A little over a year ago, it seemed like young Collie, Duke, might never find that special owner who could provide him with a home of his own.
For two years, staff at the Rainbow Rehoming Centre launched appeal after appeal to find him a home, but as they watched countless other dogs come through the doors and find their forever homes, Duke remained behind in the kennels.
But then something magical happened.
Anna Hyndman from Rainbow Rehoming Centre picks up the story: “Duke came to us from the Pound as an unwanted pet and he had behavioural issues. He was a beautiful dog but had obviously not been socialised properly. It took him a long time to find the right home and then he found Dee McCahill.”
Dee, who runs the Million Dollar Fitness in Derry, picks up the story. “I first saw Duke’s appeal on the Rainbow shelter Facebook page after they had created a video to highlight his plight. What made me take action was the fact that he had been there for almost two years and had seen many dogs rehomed within that time ... yet there was no hope for him.
“Duke reminded me so much of my dog JD who came from the Rainbow many years earlier. When I rehomed JD, I had literally gone to the Rainbow Shelter and asked for the dog that nobody else wanted. Both dogs had similar backgrounds, collies, unwanted, in care for a long time and showing signs of hostility and aggression however I knew I wanted to help Duke and so the journey began ....”
Anna said: “We had always looked for a home with no dogs for Duke because he didn’t get on with any of the dogs at the centre, but Dee, who had two dogs, just felt she could work with him. She said, ‘I would like to give this dog a chance’.
The first meeting was one Dee is unlikely to forget as Duke was “very hostile and VOCAL!” “Holy Moly he was loud and angry,” Dee says. “I knew from the very beginning it was going to be a long journey and that it might not even be possible that Duke could be rehomed with me as we (my husband [David Cowan] and I) had been told no initially as Duke was aggressive towards other dogs but where there’s a will there’s a way and I wanted to try.”
For the next two months, Dee visited the shelter during her break to walk Duke, progressing to just sitting in his pen, and as he calmed over time, grooming him. “When I could, I began to take him on beach trips and to work with me at Million Dollar Fitness which are now both regular occurrences in his new life.
“It was hard to build a rapport as there was so much activity at the centre that agitated him..And MEN! We were warned that Duke didn’t like men and sure enough the first time he met David, who is 6ft 2 - he wanted to eat him! And the second time, and the third LOL! We knew then that we had a lot of work to do but we didn’t give up.”
David then stepped into the role of the daily visits to try and build a relationship with Duke, and the Rainbow shelter were really supportive throughout and hired a dog behavioural specialist to help. “Almost four months in, it was crunch time: Can we do it? I didn’t see we had a choice. Duke had no life where he was and I knew we could offer him so much more if he could learn to fit in,” Dee said.
Anna said Dee was never under the illusion it would definitely work ‘but she has such a great attitude.’
“This dog didn’t like strangers, but Dee spent months beforehand coming in five, sometimes six, days a week building a rapport with him. She and David created a lot of structure and put in a lot of time with him even before they left the centre.”
And it paid off. Having spent half his entire life at the centre, staff say they were delighted to see him leave on a lead with his new owners. Dee says there were a lot of nerves when they brought Duke home. “We put up child gates around the house to keep Duke and our two dogs separate. At first, he couldn’t tolerate being anywhere near them and even now, we don’t leave them alone together. He’s happy to be part of the pack for short periods and then he’ll take himself off to the kitchen for some headpeace. One year on and we have made a lot of progress however we still have a long way to go. Duke is a dog with special needs, however, we knew that from the outset and were fully aware of the work we had to do.”
While unsure what Duke’s background was before he came to Rainbow that could make him react to other dogs and people the way he does, Dee and David have worked with a trainer to help integrate Duke. “I also have to say that if our other two dogs weren’t so laid back and chilled out, and without the patience and support of my husband who has been on the receiving end of Duke’s gnashers a few times, rehoming wouldn’t have been an option,” Dee claimed.
Commenting on the experience of rehoming, Dee advises: “Offering a rescue dog a home, you’re offering them a new beginning and you are also freeing their rescue space for the next dog seeking it. I would strongly advise people to do their research on the commitment a dog needs and the training they may require before adopting, and to also research the breeds to ensure they find the right dog for their home and lifestyle,” said Dee.
Anna added: “We couldn’t have dreamed for a better home for Duke, he needed somebody like Dee. They made it work. It was unbelievable the dedication they put in. Dee deserves a gold medal, and we just want to say a big thank you to Dee for all her commitment,”