As many of you know from the InstaSpam, we’ve rehomed a beautiful Sprollie named Django (now Hendricks) from the Dogs Trust who’s joined us as Head Skipper and Ball Chaser for the foreseeable future (note: forever). We’re so glad it all worked we’ve found that the boat feels like more of a home now we have him. The adoption process was made so much easier by the Dogs Trust, but the part lots of people get most nervous about is the home check! So here’s how we met Hendricks (a.k.a Henny, Goof, Dog, or Smelly) and went through the home check on a boat:
I’ve known since I was really young that I wanted a dog of my own when I grew up, and it’s something I’ve been working towards for a number of years and have put an immense amount of research into throughout that time. Unfortunately, being a young person and facing the rent trap means that despite my career and my job always meaning I will be in a good position to provide company for a dog throughout the day, I’ll be unlikely to be able to house a dog in a rented home as private landlords tend to have a very inflexible ‘No Pets’ policy.
Living on a boat and owning our own space as part of this bonkers adventure we’re having provided the perfect space for us to start to look at rehoming, and we’ve been discussing it for over a year. (Don’t worry, we have thought about what we’ll do should we decide to return to land and the dog fits into this too!)
A few months ago we decided we’d pop into a Dogs Trust and see what steps we’d need to take in order to rehome, thinking it would possibly take us months or we’d have to jump through a few hoops based on our unconventional set up.
It was a Sunday and the centre was so busy with potential adopters of all kinds but the team at DT Shrewsbury are brilliant in making sure everyone gets time to see the dogs and have a chat. We were given a quick introduction to how things worked and invited to go and have a look around and see if any of the dogs stood out to us. I found it so hard seeing all those dogs in need of a home, if you’re a slightly-emotional-sensitive-dog-lover I suggest taking someone with stronger will than yourself with you or it will be quite a painful day!
We narrowed it down to three potential dogs based on what we knew we had in mind breed wise combined with demeanour in their pens. Two, both collies, already had a first reserve placed on them so we decided to find out more about the third, a terrier mix. We also had to fill out an application sheet that outlined our lifestyle and our living circumstances so the team could easily review it. Then a team member walked us through the terrier’s background (and at this point we explained the boat, which was all fine apparently) and we were given the opportunity to walk him.
He was a lovely dog in the kennels but he was very reactive to other dogs on the lead, and even with a fair bit of dog walking experience between us, Chris and I could not get him to shift his focus on us or listen during the walk. He had started to calm down a bit towards the end, but we just knew that even with the amount of work we were willing to put in, he just wouldn’t be happy on a boat as he’d need to be able to burn off all that energy in an enclosed space without the distraction of other dogs. Towpaths aren’t the best environment for this. So I went back inside to call a team member to come and take him back to the kennel for us.
Then our visit took a turn. As I went back in to get the dog taken back to his kennel, I ended up talking to the centre manager. She reviewed our application sheet in more detail and suggested we meet a collie mix that had only come in that day. He was completely unassessed therefore, but he’d apparently only been handed in as his owners felt they were leaving him at home alone too long. It’s unusual to meet a dog the day they’ve been dropped off but the team were really accommodating as apparently our application sheet fit a lot of things they tend to need in potential rehomers.
Taking into account the disastrous walk we’d just had and the fact this new dog was yet to be assessed by their behaviourists we were quite apprehensive. After a long wait we were called round to meet him and we went into one of the training pens with a volunteer just to play and walk around.
Chris and Django got on immediately. Django insisted on a cuddle and some slobbery kisses, much to the amusement of the volunteer who turned to me and said: “I have a feeling the pecking order is going to be him (Chris), The Dog and then you from now on!” I laughed, but it’s true. Django and Chris seemed to bond quickly and seeing them play together gave me the best feeling! We’ve since learned that he’s really selective in who he’ll let approach him without initially becoming worried and wanting a bit of space. So for some reason that day he decided we were okay and was happy to approach us and give us each a fair few slobbery kisses!
