FROM DARK DAYS TO SILVER LININGS

10th Jun, 2022

Professional photography by Elysian

PART 1: Written by Ayla Malan

The morning of the 29th of July started just like any other morning for us, playing with our Bouvier babies. Just then, Sonja sent a notice about a Bouvier that urgently needed to be rescued. Details were scant. We knew that its owner had passed away and the dog had been in the house alone with the owner for 10 days before the neighbours noticed something was wrong. We knew that there were no other family members who could take the dog, and we knew we had one day to get the dog before the SPCA came to take it away.

When Sonja asked if we’d be willing to travel to Johannesburg to get the Bouvier, my father and I didn’t hesitate.

As we made our way to Johannesburg, we didn’t know what to expect. That the dog would be traumatised was a given, but would it be aggressive to strangers entering its house? Would it be so scared that it wouldn’t allow us near it? We had basically no information on the dog. We didn’t know if it was male or female, how old it was, or even what it was called.

A family friend met us at the gate and let us onto the property, explaining that she’d be back later as she had to pick up her grandchild. The front door of the house stood open, and inside we could hear the barking of an uncertain and scared dog.

I walked into the foyer of the house where a bucket with water and a small ceramic bowl had been placed. Over the past few days, someone had been coming to the house to feed the dog. The state of the house shocked me. Things were strewn about the house and I felt uncomfortable to invade someone else’s house. Based on the continued barking, the dog stood on the landing directly above my head. As the previous owner was female, I decided that the dog would be more comfortable with me approaching it. I asked my father to step outside and let me do my thing. I started at the bottom of the steps leading up to the first floor, slowly taking a step every few minutes while continuously talking to the dog. At this stage I hadn’t even seen it yet as the stairs completely blocked my view of the first-floor landing. I calmly told the dog about my day, about traffic, about cool things I’d read, and how I was there not to harm it, but to help it.

Finally, I’d inched myself far enough up the stairs that I could see the dog. Looking back at me was the cutest teddy bear Bouvier face.

I realised the dog was leading me to the one place it felt safe – its owner’s bedroom.

Having spent my whole life growing up with Bouviers, I’m well versed in their ways and temperament. I immediately knew this dog wasn’t aggressive but definitively unsure and uncertain of what was happening.

For the next 30 minutes, I continued to inch my way up the stairs, still talking to the dog about everything, until eventually I’d reached the landing.

By this time the dog had realised that I wasn’t there to harm it and even occasionally stopped barking to stand there and look at me. I tentatively held out my hand and, without hesitation, the dog walked over to me and sniffed my hand.

I stood still, relaxed and calm, while the dog sniffed my right hand and side of my leg. Just as quickly as contact was initiated, the dog jumped away and proceeded to retreat into the door of the passageway leading to the bedrooms, where it stood looking at me, as if willing me to follow it. The inching game ensued again, as every time I made a sudden movement or spoke too loudly, the dog would start barking again.

While talking to the dog and calmly waiting between movements, I had time to look around in the rooms in the hope of maybe seeing something that could identify the dog. What completely shocked me was how cupboards and their contents had been thrown on the floor, clothes were mixed with books and electronics, almost as if the house had been broken into. Dust and leaves littered the floors where windows stood open, cobwebs dangled delicately between walls and curtains, and a heavy musky smell hung about the air as we made our way deeper into the passageway.

As Bouviers are natural protectors of their owners, it made sense that the dog would feel comfortable going to where its owner was last and where it felt safe. When we got to the owner’s bedroom, there was a queen-sized mattress with dog blankets and pillows next to the owner’s bed.

The dog stopped barking, walked into the room, turned around and looked me in the eyes before lying down like a defeated baby. I told the dog it was not to blame for what had happened and that I was there to help. At that moment, the dog understood.

Its whole demeanour changed. It lifted its head and allowed me to approach. I tentatively held out my hand, palm towards the dog, and after a moment, it gently pressed its nose into my hand. Slowly and gently, I started combing my fingers through the matted hair on the side of its face, brown Bouv eyes staring at me. I spent the next few minutes just talking to the dog, scratching all the familiar spots that I know Bouviers adore: below and behind the ears, the side of the neck, and the chest between the front paws.

