It’s a tender moment; a warm embrace only made possible thanks to the life-saving help of animal lovers, including the team at north Northumberland-based dog sanctuary, SHAK.
Because if you rewind the clock back a month, the story was much different and there would have been no happy ending.
Found as a stray in the West Midlands at the start of November, stricken Axel was severally underweight through sheer neglect, tipping the scales at a painfully light 21kgs; a dog of this kind should normally be between 38 and 42kgs.
The emaciated pooch was in such a bad state that he had a body score of 1.5 out of 5, was badly dehydrated and very cold, had no muscle tone and was suffering from a horrible skin infection.
As SHAK founder Stephen says: “He was in perhaps the worst condition I have ever seen this breed in and the photos of him were shocking. He was in a horrendous way.”
After being found, K9 Search UK, Sandwell Dog Wardens and The Animal House Rescue pulled out all the stops to save him and Axel was initially put on an intravenous drip and was placed in emergency 24-hour veterinary care in Coventry.
He was then taken into the loving arms of helpers at Birmingham-based Animal House Rescue, who continued with his rehabilitation.
But Axel wouldn’t be staying in the Black Country for much longer, as a 250-mile journey up to Northumberland awaited, to be transferred into the care of SHAK, whose headquarters is in Alnwick.
An Animal House Rescue representative explained: “Axel started to feel better and he was showing a few guarding traits.
“Although we kept on top of him, with the amount of animals in the rescue – particularly cats – it showed us that Axel needed a lot of help, more than we were able to give him.
“We wouldn’t have let him go just anywhere, so Axel was to begin another part of his rehabilitation and onwards to a happy life. We took him to SHAK.
“The place is amazing. Stephen and his team take in dogs that no-one else would consider and work with them to modify their behaviour and get them to the best they can be.”
So, in the middle of November, plucky Axel travelled to his new home. When he arrived at SHAK, which also has a base at a rural location just outside Alnwick, he was wearing a muzzle.
He was muzzle trained and the team at SHAK kept him in it, initially. Stephen said: “For our safety and for his, we continued to use the muzzle until the trust was fully built up. It was important that he didn’t feel threatened in anyway.”
But thanks to the expertise and love of the helpers at SHAK, that trust soon came and within a week, the moment arrived for him to be walked without the muzzle.
And what a moment it turned out to be. That’s right, a big, sloppy Axel kiss was in store for Stephen – and the heartwarming moment was captured on camera.
Stephen said: “We tried something different, we went out without the muzzle. He was brilliant and even sniffed at it several times while it was hanging from my waist, as if to say ‘haven’t you forgotten something?’
“Being a convert to the world of selfies, it seemed a good opportunity to have a photo with my handsome new pal without a muzzle – and then he licked me.
“It wasn’t the most flattering of photos I admit, but it was one that I am very proud of. I feel very special that after all he has been through, Axel had enough belief in me that he trusted me to get that close.”
In the weeks since, Axel has become more relaxed and his rehabilitation is continuing (see picture, right). He now weighs 30kg and doesn’t use the muzzle. The plan is to find him an experienced home once he is up to weight, at around 40kg, and fully assessed.
Stephen said: “I’m delighted to say that despite still being underweight, he is looking so much better.
“There has been a lot of interest in Axel’s story since he was found in such an appalling state, and rightly so, because he is so intelligent and he is such an incredible character.”
A decade of help to dogs in need
SHAK is a sanctuary for abused, mistreated and neglected dogs. It was set up by Stephen Wylie and celebrated its 10th anniversary this year.
It has helped hundreds of dogs over the years. The registered charity works with destruction cases from vets, strays and
dogs from its trusted charity partners. SHAK does not take in dogs from members of the public. Likewise, it is not a rehoming centre, but people can apply for its Forever Foster project.
In 2013, SHAK was the beneficiary of our Jam Jar Army fund.
Charity looking for Christmas donations
SHAK is holding a Santa’s Helpers Day for people to drop off valuable donations just before Christmas.
The session will take place at its headquarters on Greenwell Road, in Alnwick, on Saturday, December 17, between 10am and 4pm.
People can drop off items such as treats, toys, food and bedding.
Before that, Sharon Wright, from Moorview Vets, will give a presentation on skin parasites and allergies.
The talk takes place at SHAK HQ on Tuesday, December 13. Doors open at 7.15pm for a 7.30pm start. Entry is a minimum £3 donation on the door.
Stephen said: “I’m delighted to announce a couple of events at HQ in December. We have the presentation from our good friend Sharon Wright.
“And then we have another one of our Santa’s helpers days, so we are looking for people to drop off any donations and collections.”
For more information about SHAK, visit the website www.shak.org.uk