Things Are Different in Yorkshire–Part 1

Samson the border collie

In The UK, All Animal Rescues Are No Kill

Things are different over here in the UK. It’s not just how we pronounce tomato as per the old song.  There are many things that are different: we drive on the left, we have a Queen…the list goes on and on. One notable difference between the US and UK is that almost all of our animal shelters and charities are no kill organisations. That means that if an animal is healthy, they will not be euthanized.

Think about that for a moment: no healthy animal killed. Now healthy also means mentally healthy as well, most of the time, which is reasonable. A dog who is of such unsound temperament as to be unadoptable is not often happy in kennels for the rest of his/her life, either. It’s not always easy and it’s not perfect, but it helps that the UK has a good and longstanding culture of spaying and neutering. Yes, we still get back yard breeders. Yes, we still have irresponsible people dumping puppies. But ‘most’ people consider it the norm to make sure that their domestic pets do not breed indiscriminately.

Another difference is that it is a lot harder to adopt a pet from a rescue over here. Generally, you’ll fill in a form, then talk to a member of staff, then have a home check and then and only then will the organisation think about letting you have one of the animals in their care. Once you’ve been matched with or chosen an animal, you’ll get a chance to meet the animal. Then, if all goes well, you’ll hand over a fairly hefty fee and take your new family member home. There will usually be follow up from the shelter or breed rescue and in many cases the animal never actually passes into the adopter’s ownership. It stays the property of the organisation but they agree to let you keep it so long as certain criteria are met.  One of these criteria is usually that if you cannot keep the animal, you will return it to them.

Harper the Border collie

Some UK Criteria Can Make It Harder To Adopt A Pet

Of course, no system is perfect. In my case, when I realized that working from home meant I could have a dog again, that home check was going to be a problem, as I do not have a fully fenced garden. The open driveway would have required an expensive gate, given the slope we live on and I did not have that kind of money free when setting up my own business. When I did go to see the local RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – arguably the UK’s biggest animal charity) I found out that the adoption fee for a dog was in the region of £150 (that’s about $230 at today’s exchange rate.)

So, several hundred pounds for a gate, plus the adoption fee. I’ll admit, around about then, I gave some serious thought to going and buying a puppy. But I’ve always taken on adult dogs before, and didn’t want to give that up. I actually enjoy the challenge of training a dog that may not have had the best of starts in life or that has reached adulthood without the necessary manners to appeal to most adopters.

border collie in gentle leader

The Problem Border Collie

I knew I wanted a Border collie. I’d done my research, I’d had working dogs before so I understood working drive, and hubby had owned the breed in the past…so the search was on. That’s how I found myself looking on the internet at the ‘Dogs for Sale’ section of a well known website. It was a rather sobering experience to find quite so many of that breed advertised between six and eighteen months. The descriptions usually being along the lines of:

‘lovely dog but I don’t have the time to walk her and she is so energetic’


‘I adore my dog but he nipped my children and I can’t control him’ or ‘we got Scout as company for when I was home with the kids but I’m going back to work’.

All the timeworn excuses offered up to shelters…but these people wanted to sell the dog instead.  They were people hoping to either get some of the cost of the puppy back at worst or at best, hoping they would get some say in who their dog went to.

I spoke to one lovely lady in North Wales whose collie bitch had such appalling separation anxiety she couldn’t even go out of the house without it destroying things. Idiot that I am, I’d have seriously considered that one, as I can fix that with time. But after a couple of calls where the owner and I chatted at length and I explained how I’d approach the training and desensitisation, she decided to keep her collie and thanked me for the advice. Another one who’d nipped their five year old who was running round the garden got the poor thing put down before I could call them. By that point, I was, once again, considering going and getting a puppy…or maybe a goldfish.

Then, after a few weeks I saw a pair of blue merle collies advertised. No price on the advert, simply that the bitch was eight months old and the dog fourteen months. There was a brief line or two about changing work circumstances and not wanting to have to leave them alone so much. They were local, they were beautiful, and they had to come as a pair.

merle border collies

They Sounded Like The Hounds Of Hell

Two days later, I turned up at a suburban house to meet them and it sounded like the hounds of hell were inside. The owners came to the door, and I was greeted by a massively built male collie who had no intention of letting ANYONE in the house. He was backing it up by getting his teeth up to face height while explosively barking. This was interspersed with backing away with a low body carriage and tail between his legs. The bitch, bless her, was just bouncing up and down to get attention.

The owners got them on leash….eventually… and we took them for a walk. It was like the Iditarod. I’m not a slightly built woman; I’m five foot ten and used to work outdoors as a ranger. Those two nearly pulled my arm out of its socket, and all this time the owner was saying how good they were on the lead. How good the male was off lead and…wait for it…how yes, they’d not really had time to train the little bitch, but that didn’t really matter… as she was never more than six inches from the male. Well, that last bit was true enough as I could see. She spent every second chasing him, grabbing his scruff and neck and was utterly fixated on him to the exclusion of everything. Meanwhile, the male was fixated on toys.  Now, by toys I mean anything he could find to bring and throw at his owner to play fetch with. I’ll give him this: he could throw well, and remarkably accurately. The stick that hit me on the knee confirmed that!

harper and samson the border collies

Who Would End Up With The Problem Border Collie?

We were towed back home by the two dogs and a little later my husband arrived to meet them after he’d finished work. The attempt by the male to see off the intruder was repeated – I was controlling him this time until hubby was in the room. When released, the performance carried on. For a good fifteen minutes. An hour later, having played fetch for most of it, we finally left telling the young couple we’d have to discuss it and we’d call them back the next day.

Out in the car, we looked at each other and I can’t even remember who said it first but the words were almost identical:

“Well, if we don’t take them, someone who can’t deal with that pair will–and he’ll end up getting put down when he bites someone.”

Stay tuned for part 2 of this story in an upcoming post!

Flag of the United Kingdom

Wendy Hyde lives on the edge of a ‘Grim Northern Town’  in the UK- -which is green, clean, welcoming and cosmopolitan. She’s worked in countryside management, engineering and banking and today makes custom leather work–everything from masks and medieval reproductions to handbags and custom dog collars. She’s also been known to occasionally teach any of the assorted historic and ‘primitive’ crafts she’s learnt over the years. She’s had animals most of her adult life and never met a dog or cat she couldn’t get along with.