Annie's Story

Published in About Animals

Sometime in early November 2018, a bitch was dumped by the roadside above Jelsa, not far from the Medical Services Clinic, with her five puppies.

Annie with daughter Mrka, 22nd July 2020. Annie with daughter Mrka, 22nd July 2020. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The mother was a German Shepherd-type cross, although her ears were aligned horizontally rather than being up and vertical. As she was not micro-chipped, there was no telling where the family came from, who the previous owner was, or who dumped them.

Abandoned, Annie and her puppies when found, 10th November 2018.

The puppies were big enough to have been weaned, but having no other source of food, they were still feeding from their mother. Fortunately for them, on November 10th, some kind animal-loving ladies noticed the little family, and provided them with food and water. Tanja and Marija lived nearby, and quickly became concerned that the dogs might come to harm, whether on the road or through human malevolence. They contacted Eco Hvar for help in removing them to a place of safety. Hvar does not have an animal shelter, so needy animals have to be given sanctuary privately. It was a chilly evening on November 12th when the family arrived in Pitve. The puppies were rounded up and transported without any problem. The mother, probably fearing another dumping - or worse - ran off. Her two rescuers ran after her for quite some time before she became too tired to resist capture. She was very suspicious of her new surroundings when she arrived in Pitve, but quickly cheered up when a good meal was provided for her and the puppies, although the puppies, probably through force of habit, still had a feed from her after they had finished.

First days, still suckling. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

I immediately named the mother Annie, because for some reason she called to mind the feisty heroine of the 1950 musical film 'Annie get your gun'. It only took a couple of days for Annie and the puppies to realise that there was plenty enough for them all to eat on a regular basis, so Annie put a firm stop to their suckling, and the puppies didn't protest.

The puppies at play, 13th November 2018. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Annie and her puppies showed from the start that they were sweet-natured. The next couple of weeks passed, and the puppies grew in stature and confidence. Annie settled in, but still wore a worried look on her furrowed brow. It was obvious that she had been badly traumatized by the dumping.

Annie had a worried look at first. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

For several years, unwanted homeless dogs were being brought to me in Pitve: the numbers multiplied alarmingly, which led to Eco Hvar being founded in 2013. The situation did not change immediately. It was a true blessing when I discovered that the Animalis Centrum shelter, which is now in Kaštel Sućurac, was able to take them in and give them the chance of finding new homes. Eco Hvar started collaborating with Animalis Centrum in 2016. When the time seemed right to transfer the dogs to the animal shelter, the decision was taken to keep Annie in Pitve until she regained confidence in the world around her.

Their last day together, 21st November 2018. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

On 21st November 2018, the puppies went to Kaštela, where they were instant stars.

The puppies arrive at the Animalis Centrum Shelter. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

As with all newcomers, they were made very welcome by Dr. Filipović and her staff, so they adapted quickly to their new surroundings. They were slightly bemused by having to pose for photographs, but took it all in their stride. Unsurprisingly, their appeal was strong, and they found good homes in a fairly short time, some around Split, some in Germany.

The photo-call. Photos: Vivian Grisogono

Annie took the departure of her puppies in her stride, indeed she seemed relieved not to have to keep calling them to order when their play got too boisterous. She gradually gained confidence. On November 30th, Annie accepted a collar for the first time, a major step forward in her emotional rehabilitation.

Annie's new collar, 30th November 2018. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

She learned very quickly that she was not allowed to go to the other dogs' bowls until they had finished their meal. There were many basic lessons for her to master, and she showed that she was intelligent and willing. The only thing she hated was the lead, and it took many months of patient practice to persuade her that lead-walking was not something to be feared.

Training sessions: kindness, rewards, firmness and repetition.

It was not difficult to see why being dumped had been such a shock to her. She had obviously had a stable home: she was fully house-trained, and never once made a mess indoors; and she knew how to open doors, even the tricky ones which opened inwards and had vertical handles.

Annie relaxed and playful. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The furrowed brow relaxed, bit by bit, and she started to enjoy playing, especially with a ball. Educational games were sent to her from England by kind animal-lovers Julie and Nick: she got to grips with those in a trice, instantly working out how to uncover the little compartments to get at the treats inside.

Puzzling for some dogs, child's play for Annie! Photo: Vivian Grisogono

She was also very sociable with other dogs, both male and female. Apart from the dogs who were sharing the premises in Pitve, there were frequent visitors, such as hunting dog Asi, the handsome Malibu, and the little scamp Špiro.

