Saturday, 24 February 2018

It's all about what you've done...

The podenco is a distinctive-looking dog: tall and slender with a pointed face and oversized ears. Imagine a thin greyhound with 10% bat DNA and you’re almost there. Now imagine four of them in the back of a small car. My car. Their enthusiastic faces and their wagging tails are framed in the rear-view mirror. This wasn’t part of the plan. It’s October 2017. My plan is to meet Suzannah for a cup of coffee and, almost inevitably, cake. But before we do that, her hounds need some exercise. We could walk the dogs around the block… or we could pop them in my car and take them into the fields. They love a run in the fields. Four pairs of doggy eyes gaze hopefully at me. How could I say no?

Our relationship hasn’t always been quite so laid back. Once we were unhappily married to each other. Today we’re neither. To be honest, Suzannah’s career focus has become something of an inspiration to me. I’m not sure if that’s because of everything or despite it. Anyway, the reason we’re meeting is because Dr Suzannah Stacey MRCVS is closing The Sussex Veterinary Acupuncture Referral Centre, which she’s been running for several years, she’s selling her home and she’s moving to Spain. There she’ll be helping to run the new Hope for Podencos Rescue Centre, which will be partially funded with the money from her house.

Podencos are remarkably tolerant creatures, as our cramped car journey proves. Unfortunately this doesn’t always help them. These dogs are sometimes deliberately underfed and neglected in Spain by owners who believe this improves their hunting ability. And if that doesn’t work, they’re likely to be abandoned or killed. With unwanted podencos often seen as unsuitable pets, it seems these elegant hounds need some human advocates.

Hence the rescue work and the associated charity. "When you get to the pearly gates, it’s all about what you’ve done", Suzannah tells me as I finally sit down with a piece of pear and chocolate cake. "It’s ‘have you made a difference?’" She’s definitely making a difference: already working with a small group of people who are rescuing dogs and – thanks to a friendly Spanish airline – transporting some to new homes in the UK.

Suzannah and her own rescued dogs – Ollie, Elsa, Eleanor and Lucy – drive to Spain in November. Her Instagram and Facebook posts show the new centre with dogs scampering around in the sun. I regularly check online, determined to visit before too long and maybe even to write the defining story of podenco rescue in the 21st century. She tells me she has all the background information I need.

A Facebook message informs me about Suzannah’s death just a few weeks after Christmas. Sudden, unexpected, tragic. A potential tragedy for the charity, too: with paperwork incomplete, they won’t receive the money needed to complete the purchase of the Spanish centre.

And then... well, not a miracle but certainly hope. Light in the darkness. An online campaign to save the centre in Suzannah’s memory manages to raise half the money needed in a few weeks. Although it’s still €60,000 short of its target, the deadline for payment has been pushed back. Raising the rest of the money feels achievable. It would be easy for me to look back at my last conversation with Suz as portentous. Maybe it was.

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