Sheila and Steve Cunningham have devoted most of their lives to nurturing rescue Scotties. This article is based on interviews with Sheila and some STECS trustees who have worked together over the last 15 years to help rescues with special needs.

Sheila recalls, “Our first rescue from STECS was an ex-breeding bitch, Lulu. We already had Archie who was glad to have a companion. Lulu came with the usual problems. She wasn’t house trained, was very timid around people and fearful of loud noises. She eventually calmed down – but no amount of grooming could make her look tidy, she was a tom boy!

“When Archie sadly passed away, Lulu missed him terribly. Robbie came to us via STECS, aged five, with epilepsy and some serious behavioural issues – but he and Lulu got on well. Robbie must have suffered abuse in his early life because, even though he is great with other dogs, he has never overcome his fear of humans. Anything resembling a stick provokes an attack. We have learned where the boundaries lie. We always warn people not to touch him and he has DO NOT PET sign on his lead. It’s a shame as he is the most loving Scottie we’ve ever had.”

Rehoming coordinator Gill Simms admits, “It can take as long as a year for a rescue to settle into its new home. But sometimes you can’t always solve the problem – some rescues can’t be fixed. All we can do is love them, be patient and kind, run their batteries down on good walks or at play and keep them, and others, safe.”

The Cunninghams also adopted a Scottie, Bob, from a neighbour who had developed cancer. “Bob was a loner – the most aloof Scot we have ever known,” said Sheila. “He was happy in his own space and with his own company.”

Sadly, Lulu crossed Rainbow Bridge aged 13. And then came Wilf.

“Wilf was a year old and had come into STECS after attacking a dog,” said Sheila. “He had spent most of his young life outside, so wasn’t house trained, had never been walked and barked at everything. He still gets aggressive on the lead when he encounters a dog he doesn’t like, so this is still a work in progress.”

Sadly, Bob died, leaving too much of an age gap between Robbie, now 11 and young Wilf. Sheila and Steve found a four-year old ex-breeding bitch playmate, Rhona, from the Many Tears rehoming organisation in Wales.

“Rhona loves Wilf and other dogs, cuddles and the garden,” says Sheila, “but more than anything, she loves FOOD. Like many ex-breeding bitches, she wasn’t house trained and had never been walked. We got Rhona used to the lead and harness gradually by dropping cheese near the equipment so she would sniff and play with it. Then we stood her paws in the harness, eventually lifting it up and fastening it behind her back – these are much better for nervous dogs than harnesses which go over the head. We lured her around the garden on her lead and in days she was ready for the off.

“Rhona was a chewer, with a particular fondness for leather – mainly the sofa, my handbag and Steve’s slippers! It was undoubtedly because she was nervous being in a new environment. After a quick spray of the furnishings with [INSERT NAME OR TYPE OF SPRAY] and a month in her new home the chewing stopped.”

Sheila’s philosophy is to make their home environment very relaxed and to give her rescues plenty of time to settle in. And she has nothing but good things to say about the support she received along the way, “The help STECS gives us and our Scots goes above and beyond.”

Welfare officer Cath Marchbank adds, “Sheila and Steve are an excellent example of how calm, patient owners who understand the breed can provide a safe haven where reactive dogs can relax and bond with their new family. Nearly all rescues come with issues – some more challenging than others. Most can be worked on with support from STECS, positive reinforcement trainers and behaviourists.”

The Scottish Terrier Emergency Care Scheme (STECS)

Registered charity numbers 275666 / SC041298