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"She makes you less selfish": Life lessons learned from a rescue dog

Ireland’s first – and only – festival for dogs is on this weekend, so we asked dog lovers what they love about their pooch.

Image: Instagram

ASK A DOG owner what they love about their canine partner and they won’t be stuck for words.

For some dog lovers in Ireland, having a pooch in their lives has meant companionship and love, but also a chance to connect with their wider community.

And for those who rescue a dog, there’s an even sweeter sense that they’ve helped their beloved animal escape from a life of misery.

Dublin-based couple Conor Stevens and Siobhan O’Donovan, who run their own design company Mr & Mrs Stevens, had such a big love for a dog named Poppy that it inspired them to set up their own dog festival, the Doggie Do, with friend Michael McDermott.

They’re among the thousands of Irish households – one survey says there are 416,000 dogs in the country - who have a dog living among them. But at the same time, Ireland has its issues with dog ownership.

Dog pound statistics showed that in 2015 alone, an average of five dogs were killed every day in pounds. That’s still a massive drop from 35 dogs a day in 2005, but it’s enough to show that, even with the advent of the Dog Breeding Bill, there are hundreds of dogs who need homes.

Ellie & Elmer playing it cool @stpatrickscathedral park

A photo posted by TheDoggieDo (@thedoggiedo) on

The Doggie Do

Though Stevens and O’Donovan are now the proud parents of their ‘fur baby’ Ellie (who has just turned one), a year ago they were running their first Doggie Do (which was crowdfunded through Fundit) in memory of Poppy. She was Stevens’ family dog who died at the ripe age of 20.

She had lived with the couple for the six years prior to her death, and turned cat lover O’Donovan into a dog fanatic.

Stevens describes the Doggie Do, which takes place this Sunday, 11 September, as “a mardi gras for mutt and man, a fun family day out for dogs and their humans… like the Electric Picnic but for canines”.

It was inspired by their yearly trips to New York, where they would head to the Tompkins Square Halloween parade, an event that sees dogs sporting an array of costumes.

Dog-ald Trump has my vote #tompkinssquaredogparade #trump #eyebrows

A photo posted by Katherine Elliott Sime (@katiesime) on

“We thought we’d love to bring a little flavour of that back to Dublin,” says Stevens.

According to O’Donovan, they also wanted to tap into the sense of community they saw at Tompkins Square. It’s something that they’ve noticed themselves since they adopted Ellie and began heading to regular dog meet-ups in Oscar Park and St Patrick’s Park in Dublin.

Not being in a position to set up a dog park, they hit on the idea of a day-long event for dogs and dog-lovers, with the centrepiece being the Dog of Dublin dress-up pageant.

They had no idea what to expect (or what they were doing, jokes Stevens), but over 1,000 people and 500 dogs attended the first Doggie Do.

The couple decided to make it a yearly event, and teamed up with Dog’s Trust for this year’s Doggie Do.

Finding Ellie

Kelly's Deli in Rosslare is not only super chic, it's also #dogfriendly #priorities #rosslarestrand

A photo posted by TheDoggieDo (@thedoggiedo) on

It took the couple about a year to get over Poppy’s death, but eventually they felt ready to adopt. “It was always going to be an adoption because there are so many amazing dogs that need a home and we felt we could give a dog a good home,” says O’Donovan.

They went for a “quick look” in the puppy wing – despite wanting an older dog – and fell in love with Ellie. “And that was that,” says Stevens.

“She came into our lives like a whirlwind - it was quite a shock going from a 20-year-old to a three-month-old,” says O’Donovan.

Ellie’s mother was rescued from a puppy farm when she was pregnant, meaning Ellie thankfully never had to experience life in such a situation. Instead, she lives with a couple who clearly adore her – and don’t mind all the learning that has come with bringing a puppy into their life.

“You celebrate the little learnings as you go along – her first outdoor pee we were high-fiving on the street,” says Stevens.

“Her first outdoor poo, it was like high 10s,” laughs O’Donovan.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Dog-friendly Dublin

In putting together the Doggie Do, they’ve learned more about what dog lovers in Ireland want.

“One of the learnings from last year from partners was basically there was a huge demand for an area where you can take your dog off the leash. So in association with Dublin City Council we’ve created a little paddock [at the Doggie Do], it’s called the Do Run Run,” says Stevens.

“People were talking about this desire for cafés and restaurants and bars to allow dogs in or to have some sort of area for people to go with their dogs,” adds O’Donovan, name-checking Dublin pub MVP and café Pupp as two businesses which embraced this idea.

Dog people want to hang out with other dog people and their dogs. That’s mainly it: just get together, look at each other’s dogs, talk about your dogs, that’s the main thing isn’t it, really. We’re slightly crazy.

Bringing an energetic new dog out for regular walks has meant getting to know more people in their local area. “It kind of opens up the neighbourhood,” says Stevens.

How has having Ellie changed them? “I think she makes you less selfish,” says O’Donovan. “Having a dog, it means you have to focus on this little living thing in your life who needs to be walked and needs to be played with and needs some attention. So your life starts – not revolving around the dog but certainly becoming a lot less us-centered and a lot more thinking about what she might like to do.”

Like other dog lovers, they see something special in Ellie.

“Apart from the fact she is so unbelievably adorably cute,” says Stevens, “it’s just the personality that comes out in the dog, you get really invested in it, watching it develop. They are all so individual.”

“She spent the first year of her life in a coal bunker”

The winner of last year’s Dog of Dublin prize was Missi, owned by Vivien Woodlock and her husband Shane Goggin.

