Four year old rescue dog Cooper was seized as a ‘Pit Bull type’ last year and held in police kennels for almost two months. Here his owner Rachael talks to Bark! about the impact that the ordeal had on the family and explains how Cooper is now adjusting to life as an exempted dog.
Tell us about how you met Cooper.
“Cooper came into our lives quite unexpectedly! My husband, Mike, had recently retired from the armed forces following 23 years of service, which meant that he would be at home more often before starting his new career. One day, Mike called in at our veterinary practice to drop off a form for our elderly Westie while I was at work. When he arrived, everybody in the surgery was talking about a puppy that a man had just brought in off the street. The vet nurse asked Mike if he was interested in adopting a puppy and introduced him to a very skinny and poorly Cooper. Mike took a photograph of him and immediately dashed over to my work to show me. Did I want him? Of course I did! Later on we headed to the surgery together and Cooper was placed in my arms. It really was love at first sight. Sadly, the vet nurse broke the news that he had tested positive for parvovirus. With no owner to claim him, Cooper’s future looked bleak. As we talked about his chances of pulling through, I stared at the puppy on the table who could barely hold his head up and knew that we couldn’t just leave him in this state. We agreed to fund two days treatment and then we would re-evaluate the situation.
Although we had no idea if the puppy was going to make it, we dared to buy a collar and name tag, and told our two children, who were 16 and 22, that we may be having a new addition to the family. We anxiously phoned the surgery at regular intervals to check on his progress. After a few days, the vets decided that he was fit enough to come home with us, as long as we obeyed strict hygiene practices. At first he was very reluctant to eat or drink, but with the help of our two (somewhat unimpressed) terriers, he slowly learnt how to be a dog and began to settle into family life.”
What was life like with Cooper before he was seized?
“Cooper was a complete love bug. He loved nothing more than to cuddle up with us – we think he firmly believed that he was a small terrier as he would constantly attempt to sit on my knee. He adored everyone. He enjoyed puppy class, and even tried agility, which he took to like he did everything else in life – at 110 miles an hour! He seemed to want to know where we were at all times and was nowhere near as independent as our two terriers – he just wanted to be near us, which made him happy. As time went by he grew in confidence, and he loved the beach and swimming in the sea. He was generally just a fun puppy to be around and possibly the most loving dog we had ever owned. He had to have an operation to remove his tail to prevent infection, due to being diagnosed with ‘happy tail syndrome’, which basically meant that he was so happy that his continuous tail wagging frequently resulted in him making his tail bleed (leaving our house looking like a crime scene!). He quickly recovered from the operation and carried on with his usual lust for life.”
When did you first realise that there may be an issue with Cooper’s breed?
“On a number of occasions, people stopped us and asked about Cooper, and sometimes people would stare. In all fairness, he was stunning with his amber eyes and red nose, so we naively thought nothing of it. When he was about 12 months old, our daughter was offered a substantial amount of money for Cooper when she was out walking him. We brushed off any concerns and weren’t aware that there may be an ‘issue’ with Cooper until he was seized.”
Can you talk us through what happened when Cooper was taken from you?
“We had just returned home from a week at the coast where Cooper had done his usual thing of running at breakneck speed over the sands. Upon our return, his stomach had been a little unsettled (he occasionally suffered from an upset stomach due to his poor start in life), so Mike left the dog door open for him to let himself out. Unfortunately, Cooper escaped from the garden and was picked up by a member of the public and handed into the dog warden, who contacted the police. Cooper was visually identified as ‘type’ and taken to police kennels. I received a phone call from Mike who explained what had happened. We were both utterly devastated. We phoned the police and asked if we could take his bed, toys, and food, as we were concerned that a change of diet would be detrimental to his health. We were told that we couldn’t see him and they couldn’t tell us where he was. They said that if the food they gave him upset his stomach they would try something else.
