Three-legged rescue dog changes life of ex-Army amputee

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24 July 2020
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Joanne Bednall tells the heart-warming story of how a three-legged rescue dog from Turkey, and a UK-based ex-Army amputee were brought together.

Image: Ruth Downing.

Ask 44-year-old John Hopkinson to describe the difference Popsey, the Pointer, has made to his life since she arrived in Britain from Turkey earlier this year, and his answer is simple: “Popsey has picked me up from nothing. Before, it felt like I was in a lift on the ground floor, not feeling great, then she got in with me, and now I’m in the penthouse.”

John, who served in the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment as a physical training instructor for 18 years, and lives in Portsmouth, Hampshire, didn’t grow up with dogs, nor did he ever expect to get one.

But a chance encounter with two breed rescue volunteers at a routine hospital appointment late last summer changed all that.

After leaving the Army five years ago to become a personal trainer, John started working as a labourer to supplement his income.

Three days into his new job, he sustained horrendous injuries when a metal fi re escape he was descending gave way and he fell four storeys.

“My right toe touched my knee and my leg was a real mess,” explained John, who spent four days in the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth, while surgeons tried to rebuild his leg by replacing bone with metal, screws, and pins. Following six months in a cast, John’s leg still hadn’t repaired and he was in agony.

“The doctors had warned me that amputation would be the worst-case scenario,” recalled John. “I was in horrendous pain, could only move my foot a centimetre up and down, and had no quality of life.”

So in 2016, John opted to have his damaged right leg amputated, and says that he’s not had much to smile about since. That is, until he bumped into Liz Gee and Carol Goodliffe, volunteers for the Pointer Rescue Service, while waiting to see his surgeon at Salisbury District Hospital last August Bank Holiday.

“We got talking and Liz and Carol started telling me about a rescue dog, who’d also had a leg amputated, and was looking for a home,” continued John. “I knew I wanted Popsey there and then — it didn’t matter what breed she was, I just wanted someone to kiss and cuddle, and I knew I could help a three-legged dog.”

John listened as the pair explained that the pure-bred Pointer had been starved and abused in Turkey and left with horrific injuries, including a partially missing and rotten front foot. In 2016 — the same year that John lost his leg — Popsey had been found by local animal rescue worker Angela Ronchetti, who rushed the six-year-old emaciated stray to the vet’s, where she underwent emergency surgery to have her left foreleg amputated. Angela then took Popsey to Kas Animal Shelter, the rescue where she worked, to recuperate, and in the hope she would find her forever home. But the three-legged dog attracted no interest for two-and-a-half years, until a final appeal on Facebook was answered by Turkey-based animal-lover Dot Roberts, who placed Popsey with foster carer Paula Stone, and appealed to the Pointer Rescue Service for help.

That same day, quite by chance, Stafford-based Liz had suffered an injury to her back while visiting other volunteers in Hampshire, and had been wheeled into Salisbury District Hospital by Carol, who lives in Dorset.

It was there that they got chatting to John and felt he could offer Popsey the perfect home. Liz set up a gofundme page, and shared their plea for funds on Facebook, with the aim of raising around £1,000 to cover the costs of bringing Popsey to the UK. To their amazement, nearly £2,000 was collected —“enough to provide Popsey and John with everything they needed from poo bags to a dog bed,” said Carol, who’s secretary of the Pointer Rescue Service.

A SLEEPLESS NIGHT

Once all the necessary documentation was complete, Popsey finally arrived in the UK in January, and spent three weeks acclimatising with Carol and her three dogs. For John, waiting five months for Popsey to arrive was “torture”.

“I couldn’t wait to meet her and didn’t sleep the night before she was due to arrive,” he said. “But I was also worried — I’d never had a dog before and I kept ringing to ask questions like whether it was OK to feed her smoked haddock.

“When I first saw Popsey, there was a slight tear in my eye. Now, wherever I go, she follows me. She is cool, beautiful, lovely, and attentive. I feel so glad and honoured to have this three-legged dog in my life!”

John explained that Popsey had “kicked me up the backside”, as he had been feeling very low and was finding life difficult.

“She has brought me so much fulfilment and motivation,” continued John, who was thrilled to visit Crufts with Popsey in March to help promote the Pointer Rescue Service.

“If it wasn’t for her, I would be sitting here, getting drunk constantly, and feeling sorry for myself. She’s my beautiful princess; a real diamond.”

Carol and Liz agree that Popsey and John seem to have been made for each other.

“Their story has touched a lot of hearts,” added Carol, who admitted it was moving when John and Popsey met for the first time.

“He was in tears and she cuddled him immediately. We’re so happy for both of them and will always be here to offer John support and advice.

“Popsey has given him a purpose in life and keeps him on an even keel when he’s feeling depressed. He now has something to get out of bed for in the morning. I don’t think he could have mentally got through the recent lockdown without her.

“The pair are almost telepathic — while Pointers can seem brainless sometimes, they are highly intelligent.”

However, there is a final, sad twist to John’s story. Just a month after Popsey arrived, he slipped on some oil on the road, falling onto a kerb, and his prosthetic seared through the flesh and bone of his healthy leg. Now John is waiting to have his left leg amputated too.

“We will care for Popsey while John undergoes his surgery and rehabilitation,” added Carol. “Salisbury District Hospital has a therapy dog programme, so we will bring her down to visit him and arrange for a local dog walker to exercise Popsey once he’s home. Fate definitely played its hand the day we met John.”

To find out more about the work of the Pointer Rescue Service, visit www.englishpointerrescue.co.uk or check out its Facebook page, The Pointer Rescue Service.