Entering the residential home I saw him lying there, stretched out on the floor, his long, grey lanky legs in everyone's way as they stepped over or manoeuvred wheelchairs around him. Looking back, it was right then and there that it happened — the instant that was to turn my life upside down.
He seemed so out of place in every respect. I knew nothing about dogs but anticipated some reaction when I went over to talk to him. He showed not the slightest gesture of interest, tolerating my advances before slowly getting up and walking away.
On my next visit I couldn't help looking out for him, finally finding him lying on his back while someone bandaged an injured paw; that same disinterested look in his eyes; suggesting that his thoughts were far away.
During the next few weeks I saw him regularly, and he began to acknowledge me — in his own way. No wagging tail or over-excitement; well, no excitement whatsoever, but he did follow me round the building, patiently hanging around and looking bored as I visited different residents.
Who was he? Where had he come from? The first five years of his life are a mystery, followed by six months with the RSPCA in North Wales, before being rescued and brought to Liverpool by the manageress of the residential home for the benefit of the residents who loved him. He was quiet and well-behaved — the ideal dog for such an environment? He had very soon learnt to follow the tea trolley round from room to room, collecting treats along the way; and before too long the skinny grey legs were supporting a much too rounded belly and walks appeared to be few and far between; staff were fully occupied and residents were dependent on staff for their own day-to-day needs.
I was working there until quite late one night. Bo had followed me from room to room, but on this occasion he had brought his lead with him and dropped it at my feet at every opportunity. It was a late autumn night and the residence was on a dark road next to an even darker park, but we went there anyway. We may have spent 10-15 minutes in that isolated place before making our way back. I went inside with him, gave him fresh water before leaving for home, roughly a 10-15 minute walk as I didn't have my car that night. I was probably just over half-way home when I was startled by a sound behind me. I turned quickly to see Bo running towards me like only a greyhound cross can. I don't know how he knew which way to run and it became even more remarkable some time later when I discovered that amongst his many phobias was a fear of the dark. There was no choice but to return with him, and this time I made sure the automatic doors were closed for the night before once more heading home.
After this I started walking him whenever I could. It wasn't enough and his weight problem was getting worse. He loved to tear round in a huge circle then charge at me, only changing direction at the last minute and making me yell every time he did it. Yes, he thought that was funny. As I came to know him I realised that he was quite a character.
But Bo wasn't well. After this splurge of energy he would gasp for breath. I'd soon have a little group of disapproving dog-walkers around me, commenting on his weight problem as, feeling like Judas, I would assure them that he wasn't my dog! Before long he started to lose the fur from his underside, leaving a large expanse of pink flesh. He was being killed with kindness; he wasn't well and he wasn't happy. I complained.
He was taken to the vet and eventually diagnosed with an underactive thyroid. A decision was made to return him to the RSPCA unless he could be rehomed quickly. The staff loved him, but no-one was in a position to take him. He'd already met our cat and made his intentions clear. In turn, she hated him! Besides, I was working long hours and he'd be alone all day. I clearly couldn't take him, but I needed to know he was going to be alright. I asked to be kept informed and notified before he actually left. In the meantime I would help them to find a good home for him; that shouldn't have been too difficult. But I was overlooking the fact that he was, by then, seven and a half years old, overweight, balding and on permanent medication for his thyroid condition. He didn't help himself either. When he was feeling down he showed it. Who would take a dog that could look that miserable? He would even turn his back on people who talked to him! I advertised and received lots of replies from well-wishers, but no-one offered to provide him with a loving home.
Then one morning I came downstairs and noticed the answer-phone flashing. The message had been left the previous day asking me to call the residential home. I felt sick. Why hadn't I remembered to keep checking for messages? I didn't phone I just jumped into my car and rushed in. It was barely 8 a.m. A staff member called me into the office and told me that Bo had to go within 48 hours. 'Go where?' I asked. 'Well, to you!' I was told.
Which part of ‘No, unfortunately I can't take him’ had been misunderstood during those few weeks?
By 8.15 a.m. I was struggling through my front door with a large plastic dog-bed, one tin of cheap dog food — and Bo. My son was just coming down the stairs.
'Happy birthday, Mum — what's he doing here?'
Birthday? Oh yes, so it was! And it was time to leave for work!
The next two days were a disaster. I returned home from work on the second day to pick up the remnants of curtains and towels and anything else left within his reach. But what was more disturbing was Bo’s condition. Initially welcoming, as soon as I started to walk upstairs where I was to find the results of his anxiety, he began to tremble; his whole body shook and his nose just about touched the floor. The shredded towels were on the landing; the curtains in the front bedroom hung in strips. Clearly, he couldn’t be left alone again. He was hyperventilating and took some time to recover. What was he expecting? I’ll never know. We reassured him as much as possible and I resolved to dedicate all my spare time to finding him a loving home with people who would understand his issues. I contacted what was then the Dog’s Trust and sent his details, or as much as I knew, and he was placed on their waiting list to enter their kennels for rehoming.
