Saving Penny

My partner and I hadn't really been seriously looking for a dog - although it was always on the list of life things, we hadn't got there yet. One week in May 2022, we began looking at Boxer pups (I'd always had Boxers previously). We found a lovely little female for sale and as much as I daydreamed of bringing her home, and calling her Penelope - Penny for short - we decided that it wasn't the right time for a puppy. So after a few days of considering, we put that dream on hold for the time being.

Two days later, my brother in law and his team at work came across a very, very poorly conditioned female Saluki type lurcher who had been dumped at the side of the road in the forest. In good faith, they managed to catch her and take her to the vets to see if they could identify her. Sadly she was unwanted and in such a terrible way, they were unsure what her future would look like. The vets kept her in for several nights and brother/sister in law decided they'd like to try and take her home to have alongside their current dog. After four days in the vets, they brought the lurcher home and tried to introduce both dogs. The introduction didn't go to plan, and it quickly became evident that this wouldn't be the right environment for the little terrified bag of bones girl who came from the forest.

Whilst the vets were working away on the stray dog over the course of those four days, my boyfriend and I had been receiving updates on her progress via our family - merely because we were curious and sad to see a dog in such a state. Never did we think we'd end up falling in love with her. As much as we were sad for her and sympathetic, it didn't cross our minds once that she'd end up with us. The day she came home from the vets, we popped round to see the family members who had temporarily taken her in because we were just interested to see how she was doing - we are both dog lovers but there wasn't any more to it than that. We'd seen videos but hadn't taken loads of notice - 'one of many strays that needs a home' I thought.

I walked into their living room to find her in her own pen. She was painfully thin, mainly red raw, lumpy skin but also incredibly crispy, yellow and brown stained and scabby laying on a piece of vet bed. She had barely any fur, and the fur she did have was tinged yellow (should have been white) and poor conditioned due to a bad diet - it was more like the fluff you'd retrieve from the hoover. She smelt pretty bad too - a bit cheesy due to the yeast infection she also had on top of the Mange she was also suffering with. She had to wear a baggy t-shirt to help prevent her scratching herself raw and tufts of hair would just fall out. Although she was nervous, she seemed happy. I sat in her pen with her and she laid down putting her head in my lap. I took her into the garden for a wee and she played with me so enthusiastically despite being so weak, a funny little thing she was.

I think at this point, I began to think empty thoughts with no real depth 'ahh. Bless her, maybe we could have her...' as I'm sure any dog lover would think. I quickly rebounded to 'no way, we've literally just decided this week not to take on a puppy. This one would be even more work given how poorly she is... and it might be heartbreak waiting to happen. She'll find a lovely home with somebody. The chats continued in the room about where she'd eventually go as I sat back down with her in her pen again. Not the dog warden - they'd likely put to sleep due to how bad of a state she was in. Vets couldn't have her back - the nurse who had wanted to keep her originally had cats at home, so that wasn't an option given that we suspected she'd been used for hare-coursing. They had a friend who potentially would be interested, but again she had cats... My interest grew and grew the longer I sat with her. She was so happy to be with me, as I got up to climb out of the pen I thought she looked a bit rejected and sad. 'Don't start all that' I told myself. Then I looked up at our family in the room and without giving it much thought I said 'what about us? Nobody has asked us if we'd like to take her'. My boyfriend looked at me completely shocked given that we'd just agreed 'no dogs yet'. Everybody looked quite shocked actually. I asked a few questions about what the vet nurses had said about her in the days they'd temporarily housed her in their kennels - 'really sweet. They said she was absolutely no trouble at night and became their office dog for the week. They loved her so much, they actually gave her a name too because they got so attached...'

Here's the good bit... I said flippantly 'what did they name her?'

Do you believe in signs from the universe? I do and definitely did after this happened. Because what came next absolutely blew me away and freaked me out all in one. Baring in mind, my sister-in-law had absolutely no idea what I had envisioned naming the female Boxer puppy we had looked at 5 days earlier, she turned to me and said 'they named her Penelope. Penny for short.'

I SWEAR, when I say I had goosebumps, I have never been that shocked in my whole life. I looked round the room and said 'that's my dog then.' I explained what had happened and said to my boyfriend 'that's it. She was meant for us'. We were both a bit apprehensive and agreed we'd sleep on it for the night to make sure, but there wasn't any doubt in my mind once I heard that name that she was absolutely supposed to find me. My little soul mate. We've not looked back ever since.

She had mange, a yeast infection and then a bit of a bladder issue we had to try to resolved. They aged her to be quite young - perhaps 18 months. Difficult to tell as her teeth were in an awful way, but it didn't really matter we just wanted to get her as well as we could. It took months of very careful and strategic feeding - it wasn't just a case of feeding her up. It would have killed her; dogs who have been malnourished can suffer with something called refeeding syndrome if fed too much too quickly, so it was strict crate rest so as not to burn any extra calories, steady feeding and learning about house-dog life.

House-dog life was completely new to Penny. She didn't get that the outside was different to the inside in terms of where to go to the loo, and she definitely did not do stairs. But carpet... carpet was EXCELLENT. Lots of grip to run really fast around the sofa! That was one of her first games she discovered, and it made us howl with laughter! She still does it, but she's better balanced and stronger now so she goes even faster! We crate trained her, taught her some basic commands and she spent the first few months with a trailing house lead attached - she didn't love the idea of us darting towards her to grab hold of her collar being nervous of people, so a trailing lead was far less invasive for her and we were able to calmly and subtly step on the end of it to lead her to where we needed her to be. She found men - particularly middle aged and older men to be scary. She didn't (and still doesn't to a degree) like gruff or loud voices and would flatten herself on the floor and wet herself even if she wasn't being looked at or spoken to - probably an indication of her past.

Initially we had a few nights where all she did was cry at night, or if I left the house. She became very attached to me as I was there most of the time with her. It was a bit stressful and a few times I cried to myself as I wasn't sure if we'd done the right thing taking her on... but we had. I knew we had. She's a superstar now. She loves to sleep, she loves her crate, she loves to play frisbee and tug, and she is so incredibly intelligent! We are starting to get into the realms of some more advanced obedience training and heel work now too. I feel like Penny is the most grateful little dog I'll ever own, and she came to me at a time in my life where I needed another focus - something to teach me to be more present day to day. She really has been sent to me and I'm so proud of her.

We've been so lucky to have so much support from family and friends - and my loyal supporters online. I've never felt generosity and support quite like it once people heard about her. We were sent so many gifts and items for her, we had nothing having not had a dog of our own before and especially not a sighthound in the state she was in. The kind words, parcels and everything in between was so so appreciated - kind offers from local businesses to support Penny too. One message received summed it all up so well... "faith in humans completely shattered and restored all in one go". Penny really has been the epitome of that.

You can track more of Penny's progress on instagram, I share regular clips of her here

Penny, 1 month after we got her looking far better than she had done

Penny, 1 year later

Hello, my name is Holly...

Welcome to my blog

I am an equine & canine photographer based in Essex, England. I've owned and ridden horses always, and I've never known a life without them! I've started this little blog for my many ramblings as I've always enjoyed writing but I've never had an outlet for it - and now I do! I write for a few reasons - mainly to educate or entertain. You'll find me writing regularly about all things photography, horses and dogs so if you like any of those things, you're in the right place! Thanks for joining x

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