We've rescued dogs for almost forty years. Apart from Kim, a golden labrador. whom we got as a puppy when living in Minehead, all our dogs have come to us from one rescue centre or another. So when we lost dear little Millie back in January we knew there was a space in our hearts and our home for another dog who desperately needed a loving family.
And Gypsy found us.
The volunteers from the German Shepherd Rescue organisation were due to visit us on a Saturday morning for a 'home visit' - checking that we are our house and garden were suitable for an adopted dog, but they called us to say they wouldn't be with us until the afternoon, as they had to do an emergency visit to a dog in urgent need of rehoming. When they arrived we sat around the kitchen table over a cup of tea and they told us about the dog they had just taken into care. Apparently she was so emaciated that every rib could be counted, and she had scratched her back raw because she was infested with fleas. I think we knew in that moment that she was the one for us.
Gypsy had been taken to a kennels only about ten miles from us, so it was easy for us to visit her.
'She's very nervous,' the handler there told us. 'Just let her come to you, but be warned, it will take some time.'
So we sat in the little office and he brought Gypsy in. And what happened? She went straight to Terry, my husband, and licked his hand, then jumped up with both paws on my knees - which made her taller than me - and licked my face.
We went home, absolutely torn. On the one hand we knew nothing whatever about her - what she would be like with children and other animals, or even if she was properly house trained. We were worried as to how her nervousness would play out - though malnourished she was already a big and very strong dog. And of course she was on a special diet of three small and highly nutritious meals a day because her starvation had meant she could only eat a little at a time, though that wasn't really a problem - we have rescued dogs who needed special diets in the past. But whatever problems we foresaw, we couldn't forget her. Every time I closed my eyes I could see that big, gentle face close to mine as she jumped up and licked me within the first seconds of meeting me.
Our minds were made up. We couldn't turn our backs on Gypsy. We visited the kennels several times and walked her in their training paddock. At first she pulled dreadfully on the lead - she nearly pulled me over - but she loved playing with a ball, and we could see she didn't have an aggressive bone in her body. I didn't think we should take her home until after Easter as we had both daughters and their husbands together with four children visiting, and I thought it would be too much for her. But on 2nd April - Terry's birthday - Suzie met us at the kennels with Dan (8) and Amelia (6) and they all fell totally in love with her. Suzie persuaded us to get her in time for their visit, so on Good Friday, with some trepedition, we collected her.
On the first day she was a bit unsettled, but she went to bed with no fuss at all, and we didn't hear a sound from her all night. The following day she had settled in so well it felt like she'd been with us for ever. She barked madly at all the family when they arrived, then licked them happily. She's really obedient and eager to please, loves being fussed, adores the children, and likes us to be together as a family.
Gypsy has now put on a good bit of weight - I think she's pretty well up to what she should be - and her coat has grown back beautifully. She's an absolute delight, though she is still a bit of a nightmare when she meets other dogs whilst on the lead. Terry is taking her to training classes to try to socialise her - in fact, he's there now.
I'm just so happy that we took her in, but I'm still convinced it wasn't us who chose her - she chose us. And I look forward to the happy times we will have together.
Amelia took these pictures of Gypsy while she was still in kennels