FOLLOWING her star-making role in Leongatha Lyric Theatre’s super-successful musical ‘The Wizard of Oz’ earlier this month, the dog who so expertly played ‘Toto’ hasn’t let fame go to her head. As soon as she’s away from the spotlight and back at home with her family, she’s plain old ‘Sprout’ – the feisty two year-old Maltese cross Griffon pup who loves playing with the other canines in her family. Unbeknown to many who may have watched her prancing alongside Dorothy, the Tin Man, Scarecrow and the Lion on Mesley Hall’s stage during the school holidays, Sprout isn’t a pampered pooch born and raised in a perfect home – she’s a foster dog with a deformed paw and bad eyesight.
The family who adopted her – the Cooks – have a soft spot for dogs left at rescue shelters. Dianne Cook, her daughter, Kristi, and daughter-in-law, Amber, own 11 rescue or foster dogs between them. The playful and remarkably well-behaved bunch of hounds don’t all live in the same location, but they love getting together at Dianne’s property in Moyarra and having a dip in a nearby dam. The fact that Amber works at a RSPCA shelter in Melbourne’s east means the Cooks hear more about needy dogs than the average family. “We’re always hearing these stories about unfortunate dogs, and when it’s a breed you’re attracted to yourself it becomes hard to resist the desire to help,” Dianne explained. “Every dog has its own unique story, which makes them really interesting, and several of our dogs were going to be put to sleep before they came into our care.”
All up, the extended Cook family includes kelpies Spud and Zack; Irish Setters Flame, Ruby and Poppy; Rottweiler cross Kelpie Zack; Curly Haired Retriever Fozzy; Newfoundland Baloo; and, of course, little Sprout. “Some of them came from the RSPCA shelter and some of them have been rehomed,” Amber explained. “We got Baloo when he was returned to a breeder and needed rehoming. “He was a 60-kilogram ball of energy with no training. “He broke doors and had no manners whatsoever. “With a lot of hard work and obedience training, though, I now have a very relaxed dog.” Firm believers in giving dogs a second chance, the Cook family say the bond formed with pets from shelters is incredibly strong, even though they never knew many of their dogs when they were puppies. “The bond we have with our dogs is huge,” Amber affirmed. “But you’ve got to be prepared to work at it.”
While she heartily recommends a rescue pooch as an option for anyone seeking a new dog, she’s also the first to admit that they’re not for everyone. “Some people come to the shelter and think the dogs available are well-behaved already,” she said. “But they’re not; they’ve all got issues and that’s why they’re in a shelter. “There are times when I do recommend people go to a breeder. “For example, if someone is looking for a quiet family dog and they’re looking at Kelpies in the shelter, I’d recommend they should maybe go for a nice, soft Cavalier.” While they continue to love raising their pack of former shelter dogs, the Cooks also know when enough is enough. “I think it’s safe to say we’re not getting any more for now,” Dianne said with a laugh. “They’re all covered by pet insurance and it gets to a point where, financially, you just know you shouldn’t get another dog. “Plus we feed them all top-shelf food. “It’s a lot of money, but it’s totally worth it. “For now, though, we just say to Amber ‘stop telling us about dogs at the shelter!’”
The girls train nine of their 11 dogs together each week with Wonthaggi Dog Obedience Group – a club they recommend to anyone thinking of improving their pet’s behaviour. “The club at Wonthaggi has been absolutely fantastic,” Kristi said. “We’ve all been to a few different obedience clubs over the years because we’ve moved around a bit, but this one at Wonthaggi is the best by far.” “Joanne at the club is really dedicated and she gives each dog plenty of extra time if they need it,” Dianne added. “Anyone who is hesitant or worried about coming along to a session because they think they’re dog’s behaviour is terrible can be assured they’ll be welcomed with open arms.
“Some of our dogs started off pretty bad, let me tell you!” For more information about the local obedience group, visit www.wondog.com.au/