Real Life

‘My dog saved my life’

When a Bay of Plenty canine trainer took on a difficult case, she never imagined the anxious pup would become her hero

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the following is the plot of a feel-good family movie. It has excitement, broken bones and a dramatic rescue at the paws of an animal nobody wanted.

Even dog trainer Jenn Patten is still in disbelief by what happened and she’s the one who was rescued.

The Mount Maunganui woman, 51, marvels, “I’ve worked with animals all my life and, yes, I’ve had dogs alert me to snakes in Australia or to danger, but to actually do something dramatic like this… I still don’t believe it myself.”

Having worked with all sorts of canines for more than 25 years, Jenn now runs her own business, Lifeskills For You And Your Dog, which helps owners with their pets, but she also helps animal shelters with “hard case” dogs that need extra training, usually taking on one troubled pooch each month. This is how Tosh, a greyhound-husky cross, came into her life.

She recalls, “There was something about the look of the dog that said, ‘Come on, Jenn, do something for me!’ I said I was willing to work with Tosh, so they dropped her off to me. She was an incredibly difficult case, but I took her on.”

Tosh had arrived at Vada’s Angels Animal Rescue from somewhere in the Waikato, where she was most likely a stray. She had no handling training and, by Jenn’s assessment, was “pretty close to being a wild dog”.

Regarding the training as a challenge, Jenn – who lost an arm in a car accident when she was a teenager – used all her skills to teach Tosh how to live comfortably around humans. After a month of intensive work, Jenn reckoned the dog was now ready to move on to her forever home and had already started training a new pup named Willow.

As leaving day drew nearer, Jenn took the two dogs to her local park, the Bayfair Reserve.

She recalls, “At this stage, they were overexuberant and very keen to please. Willow had just learnt recall and was very joyous at being given something, then running it back to me. Tosh was a bit slower because of her anxiety and fearful behaviour.”

Usually, Tosh would happily stay on her leash, but Jenn wanted to encourage her to run free.

“I let them off the leash and they were having the time of their lives. I started to worry about them getting too far away from me, so I called them, and they turned around and came straight towards me.”

At this moment, Jenn received a buzz on her phone. She pulled it out of her pocket and saw she had a notification.

“I took my eyes off them for two seconds and it was then that the dogs ran into me at full pelt from behind.”

Flying into the air and landing awkwardly, her injuries were incredibly serious. “I snapped my right leg clean through. It was at right angles to my body. My entire foot had been dislocated and the sole of my shoe was pointing up at the sky.”

Such was the force of the impact that the phone got knocked clean out of her hand, landing out of arm’s reach. She was in agonising pain and completely helpless.

“This park always has people in it, but this particular morning, there was nobody there,” Jenn tells. “I was lying on the ground and I was worried about the dogs – I thought Tosh would run off into the scrub. I called and called them, and when Tosh came back, she got this really strange look on her face and took off. I honestly thought she was running away.”

Willow stayed and somehow Jenn managed to clip her lead on so she too wouldn’t run off. However, in a case of good luck/bad luck, this only caused more problems.

Jenn continues, “I was lying on the ground and then Willow started to jump around. In her attempt to get off the lead, she dragged herself across my leg.”

Jenn was in hospital for 13 days and “beyond pain of any description”.

Willow’s weight clambering over her broken bone pushed her angular leg straight.

“It was pass-out material,” Jenn winces. “But that actually allowed me to grit my teeth and pull myself a couple of feet to get my phone. I rang my housemate and said, ‘I need you to get the dogs. I’ve had an accident and broken my leg.’

“I have no idea how long I was there. I was lying there, thinking, ‘I hope someone comes quickly because this is getting beyond pain of any description.'”

Just then, she saw something barrelling toward her. Tosh had returned.

“She was jumping all over me, licking my face, and I looked up to see this lady running towards me with my housemate behind her. I couldn’t believe it.”

Having spent a month training Tosh, Jenn knew she wasn’t comfortable around strangers and was incredibly nervous being taken for walks along busy streets. What she couldn’t figure out was if the rescue dog had just rescued her.

It turns out when Tosh saw Jenn was in real trouble, she leapt into action. Ignoring both her deepest fears and Jenn’s calls to return, she tore through the park and straight onto the road, where she promptly began running around in circles in the middle of the street.

After spending the morning preparing a picnic on this gloriously sunny day, Dominique Paduch and her husband were on their way to scenic McLaren Falls for lunch when suddenly they saw a crazed dog in the road. Slamming on the brakes so they didn’t hit her and realising that they were seeing incredibly abnormal behaviour, they got out of the car to try to shoo the dog away so it didn’t get hurt.

Dominique pictured with her family, came to Jenn’s aid.

But as soon as they approached, the dog stopped its frantic circling, looked straight at them, then ran off into the park. A dog lover herself, Dominique knew something was wrong. Turning to her husband, she said, “I’m going to follow her.”

As she strode to the gate, another car pulled up beside her and a woman jumped out.

“Are you looking for a dog that’s running around?” asked Dominique.

“No,” said the woman, locking her car. “I’m looking for my housemate who has had an accident.” Together they ran into the park.

“I was still lying on the ground and Tosh had run back to me,” Jenn explains. “She’s never done this to me in the whole time I’ve known her, but the first thing she did was lick me all over my face and neck, like she was saying, ‘It’s alright! They’re coming!'”

Such was the severity of the accident that Jenn was in the hospital for 13 days. She says she was in a “bad way” when she got home and is still recovering now, using a walking frame to get around.

It will be a while before Jenn’s able to take her hero Tosh for walkies.

But there is a happy ending. “That dog definitely realised I was in trouble and needed to go find somebody,” Jenn smiles, ruffling Tosh’s coat. “After that, I thought I can’t let her go, so I adopted her.”

For more information on Jenn’s canine coaching, visit lifeskillsforyouandyourdog.com. To donate to Vada’s Angels Animal Rescue Tauranga or adopt a rescue, email [email protected].

Related stories