Pet rescue is no walk in the park

Guest writer Lucy Parks recounts the pleasures and perils of adopting a rescue dog

A DOG CALLED YELLA

I CAN’T remember a time I didn’t want a dog.

My mother – who doesn’t like animals, hence no childhood dog – tells stories of me toddling up behind German Shepherds as a kid, just to give them a hug. To me, dogs were there to be loved and cuddled and I knew that, one day, I would fulfil my dream.

Cats filled the gap as I worked full-time and simply didn’t have room in my life for a dog.

FRESH START: redundancy prompted Lucy to consider the possibility of owning a dog

Everything changed when I hit 50. Made redundant, I took the opportunity to pare back my life, stay local, work less. The moment had come. I always knew I was going to go down the rescue route but, having two cats at the time, it proved difficult with the UK rescue charities. They, understandably, want to be sure that when they re-home a dog into a house with cats, the dog (and cats) will be comfortable.

FACEBOOK STAR: Yella and Lucy’s artwork on the Cyprus Dog Rescue page

After a few months of looking, a friend with a Cypriot rescue dog suggested a Facebook group I might be interested in. To cut a very long story short, in July 2018, Yella flew into the country and into my arms.

Yella (Greek for “laugh” because, in the first photo we saw of her, she had a big grin) is a Kokoni-cross, a small, domestic Greek terrier known as “the daughter’s dog” for their gentle and devoted nature.

WINNING SMILE: the first picture Lucy ever saw of Yella

She was six months old, scared stupid and didn’t speak any English. But from the first moment we saw each other, on a dark night in the car park at South Mimms service station, it was love.

SECOND THOUGHTS?

I’VE made a terrible mistake…

The first few days with Yella, my new rescue dog, were terrifying for both of us. She was away from everything she knew – albeit that she was only six months old – and not just in a strange home but in a strange country. She’d had an arduous plane and truck journey to the UK from Cyprus and, despite having wanted a dog forever, I had very little idea of what it actually entailed.

Yella wasn’t house-trained; she’d never worn a collar or harness or walked on a lead before; she’d not seen traffic before; she didn’t know how to play; wasn’t interested in sticks or balls. Oh and I discovered that she was in season, which is why she hadn’t been neutered before she came to me.

She followed me everywhere. Everywhere. I thought I’d never be able to leave the house again. I thought I’d made a terrible mistake.

HALFWAY HOUSE: Yella’s first night in the hallway

That first night, I’d slept in the hallway with her, next to her crate, waking up regularly to take her outside for a pee. She never really took to the crate, though, and it became a bit of a tussle every night. The sound of a puppy crying in her crate is just heartbreaking.

But as time went on, we both adapted as we got to know each other. Yella came to ParkRun with me at Rickmansworth Aquadrome, she came to the beer shop in Amersham and she revelled in the love and attention she got from my friends.

I guess I was hideously naive at the start. I was impatient to have the perfect pet but any dog, especially a rescue dog, needs time, understanding and patience.

Yella hadn’t had a bad start in life, she wasn’t abused or neglected, but she’d been brought up in shelter and her new life in the Chilterns could not have been more different.

discovering the chilterns

ONE of the very best things about getting a dog has been discovering the Chiltern Hills.

I’d lived in Amersham for 15 years when I got Yella and I was familiar with the well-trodden commuter route between home and the station but, admittedly, I’d explored very little further than that.

EAGER ANTICIPATION: Yella ready for walkies

Yes, I liked going out for walks but it always felt a bit, well, empty without a dog. Now I was forced to venture down footpaths and into new places in search of good walking routes.

As well as finding the stunning scenery that had been right on my doorstep all along, I was blown away by the dog-owning community.

In my first few weeks with Yella, I spoke to more people in my home town than I had in the previous 15 years. Dog owners are always ready to stop for a chat, exchange stories and coo as their pets sniff each other’s butts.

It’s provided a totally unexpected, if slightly unusual, social avenue. I know very few owners’ names, but I know Lily, Arthur, Hector, JJ, Buddy and Billy – and Yella greets them as old friends.

One of my first regular walks with Yella was to Hervines Park in Amersham, which has the winning combination of open parkland to run in and long, deep woods to explore (where squirrels might be found).

The first time I lost Yella

IT WAS at Hervines Park where I lost Yella for the first time.

She’d not long been off-lead and I was still a bit nervous, but she’d always stayed close… but she was getting braver. In the woods at the edge of the park, she suddenly bolted off, chasing a squirrel. I called and called – Yella’s recall has always been a bit selective – and after a few minutes I started to panic.

OFF THE LEAD: exploring Hervines Park in Amersham

Hours passed. Well, it was probably more like five minutes but felt like hours, and then I spotted two women and their dogs walking up through the woods. They hadn’t seen Yella, but they sympathised for a while. As we stood there, a man approached us from the woods with five dogs in tow.

It took me a moment to realise that one of them was Yella. My heart leapt and, boy, was she happy to see me. It transpired that only two of the dogs actually belonged to the man; the others had just joined his walk…

There are always lots of dogs to run around with at Hervines Park and it remains one of our favourites. It can be approached from many different directions, there’s parking at the end of Hervines Road and, if you feel inclined, can walk for miles.

stunning views on the doorstep

WITH hindsight, twilight wasn’t the best time to embark on the new walk that a local runner had told me about, especially one through woods.

I was a bit scared but Yella was oblivious, excited to find a whole new world of sniffs.

It was literally five minutes down the road from home on the Amersham/Chesham Bois border and yet – like many of the other walks I’ve found – I had no idea it was there.

At the end of the quiet but well-established wooded path, I could see daylight and we hurried towards it. We found ourselves crossing a railway bridge and then – oh goodness me, what a sight to behold: the Chilterns Hills, laid out before me like a landscape painting in the late afternoon sun. I could only stand and stare. It was simply stunning.

REGULAR WALK: the light at the end of the footpath that leads to the Big Field

The Big Field, now one of our staple walks, lay ahead, a popular area with dog walkers and kite fliers. It’s on the side of the Chess Valley, exposed, open and perfect for crazy running.

We headed across the field to the left, following the path down the big hill. Only the occasional passing train on the Chesham branch of the Metropolitan line, high above you, reminds you that you’re in the Home Counties.

OPEN ASPECT: Yella takes in views of the glorious Chilterns

The footpath cuts through the valley, under a railway bridge with fine graffiti to the left and up into Blackwell Stubbs, a small but well-maintained woodland. Back up another hill – well, this is the Chilterns – and take the left fork up into Stubbs Wood (that’s a road, not a wood).

This is a lovely circular walk that takes about 45 minutes. Yella loves the variety of woodland and open space, the potential for deer and squirrels, and the chance to meet canine friends.

In the same area of Amersham are Chesham Bois Common and Great Bois Wood, both firm favourites with many different routes to explore.

FIRM FRIENDS: Lucy and Yella in the Big Field

It’s but a tiny area of the Chilterns and it offers so much. Yella and I have loved witnessing the changes of the seasons here, from slipping through snow and slopping through mud to hot summer evenings in the shade of the ancient beech trees. We are truly blessed to live in such a wonderful place.

Lucy Parks lives in Amersham, in the glorious Chiltern Hills. She adopted Cypriot rescue Yella in July 2018, her first dog. A journalist by trade, Lucy left corporate life in 2018 and set up her business, Parkslife, as a freelance journalist and artist. She’s also a veterinary receptionist, allowing her to indulge in her love of animals.

NEXT TIME: Yella delivers her biggest surprise