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An update on our 2015 Annual Appeal dog Molly

Wednesday, 11 May, 2016

ben sarah flick holly 5 resizeYou may remember during the 2015 SPCA Annual Appeal we shared with you the story of Molly, a 4-month-old Labrador who was rescued by an SPCA Inspector.

SPCA Inspector Andre found Molly tied up under a house alone while her family went on holiday. The rope she was tethered to caused a deep, chafing collar wound around her neck and Molly was lethargic and hardly moving. Inspector Andre knew he had to act fast to save her life, so he took her for immediate medical treatment.

After four surgeries and several months of recovery, Molly's physical wounds healed and she went out to foster care with two SPCA Canine Attendants, Ben and Sarah. The couple eventually ended up making her a permanent part of their family and renaming her Holly.

Sarah sent us the following update on Holly's new life. I think you'll agree that we couldn't have found a more perfect forever home for this special dog.

"Despite her difficult start to life, Holly clearly loved people but she was also very wary of them. Before she was up for adoption she was handled by the same canine staff and living in an environment that had become familiar to her. When she was moved to the new environment of the adoption modules she became quite fearful. When members of the public walked past the glass front of her pen she would rush towards them, barking. When she met new people she would back away and give a low bark – the message couldn’t have been clearer – “I’m frightened, please don’t come any closer”. The canine team decided that Holly would benefit from being in a foster home and Ben and I decided that we had the time and desire to help her. She was such a sweet puppy and it was grossly unfair that through no fault of her own she was terrified of the world around her. We wanted to show her that the world could be a wonderful place for a dog!

Our own dog Flick (also an SPCA rescue) was originally unimpressed that we had brought yet another foster dog home to share our attention, but Holly has slowly won her over. Flick is now like a bossy older sister to Holly – telling her off when she does things around the house that are not allowed, like jumping up and putting her paws on the bench, and playing with her in the back garden (when it suits her!). She’s taught Holly a lot about being around people and trusting them. Holly herself has always been great around other dogs and she gains a lot of confidence from being with them – she will often run up and greet a new person if they have a dog with them. Being able to take her to work at the SPCA where she can meet and play with lots of other dogs has been wonderful for her.

Holly has come with her share of challenges. Because so much of her trauma occurred when she was a very young pup going through a crucial development stage she has a lot of ingrained fears. The key to helping her has been to be loving and kind and to provide consistent structured boundaries for her – so, yes, she is allowed up on the couch for cuddles when she is invited, but no she and Flick are not allowed to use the couch for bouncing on and destroying toys and hiding gross bits of bone!

Her fear of new people is definitely improving – it’s been a matter of letting her take things at her own pace. If we are talking to someone Holly does not know, we will ask the person to just ignore her while we continue to talk. Eventually she will go up and sniff them and then back off again. It’s really important at that point that the person doesn’t try to touch or interact with her, as she is still working out if they are okay or not. We’ve got to know her body language and can tell people if she is comfortable enough for them to actually greet her or touch her. In this way Holly has made lots of new friends – she adores the whole canine team and can’t wait to get in to the office for our morning briefing so she can greet everyone. There are so many lovely gentle staff and volunteers at the SPCA who make regular time to advance their relationship with Holly – sometimes it takes quite a few meetings before she decides someone is a new friend, but then they are a friend for life. It is such a joy to see her in the moment when she realises she has added her list of “People Who Are Kind and Won’t Hurt Me”.

Because she was tied up for such a significant part of her young life, Holly is a collector of things. When we first brought her home she would gather all the toys she could find and put them in a big pile, lie on them and chew them. This is really common in chained dogs, as they have been severely restricted in their access to any enriching objects. We were concerned that she would start to resource guard and become overly protective of things. Flick helped a huge amount by teaching Holly how to play games where they share toys. We initially only gave her toys when she was supervised. We also had special toys that we used for rewards or for when she was resting in her crate but that she didn’t have access to the rest of the time. She very quickly realised that there were always going to be plenty of fun things to have and that she didn’t need to hold onto everything for dear life. She is also incredibly inventive and can turn almost anything into a toy – a small pebble can keep her entertained for ages while she tosses it around, jumps on it and skitters it across the floor. She is a very creative dog!

We think Holly has also been hit with objects in the past. When you take something large, like a milk bottle, out of the fridge, or a container from the cupboard, she will often cower and back away. We have spent a lot of time sitting with her on the kitchen floor with the scary object on the ground in front of her, letting her build up confidence to come up and touch it with her nose. When she does that she gets a big cuddle and lots of positive reinforcement. It’s amazing to see her then high step around the object, sometimes even play bowing at it and just showing such joy that she has conquered yet another scary thing. We are now using clicker training to actually encourage her to touch new objects and get rewarded for it. Our next ambition for Holly is to use her excellent sniffing skills and her love of objects to do some tracking and scent discrimination activities. That way we can harness her strengths to help overcome her fear of new places, people and objects by making them rewarding instead of frightening.

We have considered keeping several of our foster dogs but in the end we found homes that were so perfect for them that we were happy to let them go. With Holly, we feel like we genuinely are the best people for her to be with. She is so sweet and funny and it is such a privilege to be able to make a difference to her wellbeing every day. She has come such a long way but she also has a long way to go. Because her young life was so traumatic she may always struggle with certain situations and people and we want to be right there with her, reassuring her that she is safe and that we will not let anything bad happen to her."