This was first published in Dogs Today Magazine
I’m not going to lie to you, I wanted to keep Storm. More than anything in the world, I wanted her to join our family. Unfortunately for me, Storm had other ideas.
Storm was settled at home with a human Mum who loved her dearly, she enjoyed nothing more than curling up on the sofa and this meant that her Mum had her best friend by her side at the time she needed her most. Storm’s Mum had a terminal illness and sadly her health deteriorated. Due to her care needs she was forced to make the hardest decision in the world; she had to give Storm up.
Storm went from being curled up on the sofa with her Mum, to the vet. Yes, the vet. Storm was going to be euthanised. Storm had never put a paw wrong; she had been a perfect, loyal and loving companion. Unfortunately for Storm, her impeccable behaviour, kind and gentle nature and love of cuddles meant nothing. She was taken to the vet and was going to be euthanised because Storm is a Pit Bull.
Storm’s Mum had done everything she needed to do to keep her best friend safe. Storm had been legally exempted and had the tattoo to prove it, she had shown that Storm had exemplary behaviour, was fully insured and abided by all of the rules that allowed Storm to remain as part of her family.
Thankfully, the vet who was due to euthanise Storm could see this beautiful young dog’s potential. They called in backup and Operation Storm was put in motion.
DDA watch is one of the organisations in the UK that works to support people and dogs who are affected by the Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) and within that, the Breed Specific Legislation that led to Storm’s extreme circumstances. Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) states that Pit Bulls are illegal in this country and only if they are exempt, based on their good behaviour, are they allowed to live. However, unless there are extreme circumstances, such as in Storm’s case, they are only allowed to have one owner, or registered keeper, in their lifetime. Storm was given thirty days to find a new home.
For anyone who has experience of rescue, you’ll know that thirty days is a very short space of time to assess a dog, ensure that they have accurate information with which to be advertised as ready for rehoming, find a suitable family, spend time with the family and the dog, complete the home check and finally wave an emotional goodbye as the dog leaves for their forever home. It’s exhausting just reading that!
Within thirty days, the task was to find a family who understood the rules and regulations around having an exempt dog and who were willing and able go through the relevant legal processes to make sure the new home would be approved by the Court.
But first of all, where was Storm going to stay while all of this was happening?
Storm was living in South Wales so DDA Watch called Hope Rescue. Without hesitation, emergency kennel space was found and Storm was safe while the search for her new family began.
Having gone from the comfort of her sofa to the kennels, Storm wasn’t coping well. She must have been so frightened and confused, having no idea what was going on or where her Mum had gone.
Soon after her arrival at kennels, I was asked to spend some time with Storm to find out as much as possible about her. Hope’s Rescue Manager made sure everything was arranged for me to spend as much time as possible with Storm while I made sure I was up to speed on the rules around taking Storm out of kennels.
The first time I met Storm, she was doing figures of eight, using my stomach as a springboard. The days were counting down and I was wondering how we’d find a home with padded walls and possibly a trampoline. She was frightened but gradually began to settle as we walked together and when I stooped down to offer her a treat; she immediately tried to climb on my lap. We found a quiet place to sit together and she did just that, climbed on my lap and attempted to lick my face. That wasn’t a comfortable experience, for either of us, as there was a muzzle involved.
Storm has to wear a muzzle whenever she is in a public place. She also has to be on a static lead, held by a person over sixteen, at all times. It was news to me that this rule includes when she is travelling in a crate, in a car. Oh yes, Storm can’t travel without her muzzle, or her lead. Even in the car, the lead has to be attached to her and a responsible human.
Walking Storm back to the kennels, I wondered how a prospective family would have reacted if they’d seen Storm for the first time that day. She was frightened, unsettled and faced with yet another new human. Seeing her like this would have been unnerving for the most understanding of families, and we were on a very tight deadline.
I wondered if I would be allowed to take Storm home. It was difficult to engage with her in a way that would give us meaningful information about her character while she was in this environment. She needed time and space to settle and begin to trust someone.
One of the things I have applied to every aspect of my work with dogs is that I need to set them up to succeed. This was the only way I could think of, within the timescales we had, to give Storm the best possible chance. After a couple of days, I was given the go ahead to foster Storm. In that time, the insurance had been sorted and the legalities had been checked; while I got the easy job of playing with the dog.
I then had two small panics. The first one was whether I fully understood all of the rules and regulations involved in taking Storm home. The second one was ‘what if nobody comes forward for her in time?’ Only one of those things was within my control and I spent a lot of time making sure I learnt everything I needed to know.
As I drove to collect Storm, I felt a wave of responsibility wash over me. One wrong move and Storm’s life could be at risk. If she was outside of my home without her muzzle on, she was at risk. If she was left unattended in the car and I wasn’t on the end of the lead, she was at risk. If she slipped out of her harness while we were out, she was at risk. All of the things I take for granted with my own dogs would need to be carefully considered with Storm. If the legislation isn’t adhered to, Storm’s life is at risk.
With that in mind, Storm’s muzzle, lead and crate were triple checked and while she was probably wondering who this slightly neurotic person was, she was willing to give me the benefit of the doubt for some squeezy cheese. This became a great investment as the quickest and most effective muzzle-friendly reward system.
Once home, I was curious to find out how Storm would cope in yet another new environment. My dogs were inside, occupied with kongs and my cats were occupied by their favourite pastime of snoozing, so Storm could explore at her own pace. We went for a walk so that she could check out her surroundings and then she spent some time in the garden. This was the first time she had been able to wander freely since she had left her Mum. She chose to try and get on my lap. Inside the house she had a quick sniff, jumped on the sofa and within two minutes was sound asleep and snoring.
Storm is a young dog and I thought she might like some canine company so after a decent snooze I got her kitted out and took her out for a walk with one of my dogs. He’s a young, playful hound and having seen Storm so energetic in kennels, I thought she might like to play. Back in the garden, my boy tried everything to entice her to play but at every stage she politely declined. Ok, maybe he was a bit too bouncy for her so we went through the same routine with Storm and my older boy. Nope, no playing, thank you very much. My hope that Storm would come home, meet the boys and join our family was not going to plan!
While I was having the easy job of sharing my sofa with Storm and teaching her some cues on the rare occasions that she was awake, all of the hard work was still going on. A potential family had been found.
At the first opportunity, Carly and her family made the long journey to come and meet Storm. We met in a park, near a small town so that we could walk together, relax with her in the park and spend as much time as they needed to get to know Storm and for Storm to get to know them.
‘Are you really going rehome a pit bull with two-year-old twins?’ was a question I was asked more than once. It was something that I had thought a great deal about too and discussed at length with experienced rescue. I can almost sense a raised eyebrow or two as you read that. Yes, Storm is now living happily in an experienced home with responsible adults and respectful children.
Of course, it was love at first sight and with support, Storm was able to move to what we were certain would become her forever home. The local police, the police dog legislation officer and the local dog warden were fully supportive of the application for Carly to become Storm’s registered keeper and the arduous legal process was completed with the happiest of endings.
Storm is now living the dream, she is surrounded by love, is learning awesome tricks and regularly goes to a secure, private field where she can run and play and feel free. We recently learnt that her Mum sadly passed away, but knowing that Storm was safe with her new family gave her peace, which had a profound impact at the most difficult of times.
Storm epitomises the reasons why Breed Specific Legislation is unjustified. I wonder if my own dogs were forced to live under such a strict regime, whether they would cope as admirably as Storm does. It was a privilege to spend time with her, learn from her and to now see her so happy and settled.