Tilly’s Tale

8th Mar, 2024

Written by Beverly Cooke-Tonnesen

Professional photography by Antony Cousens Photography 

We adopted a very short-legged little floof from Uitenhage SPCA in August, 2019. Barkly soon became an Instagram and Facebook favourite ambassadog as people followed “his” daily posts.

Through his social media we held a number of successful fundraisers for the SPCA, found homes for other rescue floofs, and provided a daily smile for thousands of dog lovers. We also found a wonderfully supportive community of dog rescuers who understood the challenges we faced by adopting a previously traumatised adult dog. After two years of loving this little chap into a more trusting, calmer, but still dog-reactive fellow, we decided it was time to find him a friend.

An adult rescue was out of the question. Although we’ve managed, with the help of our trainer and behaviourist friend, Bev Davis, to get Barkly to accept other adult dogs as friends, it’s a process that takes months with each dog. The only option we had was… a PUPPY! (YAY!) A puppy and a plan… in case Barkly (Barkly's New Life and Barkly and Tilly) didn’t accept it.

Best-laid plans

The plan was this:

  1. 9- to 12-week-old puppy

  2. Female

  3. Small- to medium-sized

  4. Bev Davis would have the puppy at her home, initially, and we’d take Barkly there daily (he’s friends with her dogs) until he’d accepted the pup. If he never accepted the pup, Bev would keep it, especially if it had Schnauzer in the mix.

Good plan, right? Barkly could remain below threshold, no danger of the pup having to go into rescue again, and we’d be getting a little Schnauzerish floof to cuddle. You know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men…

We scoured the rescue pages on Facebook and, by and by, the schweetest little Schnoof appeared: a Schnauzer-cross! Project Dog, Durban, had five giant Schnauzer-cross puppies that were nine weeks old and ready to go to permanent homes. The little face with the perfectly round, white “o” around the mouth that had caught our eye was a female. Points 1 and 2 of “The Plan” – check! The post mentioned that daddy dog was a giant Schnauzer and mommy was a “small- to medium-sized farm dog” and that the puppies would be “medium-sized when fully grown”. Point 3 – check! We messaged Trainer Bev right away.

Side note: for avid dog nuts and dog parents since childhood, Dee and I were both remarkably doff when it came to knowing about giant Schnauzers. I thought you got miniature Schnauzers and the normal-sized ones and assumed those must be called “giant Schnauzers”. Yes – I know. (How does one type the face-palm emoji?)

It’s never just “Just”

On Thursday the 23rd of March, 2022, Trainer Bev fetched us and off we drove to Ballito to fetch four puppies. On the way the following dialogue ensued:

Trainer Bev: I want one!

Dee: One what?

Trainer Bev: One of the puppies. A female.

Dee: But you already have three dogs.

Trainer Bev: Yes, but Chewie’s old and not well, and I’ve always wanted a Schnauzer.

Bev C-T: But what about point 4 of “The Plan”?

Trainer Bev: Oh, you can take yours straight home – you’ll be fine!

Dee: (Very wide eyes.)

Bev: But what about Barkly?

Trainer Bev: Oh, he’ll be fine; you just need to…

Now, I’ve been alive long enough to know that when someone says “you just” you can guarantee some incredibly long and difficult instruction is about to follow. This time was no exception. According to Trainer Bev, we “just” had to keep Barkly and the puppy safely separated until he accepted her. This would entail “just” getting a baby playpen and “just” adding extra barriers. Then “just” feeding them on either side of a baby gate (we had one), “just” sleeping in separate rooms – one with Barkly, one with puppy, “just” making sure that one of us was sitting in the playpen with the puppy and one giving Barkly treats every time he looked at the puppy… and so on. If our excitement about getting a puppy wasn’t so enormous, we would’ve asked her to turn back there and then.

Of course we didn’t, though, and home we went with the gentlest little floofy, floppy puppy, who told us her name was Tilly on the car ride home. Her sister, Maddie, went home with Trainer Bev.

All’s well that ends well

The first few days were hard – I cannot lie. We thought we were going to have to spend the next fifteen or so years separated by closed doors, baby gates and make-shift fences. Trainer Bev kept encouraging and guiding us and we did all the necessary things, including brushing both dogs with the same brush until Barkly stopped lunging at the playpen. It took about ten days before we tried the first safely-muzzled fence-free interaction.

After that it took another week before our little Tigger of a rapidly growing bouncy pup had Barkly wrapped around her great big paw, and the two of them have romped, cuddled and explored together ever since.

Speaking of the great big paw… We now know what a giant Schnauzer is. It’s enormous! Tilly’s sister, Maddie, is indeed a medium-sized dog, taking after her mother. Matilda, however, is a small donkey. We have the shortest-legged dog in the world and the longest-legged dog – and we adore them completely. Tilly is the gentlest, sweetest, most empathetic creature imaginable, but she’s also a clown. She entertains us daily with her galoomphing about, her singing-along to the sound of the ice-cream van and her fascination with any animal that appears on the TV screen. She’s been the best thing that ever happened to Barkly and she’s completed our little family perfectly. She also has regular, wild playdates with her sister, Maddie, who’s a ball of delightful energy and a beloved addition to her family of four dogs. Yes – four! Chewie is still happily around and we hope he will be for quite some time.

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