Iggy the Hymer motorhome is sitting in the pre dawn dark in the charming harbour at Agios Sostis in Zakynthos. I am startled to realise it is a week ago today since I carried Marley Dog away from her dark den in the bushes and into Iggy’s warm, comfy interior. While I write this Marley chews her toys on her bed by my feet. Gets up when she feels like it and wanders over to her dish for a casual drink of water. Before I finish I know she will get bored and I will have to stop what I’m doing and go play with her for a while. If I don’t she will chew the furniture to make me pay attention! Where is the terrified pup of a week ago in this naughty, playful, bolshie fur ball at my feet? And why is she still here?
Good questions! Good questions indeed!
When we spent the day coaxing Marley out of the bushes we had no intention of keeping her. All our focus was on finding a rescue centre that we could take her too. Getting a dog was definitely not on our radar. We’d just got our freedom and weren’t looking to put limits on it. And if we ever did get a dog it certainly wouldn’t be a puppy. House training in a van does not sound like a fun experience. And then there’s the chewing. And the lack of space. Our van was just perfect the way it was. Just the two of us and our wee pal Danger Mouse. He’s got attitude enough without adding a dog into the mix!
And then this manky, flea ridden, wee fluff ball went and put her trust in us. If she’d just run right up to us in the first place it wouldn’t have been a problem. We’d have Awed and Oohed and gone all soppy and starry eyed at how cute she was. I’d have said “Aw! I want to keep her!”. Jay would have said, “We’re not having a dog!” And we’d have handed her over to the nearest rescue centre with a last affectionate pat and a sense of a job well done.
But she didn’t just run right up to us did she? Oh no! Not Marley. She crept in and out of those bushes breaking our hearts with her timidity all day long. What could have happened to make her so scared we wondered? Who had done this to her? Poor, poor, abandoned puppy. It was an awful thing to see.
And then she decided to go and give us a try. There was no shaking. She’s…got to the bored bit, and I’m playing with her now to try and stop her eating my shoelaces! Where was I? Oh yes…!
She’s a very calm dog is our Marley. Even when she’s frightened there’s an enormous sense of calmness from her. Of stillness. She has an awfully big spirit this little one. And an enormous well of courage. And it’s that courage and spirit that’s got her lying on my floor right now I guess. That brave decision to take a chance in the midst of her trauma. And this was one traumatised puppy. One smelly, dirty, flea ridden traumatised puppy!
We didn’t talk about it when we brought her into the van. It was strange really, but there was never a conversation like “So are we taking her to a rescue centre or are we keeping her?” She just sat on our floor and looked up at us with those eyes. Asking us,
“You’re not going to hurt me are you?” “You’re not going to throw me away again?”
Jay fed her some salami. She drank more water. She drank so much water. And we just started talking about what needed to be done. Calmly, matter of factly, we just got on with it. Without a word being said our world had just changed forever. It wouldn’t be acknowledged until the next day when our friend Romie would tell us we could leave the pup with Sue and get on with our travels.
“We’re not leaving her!” Jay exclaimed indignantly. “She’s our dog now!”
Marley was ours. Or we were hers more like. She had claimed us when, terrified, traumatised, she put her little/big doggy heart in our clumsy hands and asked us not to break it again. There was a silent agreement between the three of us. Dogs don’t use human words, but the conversation had taken place nevertheless. Between her eyes and ours we had agreed, somehow, and we knew it. And we knew Marley was waiting to see if we meant it. Waiting to see if it was true.
First things first after food and water was a blanket for her to lie on. Second was the stench. We didn’t have any dog shampoo, and didn’t really want to further traumatise her with a bath but – Oh my goodness! – that stench! Marley smelled like a busy urinal that hadn’t been cleaned for at least three years. And that my friend is no exaggeration!
Human shampoo is not good for dogs, but that smell, and the germs that must go with it, would have to go. Immediately! Jay got some gloves to guard against the ticks and fleas and lifted Marley into our shower tray. We felt so sorry for her to have to suffer this after everything she’d been through, but Marley hardly batted an eyelid. With what we’ve now come to recognise as her characteristic calm, she sat quietly while Jay washed the worst of the stink out of her fur.
After her bath she licked my nose while I towelled her dry, and then settled with a sigh on her blanket in front of the blown air heating vents. She wriggled herself blissfully into the softness of the blanket and went to sleep. Every now and again she would stretch. Streeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeetch!!!!! The stretch of someone who has been cramped and uncomfortable for a long, long while. Luxuriating in the space, the warmth, the safety. Every time she did it we felt tears rise in our eyes. As we say in Scotland…”Wee Soul!!”
With all the immediate issues dealt with we had to figure out what to do next. We’ve never done the pet passport thing before, but we knew Marley would need to have one before she could come into the UK. We also knew there was a waiting period after the rabies vaccination before she could enter the country. What we didn’t know was how long it would take and how much it was going to cost. Then there was the flea and tick drops, the worming tablets, her standard puppy vaccinations. On top of that the basic day to day essentials: lead and harness, bed, toys, food. Was this going to be manageable?