Missi came from a pound, and it’s believed she spent the first 18 months of her life living in a coal bunker, most likely tied at the neck.

“When we brought her home in the car we had to have all the windows open – she was stinking,” recalls Woodlock. “We brought her home, put her in the bath. We actually let her stay in the room with us and for the first night she was hyperventilating, she was crying.”

Mi professional photoshoot by the ammaazzzing Leo Byrne ... was part of the incredible prizes I won x

A post shared by Missi💖 (@missidod2015) on

They rescued Missi (who’s 14) a year after they got their first dog Boggi. Boggi passed away last year, and the family – including Missi, who had stopped eating after Boggi’s death – were devastated, but decided to go along to the Doggie Do as a way of cheering themselves up.

They dressed Missi (who is in a buggy as she can’t walk due to arthritis) up as Satine from Moulin Rouge, with Woodlock playing the part of Harold Zilder. They were a massive hit, and Missi was crowned Dog of Dublin 2015. She’ll be passing on her crown this weekend.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Missi’s win at the Doggie Do changed everything for the family and lead to “a new chapter starting with just Missi and us”, says Woodlock.

I know that people will say she’s just a dog, and I can understand that and not everyone really likes dogs and that. But for Missi, she literally means everything to me. I couldn’t even put it in words, it’s a huge warm, gushy, fluffy feeling that she makes me feel all the time… she’s full of personality, a very funny little dog.

Woodlock and her husband have since fostered a number of rescue dogs, going on to adopt two yorkies.

“You don’t need to do everything straight away, especially coming from the pounds and puppy farms,” she says of caring for a rescue dog. “They just need time to eat, sleep, eat, sleep, and then build up on it over a period of time and not to do too much at the one time, and, you know, just let them kind of come into their own.”

Woodlock says that having a dog has shown her the value in taking each day as it comes.

You come home and they’re so happy to see you and it doesn’t matter what’s happened, and what’s happening in their life – even though some of them come from not so great beginnings. There’s always a little bounce in their step.

“Bigger dogs are misunderstood”

Susan Jordan also rescued a dog – but unlike Missi, who is a small terrier, her dog is Heidi, an American bulldog.

Owning such a dog has shown Jordan (whose rottweiler Diesel died after living with Jordan and her sons for 10 years) that the larger dogs, who are often passed over in the pound or rescue centres, are “misunderstood”.

“Diesel died suddenly in April so I wasn’t particularly ready for another dog, but my two lads are 19 and 20 and they had a tough time when Diesel died,” she recalls. “They were insisting ‘Diesel was rescued, we really need to rescue another dog and give them a chance’.”

This is the face that says ~ 'Technically I'm not ON the furniture so...' 🐶

A post shared by ItsCherrySue (@itscherrysue) on

They fell in love with Heidi when they paid a visit to Dog’s Trust.

“We were prepared, we knew we wanted to take a big dog because they are so misunderstood and they are put to sleep so often. There is a huge misconception about big dogs,” says Jordan. “Once they are trained and minded, big dogs are the best dogs you can have.”

Not only is Heidi a great companion for the family, but in her quest to help Heidi put on muscle, daily walks have helped Jordan shed five stone. “She has changed our lives,” she says. “She’s slotted right in – she is one of us.”

h4 An underweight Heidi just after she was rescued. Source: Dog Trust

Heidi’s story is typical of dogs found in puppy farms – she was kept for breeding and is thought to have given birth to two or three litters of pups.

“She was just mistreated, she wasn’t fed, her teeth were broken. She was basically used to breed from,” says Jordan. “She escaped from the situation herself.”

Jordan hopes that Ireland can do more to tackle the sale of dogs online, and also the sale of dogs from breeders.

“They’re not stock – these are living, breathing animals with personalities,” she says.

h Source: Dog's Trust

She also believes the restricted breed list for dogs needs to be gotten rid of. “There is so much misinformation and fear around bigger dogs and it’s usually bigger dogs that are abandoned.”

For Doggie Do founders Stevens and O’Donovan, the decision to adopt a dog was also a big one.

“It was really super important for us that we went down the adoption route. There are just so many dogs out there that need their forever homes,” says Stevens. “I think there is a bit too much focus on pure breeds, certainly in Dublin.”

“Which is all fine,” adds O’Donovan. “But when you go to somewhere like Dog’s Trust and see how many dogs they’re dealing with and all these dogs being surrendered or just abandoned outside, we couldn’t have considered anything other than rescuing one of those dogs.”

For the love of a dog

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If you have a dog in your life, why do you love them? We asked TheJournal.ie team about their love for dogs – why not share your stories below in the comments.

I don’t have a dog, but I love my girlfriend’s family dog more than most people. She’s always chuffed to see me and lies beside me on the couch all the time.
My mam went away for a week and only messaged us to ‘Say hello to Ringo’… my dad was annoyed.
My parents’ dog Scout is incredibly energetic and really happy to see everyone. If she spots you, she’ll immediately sprint towards you and start jumping up on top of you.
I loved how my  dog used to sleep in the weirdest of things. He had an expensive bed but slept in everything else but it. Also, love how dogs are always watching out. They got your back, like.

The Doggie Do takes place at Herbert Park in Dublin 4 from 1pm on Sunday 11 September.

Videos filmed and edited by Nicky Ryan.

Read: 14,559 dogs came into Irish pounds last year, here’s what happened the ones in your county>

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