I cried myself to sleep. I felt completely useless and had no idea what to do or who to speak to – we didn’t know anyone who had been through this before. Mike phoned a solicitor who gave us advice over the phone and stated that in their belief we weren’t a ‘high risk’ seizure and were unlikely to need legal representation, but they would willingly represent us should we need them.”
For how long was Cooper kept in kennels? Did you have any updates regarding his welfare?
“Cooper was seized on the 31st May and returned home to us on the 12th July. We phoned the police dog unit daily for updates, and initially our hopes were raised that Cooper would be considered to come home via the Interim Exemption Scheme [‘doggy bail’]. However, we were then told that they didn’t have the scheme in our area and probably never would.
I can’t begin to explain how we felt while Cooper was being held. I was beside myself with worry and needed to know that he was okay. He is a family pet who had never spent a night away from us, and I feared that he wouldn’t cope in kennels and would think that we didn’t want him anymore. The Dog Legislation Officer (DLO) assessed Cooper and came out to see us on the 13th June. He said that Cooper was fine and that he thought he was a good dog. After advising us to raise a few fence panels in the garden and taking photographs of his living area, the DLO was satisfied and said that he could see no reason why Cooper shouldn’t come home. Although this was a great relief, the toll on the family was immense, and we continued to have sleepless nights as the worry hung over us that we may be given a destruction order. My greatest fear was that Cooper would die alone. I couldn’t get away from the fact that we had saved his life once, only for him to potentially be killed for looking a certain way. The whole thing made no sense.”
Thank goodness that Cooper was able to return home. Can you give us a brief overview of the exemption process?
“When we finally got the court date, it couldn’t come quickly enough. The morning of 8th July, after a tense and sleepless night, we headed out for our first ever trip to court. The DLO met us outside and we chatted about Cooper and dogs in general. The moment in court came and went in the blink of an eye, and we were given a contingent destruction order, which meant that Cooper was going to be registered as an exempted Pit Bull type. We sent all the paperwork to DEFRA that day along with our fee, and headed out to celebrate with the family. As Cooper had already been castrated and microchipped prior to seizure, and we’d made the arrangements to have the third party liability insurance in place, we didn’t have to wait long for him to be released. We asked what size muzzle Cooper was being trained with and purchased a few of them. Once we knew for certain that Cooper was coming home, we put a post on social media to explain what had happened, and we received a lot of positive messages of support from our friends.
Cooper came home four days later.”
Has Cooper’s behaviour changed since he was seized?
“When he first came home, Cooper was very quiet. He was hoarse when he barked and he was smelly and scurfy. His paws were pink and inflamed. We took him to the vets and he was given some medication as his glands were up in his neck, possibly from continuous crying and barking when he was caged. He was also given some foot scrub to reduce the inflammation which seemed to be an allergic response, and we were advised that once he was back on his own diet it should resolve quickly.
Initially, Cooper only left his bed for food and walks. He looked sad and shut down. He accepted our contact but wasn’t as loving and cuddly as he was prior to being seized. My mum described him as “dead behind the eyes”. We wondered if he would ever return to being the Cooper we all knew and loved, or whether the experience had changed him for life. Gradually, he adjusted to being at home and became cuddly Cooper again, but he was a shadow of his former self in other ways. He developed separation anxiety and would bark, cry, howl and eat objects, including our leather sofa and anything else in his way, if we left him alone even for the shortest periods of time. His stomach issues increased significantly and he was diagnosed with colitis, which we were told is triggered by stress. On a few occasions he had some flare ups where he would pass pure blood. Our previously relaxed and balanced dog was now very anxious. He became reactive on the lead towards other dogs and also became nervous of strange noises.”
What adjustments have you had to make to help Cooper settle back into family life?
“We sent Cooper for training in a residential facility to help with his reactivity and anxiety. He returned to us obedient and slightly better, but was still reactive towards other dogs. Over time his anxiety increased significantly. I joined the ‘Reactive Dogs UK’ group and started following the care protocol which helped me to understand Cooper’s behaviour and which stimuli caused stress for him. I walked him in quieter places in order to start building up his confidence and reduce the triggers that he encountered. We then found a behaviourist who had a sensory environment and made an appointment to visit. Cooper now goes there on a regular basis. Upon their advice, we put Cooper back on a harness and use a lead which allows him to make choices for himself. This has increased his confidence as he isn’t forced to encounter anything he doesn’t want to, and we have found that his reactivity has decreased and he appears to be enjoying his walks again.