When the dog had relaxed, I slipped the lead I’d taken along with me around its head as it didn’t have a collar. The moment I told it that we were going for a walk, it jumped up and followed me, without hesitation. Unfortunately, because the dog’s hair was so long and matted, I still couldn’t make out whether it was male or female.

Phase 1 of getting the dog completed. Now on to phase 2 – getting the dog in the car. By this time, nearly an hour had passed and the family friend had returned. She stood outside talking to my father and telling him as much as she could about the situation surrounding the previous owner.

After the passing of the owner’s daughter, the owner had started to push her friends away, her family didn’t want to have contact with her and, from what we were able to gather, the lady had become quite ill in the year before her passing.

While we were talking to the family friend, we casually walked through the front yard with the dog following as we went. When we tried to coax the dog into the back of the car, it completely refused. Fortunately, it didn’t seem to mind in the least being picked up into the car.

We thanked the family friend for letting us onto the property and for making us aware of the situation, and made our way to deliver the dog to Sonja and Marenzia for assessment.

Because the dog was restless, I decided to sit in the back. It came to lie with its head next to me, and this is how we drove all the way. I kept talking to the dog, combing my fingers through its hair the whole time, offering it consolation for having had to leave the only home it had known. The owner might have had unhappy times, but it was abundantly clear that she’d loved the dog very much.

PART 2: All about Eberhard – written by Ayla Malan

His coat was neglected, but you could see he was loved, as mentally this boy is one of the most stable Bouviers I have.

Enter Joshua Eberhard on the afternoon of the 29th of July 2021. At this stage we didn’t know that the Bouvier was called Eberhard. All we knew was that his owner had passed away.

We called him “Joshua”, which means God Saves. Later we found out his name was Eberhard, and thus he’s now known as Joshua Eberhard.

As Bouvier Rescue SA didn’t have a holding facility, we had to kennel Eberhard with Merenzia Grove, the owner of Warriors Training Kennels. She’s a wonderful, talented lady and trainer. The kennels were on another plot close enough so I could go down to see Eberhard.

Shame. I often wondered what was going through his mind. Now he was taken out of his home and put in a kennel. How did he take this? To my surprise, very well! Bouviers, as a breed, don’t generally do well in kennels.

His first two to three days in the kennel, “Ebzi” – as he’s now fondly called by his new adopted owners – was shy and quiet. He’d sit outside his kennel and watch the goings-on at Warrior Training Kennels. He didn’t smell very nice, so Merenzia gave him a bath. He had a bit of a skin problem that the vet quickly sorted. We then decided Ebzi needed to be clipped down due to matts in his coat. He wasn’t very happy with me clipping him, but never once did he growl. He was a gentleman.

Part 3: Written by Sonja Pienaar – Chairman of Bouvier des Flandres Rescue South Africa

We soon noticed he loved children, as Merenzia has a little girl of nine years old. The first thing Ebzi would do when he came out of his kennel on lead would be to look for the children. This still seems odd to us because – as far as we know – there were no children in his previous life. It was just a couple of days and Ebzi made himself known by raising his deep voice when he heard something. Most of the resident dogs at Warriors are German Shepherds, and Ebzi’s deep voice boomed over their barks.

Ebzi was sociable with the other dogs, male, female, small or large. He loved running loose, either by himself or with Maggie the German Shepherd. He was careful of strangers, not overzealous to meet them, but not so aloof as to put them off. It was very clear he loved women, and men took third place after the children.

Ebzi was settling in well to daily life in the kennels, and he had no issues that we could find. He didn’t mind the cat, sheep or horse. He did love to chase the birds when he was out on a walk. The time was coming to find our beloved Ebzi a new home. We had him neutered, fully vet checked and he passed with flying colours.

