Two years ago, the Mrs and I rescued a five-year-old white pointer/labrador cross called Cleo. Cleo had been passed around from owner to owner before we saw a post on a Cyprus expat facebook page that said Cleo was about to go into kennels unless a new owner could be found. Being the soft English dog lovers that we are we said that we would take her.
She is the perfect dog. Fantastic with children, rarely barks and is very affectionate. I couldn’t work out why she had been passed on from owner to owner.
We were told that she couldn’t be trusted off the lead and that she had a habit of running off and not returning. I thought this was an exaggeration and tested this immediately in the fields near our house in Cyprus.
Cleo was pretty quick in her youth. I chased after her to no avail. She was now out of sight. I called and shouted after her. Nothing. Only 10 minutes after becoming responsible for this dog, I had now lost her.
Defeated, I ran back to get my car with the plan to drive around to try and find her. After a few minutes of running in the opposite direction to where she had gone, I was suddenly joined by the white escape artist. I praised her through gritted teeth and put her back on the lead.
For the next 18 months, Cleo was kept on a lead at all times. She escaped from our garden on a handful of occasions but somehow we always managed to get her back. Usually covered in mud and with a big smile on her face. We had no way of knowing what adventures she had been on during her limited moments of freedom but we knew for sure that she loved being free.
I completely get this. I too love being free. The feeling of being in the wilderness, with the whole world to explore is both liberating and soul refreshing. It brings the same ear to ear smile on my face as it does Cleo’s.
Rehoming Rufus the hound
The Mrs and I also had another dog that we rescued from Cyprus before we took on Cleo. Rufus was found by one of our friends abandoned in their garden. He was a scared little puppy and we immediately said we would take him and do our best to give him a good home.
We had Rufus for over three years in Cyprus and the UK. Even though we loved and cared for Rufus, he had some issues. He was always scared and would bark at any passing men in the street, at work and friends that would come to our house. He would also try to attack most other dogs. But not Cleo. Cleo was so gentle that Rufus didn’t see her as a threat.
Looking after Rufus was tiring. Not just physically but emotionally. Especially as I spend so much time away with work and on my adventures. When I was away, it fell to the Mrs to look after him. We were not equipped to give Rufus the best life possible.
We made the heartbreaking decision to re-home Rufus after a couple of incidents where he tried to attack our young niece and nephews. One day in the future, the Mrs and I plan to have a family and we knew deep down that Rufus would not be able to stay. We just couldn’t trust him.
Luckily, we found a new home for Rufus. He is now living with a single man in his mid 40’s who has no young children. He has much more experience with difficult dogs than we have. As tough as this was, we felt we had made the correct decision.
Taking the first steps
Once I had rehomed Rufus, I could focus all of my energy onto Cleo. As Rufus was the problem dog, I had not given Cleo enough training and attention. I had taken for granted that Cleo was pretty much as well trained as could be and had come to accept that she wouldn’t be able to be let off the lead.
Cleo was seen by multiple dog trainers to no avail. One ex-police dog trainer basically told us that her behavior is learned and could not be changed. That she associates escaping with fun and happiness. I found it hard to just accept that Cleo could never be allowed off the lead. They must be wrong.
With my new job, I was able to cycle into work with Cleo from my house. She was getting plenty of exercise but I still felt that she would be happier if she could just be trusted off the lead. I had just moved to Wiltshire. My new house was surrounded by the rolling hills of Salisbury Plain, plenty of space for Cleo to run if only she could be trusted.
The best proof of love is trust.
One day after work I decided to test how she would do off the lead. Looking back, I’m not sure what prompted it. It’s probably due to having more time to devote to Cleo, and I felt she deserved another chance to be a real dog. I just hoped she would repay my faith in her by coming back when I called. We had created a bond over the 2 years together and she loved our walks and cycle rides.
I first let her off the lead on a private military road near the Salisbury Plain. It was a quiet day with no vehicles for miles. I was on my bike so if Cleo had decided to dash off I could probably catch her.
Slowly, I unhooked her lead from her collar.
She didn’t run off.
I couldn’t quite believe what was happening. Slowly she trotted beside me.
She now had freedom, just like that, after spending her whole life on the lead. She could now run as fast as she wanted without the shackles of the lead pulling her back to my side.
Cleo could now live life as a real dog.
This is the first in a series of posts about my adventures with my dog. Now she has repaid the trust I showed in her, we can go and spend time in the hills and the wild on some epic adventures.
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