Annie sharing her bed with Asi, 1st January 2019. Photo: Vivian Grisogono
Annie with Malibu. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Špiro was abandoned in Jelsa when young in June 2019, and was brought to Pitve for safe keeping. He was due to go to the Animalis Centrum shelter shortly after that. However, a charmer by nature, he endeared himself to all around him, and quickly found himself a new home in Jelsa with Antica, two other dogs and a cat, all of whom became his best friends. On occasion he stayed in Pitve, where he and Annie played endlessly. Whenever Špiro showed an interest in sex, which he did at a disgracefully young age, Annie would toss him aside and tell him off. Until she didn't.

Špiro trying it on (unsuccessfully!), 30th July 2019. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

One fine day in October 2019, her hormones got the better of her, and she let Špiro have his wicked way when no-one was looking. Two shocks for the helpless humans, who were taken by surprise: one, that Annie was on heat, which hadn't been obvious, and two, that Špiro was capable of doing the deed, despite being very small compared to his paramour.

Annie feeding her new-born puppies. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

On January 5th 2020, Annie's new puppies were born, and she looked after them diligently. They were an interesting mix of colours and characters. One of the males, whom we named Jaran, was cream-coloured, just as two had been in the previous litter. Who knows where that came from? Of the others, three were mainly black like their father: two males (Bačva and Milo) and one female, Mrka. Only one female, Žuja, had the brown colouring of her mother, but they all inherited her sweet-naturedness, intelligence and loyalty. 

Žuja, 17th June 2020. Bright, intelligent, fun, fairly dominant. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The puppies thrived. When they progressed to proper puppy food, it was a free-for-all at first, when they all shared from the same plate. Bačva led the charge, and made sure he got the lion's share. Consequently he grew the fastest, and this earned him his name (which means 'barrel').

Bačva, 17th June 2020. Gentle, easy-going, eager to please, but knows his own mind! Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Annie clearly enjoyed looking after her young through the early stages of their lives. She played with them, but could also be quite rough if they stepped out of line. She was particularly tough with Milo and Žuja, who were the most boisterous in the group.

Annie playing with Milo and Bačva, 6th March 2020. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Meanwhile, we humans also played our part in teaching the young ones how to behave. Feeding in orderly fashion was a priority, not just for the sake of good manners, also to ensure that all the puppies had a fair share of food. The first step was for each puppy to wear a collar, and to practise lead-walking. Jaran revealed that he was both fearful and determined, refusing point-blank to accept a collar. 

Extra rations: Jaran scrumping early figs, 12th April 2020. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

At feeding time, the four obedient puppies, Bačva, Milo, Žuja and Mrka, were each tethered at a distance from each other, until they learned to respect each other's bowls, while Jaran was fed separately in the entrance to the compound. The system worked well, and they soon reached the stage when it was no longer necessary to tether them. Having used this system with groups of dogs over some years, we have found that they quickly appreciate the advantage of having their own bowl without competition.

Annie and four of the puppies, 16th April 2020. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The puppies' basic training progressed, and Jaran joined in all the exercises, although he still refused to accept a collar, much less a lead. Over the next few months the puppies developed well, so the time came for them to move on. 

Milo, 17th June 2020. Alert, lively, playful, very intelligent, quite dominant. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The decision was taken that Annie would go with them, as had been planned when she first arrived. That was a bit of a wrench, but it was definitely in her best interests to have the chance of a good individual home, rather than living in the fluctuating community in Pitve. She is extremely loyal, intelligent and sensitive. She is also strong-willed, but eager to please, so she responds well to the gentle training methods based on communication and reward, without force or physical punishment. Annie, Žuja, Bačva and Milo were transferred in early August 2020 to the Animalis Centrum No-Kill animal shelter, now also known as the Beštie Animal Protective Foundation, Split. Mrka and Jaran have remained on Hvar, at least for the time being.

Annie and her 'room-mate', 17th August 2020. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

I visited the Animal Shelter on August 17th, and was delighted, but not surprised, to see that all 12 dogs which we had transferred there in recent weeks were looking healthy and well-cared for, with no hint of distress or discontent. Some of them were already promised good homes (which are checked on by the Shelter staff), while interest has been shown for most of the others. Some had been joining in the weekly swimming sessions which are organized at the local dog-friendly beach. They were all amply supplied with care, affection, exercise and pleasurable activities, besids the basic necessities of shelter, medical care, food and water.

Annie eagerly awaits her ideal home, 17th August 2020. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

At the time of writing, Annie has been sterilized, ready for her new life. She and her three puppies are probably going to Germany under the care of a German animal charity with long-standing ties to Animalis Centrum. We are confident that they will find homes to suit their needs. They have a good chance of a happy future, and we are glad we were able to contribute to giving them that chance.

© Vivian Grisogono MA(Oxon), August 2020.

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