Black Dogs

Black Dogs

There’s a lot of pseudo-research about black dogs and their time in the refuge, or about black animals and their chance of adoption. Some of this research has hard facts behind it. A black puppy is less likely to be adopted than his brown sibling, for instance. Many people say that black dogs are less seen in refuges, less likely to be adopted. Research shows that people spend much less time in front of the enclosures housing black dogs than they do for dogs of all other colours.

From a photographer’s point of view, black dogs are really hard to photograph. Cameras find it difficult to metre for black shades when they are in contrast with lighter shades. Many black dogs come out a dirty shade of grey which does nothing for their glorious, glossy coats.

Look at my Heston, for example.

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He still looks a bit grey even though I’ve really edited this photo.

And since photos are the main way to attract people’s interest in specific dogs, if black dogs’ photos can’t do them justice, it means that fewer people are going to come and see them.

Photographer Fred Levy was one such person to take an interest in black dogs in shelters. He shot them against a black background. If he faced as many people telling him not to do it as I did, well, he’d never have got it off the ground. Luckily, I’d seen what marvellous photos he was taking. Since I didn’t have any better ideas, and since I am a notorious magpie of all that is wonderful, I decided I’d do the same thing. Just without a studio, a professional camera, an assistant or any lighting. The day I hung up a sheet of black satin at the refuge was the day that everyone thought I’d gone mad.

But I got this.

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I just love the way the black background makes the black tones of a dog’s fur shine. It’s just stupendous. It took a bit of playing around on Picmonkey (in the days before I upped the stakes and invested in Photoshop) I still love this photo. This is Dexter, by the way. He’s a little bouncy. By a little, I mean in the way Tigger is a little bouncy. I think he has a lot of extract of malt for his breakfast.

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This is my lovely Pongo, who recently found a home. That’s a good thing because I was sorely tempted, and five dogs – well, that’s a whole other level of dogginess.

This is one shoot where you might want to see behind the curtain and know what I’m up against.

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This is my lovely Kayser. He’s my current favourite boy. He’s still waiting for a home, but because he is a category dog, meaning there’s a lot of paperwork and training involved in taking him because he is a crossbreed rottweiler, very few people will be even slightly interested in him. Category dogs are here for the long term very sadly.

He’s a great example of the ‘behind the scenes’

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I’ve got about a metre and a half of black silk, by three metres long. I’ve taped it to the side of the pound office, but the tape’s not holding, so Marianna’s not just holding Kayser, she’s also holding the black silk up with her knee.

At that point as well, everyone’s come over to see what I’m doing, and trying to get a dog to focus on me when I’ve got an audience of twenty is almost impossible. Plus, there’s always people who think THEY can get Kayser to look at the camera by calling him, so he looks at them rather than at me. Some people aren’t blessed with brains.

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Then you remember you’re working with dogs and sometimes they pull weird expressions.

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Or they move too fast for your camera speed, because you’re trying to be a good photographer and keep that ISO low.

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Or you get a kind of nice one, but he’s not looking quite at the camera and you’ve not got the whole head in focus, even if his eyes are.

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But then you get one or two you think you can work with. Then it’s ‘Next’ because you have twenty-five black dogs to photograph and you’re not sure you can get through them all.

In the end though, they all look marvellous.

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Unlike the Advent calendar campaign, where most dogs found a home within a couple of months, only four dogs of these ten have found a home. Balou, Elios, Eloy, Amon, Hoogy and Kayser are still waiting, as are Tyron, Carlos, Aster, Elga and all of their friends.

It’s time we all start looking past the ‘black dog’ and seeing a soul who needs a home.

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Advent Calendar

In October 2014, there were twenty-eight dogs over the age of ten at the refuge. Whilst winters can often be mild in France, it is not unknown to have weeks of snow, and I had no intention for these twenty-eight old dogs to be at the refuge over the Christmas period. No old dog should spend the winter at the refuge, sleeping in draughty corridors on damp concrete.Even comfy duvets and kennels don’t make much of a difference and it is not the same as being in a home.

For that reason, I thought of the Dogs’ Trust advert that said “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas.”

What if you could have a dog just for Christmas?

