I make no secret (nor do I brag) about having been briefly on the wrong side of the tracks and got up to more mischief before I hit 18yrs than most manage in a lifetime. What I got up to and all the finer details are irrelevant but a very select few of the people I knew then I’m still in touch with now.
“A” is a guy in his late 40’s and a former drug dealer who served more than a decade in prison for drugs and firearms related crime. He’s a good lad believe or not and brought up his two sons alone save for the few stints he did inside during which time the lads stayed with his Mum (their Grandmother)
Both lads were neglected and later completely abandoned by their Mother (different Mother’s too so A picked a real pair in choice of women)
The youngest lad lived with his Mum and two half siblings until social services intervened and removed them from her placing him temporarily in foster care and after a fierce fight to obtain sole custody, A got clean and found a job, suitable housing and is doing a great job of raising his now 13yr old lad “L”
He absolutely loves dogs and in his short life L has seen no fewer than three dogs come and go from his life – all huge mastiff’s employed more as protection / deterrents than family pets and he fell in love with each then broke his heart as each one left.
The last one “Roxy” made me twitch because she arrived from someone that knew someone that was friendly with A and she’d had no training whatsoever which together with her sheer size and strength made her potentially dangerous. Roxy was a nice dog to be fair and quick to learn but she worried me and I once pulled up outside A’s house with Cassi in the back seat and when Roxy saw her, she leapt clean over the fence and launched herself at the window with all fours really smacking into the car with such force it made the entire car rock back and forth like the scene from Cujo.
A grabbed and struggled to pull her away from my car apologising the whole time saying “She’s just really protective of me and doesn’t like other dogs that’s all” and I said to him that’s what I expected her to do and why I won’t go inside the house or be anywhere near her with my dogs.
L adored her and she quickly became protective of him and A but my worries about her aggression were right and she attacked and killed a neighbour’s cat and was handed over to someone I believe worked with a Mastiff rescue so hopefully she was trained and re-homed.
Couple of years ago I got a call out of the blue from “A” asking if I could pick up and look after “L” for a few hours. The police had rocked up out of the blue regarding allegations made by A’s ex-girlfriend and wanted him to go to the station for questioning and I didn’t mind at all so drove to his house and collected L with a change of clothes and gave the police my contacts to let me know as and when A was back home.
L was only 11 or 12yrs old at the time and a great kid who was doing remarkably well considering the start he’d had in life and his Mother being a heroin addict who cared so little about him she didn’t challenge or even turn up to a single court hearing regarding his future.
His life is still far from ideal with his Dad still involved in stuff he shouldn’t be but L is a good kid, sharp as a knife and has a huge heart. A told him the police wanted to interview him about something they needed his help with and assured L he wasn’t in any trouble and I reiterated the same keeping things light and conversation breezy.
“You’ll need some old, warm scruffs and something for your feet that can get mud covered lad I’m gonna need your help sorting the horses if you don’t mind?”
L was made up and said he’d love to come help at the farm so he layered up and was put to work helping me muck out, feed, groom, stuff nets and refill buckets and generally did all the grafting without a single complaint.
A got back from the station earlier than expected so L didn’t need to stay overnight but he enjoyed his few hours at the farm so much he asked to come again and I said he was more than welcome and arranged to pick him up at 6am Saturday morning to do the early shift.
Thinking the novelty may have worn off I was surprised to get a text from A confirming he was up and ready to go so I collected L and brought him over to do the early morning muck out and feeds and then let him get on one of the horses for a gentle plod.
He absolutely loved the dogs and really enjoyed learning about their body language and how we train them using positive reinforcement.
This has been an on-off arrangement since then because L has thankfully got involved with extra-curricular activities at school since he started secondary. He plays football for the school team and I think having been flagged up as a child from a high-risk home environment he’s been sponsored to take part in clubs and trips that offer weekends and breaks similar to the Duke of Edinburgh Awards.