On the third day, in desperation, I took Bo into work with me. I worked in a satellite branch of a larger office and, fortunately, had an office to myself. He slept much of the time under my desk. As long as he was not alone he was perfectly well behaved.
I don’t know how many people I interviewed with Bo hidden away. Many had no idea he was there, but one poor woman had quite a shock when half-way through our discussion Bo’s tail suddenly shot from under my desk in her direction. I was obliged to reveal the rest of him and, fortunately, she was fine about it.
Bo had first moved in with us in November. In mid-December my son Marc and I returned home after walking Bo to hear the phone ringing. I rushed to answer it and found it was the call I’d been waiting for . . . the Dog’s Trust. They had a vacancy and could admit Bo if we took him right away.
Right away … she was waiting for my reply. I could have quickly packed him into the car with all his worldly possessions — his bed and a cushion; a couple of tins of dog-food … but …he hadn’t had his dinner. I asked if it had to be ‘right now’ and was told it could be first thing in the morning at the latest as other people were on the waiting list and eager to have their dogs placed with them. I agreed to that. He’d at least spend another night in familiar surroundings.
After about half an hour I recalled the Dog’s Trust. It was mid-December. It seemed perfectly logical for Bo to spend Christmas with us before joining them. I could manage to hide him in work for a while longer and I’d booked some time off over Christmas and New Year. The woman I spoke to didn’t sound impressed. Why did she remind me of my doctor’s receptionist? I was five years old again.
I was informed that if I preferred I could provide them with more details and a photograph and Bo could be added to their register. If potential adopters didn’t see the dog they wanted in their kennels they would look in the register. I agreed very quickly. Who wouldn’t want Bo once I’d taken a happy photo of him? This way it would only involve one move into a happy, caring home environment.
And so it was agreed. Bo would stay with us until the perfect people came forward. In the meantime, Bo would be kept away from prey (our cat), would remain hidden under my desk in work, and would never be left alone or in a room with the door closed — another phobia.
We never heard from the Dog’s Trust again.
For the next six years I went to work each day with Bo. I am eternally grateful to colleagues who helped me to hide him. Of course, you will always remain anonymous, but you all know who you are. I am also grateful to those who looked the other way when entering the building so not to see Bo being removed through the rear door. Yes, I know you know he was there!
And I thank the visitors to that office who arrived with treats in their pockets and told me that they only kept appointments because Bo was there. Bo, my beautiful Bo, brought out the best in everyone.
Throughout those six years I travelled around the country on holidays with Bo. I visited places and met people I would never have met without him.
In 2009, at the age of 14 years, Bo walked Hadrian’s Wall and has a certificate to prove it. It’s not dog-friendly and we had to turn back on ourselves many times when Bo couldn’t get over the stiles and, equalling his age, well not quite, I couldn’t help him over them. But it was an unforgettable and wonderful two weeks. On one occasion we were totally lost and stopped by a stream for Bo to cool off. That’s when we came across ‘Almost Heaven’ and the slightly eccentric guy who hung out there, telling me he was building his house on the banks of the stream. When he showed it to me it was smaller than my shed, a little shack built with whatever he could find, and he had a sofa out in the open that looked as if it had been washed ashore some time in the distant past. He’d painted the name of his home on a stone and had a collection of shells and stones to adorn his ‘garden’. Bo splashed about in the water as I chatted for an hour or more, enjoying those strange, memorable moments in Almost Heaven.
About a week later we happened to meet again, this time in a small town. He introduced me to his friend as ‘the lady who travels on her own’. I could only smile; Bo and I knew better!
I left my job in 2008. The satellite office was closed and there was nowhere Bo could hide in the busy central office, although for a while I did try. I am eternally grateful to the misguided soul who attempted to report Bo’s presence. As a result of that complaint, which appears to have been ‘lost in the system’, Bo received even more support. But it spurred me on to make the decision to leave, and as a result of that decision I was able to spend every minute of two wonderful years with Bo, travelling, walking — just being.
I was with Bo when he passed away peacefully at 1.45 a.m. on 12th March, 2010. He was 15 years old.
To anyone thinking of getting a pet I would urge you to consider rehoming a rescue animal.
This had never been part of my plan, but I wouldn’t have changed a moment of it. Bo quickly became my best friend and soul-mate, much loved by my family and just about everyone who knew him. As stressful as my life became at times as a result of trying to ensure he was cared for, he repaid it a million times.
Should dogs continue to be bred in large numbers while beautiful animals remain homeless and unwanted?
I leave it with you to decide.