Lemnos Shelter, the saddest place for dumped dogs and in the middle of nowhere!
The neighbouring farmer is paid by the municipality to “look after” the dogs. His caring skills extend to plonking a big bucket of sawdust like kibble into their kennels, topping up their water bucket and then he maybe scoops the poop……if he remembers.
Fotini, who many of you follow on Instagram is the chief volunteer, assisted by her best friend, Vaggelio and Maria who is still a student.
Both Fotini and Vaggelio nurse any poorly pups and dogs in their own homes but the rest of the strays are doomed to 24/7 alone in the municipal shelter in run-down kennels with no runs and no socialisation. They visit when they can but as Fotini and Vaggelio are working mums this is usually only once a week.
During these visits they walk as many dogs as possible on deserted tracks near the shelter. The dogs will only see random chickens and goats, so busy streets, cars, people and loud noises will initially spook them which is why we suggest leaving walks for a few of weeks until you’ve established a bond.
Walks should be well thought out, avoiding walking near other friendly dogs until your dog trusts you that you are in charge and will keep him safe. Out of fear, on a lead, an otherwise friendly dog can sometimes act aggressively towards other dogs – so it’s really important you don’t put him into a situation where he becomes fearful. On a lead, rescue dogs can sometimes take an immediate dislike to a dog they’ve never seen before whilst being absolutely charming to another. They will be remembering a bruiser from the past!
Likewise, sadly, many Greek rescue dogs are fearful of men. In Lemnos the longer they’ve been at the shelter the worse their fear. To a dog lover like you, this can come as a complete shock and be really upsetting when mum becomes the favourite and dad is blown out. We therefore suggest that initially dad takes over all the feeding duties and establishes himself as pack leader in as calm a way as possible.
Your dogs spend will have spent 5 days enroute to the UK with professional male handlers and their brief is to prepare the dogs as best as possible for their new lives. The dogs quickly bond with their drivers – so it should hopefully continue with their new dads. Please know you are not alone and that we have a great support group on Starlight Barking Family page with other recent owners ready to share their experiences of this “man fear”.
Giving your new dog time and space will pay huge dividends later. When he arrives after that long journey from Greece your overwhelming desire will be to welcome him by showering him with love and affection, showing him how great his new life is going to be. But you have all the time in the world for that and that’s what he needs right now……time!
He will arrive tired, hungry, thirsty and confused. His safe world at the hell-hole shelter has been turned upside down. Instead of his 4 walls that he’s stared at 24/7 he’s faced with a total overload of endless new experiences: doors, gates, stairs, hall-ways, sofas, the fire place, washing machine, dishwasher, vacuum cleaner, TV, mirrors, windows, visitors, scary postmen and delivery drivers………
Keep the first days really simple. He just needs a covered crate in a quiet area of the home where he can observe you and from where you can feed him. By encouraging him in with a few pieces of kibble he will soon understand that it’s his new safe place. He probably won’t sleep for the first couple of days but just watch you intently.
As with a puppy, every hour to start with, take him into the garden on a slip lead. The slightest sound or movement can make even the calmest rescue look for an escape route and the slip lead will make him feel safe.
If they are let out first and last thing, most adult rescue dogs will go clean through the night in their closed crate from 10pm to 7am quite easily. Puppies will need an initial bit of fine tuning but will eventually get there too.
The first few nights will be the hardest. Try to ignore the inevitable barking and whining – it’s all quite normal and they will eventually settle. Some obviously take longer than others but you will get there. Again, turning to others who’ve been there recently will help boost your confidence that you’re getting everything right. Your new family: Starlight Barking Family are there to help.
When your dogs arrive you will be shocked to see their ribs showing and your immediate instinct will be to offer them every treat under the sun. Please don’t – because this will almost immediately give them an upset tummy. There will be plenty of time to spoil them later.
