In December 2009, I brought home a Staffordshire Bull Terrier from what I now know to be a bit of a questionable rescue center. They said he was a stray, but knew enough information on him to tell me he wasn’t allowed to return to Salford, but wouldn’t tell me why.
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It wasn’t until I got him home and checked him over that I began to piece together his past. He had a bite mark on the top of his head, a large scar on his back, his left shoulder had been burnt and his reaction to other dogs was him in “flight mode”- trying to get away. A vet confirmed our suspicions, he’d more than likely been used as a bait dog, a dog used in dog fighting to train other dogs into attacking.
At the time, I lived with my parents and my older brother, and we had our work cut out to make Smokey feel safe and able to begin to see how good life could be.
At times, it was an uphill struggle. It took him five years to go for a wee outside my parents’ back garden, and a further five years after that before he decided that he could go to the bathroom anywhere on his walk.
Dogs were always an issue – he wanted to run away when he saw them, even if they were in the distance or across the road. He hated being away from my parents’ house for any length of time to begin with – he was fine going on a walk but didn’t want to visit my grandparents’ house or go on his first holiday.
My dad became his safety blanket. If Smokey was unsure while out of the house, especially if on holiday, he would look to my dad for reassurance and would become very vocal if he couldn’t see my dad.
There were a lot of tough days, but there were more good days than bad. Once Smokey began to settle in, we saw his personality come shining through.
He was bold, bossy, and stubborn. While also being highly affectionate, with a love cuddling. He loved to play and pull apart some of his toys.
He knew his own mind and knew who he wanted to take him for a walk. He also knew that he liked to sit up front in the car, as my husband found when we picked Smokey up from my parents one night. My husband ended up relegated to the back seat while Smokey sat up front enjoying the view.
We’re not really sure how old Smokey was. Again, the center wasn’t exactly truthful about this. They said he was two, but when we look back at photos of him, Smokey had such a puppy face and he grew and filled out after I’d brought him home. We estimate that Smokey was over 6 months, as he had all his adult teeth, but possibly just under a year given that he was still growing a little bit.
Whatever had happened at the beginning of his life, he forgot about. Smokey enjoyed endless cuddles, long walks, holidays in North Wales, and the run of my parents and my own house.
Smokey waiting for his favourite human
His passing on the 25th of July 2022 was completely out of the blue. It blindsided all of us. People telling me I made his life instantly better by taking him out of that center didn’t make me feel better, it didn’t make the pain of losing him go away.
It was tough to process the grief I was going through, but the same thought in those first few days kept coming to the surface – I should start a project to help rescue dogs.
At first, I kept pushing the thought away, thinking it was a knee-jerk reaction to the loss of Smokey and it was a stupid idea. However, the idea didn’t go away.
So I started The Smokey Project.
Manchester Dogs’ Home donations in December 2022
The idea of The Smokey Project is to help rescue centers get the items they really need. As The Smokey Project is in its infancy, the aim right now is to help one center each Christmas and then hopefully expand to be able to help multiple centers any time of the year.
In December 2022, we collected donations and delivered them all the weekend before Christmas to Manchester Dogs’ Home. In 2014 the dogs’ home was set on fire – two teenagers were arrested but no charges were ever brought and no one has ever been charged with the blaze that took 60 dogs’ lives.
The donations the project received were incredible.
In 2023, the chosen rescue was Dogs Trust – Merseyside branch.
Inspired by how well the project had done the year before, I decided to see if I could hold a couple of fundraisers. The first was in the run-up to the King’s coronation. I held a raffle, where the prize was a basket of treats for humans and dogs to enjoy over the bank holiday weekend. The raffle raised just under £100, and I bought hard-wearing durable toys with the proceeds.
Next, the local Jollyes pet store agreed to host a fundraising event in their store in November. We received a lot of food donations, and the cash donations were spent in the store on the day.
I pitch the donation drive as Christmas presents for rescue dogs – which it is, but it’s also because, after Christmas and New Year, rescue centers can receive an influx of dogs. Dogs who have been unwanted Christmas presents, or much loved dogs who’s caregivers have had a breakdown in their relationship during the festive season.
I hope that The Smokey Project can reach more centers and dogs in the coming years.
Dogs Trust – Merseyside branch donations December 2023