To help him further, we have changed Cooper’s food; we now feed him on a raw diet and he has no processed food or treats. This seems to have resolved his stomach issues completely and he has had no colitis flare ups at all since swapping his diet. We have also had a zoopharmacognosy session which allowed Cooper to self-select herbs and natural products that he may be deficient of. I was dubious at first but was amazed to find that everything he liked was used for the treatment of digestive conditions or for stress related issues. After the first session he slept for six hours straight! When we leave him on his own now, we leave some of the scents around the house which help him to relax. This may all seem a little crazy but we have chosen to rescue Cooper twice, and we owe it to him to do all we can to get him back on track.”
Have you noticed any negative reactions towards Cooper since he was ‘typed’ as a Pit Bull?
“Since one of the conditions of exemption is that Cooper must wear a muzzle at all times in a public place, there have been occasions where people have assumed that he is dangerous due to his muzzle. We have had people make comments and even pick their dogs up as we walk by, all because of how Cooper looks with his new unwanted accessory. Of course, these sort of reactions meant that he was getting less interaction with other dogs which initially increased his reactivity. We became reluctant to walk him and really took all the negative comments to heart.”
What advice would you give to anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation with their own dog?
“For anyone else facing the same situation, my advice would be to remain calm and focused. Prepare a court pack of your own, including information from your vet, records of any training classes you have attended and witness testimonies from your dog trainer regarding both yourself and your dog’s character. Be aware that there are people with lots of opinions on social media, and everyone’s experiences are different, so don’t read them thinking that your’s will necessarily follow the same pattern as this isn’t always the case. Try to get some solid advice from those who really know or have experienced the process.
Be prepared for the fact that people may not view you or your dog in the same way, and hold your head high. Don’t be surprised if your dog has changed – after talking to others it is more common than you think – just make sure that you support your dog to help them settle again. Most importantly, follow the court order to keep your dog safe. It brought it home to me when someone pointed out that having a contingent destruction order means that Cooper will not be destroyed only if we abide by the court conditions at all times.
The most important thing that I have realised is that Cooper is still Cooper – just because he meets the measurements and was deemed to be type, he’s still the same loving dog he was prior to being seized. He just needed a little time to adapt.”
Bark! would like to offer a big thank you to Rachael and her family for telling Cooper’s story.
To help put an end to breed specific legislation in the UK, please support Born Innocent, a registered non-profit campaign group focused on enacting changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. Further details can be found on the website and Facebook page.
To provide support for owners who have had their dog seized, please take a look at the fundraising page for Born Innocent’s sister group, ‘Putting Breed Specific Legislation to Sleep UK’. 100% of the money raised through auctions, raffles and ‘End BSL’ merchandise goes directly to help the dogs. Thank you.
A book containing the innermost thoughts of a poo-rolling, Kindle-eating, fish-hiding, seafaring rescue Lurcher may not exactly be at the top of your ‘must read’ list. But it should be.
Worzel, or ‘Worzel Wooface’ to give him his full title, was adopted from Hounds First Sighthound Rescue by author Catherine Pickles. After starting a Facebook page to provide updates on his progress, Catherine soon found that Worzel – and his unique ‘voice’ – was a hit, and ‘The Quite Very Actual Adventures of Worzel Wooface’ was born: the book Catherine says she never meant to write, about the dog she never meant to have.