We suggest slow and steady, especially in the first few days. Later you can up the recommended portion sizes to let them gain a bit of weight (but do keep an eye that their waists don’t disappear or you won’t be the first Lemnos owner to find yourself with a chubby over weight dog).
One of the best books we have read on feeding and well-being is “The Forever Dog” by Dr Karen Shaw Becker, an American vet who focuses on how to delay ageing through simple life-style choices. The book is really ground-breaking and includes everything that the commercial manufacturers don’t want us to know!
But for the first few days we recommend a slow transition to their new diet…………
On the journey to the UK they will have been fed small portions of a tried and tested kibble for sensitive stomachs.
When they arrive we suggest feeding them small amounts of kibble in very small portions in their crate. If you have other dogs please ensure your new dog is fed privately. In their kennels, unless shared, they have never had competition for food and food aggression can arise even with their new owner.
Rescue behaviourists will suggest keeping a portion of kibble back as treats and feeding by hand for a few minutes before each meal time.
As the first week progresses you can start upping their portions and slowly changing over to whatever food you have decided on. Still twice a day, and use any kibble as training treats too, remembering long term you don’t want a chubby dog.
Treats are the next hurdle and the first thing which will give a jippy tummy. Even yummy natural food like chicken and ham should also be off limits in the first weeks. Their little tummies can’t cope immediately with such good quality pure food and the results are either squidgy poos or explosive diarrhea.
The absolute worst thing of all is to give the dogs any treats or rawhide chews made in China. Please Google for reviews and see why.
Dentastix is another real no-no. They don’t affect all dogs in a bad way but when they do it’s violent. Again please read the reviews, (not the Pedigree Petfood reviews – but the real ones). Despite the clever marketing, the content of those chews is really undesirable and is no way to start your dog on his new healthy life with you.
We use raw carrots and natural veggie chews, Whimzees, for all our dogs and foster dogs included. The cheapest place to buy Whimzees is Pet Planet https://www.petplanet.co.uk/ they come in 3 different sizes. Your local pet shop will also be selling them.
We also use Skippers natural fish treats https://www.skipperspetproducts.com which are great for teeth.
Although expensive, reindeer antlers are an investment for chewers and last for ages. We would recommend buying these direct from the pet shop so you can see exactly the shape you’re getting and you feel comfortable with this. As with all chews your dog should never be left alone and you will need watch out for sharp points appearing as they get down to the last part of the antler.
All the shelter dogs seem to go mad for eating grass when they arrive. They’re all also arrive very thirsty. It’s all quite normal. As is their instinct to hold on to their pee and poo. Eventually after a few days this will all calm down as you establish a routine.
Do watch out for digging and eating earth and drinking from puddles both of which can cause explosive tummies. As a precaution rinse feet after a walk, particularly if they have walked through farm fields which may have been sprayed with all sorts of unknown nasties.
If you follow all this feeding advice you shouldn’t have any wet poos but if your dog does have a bout of diarrhoea, provided they look well enough in themselves, the quickest remedy is to starve them for 24 hours. It’s horrid as they look at you pleadingly, but it really does work.
Next meal after 24 hours should be plain boiled rice. Yes – you will get an even stranger look. Then the next meal rice mixed with a tiny bit of chicken or their usual kibble. This usually fixes the problem tummy but please don’t ever worry alone. Fiona and I are just a phone call away and would prefer you call us anytime you are worried even if it’s just to check all the above. Likewise if you’re seriously worried at any point don’t be afraid to call your vet. Their 24/7 help line number is there for exactly that. Sometimes a re-assuring phone call is all that’s needed.
Once you’re happy that their tummies are settled you can start to introduce the food which you plan on being their permanent food.
Adopting any rescue dog is not for the faint-hearted. Adopting a rescue dog from overseas comes with its own special challenges but if you anticipate everything from your dog’s perspective you are already half-way there to a healthy, happy dog.
We hope this helps – and please remember we are here for you anytime, especially during the settling in days. You are doing something so amazing and we thank you all so much for helping even more shelter dogs.