Our immediate worry was that no, it wasn’t. We had enough money to pay for it all. And we had enough money to stay away until it was all done. Maybe. What we didn’t have was enough money to pay for it all and stay away until it was all done. We travel to a very tight budget. In order to do this we work extremely hard for half the year, and save half of everything we earn. Nights out are rare and we don’t buy anything we don’t really need. This gives us our travelling money for the other half of the year. If we go over budget we have to come home early. It’s as simple as that.
We didn’t know how much it was going to cost for everything for Marley, but what we did know was that she needed it. So we agreed we would just have to go ahead with it all. It would be, what it would be. The best case scenario is it wouldn’t take too long to get it all done. The money we would spend on her would mean we’d have to cut our trip short and go home early, but if that’s what it took then that’s what it took.
Our biggest fear was that it would take ages to get her sorted and legal. Having spent a few weeks worth of our budget on her we’d have to go home, but she wouldn’t be allowed to travel. What then?
We didn’t know. But what we did know was there were fleas crawling around her head and she needed cuddles we couldn’t give her until they were all gone. We’d seen a vet when we walked into the town earlier. First we’d get a good night’s sleep and tomorrow we’d start at the vets.
“I guess we won’t be seeing Olympia then.” I said to Jay as we yawned our way into dreamland with the pup.
In the morning there was a little puddle on the floor. Nothing we could do about that as we couldn’t let her out until we’d got a harness and lead. We cleaned it up without a fuss, packed Iggy up and drove the mile and a half into town to the vets. We were worried Marley might get really scared when we started driving. She’d clearly been dumped at the roadside from a vehicle, so it would be understandable.
It turned out we were right to be concerned as Marley left her blanket as soon as we started moving and came and sat between us at the front. She was clearly not a happy dog and sat miserably, head down, tail between her legs, pressed tight against the side of Jay’s seat. I gave her lots of strokes and soothing words, and thankfully we were only a few minutes away. It was just heart wrenching to watch her. She didn’t freak out and run around in a panic, but she clearly thought this was it. We were on our way to dump her. The rescue had only been a dream after all.
She calmed down a bit when we arrived in the vet’s car park and spent some time sitting with her and chatting about her next move. If the driving had been traumatic it was nothing on what she was going to go through when we took her out of the van. Maybe we should leave her in the van this time? Let her get used to us a bit more? But how could we get the right sizes of everything if she wasn’t with us?
In the end we decided that the best thing for her was to go through the fear and see that it was groundless. Awful as this was going to be for her the fear would always be there until we took her out of the van and brought her back again. This time we’d be coming back with dog food and toys and a nice bed. Everything good was going to happen instead of everything bad. We knew it made sense. But we still knew it was going to be really hard on Marley.
I was going to need my hands for picking out her stuff so Jay was to carry Marley. He got out of the van and I passed a cringing, terrified, frozen puppy out to him. She was so petrified her bladder promptly voided all down his front. We felt like monsters. If we could feel anymore determined to keep this lovely creature and help her feel safe again this was the moment that cemented it completely. We had to show her she wasn’t getting abandoned again.
Thankfully there hadn’t been all that much in her bladder to come out and most of what there was had missed Jay on it’s way to the ground. He had a few spots of urine on him, but we could survive a trip into a vet shop like that. In we went, Marley being soothed and stroked all the way. The two shop dogs terrified her. The smiling Greek woman behind the counter terrified her. Jay passed her to me for a minute and she tried to bury herself in my neck.
Gradually though, as nothing bad happened she began to relax a little and look around herself more calmly. The assistant spoke no English but with points and gestures we managed to make ourselves understood and a “Marley’s Things” pile started to grow on the counter. Food, shampoo, flea & tick treatment. A comfy bed and mattress, some toys. A smart little harness and a retractable lead. Marley was weighed and found to be just under 6 kilos.
And then we went home. It’s very handy when your vehicle and your home are one and the same place. No prolonged trauma driving Marley back to the house. Just a nice big smile goodbye from the assistant, a short walk across the parking lot and Bob’s your uncle. Home Marley!
And what a happy puppy Marley was. She rolled in her new bed. Wolfed down some of her new food. Chewed a little on one of her new toys. Her head rose a little higher than we’d seen it yet. Her eyes shone a little brighter. The nightmare hadn’t come to pass. We’d left the van…and we’d returned again. Maybe this time she really wasn’t going to be dumped again. Maybe… Just maybe.
We let Marley settle in a bit more with her new things and recover from the visit to the shop while we decided what to do next. The vet that Sue used over in Zakynthos spoke English and was used to getting pets ready to travel to the UK. We didn’t know how much it would cost to get to the island but we knew where to get the ferry from. Kyllini. We’d stayed there just a few nights ago and watched the ferries plying their way in and out of the port. It all had a spooky feeling of fate about it. And all in all, it seemed like the best option.
Decision made we sent Sue a message to say we were coming to the island and set off again in Iggy. Retracing our steps back to Kyllini. We’d spend the night there and travel on to Zakynthos in the morning.
We pulled Marley’s bed up between the seats, fired up the engine and Iggy pulled out of the car park and left Ancient Olympia behind us. This time Marley dropped her head calmly on her paws and went straight off to sleep. The trauma of driving was conquered. We had ourselves a van dog.