We put down a reserve that day. In effect, we’d walked into the Dog’s Trust hoping to find out a bit more and come away with the strong possibility of rehoming a dog within a matter of weeks. Woops!
We had to wait 48 hours to see whether his owners would reclaim him, the Dogs Trust have this cooling off period in place as sometimes people do change their minds. After all, it is best for the dog! Django’s owners did check he was doing okay but ultimately opted to leave him with the Trust. So later that week we were making preparations for a home check.
A home check (or boat check) is quite unnerving. Especially as with a boat it’s less than conventional as a home, so you don’t really know what a home checker will make of it. Now that we’re out the other side, here are my points for getting through a boat-check when rehoming a dog if you’re a liveaboard and cruise most of the time:
- Making sure your boat best demonstrates your lifestyle. They will bring the dog with them for a boat check, they don’t always do this with a ‘brick’ home but they like to see how the dog responds to the boat. To help with this, we made sure we were moored near enough for car access to the canal, but still with a short walk to the boat. Which meant that Hendricks got some time to explore the towpath on his way to the boat.
We also made sure we were moored on the type of mooring that is typical of where we spend most of our time: close enough to walk to a town but on grassy towpath and preferably with a few other boats nearby. Rather than a busy short term visitor mooring with with paved towpath outside, for example.
- Shipshape and Bristol Fashion. We took extra care to make sure that the decks and engine room were as tidy as possible as we used to keep a lot of things stored there for the running and maintenance of the boat that you wouldn’t want a curious dog getting at. The engine room is off limits now he’s living with us unless under supervision and tools / mooring equipment are kept out of the way when not in use. The rest of the boat was given a quick clean and a tidy too but that’s probably a given!
- Sleeping space. Clear or mark out the dog’s own ‘safe space’, or bed area in the boat. As a boat is small it helps to show that you’ve considered sleeping quarters. We didn’t want to buy a bed in advance as if we didn’t pass the home check then we’d have a bed we couldn’t use taking up lots of precious room in a little boat! So we made a clear space where we would put the newly purchased bed in the event of an approval.
- Eating space. Where will the pooch be able to eat uninterrupted? Narrowboats are..well, narrow. So it’s quite hard to set up bowls in a place that you’re unlikely to have to brush past the dog during their dinner. We had no idea if Hendricks would be fussy about eating somewhere quietly or if he’d happily ignore his surroundings while eating (it’s the latter!) but we set up and pointed out where we planned to have his bowls and thought out a few back ups in case of either scenario.
- Questions. They want to make sure you can demonstrate that you’ve thought about how the dog will slot into your existing lifestyle and what concessions you’ll have to make, especially when it comes to training and building trust, be prepared for questions on this! There are a few things that you have to address in your paper application while at the centre, but the home check goes over elements of this again. Such as, when you leave the dog, how long will the dog be left per day? If you’re going away, where will the dog stay? … and so on. It’s worth having thought through these in more detail so you can go through it.
- Exercise. Completely dependant on the breed or mix but they do check you’re aware of the implications of exercise suited to the breed you’re adopting and what they should be. As we were adopting a Sprollie we did have to make it clear we know how much mental stimulation and exercise Hendricks needs. They’ll also check where you’ll be exercising the dog. Easy on a boat, just point to the towpath and raise that there’s 2000 miles more of it available! We also discussed working Hendricks on a training lead until we were sure of his recall, as we had no secure garden. So this is the alternative!
That was it, we passed the home check! Two weeks after our initial enquiry we had a dog. It was sooner than we expected but we really felt, as is often the case, that Hendricks effectively chose us the moment he put his paws on Chris’ chest and gave him a flurry of slobbery kisses in the exercise pen when we first met him. Many other rescue owners have said the same; in a strange way the dog will pick you and when they do, you’ll certainly know it!
Do you have a boat dog or are you thinking of getting one? How did they pick you? Let us know your adoption or puppy stories for boat dogs, we’d love to read them!