When we rehome a rescue, we try to find out as much as possible about his previous home and owners. We then try to replicate this as well as we can. We know Ebzi lived with a woman and that he slept in the home in his owner’s bedroom. He didn’t show any signs of playing with toys, but he loved to run. We started going through the application forms for Eberhard. We wanted a woman in the mix, he had to sleep in the home if possible with the owners in the room, and we wanted adopted parents who had knowledge of Bouviers, who’d take him for walks and let this boy run!

We found the perfect home in Cape Town with Michelle and Jason Maartens! We were sad to see Ebzi go and we miss his booming voice, but he’s happy, and that’s what matters. Our feelings come second to every rescue we rehome. Their happiness and well-being is always first on our list.

Part 4: GETTING A RESCUE – Ebzi! AKA Eberhard

Written by Michelle Maartens (Ebzi’s new owner)

After having Mojo, a Bouvier Cross, for 15 years we weren’t ready for a new dog in our lives for quite some time. Then one day I decided NOW is the time and suggested fostering for Bouvier Rescue SA. My husband, Jason, agreed – YAY!

Emily Wessels, from BRSA, came to visit our home for the inspection. They were initially concerned because we stay in an apartment block, but when they saw that we live right on a beach – one of the few leash-free dog-friendly beaches in Cape Town, they were reassured.

Following much rigorous questioning... we were approved to foster – YAY!

We’d actually already fallen in love with Eberhard before we applied to foster. We saw him on Bouvier Rescue SA’s Facebook page, which we’ve been following for many years. We watched his videos so many times – we could see he was a “good boy”.

Rather than foster, because we were so far away in Cape Town from the rescue centre in Mpumalanga, we committed to adopt him instead. We keep his original name, Eberhard, for formal purposes – it’s a good German name, but he now responds to Ebzi.

Waiting three weeks for him to come home felt like an eternity while preparing “ebzithing” for him… We made a “kennel” especially to size for him and his bed on our balcony, got all his food, a riser for his bowls, “ebzcetra”.

Ebzi didn’t arrive till 22h00 at night in the darkness. He looked so scared and was curled up small after his more than 24-hour trailer journey.

We’d made a plan that, when he arrived, Jason would quickly take his bed and blanket, especially sent with him from BRSA, up to his special kennel so that he’d feel he had a safe and familiar place… It worked – he went straight to his cosy new “box” like an F1 driver and rested well.

We’d wanted to get a puppy that you could train from the start, but now we decided to rescue a dog with his own personality, and we were excited to find out all about him.

Ever since then, Ebzi is coming on in leaps and bounds.

For example, he was scared of the sound of kibbles rattling in his food bowl at first. We’ve successfully desensitised his fear by loudly saying “SCARY bowl” full of delicious dinners. It was apparent from day one that he knew the sound of the fridge door, a clue to his previous life… he clearly, however, didn’t have experience of sliding doors – he learnt that lesson for the first time!

At first, he was very sad at times. We gave him his space and always abundant love... and now we no longer see sad days.

Now with the new freedom of the beach, on his daily “ebzercise” – he runs kilometres in the sand and sea – wow… he’s developed into a more muscular dog. He loves to learn new tricks and games and to go in the car for road trips. The best was going to visit the brand-new beautiful Bouvier Rescue SA headquarters and meeting his original saviours.

We’re all loving and learning together… Ebzi loves us in different ways, and we love him very much.

I’m a medical doctor doing house calls. Ebzi now comes with me to house calls and I take him as a therapy dog to old age homes. He’s so gentle and is particularly good with dementia patients. One particularly sweet story is when a lovely 95-year-old lady, who’d not spoken a word for four years, said, “nice dog.”

I also regularly take him to creches to teach children how to approach a big dog and let them pet him.

Adopting a rescue is never easy as they come with all of their pre-loaded personality.

We think many times about Ebzi’s previous life – he was never abused by his previous owner, but we know the sadness of her death upended his world. We know that she certainly loved him very much… and she’d done all the hard work of house-training… which you don’t get with a new puppy.

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