My first aim was to have foster homes for a two-week period over Christmas. Fewer dogs mean the staff have more time to focus on the ones who are there. And many people can’t have a dog for good, but might have wanted to foster a dog for a short period. I added a couple of other long-termers and hard-to-homers onto my list and set about photographing thirty-two dogs. There are twenty-four days in the Advent Calendar and I thought that a few of the thirty-two might reasonably have found a home, so it gave me a safety net. I am not a fan of tugging heart strings where dog adoption is concerned (which is why you won’t see many photos of the cages and the concrete – dogs are emotive enough without that!) as I think that it leads to emotional adoptions rather than rational adoptions. We all know which type don’t work out. For that reason, I don’t do it often.

But here were thirty-two old dogs who needed a break. Some had been at the refuge for years. Ufo had been there for seven, Dalton and Paulo six. Wolf, Tino, Usty and Edge had a five-year stay apiece. Alaska and Fairbanks had been there for four years. That’s some serious doggie time. These were dogs who needed me to remind the world they had a heart, so I was going to pull out the emotional stops. What would dogs wish for at Christmas? A family of course!

Back in October the refuge staff thought I was a little crackers to be setting up a Christmas tree, laying out presents. It took me a couple of weeks to process all the photos and then a couple of weeks to put the montages together. I was left with a fabulous set of thirty-two dogs. I prioritised the oldest and the long-stay boys and had the others as back-up.

It looked like this:

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Behind each of those doors was a little dog in need of a home.

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I put out a picture in French, English and German (we have many of our dogs adopted in Germany)

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And with each day of Advent, we revealed a “new” dog.

Some dogs didn’t make it to their calendar day, like Dalton and Voltaire, as they were adopted before their appearance. Toupie, Wolf, Artiste, Alaska, Fairbanks and several others found homes in Germany. Cachou went to Luxembourg. Ufo was adopted on my birthday, and Alaska and Fairbanks reserved, which was the best birthday present ever. Several dogs eventually went to English people, like Edge, Justin, Paulo and Doucette. And Tobby of course. He lives with me.

They didn’t all go before Christmas. Nine had been adopted by Christmas day, out of the thirty-two. Twenty-four had been adopted by the end of February.

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Almost a year later, all but three found homes. Noah and Gentil are still waiting.

My lovely Drack sadly died of a stomach torsion. He was twelve years old. For a shepherd cross, that’s not a bad innings, and he hadn’t been well for a long time. I’m still upset. I promised I’d find him a home and he’s one name I will never be able to write adopted across.

That said, so many dogs who you might have thought had a less-than-zero chance of being adopted… WERE adopted. Wobbly Bob, a.k.a. Tobby is asleep at my side, which is a bit like cheating just to make the numbers up. Still, I’m happy about that.

In the meantime, Gentil and Noah still need a home.

You can read about Gentil here. He’s not a well boy and he would really appreciate a quiet home. At the moment, Marie the vet nurse wants to keep him at the refuge until all his tests are back. It shouldn’t stop you reserving him though.

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It would be nice if there were no old dogs or old-timers at the refuge this winter. Sadly, kicking your old dog out before the holidays is par for the course, so a new Advent calendar will be running for 2015.

Operation Oldie

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Adopting an oldie is a decision that many families make not quite knowing what they are letting themselves in for. None of us know how long our dog will stay with us and we make the decision with two very big questions in mind.

Can I face the inevitability of their death?

Can I manage the financial responsibility of an older dog?

Whilst these are very real considerations to bear in mind, it’s important to remember that it’s a sad fact that all animals will die and we have no way of knowing how far into the future that time will be. A one-year-old comes with no guarantee of living until they are eighteen. A ten-year-old has no guarantee of dying within the next year. We simply can never know how many days a dog has in it. Of course, adopting an oldie, it is more likely that you will have to face this situation sooner than you would if you adopted a younger dog, but there are several reasons why you should bear age in mind and then make a rational decision that puts age firmly back where it belongs: with every other decision you make about adoption. It is something you need to know, but not something you should base your decision on.

Sadly, many conversations involving adoption are focused on age. Too often, we see the age of the animal as a hindrance and do not take into consideration our own age. Around twenty percent of the dogs at the refuge have arrived there following the death of their owner.

Many dogs at the refuge spend longer than average waiting for a home if they are old. At the refuge, we even have discussions about whether or not we want to put the age of the dog on their public information records, as so many people are put off by knowing the dog is a golden oldie. “Too old!” is a statement the refuge staff are used to hearing.

