossed a motorway slip road as he had discovered a fast food restaurant where the staff fed him left over burgers.
As we’d already been home checked from having our previous rescue dog, the charity felt he would be a good fit with our family, so all we had to do was agree to have him, which of course we did!
When I saw him, I was shocked at his appearance. Although the charity had sent me some photographs of him and warned me he’d had to be clipped as his coat had been neglected and he was under weight, I wasn’t prepared for just how small and skinny he was. His hip bones were protruding and his head looked out of proportion with his body. He did however have a very waggy tail and trusting eyes. Looking at him, I felt a surge of anger sweep over me, I cannot and never will understand how human beings can neglect animals so badly and discard them so easily. “Never mind”, I said to him, “you’ve come to live at the right place”.
Rhum in the Highlands April 2009 (two months after rehoming him).
As life with us was a new start for him, we gave him a new name; Rhum. We spent most of our holidays in the Highlands and we’d taken to naming our dogs after places there. I gave him a small amount of food to eat which was devoured in seconds and then he found his bed by the radiator and curled up. When I left the kitchen and went into the living room he got up and followed me - a good sign I thought. He came into the living room and lay down by us for the evening being cuddled and loved by the kids. His expression said everything! It was clear he’d never had so much attention. At bedtime, he went on his bed and didn’t make a sound all night. I wasn’t sure if the next morning I’d come down to chewed kitchen units, but there was no damage. In all the time he’s been with us, Rhum has never damaged a thing, intentionally that is. We have had broken Christmas decorations whipped off the tree with his wagging tail over the years!
The next morning, I got ready to go out on our first walk and as I’d been advised to take him on short walks initially until his weight and strength increased, it was a quick 10-minute affair. During the walk, he kept looking up at me with a strange expression, as if to say “oh you come too” and I realised this was probably the first walk he’d had with a human in tow!
We fed him four small meals a day initially to help increase his weight. As soon as his dish was put down, it was empty. I’d never seen a dog eat so quickly; a habit that still remains. After a couple of months, although still on the light side, his hip bones had disappeared, the feathering on his legs had begun to grow and his coat had developed a lovely shine. It wasn’t the deep chestnut colour you see in unneutered Irish Setters, but I felt as though progress was being made.
Rhum settled into our family straight away and loved us all unconditionally. Whoever his “chosen one” for the evening was, whilst they were sitting on the sofa, Rhum would come over and put his head on their knee. If he was ignored he’d paw said knee and if he was still ignored, he would put both front paws on the “chosen one’s” knees, blocking the TV, wagging his tail, waiting for a stroke.
He made friends with my daughter’s cat, Beano and they developed a daily routine of Beano running up to Rhum every morning, Beano would box Rhum in the face two or three times then run away with Rhum in pursuit.
The first time I let Rhum off his lead, he was off like a bullet. My heart sank thinking I would lose him but he eventually came back. I soon got used to him shooting off, flushing out ducks, geese, pheasants, rabbits, squirrels and even deer. He could be two fields ahead of me, my heart in my mouth thinking he’d get lost, but he never did. I’d never experienced this type of behaviour in a dog before, but being from the working side, he was just doing what he had been bred to do.
I bought a whistle which helped his training and after a while his recall improved. To this day, I cannot claim his reaction when called is ‘instant’, more like ‘hang on, I’ll be with you in a minute’ but I’ve never lost him, or rather he’s never lost me.
A couple of years ago, we moved house and two days after moving, Beano, got out of a window and disappeared. After four days of searching and calling him up and down the road and nearby area, we thought he was gone for good.
Given Rhum’s talent for flushing out wild life, the thought crossed my mind of the possibility that Rhum might be able to find Beano if he found his scent. I didn’t share my idea with anyone as I wasn’t convinced myself but nothing ventured, nothing gained.
That evening when we left the garden on our walk, rather than taking Rhum where I wanted to go, I let Rhum take me. He looked up at me quizzically, unfamiliar with this change in routine and I said “where’s Beano, go find him”, (yes, I actually did say that). His nose went down immediately scraping the ground as usual and within seconds he picked up a scent and was off like a bloodhound pulling me in the opposite direction we usually walked. We crossed the high street, then went back again, he tried to get into people’s gardens, jump fences which I had to pull him away from and we finally ended up in a cul-de-sac, with Rhum’s front paws resting on a wall and his head stuck in a privet hedge. He was whining and his tail was wagging quickly; I knew there was something there, but it was pitch black and I couldn’t see a thing.
“What are you doing?” I thought to myself, “this is ridiculous”. I started giggling feeling I was in an episode from Lassie (for all of you who remember the TV show). As no-one was around I called out Beano’s name anyway, but there was no response. I called him again but nothing, so pulling Rhum away, feeling a little bit stupid, I turned around to go home. As we did so, I heard a meow and out from the privet jumped Beano. I could not believe it! Rhum was super pleased with himself, wagging his tail like crazy and I was speechless!
Rhum’s been part of our family for eight years and we have loved every minute. We were so lucky to have been offered him and I understand when other people I know with rescue dogs believe their dog saved them, not the other way around. The rewards you get from rescuing a dog are hugely fulfilling. They arrive scared, nervous, underweight and neglected but with a little bit of time and effort, they turn into the dog they were born to be, confident, handsome and full of life. My dogs have always been loving, but with a rescue dog, I’m convinced they know you’ve given them a second chance and so they love you that bit more.
Rhum with Ruth and at the beach.
Before you buy a puppy or dog as a family pet, please consider a rescue. If you favour a breed, most have a rescue charity and if you love mongrels, there are many charities in need of homes for their dogs.
A responsible charity will never just hand a dog over, they will want to meet the family and will match the right dog to the right family. If there are issues to be considered, the charity will inform you prior to the homing, so you’ll be able to make an informed decision. The last thing they want is for the homing not to be successful.
A wonderful quote on the Irish Setter Breeders Club Rescue site states, “Saving one dog won’t change the world, but surely for that one dog, the world will change forever.”
Here are some links to rescue centres:
Ruth Richardson, PA to Rolawn's Sales & Marketing Director