Scooby's Story - Part 1

by Sarah Cain

I have always wanted a dog of my own, but always said that I wouldn’t have a hairy, slobbery one, that was before I met Angel…

Four years ago I was going through a particularly painful period in my life when I got introduced to Darren, who rapidly become a permanent fixture in my life, Darren was accompanied by Angel – 8 stone of jet black, slobbering Newfy. Angel didn’t like me, I was obviously seen as a threat to her and her dad and she used to bark frantically whenever Darren came near me and barge us apart even when walking together. But after a while you could see that Angel was having second thoughts – maybe this new human wasn’t a threat but an added bonus, she did after all walk me and feed me… Darren and Angel moved in, I was totally besotted, with both of them! Angel was by nature as she was by name, she was a total darling, you could take her anywhere and everywhere with no problem at all, she would walk to heel off lead and never ran off anywhere, she loved everyone and they loved her back. Then suddenly she got sick and when nothing more could be done, we had to make the worst decision ever, the one we all dread, and stop her suffering - we were devastated.

Six months after our loss, I couldn’t stand it any longer; we had to have another dog. Darren was hesitant at first, which was understandable, but we discussed it long and hard and in the end decided we would try for a rescue dog rather than a puppy, we wanted to give a dog that hadn’t had the best start a hopefully better life. We thought perhaps that a different breed would be a good idea and we found Mable – a Saint Bernard – well; if you are going to have a big dog, make it a big one! Mable was to be re-homed, for pretty vague reasons, half an hour before departing to go meet Mable, we got a call to say they couldn’t part with her, their youngest daughter was too distraught. That took us back a bit and we took stock. The suggestion then was that maybe we could have another Newfy, but a boy this time. I contacted the Newfoundland Welfare Trust and we went through the vetting process and we were on the books. A short while later we got a call – what level of ‘issues’ were we prepared to deal with. I told them that we needed our dog to be people and other dog friendly, but that we were prepared for some training to be needed. I was told that they had a brown boy who was about 3 years old and ‘a bit bouncy’ but fine with children and other dogs.

So the following Saturday morning we departed early for Dorset. I knew full well that there was little chance, we would be coming home without a new friend. We were told to bring collar and lead (thinking back, that should have really alerted us). At the kennels we were taken through to the office and we waited until the door smashed opened and Scooby was upon us – leaping all over the place, rushing round in circles, shaking and slobbering – he was a total mad whirl-wind! We were told that he had been with a family who had 7 children and 2 dogs, they had taken him on from a couple who couldn’t cope with him because of illness, but the family couldn’t cope with him either and also couldn’t afford to feed him. He didn’t look abused, just underfed, neglected and sad. His coat was like orange matted straw and he had large bald patches all over his legs. He had big scared eyes, but he was so pleased to see us and kept licking us, that it was a fait-a-compli. His only possession in life was a battered teddy bear. Off we went with our mad lion in the boot, but he was as gentle as a lamb with Darren’s daughter who had come with us. He was as good as gold in the car on the long journey home and once at home, seemed to be very at ease with us, he had perfect house manners. All boded well.

We had talked with friends about getting another dog and the following day we arranged to walk Scooby with them. Off Darren went with Scooby who was like a steam train at the end of the lead. The 4 dogs all ran around together with no incident, all a bit cautious of this bouncy giant, but all was well, until sitting leaded up afterwards – one growl from the Akita and Scooby was off – in a flash he had dragged Darren over and had pinned Kez to the floor, his jaws around Kez’s neck. Darren made the very rash decision to stuff his fist into Scooby’s jaw – but Scooby was just holding Kez there, there was no real pressure whatsoever – small consolation in this nasty experience. It shook everyone up completely.

Over the coming weeks, it became very apparent that Scooby had more ‘issues’ than we were told about. I contacted the Welfare Trust, who were apologetic and said that if we wanted to return him they would understand. Returning him was not an option in my book, I knew he was a fabulous dog inside, but how to get that out? What I needed was help, not an unacceptable get out. I battled with the walking, convinced that he didn’t have a collar and lead because he had never been walked. The whole world was a huge source of total excitement for him, people (especially those in high viz jackets, hoodies or turbans), cars, bikes, motorbikes, cats, birds, foxes, you name it, it was full on.