Honestly, that’s a bit of a shame.

Take Ralf.

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Although Ralf was twelve when he arrived with me, he didn’t act it. He was in great health for a dog of his age and size, and he even won Dogs Today Magazine’s Golden Oldie of the Month award. Only twenty four hours before he died, I found myself wondering if he’d make it to eighteen. Whilst he had only seven months of retirement at my house, following his arrival at the refuge in June 2014, he reminded me of several things.

  • Old dogs don’t have to cost you a lot of money in vets’ bills. Ralf had accrued one vet bill of 68€ other than his final bills at the end of his life. He’d got in a scrap with a badger and I was worried he’d get an infection. 40€ of that fee was for an emergency appointment.
  • Old dogs aren’t all old codgers. That wasn’t the first badger he caught. He is also the only dog I’ve ever owned where I had to say, “you are not bringing that dead boar in the car!”
  • If YOU don’t adopt the old boys, the likelihood is that everyone else will walk past them as well.
  • Walking past the old dogs in the refuge for precisely that reason increases the likelihood that they will pass their last days and months there, dying of old age. That they were left homeless in their golden years is disgusting enough; to be judged over and over again because we’re too squeamish about death is just as sad.
  • The death of an old dog in your arms is much less painful than knowing they would have died behind bars at a refuge if you hadn’t taken that chance.
  • The sadness of a death after seven months of adopted life doesn’t mean that you wish those seven months weren’t a risk worth taking.
  • It’s still sad to think of Ralf, six months after he died. It still makes me laugh to see his goofy face and his big head. My life would be poorer for never having had him in it.

So think about age. Take into consideration as you would with a two-year-old dog. But unless you are prepared to say, “I can’t take this two-year-old dog because they might die,” please don’t say it of a ten-year-old either.

Think about cost too. Know that the cost of a dog’s old age will hit you whether you face it right now or you face it in ten years’ time. At some point, unless you plan on dumping your dog at the refuge, you will have to pay the price of having a geriatric animal in your care.

Then bear in mind that Fondation 30 Millions d’Amis provide a fund for many elderly dogs in refuges across France to promote their adoption. When you adopt a dog from one of their partner refuges, you can access up to 600€ for vets’ fees. You take your dog to the vet. The vet sends the bill to Fondation 30 Millions d’Amis. It’s that simple.

Other than the costs of vaccinations or euthanasia, the fund can be used for any treatment over 30€. Your vet may also keep a running tab for you so that smaller medications can be totted up and run together to send on one bill. You have no paperwork to fill out; you hand over your “proof of adoption” letter and the vet does the rest.

That can be very useful when you take on a dog like Tobby.

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Tobby came with advanced arthritis. He had been at the refuge for fourteen months and his condition had been deteriorating progressively. A bout of giardia didn’t help either. He weighed 21kg when I adopted him – very skinny for a Malinois.

Unlike Ralf, who had no ongoing medical issues and nothing that was “treatable”, Tobby takes daily medication for his arthritis. At 30€ a bottle for 10 days’ treatment, it’s on the expensive side. Plus, he has a specialist diet. However, when I asked the vet for the best way to economise on his treatment, she ordered a bigger bottle that lasts for three months and costs 80€. That means it will be many, many months before I need to start paying for Tobby’s treatment out of my own wallet.

To be frank, the expense of a fourth dog would not be one I would be able to pay for had I not got the support of this fund. I’m sure there are many people who might like to take on another dog but do not have the means to pay vets’ bills. Fondation 30 Millions d’Amis make it an easy decision to make. Knowing that Tobby has had six months of life in a home with warm beds, exercise, cuddles and good food without costing me very much at all is definitely something to consider. I don’t know how many good days he has left in him: I monitor his health and quality of life constantly without knowing if next week, or next month, he may not want to go on any more, or may not be able to.

Will it be hard when it’s his time? Of course. It’s always hard when a dog or cat leaves our life. But seeing him lying on the couch across from me, staring at me with a profound intensity that’s either adoration, confusion or wind, it’s a whole lot nicer than knowing he’s in the refuge, still waiting for his forever home until he’s given up hope completely.

If you would like to know more about Operation Oldies, or you would like to adopt one of our beautiful oldies, please get in touch.

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