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The Morning After the Night Before

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The morning after the night before
Ramblings of a crazy dog Lady

Last night is all a bit of blur, but what I did realise is that when fear and adrenaline set in, we humans are a different kettle of fish. I must have run up that mountain 10 times whereas on a normal day I huff and puff up it once. The sight of the fire roaring towards the dogs was enough for anyone’s superpower to kick in. It was like we had a Batman distress signal in the air.

The neighbours all came flooding across to help us beat the fire. Everyone just kicked in and got the job done. Without our neighbours and our awesome Dogtown team, I may have been writing a very different story this morning. But I am extremely grateful that we managed to not only keep the fire at bay, we managed to put it out ourselves. Which is just as well as the fire brigade only got there 2 hours after we called them. So for those 2 hours, we were running frantic and making sure the dogs were ok at all times. Of course, this always seems to happen on a Sunday in the evening and running around 50 acres of land in the dark is not for sissies. Dogtown looked like a rock concert with everyone holding up their cell phone lights to see where we were. One of the huge saving graces is the fact some of us have walkie-talkies so we could at least communicate with each other as we divided and conquered where the raging fire flared up next. We need to get more walkie-talkies urgently.

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Everyone that arrived to help knew the priority was to keep the fire away from the dogs. We had a pretty big fire break around the dogs’ areas but we also had various other fire breaks around the farm and the fire was right beside us, so it had obviously jumped some of the firebreaks somewhere along the line. The fact that it was probably the windiest day we’ve had this year didn’t help the matters at all. Our neighbours had a fire earlier in the day and the fire brigade assured us all it was out but obviously, the wind had sent a few embers across and it slowly built up until it came sweeping across our farm.
The next morning, sitting among the aftermath of the fire at the top of our mountain, the smell of everything burnt and the desolate area that was once filled with bushes leaves you with an eerie feeling. I couldn’t help worry about all the wildlife we come across every day, hoping they all managed to escape the blaze.

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Looking down on the top octagons I was so grateful to be a part of a community that probably jumped up from their dinner plates to come and help some crazy dog people running around the mountain. The scary thing is we have a procedure in place and we had done what was advised. But when it comes to the reality of a fire engulfing the rescue centre everything in your being sets to survival mode and you end up doing things you didn’t even think you were capable of.

Even though we believed we were prepared for such a disaster we were quickly given a quick jolt into reality, we were anything but prepared for such a big fire, moving at such a fast speed. We needed to get water and pressure up the mountain to be able to do anything to calm the flames. We had nothing that would allow us to do this. Fortunately, our fire beaters helped us do the job but we could have, and should have, had a portable water pressure pump, generator and water tank that we can connect to the bakkie and get to the outlying areas of the farm because that’s where the fire came in from.

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We found that the areas where there was precast walling the fire was stopped in its tracks. So we are looking at putting another perimeter around the dogs’ area in walling but we have called on experts to come and give us solid advice. In the past, we hadn’t gone that route because we simply don’t have the budget for it but after the fire, we simply can’t afford not to. I never want to go through that extreme fear again. So I am appealing with all my being for help to put in the best fire prevention and firefighting programme possible.

As always I believe everything is a learning experience, this was probably one I would have been happier to avoid but I’m a big stickler for learning and being educated in your field and obviously running a rescue centre also now includes firefighting skills.

Something I did learn through all of this, while I thought about last nights disaster was how we act so differently when fear sets in, it’s no different for our dogs. Yip, I am that sad, everything always ends up about dog behaviour.

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Now even though we had procedures and plans in place when it came down to the moment we all kind of moved to autopilot. The reason being, like dogs we hadn’t practised the procedure, we hadn’t rehearsed it enough that it was 2nd nature to us. So we reverted back to our survival mode. How many times do we teach a dog an alternative behaviour to stop an undesirable behaviour? Ie: we teach a jumping dog to sit because they can’t jump if they are sitting. But are we practising this behaviour regularly in different locations under different circumstances under exciting and fearful situations? Probably not, so when the dog is in a situation where they are over aroused they generally fall back to their coping survival moves because we haven’t habituated the new behaviour.

Can an underlying behaviour really be extinguished? My answer as always is that it depends on the dog, it depends on their genetics, their environment, their upbringing, their fear coping skills (which to me personally is the biggest factor) and of course the management of their situations.

I know through meeting rescued Vick dogs ( https://bestfriends.org/sanctuary/explore-sanctuary/dogtown/vicktory-dogs ) that most of them went on to achieve canine good citizen awards and became ambassadors for the breed. When I’ve spoken to the trainers involved in their rehabilitation they often said that they were not well bred “genetically”. Meaning they didn’t have the fighting spirit in them that some dogs have, their go-to behaviour is to flee the situation. So even though their breed and their upbringing dictated how they should act, it was not their go-to behaviour and rehabilitation was, in fact, easier than some dogs that had not gone through such a horrific experience in life.

So it proved that how you raise a dog does not guarantee the outcome. They had been raised in the worst way possible, if “its how they are raised” was, in fact, true they would never have accomplished everything they had in their lifetime. Think about it, it’s the same for humans, 2 people can grow up in the same environment and one can fall onto the wrong side of the tracks and the other excel in life. So many factors contribute to how their lives develop but it my personal opinion again, I reckon it’s how they cope under pressure and in fearful situations.

I know for me common sense does not always prevail when there’s a panic, my fear response is to get in there and sort it out. Not always realising the dangers I put myself in but I also think that is what motivated me to start a rescue centre and take in difficult to home dogs. I can’t tell you the amount of time while driving at night I’ve got out of my car to try and catch a stray dog. I know I should also be considering my safety but my get in there and sort it out mode kicks in and before I know it I’m km’s away from my car, on my own in the dark and I’m not even sure I locked the car. That’s stupid and every time I tell myself, how stupid it is and make plans for how I would deal with the situation better next time. I think my only saving grace is as I’m getting older, I am slowly getting a little wiser and thinking through things better.

Well, now I’ve completely digressed from the matter at hand, I’ll bring everything back to the fact that we need your help to be better prepared if disaster strikes again. I realise nothing is foolproof but if we can even be a little bit more prepared next time and have the necessary firefighting tools and we practice, practice, practice. Then we have learnt from this awful experience. Email pat@dogtownsa.org for more information on how you can help.

Thank you for listening to me ramble again, that’s what makes us a great family, we listen to each other and help each other through the ups and downs and there’s always the crazy dog lady in every family, ours just has a lot of crazy dog lovers!  We call them townies!

I love you townies and not a minute goes by when I’m not grateful for everything you help us achieve.
Love Tracy and the Rescues