Romeo Reform, known to his friends as Gandalf, came to Greyhound Trust Hall Green on July 17th 2019.
While he excelled at his racing career, retirement turned out to be a bit more of a struggle.
Gandalf loves people and wants to be best friends with everyone he meets, but found a lot of things in life after racing stressful and scary. As classic case of fear aggression, this generally resulted in a lot of noise! After almost a year in the kennels, he had made three attempts at homing but sadly none of them worked out. It was all too stressful for him, and back he came.
After his third return he moved to our Broadmarsh kennels near Stourbridge, which was how I came to meet him. I homed a highly reactive dog in the past, and was well aware of just how much of a commitment this is. I wasn’t planning to do it again in a hurry! It soon became clear that Gandalf wasn’t going to make much improvement unless he could be fostered, so I brought him home to meet my hounds. Luckily for him they are all very tolerant, and I signed the foster arrangement on the 15th March…a week before the UK went into its first lockdown.
For a dog like Gandalf, the lockdown was both a blessing and a curse. Initially, the lack of people out and about worked in his favour, meaning we could have quiet walks without meeting other dogs. Later on it seemed that every man, woman and dog were out walking, which made life rather more difficult. He was just petrified of them. Any dog, at any distance, caused a major outburst. I established that our safe distance was about 100 metres…making it very hard to walk him without risking a meltdown. Surprised close up, he would rear up in fear, and even fall over backwards in his desperation to get away, the whole time screaming the place down. Even on a good day he was on high alert the whole time, and exhausted afterwards as a result.
My saviour was his addiction to cheese spread. We became experts at hiding behind cars and up cul-de-sacs, chowing down on squeezy cheese until the offending dog was out of sight, all in an effort to keep him ‘below threshold.’ Walks were measured in cheese; on a bad day we could get through half a tube in a 20 minute walk. At home we did relaxing activities and began some simple training to encourage him to focus on me more. Our progress was measured in tiny steps; the first time he managed to respond to me on a walk felt like a major breakthrough! We practised watching other dogs and disengaging, looking away to have a treat and gradually his ‘safe distance’ reduced. After a year, he can just about cope with a dog on the other side of the road if there’s a plentiful supply of cheese… for Gandalf that’s a major achievement!
Home life has also had its ups and downs. He arrived with the worst sleep startle I have ever encountered, launching himself across the room if disturbed. The first few months were about crowd control, keeping all the dogs safe. As Gandalf gradually settled and relaxed, he startled less and less, so it rarely happens now. Awake, he loves to play. He lives for tennis balls and squeaky toys. He adores being in the garden and will happily sunbathe all day. Being extremely nosy and very bright, he keeps me on my toes. One time he watched me planting bulbs, and the next minute he was digging his own holes next to mine! He also knows exactly where I have put his squeaky ball and asks for it when its playtime. His best friend is Daisy, who he loves to wind up, unless he is on squirrel patrol at the end of the garden.
Looking back on the last year, Gandalf has come an incredibly long way. Fast asleep next to me as I write this, he is proof there is a home for every hound. Gandalf is now raising money for Hall Green as a Sponsor Hound, and has started to feature on my YouTube Channel. He likes to model for me, and has his own series called Gandalf’s Toy Tests.