Around the house he couldn’t be any more different. He was so quiet, so obedient, and affectionate – his manners were impeccable - he didn’t try to go upstairs or get on the furniture, he didn’t chew anything, there were no ‘accidents’. He loved to play and would allow you to do anything to him. Brushing was a novelty he took too very quickly. His coat started to improve, he filled out with proper meals and his bald patches started to fur over.
I set about finding a collar that might help with the pulling – we have a drawer full - nothing worked. I started walking him at the crack of dawn and very late at night, usually in remote places – all in the hope that we didn’t meet anyone or worse any other dogs. He was a nightmare and so strong. Darren gave up – he just couldn’t cope with Scooby not being like Angel. Then one day he knocked me over and across the road in front of car – luckily no damage, but it was then that I knew I had to do something serious.

I found a local dog trainer – he came to the house and ‘assessed’ Scooby – he insisted in putting him on a choke chain – I didn’t like it but was so desperate I went along with it. He managed to get him to walk to heel and not lunge towards his own dog but only with, in hindsight, what amounted to brute force. We went to his classes and made, I suppose, a small amount of progress with his basic ‘out of the house’ obedience, but other people and dogs were still a disaster. I don’t think the classes were necessarily bad, just totally not for dogs such as Scooby. One class reduced me to tears and total despair – I never went back and retreated to dawn and near midnight walking, deciding that was just what would have to happen to be able to keep him – and keep him I would.

Darren rang me from work one evening to say that one of his staff knew of someone who could help. I jumped at this immediately, found Kevin on the web and called him.
Kevin listened patiently to my tale of woe, asked all sorts of questions and then asked to see us, so Scooby and I went to the show ground at Detling. Kevin fitted Scooby with a gentle leader headcollar and carefully explained its use. Within minutes he had me walking Scooby past Zeb – I was in control-ish – it felt amazing – I could have cried! The next hurdle was Scooby off lead with Zeb which terrified me totally, but with Kevin in control it went ok, Scooby was definitely determined to ‘herd’ and had to be checked big time, but we made it through. Kevin then decided it was important we attend class – I agreed completely although with total trepidation. Kevin’s was ‘diagnosis’ of Scooby was that his issues were fear based. He was hopeful but realistic that he could help us.
Classes were a real challenge - Scooby lunged, barked constantly, whirled around like a mad thing, dragged me all around and had a few ‘handbags at dawn’ moments with several of his classmates. I got anxious and panicked at most of the training elements and the group walk was a source of complete terror for me. Scooby took on a Hannibal Lecter look for group walks, with the custom made muzzle I got for him, although not what I wanted, this kept both him and the other dogs safe and helped my nervous state.
Gradually, with Kevin’s help, guidance and endless patience, Scooby and I started to improve. Kevin’s calm, clear instructions helped boost my confidence, I started to calm down and could better handle each situation as it arose. Kevin did some extra research and came up with specific things to try with Scooby, to good effect.

Walking him at home also began to improve with the use of the gentle leader and it actually started to feel more like I was taking him for a walk, not the other way round! I was still anxious about what/who we would meet, but gradually felt able to venture out of the house a little earlier and even started to enjoy it!
I have had some real low points in the last year, but Kevin wouldn’t allow any wallowing and would gently but firmly put me back on track with encouragement and words of wisdom. Scooby and I kept plugging away, all through last winter and into spring – we would take 4 steps forward and 2 back – but each time I seemed to hit a brick wall, something would happen in class to give us that extra push we needed to get on again. I also learnt to take any improvement/achievement – however tiny – for what it was and relish it. All along this somewhat rocky road, I have had loads of help and encouragement from the other owners in my classes too – everyone has been so positive for me and a few of the other dogs seemed to be on a mission to help Scooby themselves!

Last summer the group walk muzzle came off! At first I was extremely nervous of this, but gradually I have learnt to relax more about things and I try really hard to let Scooby get on with being a dog. We do still pop his muzzle back on when new dogs first join class to allow for a ‘getting to know period’, just to be safe – we have come such a long way and we are not going back! To see him running around with his dog friends is just such a great experience for me - he still tries to herd occasionally, but most of the time he just enjoys chasing around and gives it a good go to keep up with his sleeker, faster companions – but always has time to catch up with most of the other owners too!

I took Scooby to my sister’s just before Christmas – a pretty normal event for most families, but for me and Scooby this was enormous – at one point I thought I would never, ever be able to do this, as she has 2 dogs of her own. Kevin gave us a strategy for introducing them on neutral ground and how to go about things when we then got home. Scooby couldn’t have been better behaved. I was such a very proud mum!