Since he went back to school in the Autumn I’ve only seen L once because he’s been busy but happened to bump into his Dad this afternoon in town who said straight away “I was planning to ring you this week! L has just got from a break on a farm working with dogs that are being trained for search and rescue. He absolutely loved it and said he wants to come to yours and show you what he learned”
“I’m really chuffed to hear that course he can! Tell you what I’ll drop you a text later this week and if he’s free I’ll pick him up at the weekend and take him out for a few hours with the dogs”
“Yeah yeah do he’ll love that. Banging about dogs and horses and saying they taught them this and that and he already knew what to do cos you’d shown him and he’s really getting into it but he got upset at being told to turn his back on a pony that kept nipping him what’s all that about?”
“What do you mean he got upset?”
“I dunno some pony kept trying to bite him and the woman who owned the farm said when he did that L had to turn his back and ignore him because ponies don’t like being ignored and only want affection and attention. He didn’t like ignoring it and said he knew how it felt to have someone turn their back on you”
That broke my heart. The poor kid had experienced neglect and abandonment so much in his short life he empathised with that pony to the extent he physically struggled to just turn around and ignore it.
“I’ll send you a few links for him to look at then pick him up at weekend and take him out with me to spend some time with OTTB “Red” who is a sweet-natured soul at heart but a bit of a bad-mannered shit-head at times. I’ll explain to him how turning away isn’t cruel or unkind and doesn’t make animals feel upset the same way he might think”
Few hours later A text back saying L was buzzing to spend the day with me at weekend and I got thinking about what the benefits of animals can be for young kids with problems or from a poor home environment can have in the longer term.
I know it kept me occupied and from as far back as I can remember my weekends and every single day holidays were spent at yards and farms with horses. If I hadn’t become horse-mad and been able to indulge my passion for riding I could have very easily ended up going down the wrong path as well.
We were seriously poor council house kids and practically feral but horses, dogs and having a bucket for a swimming pool kept me on the straight and narrow.
He’s lucky to at least have his Dad who despite being a wrong sort does idolise his son and he has many opportunities available to him through school because he is flagged up as needing extra support.
To A’s credit he encouraged his son to keep in touch with and maintain a close relationship with his half-brother who was placed with his father after Mum didn’t contest any custody applications. His half-sibling “T” is a good kid too and after L has met and done the basics with me and Red at the farm I might even invite T to join us for a few hours if he’s interested.
I’m almost planning to make L something of a project because he’s such a good kid and knowing how much he struggled to turn his back on a pony means he is nothing but heart and whilst the likelihood of me giving him a few basic pointers on animal training is unlikely to change or set his path in life (chances are he’ll discover girls soon enough and be off!!) I’m hopeful that he might not follow his Dad’s footsteps into a life of crime.
My nephew causes chaos for his parents at home and acts up like nobody’s business he’s a pure unfiltered 100% little shit for them but when he’s at ours, I stick him in his scruffs and warm clothing then take him outdoors to help me with the dogs and horses and he loves it.
No tablets, games consoles or anything else of the sort even sees the light of the day for the duration when he’s at ours and he doesn’t whinge, complain or act out once. Here is said nephew on full hay net and bucket duty.
On the other side of all this A and I are mutual acquaintances of a former jockey who took nearly £750,000 in one year’s winnings between 1998-99. He was a stable lad and from a poor background but given the chance to ride for one yard owner and quickly established himself and won or was placed in nearly every race but sadly, his success was also his undoing.
The free and unrestricted access to all the trappings that come with money along with an addictive personality many horsemen and women can have (it’s what makes a good rider!) meant he tested positive for alcohol and drugs, lost his license and with the work now unavailable and few friends to help get him back on track he became a heroin addict and is serving a custodial sentence for armed robbery.
Again he’s a good lad at heart and we got on well but without someone keeping him on the straight and narrow he fell foul of everything it offered and could never get clean or motivated enough to get himself back on form and kick-start his once very promising career.
I’m really looking forward to having L this weekend and hope he sees the technique of ignoring the bad, rewarding the good a little differently and maybe even wants to learn and do more as well.
Won’t post any photographs of L because obviously he’s from a less than ideal background and I don’t want to give away his identity but I’m curious to know how much benefit animals can have as an early intervention for high risk children or as a means of therapy and rehab for offenders.
I mean look at how happy they made me 😀