The book is 140 pages long and is presented in a diary-entry style, starting from the day that Worzel first arrived. Worzel’s hilarious narrative, often echoing the exasperated expressions from the ‘hoomans’ around him, consists entirely of his own take on English (“I is covered in mud and fox poo, HAND cow poo, and I is being quite actual cross with hanyone who finks they is going to change this state of affairs”). Far from causing difficulties in ‘actual understandings’ of the book, this somewhat peculiar writing style provides many of the laugh out loud moments – such as Worzel referring to ‘being tense’ as “tents” and my personal favourite “in The Nile” for ‘in denial’. He also thinks that the computer is named “Uff”, from the noise Worzel’s ‘dad’ makes when he sits down to play computer games and says “Uff, I’m knackered”.
There is a variety of other canine pals featured in the book, including foster dog Pandora, a Wolfhound cross Bullmastiff who is so huge even at four months old that she earned the nickname ‘Pandora the Fridge’. The fiery personalities of the family cats ensure that there is never a dull moment for Worzel, or indeed for Worzel’s mum who sometimes has to deal with “Distressed Mouses in Hawkward Circumstances” and a certain incident involving a dead squirrel and the kettle. But Worzel is undoubtedly the star of the show. The various vet trips which he has to endure are both amusing and painfully familiar for anyone who has ever had to struggle with an anxious dog on the examination table. When given some ear drops, he comments that “Sally-the-Vet did give the rest of the bottle to Mum, so I fink Mum must have gunk in her ears as well”. Worzel’s antics at home are just as hysterical, from leaving his rather too realistic-looking toy rat in the bathroom to burying half-eaten pieces of mackerel in his bed.
Yet hidden amongst all the giggles is the serious side of the story. Worzel is a rescue dog and is not without issues, taking 11 months to be able to play with Catherine, and refusing to engage in ‘normal’ dog behaviour such as eating food that has been dropped on the floor – something which the family think he was punished for doing in the past. In this sense, the book is a tribute to other rescue animals who may have not necessarily had the best start in life, but are now living life to the full thanks to the patience and efforts of their new families.
I for one think that Worzel truly is a “luffly boykin”, and can’t wait to read his next book.
‘The Quite Very Actual Adventures of Worzel Wooface’ (Hubble & Hattie, March 2016) can be purchased here.
You can follow his latest adventures at Worzel’s Facebook page or on Twitter @Worzel_Wooface
American Bulldog ‘Buster’ from Telford, Shropshire saved the day when he alerted owner Natalie Blake that her three year old son, Charlie, had become trapped in the cords from a window blind. Buster began to bark at Natalie’s bedroom door, and, knowing that the dog didn’t usually bark at night, Natalie followed him downstairs, and was met with the terrible sight of her son being strangled by the cord. Buster’s actions have since helped to change the views of the family’s friends who, prior to the incident, had had doubts about the breed. See the full story here.
This isn’t the first time that a ‘bully breed’ has saved a life. Rescue Staffie ‘Gypsie’ woke owner Nicky Hoad in the middle of the night, by urgently licking her face, before a fire in an adjacent bedroom was able to take hold. Gypsie’s actions meant that both Nicky and her daughter were not harmed by the smoke, and the fire was put out before flames were able to consume their home. For her bravery, Gypsie was awarded the title of “Hero Dog” by the Daily Mirror as part of the 2013 DogsTrust Honours. Nicky Hoad runs bull breed magazine “No More Lies”, a new monthly magazine showing the positive side to bully breeds not often shown in the media. For more details on the magazine, see the No More Lies Facebook page here.
It is a shame that the mainstream media choose to overlook wonderful stories such as these in favour of those that portray dogs in a negative light. According to Dogs Today magazine, in light of the Lexi Branson case the Daily Mail have been contacting both themselves and Wood Green Animal Shelters in search of stories of biting incidents involving rescue dogs. In response, Wood Green are asking supporters to share their successful rehoming stories. Organisations and pet owners around the country have long been accustomed to arguing the case for bully breeds, but an attack on rescue dogs as a whole could have a significant impact on the numbers of animals being considered for adoption, which is something that the ever-full rescue centres throughout the UK can ill-afford – particularly when there are so many bully breeds looking for their forever homes.