So now we are in a New Year and although I know we still have a long way to go, I feel so positive for Scooby, he is so much more balanced and happy. Kevin has been the key to unlocking this fabulous dog for me and I couldn’t be more grateful. 

Kevin's Comments.......Firstly a big thank you to Sarah for sharing Scooby’s story with everyone and secondly, a massive well done for achieving with him what you have so far. It is obvious that a dog this size will present anyone with the issues of size and strength but whatever Sarah has lacked in the power-to-weight ratio stakes with Scooby, she has more than made up with her determination and commitment to improving him and making him such a success. There have been times in class when Sarah has had to create distance between herself and the rest of the group to give Scooby a chance to concentrate and I know she has had the occasional low point with him but I am continually impressed with her dedication and ability to work through the issues with Scooby. It would have been so easy to have given up and gone back to the night shift lead walking as his shear size and strength would be enough to defeat many people when trying to deal with a dog that has proximity issues around other dogs but Sarah has never contemplated giving up and her devotion to him has been unwavering.

I would also like to thank everyone who has been in Scooby's class for their continued support for Sarah and for allowing him to take part in the group off-lead walks with their dogs. Without this help and support, Scooby would not have come so far. He has made fantastic progress and whilst not completely ‘there’ yet, it’s great to see him off lead and without a muzzle running with his class mates and having fun.

Keep it up Sarah, it’s all down to you!

Scooby's Story - Part 2

by Sarah Cain

New Year 2011 was cold and snowy and we couldn’t get to training much, but Scooby and I ploughed on happily together. We had so much fun in the snow, he loved to play in it. A few of the parks in Gravesend which were normally shut in the evenings were left open where the park wardens couldn’t get round to lock them so we had access to those and even found some new ‘select’ friends for Scooby to play with. Watching him tear around in the snow with another dog was just so brilliant. He would return to me happy, exhausted, soaking wet and with a collection of snow balls hanging off the ‘feathers’ on the backs of his legs. I couldn’t get him to understand that mum was only 2 wheel drive instead of his 4 wheel drive and that staying upright on the ice was much more tricky for me than him!

When the weather improved enough for us all to return to class, we continued to improve. His ability to be around the rest of the group got better and better, as did his concentration. He loved class and got so excited, he seemed to know it was Saturday and would wait for me standing on the second to bottom stair impatient to leave.

Scooby continued to love to run with his best mate Rusty before class – Rusty being the first dog to totally ignore Scooby’s less finer points and run and jump all over him regardless. Scooby always tried to keep up, but without any real hope. When Rusty had to leave classes due to owners Colin & Amanda’s change in work patterns, Scooby was bereft and kept running to the gate to try to search for Rusty. Fortunately for us Hoax and Skye took over the mantle with gusto and the chase was on again.

We moved into the first class of the day and Scooby very quickly became friends with Lui and Flora, running with them before class. He was fairly relaxed with the others too, although he seemed to hone in on the fact that Shukka would rather he left her alone – but even there, with a few verbal tellings off from her and some gentle persuasion away, it seemed to work well. This class was a bit daunting at first, as so many of the owners and dogs were really good and sits/stays/recalls etc,. but Scooby and I worked hard, and everyone was so friendly. Gradually we were able to dispense with the dreaded training line for most parts and his recall got better and better. He seemed particularly amicable to the down stay – Kevin assured me that as long as you can’t see day light under your dog it still counts even if he is upside down!

Agility was another favourite and being such a large lad was not going to hinder Scoobs, although he did struggle on the walk way. He also got a bit fed up with the tyre one day and decided that it was silly to go through the tyre, so just leapt over it – to a collective sharp intake of breath from myself and everyone at class, but Scooby was so pleased with himself when his feat resulted in a round of applause – so pleased he had to do the rounds to be congratulated by everyone individually!

Away from class he continued to be a dream at home, virtually never naughty and such a character. Our walks became a pleasure, even though we still had to be cautious about off lead meets. A giant retractable lead became a favourite tool, he got his freedom, but I got to hang on to him! Our friends who walked him a couple of times a week when work kept us away too long saw a big improvement too and they were now walking him with their own dogs and selected others, all very happily, increasing his positive experiences. We continued to visit my sister and even Ellie, her very cautious lab got used to him and discovered it was great fun to have him chase her without any worry of being caught! They even played in the garden and crashed out together after their exploits.

I then decided that we had hit a bit of a plateau, and whilst I was so pleased with his progress and very proud of him, I knew we had to carry on moving forward. It was then I decided we had to tackle Jeskyns. For those who do not know it, Jeskyns is a big park on the outskirts of Gravesend/Cobham – it is dog heaven (or hell depending on your view point). For me, it was definitely hell, but I was determined we could turn that around. So evening after evening I took him up there. He pulled, he barked, he whined, he went round in circles – it was like being back at the beginning again! People sympathised with me, one lady even wanted to know what head collar I was using as her dog (who wasn’t with her) was such a nightmare. Strangely comforting to know you aren’t alone… I chastised him when he flared up, I praised and him and stuffed him full of sausage when he didn’t and gradually, very gradually it got less intense. I don’t think I really realised at first, but one day a guy who I had seen regularly with his ever so well behaved hound shouted out to me – “getting much better” – I was so taken aback it took a bit to register what he meant, but I remember then grinning from ear to ear and giving Scooby a big hug. Scooby met and played with Flash – a year old basset hound - Connie the most adorable but tiny chocolate lab pup and various other dogs. Although things were far from perfect, there were still some dogs he just couldn’t cope with, it was going in the right direction. Scooby even met Charlie, from Kevin’s classes one day, only to prove to me despite all those attempts and buying him a life jacket that he could swim after all – he just needed a mate to go with!

And then so suddenly disaster struck us. On returning from a week’s holiday I collected Scoobs from the kennels and instantly knew something was badly wrong. The vet referred us to a specialist. The specialist told us he had leukaemia – I didn’t understand - my boy had been absolutely fine when we went away, it couldn’t be right. The test results showed us it was. My world caved in. The vet offered to put him to sleep for us there and then – this wasn’t happening – but it was. He explained it was stage 5 leukaemia and Scoobs had a secondary infection, most likely pneumonia, which was probably why he hadn’t shown any symptoms before hand, but had had this for some time. The disease had not only attacked his red and white blood cells, but also his bone marrow. Scooby was frantic to get out of the vets, something he had never ever been bothered with before. We knew we had to get him home. I asked the vet if he was in pain, he said no, so we decided that was exactly what we were going to do, and he would pass away at home where he felt safest. It was the best and last thing we could do for him. So I stayed by his side constantly for the next couple of days before he left me for Rainbow Bridge.

I was so grateful for the text messages and emails from Kevin and various class friends with words of support and sympathy. It was very obvious that my boy had touched a lot of people with his huge character.

I miss him desperately, but have slowly been able to reflect more on the happy times and at the fact that he and Kevin taught me so much. I have used some of that experience to help out at a large breed dog rescue of late – a path that has helped the healing process and has now led to adopting (in the New Year) another dog, Emi, from their ‘sister’ rescue.

Scooby was a dog in a lifetime for me, no other dog will ever fill his paws – although I know there will be others to love and enjoy. Scooby was brave, loving, funny and maddening. He was total proof that you can teach an older dog new tricks – just see what my boy learnt. He went from an unloved neglected mess who had never been socialised or walked to a fun loving, bouncy treasure who always tried his hardest for you, who learnt that not every dog he met was to be feared, some were really, really good fun to run with.

Kevins' Comments: I would like to thank Sarah for sharing the final chapter of Scooby’s story with everyone. It is still a shock to me that he was taken from her in such a sudden way and I am still saddened whenever I see his pictures on the website. He was not only a huge dog in stature, he was a huge personality and I miss him at classes. Sarah worked so hard with Scooby and gave 100% commitment to him which brought the results and huge improvements to Scooby’s quality of life that she wanted and he deserved. I can hand on heart say I have not met many other owners who have shared the same inexhaustible commitment and determination as Sarah and despite the obvious challenge that Scooby’s size, strength and issues with other dogs presented her, she never gave up. If there was ever an example of “you will only get out of this what you are prepared to put in,” then Sarah is a perfect example, I am just so sorry that she didn’t get longer to spend with her beloved Scooby.
They say that time is a healer and Sarah now feels ready to adopt another unfortunate dog, who through no fault of its own, has found its way into a rescue centre and Emi is indeed a very lucky dog to have Sarah as her new mum. I look forward to meeting Emi in the New Year and hope to see Sarah back at classes with Emi very soon.