Kopek the destroyer: a canine calamity

Brits are, famously, pet mad, but sometimes you wonder why - particularly when they can literally eat you out of house and home. Steven Russell meets a man whose dog's been christened The Destroyer

Steven Russell

Brits are, famously, pet mad, but sometimes you wonder why - particularly when they can literally eat you out of house and home. Steven Russell meets a man whose dog's been christened The Destroyer

FORGET Big Brother and I'm a Celebrity . . . for domestic drama, all you need do is place one lively and destructive puppy with a naturally-lazy new master and a mistress who adores neatness. It has all the ingredients for disaster and tears - and so it's proved. The damage newcomer Kopek caused in 18 months has cost his owners at least �2,000 - but they still love him to bits. “He is a lovely dog with a fantastic temperament, but he is very destructive,” admits Phil Owens. “He eats everything. He has eaten the bed down to the mattress several times. He ate part of my car - the car seat and the indicator stick.” And, once, big chunks of the steering wheel. Then there was the time he made a meal of the driver's seat.

“We got him when he was a puppy and although we thought he might be slightly destructive, because he has a bit of husky in him, we didn't expect quite so many problems. One of the first times I came home after leaving him alone” - they'd had him two months - “I found 24 rolls of toilet paper that he had shredded covering the carpet. It looked like snow at Christmas!”

Happily, things have eased a tad: doubtless partly due to Kopek growing up and largely thanks to a further addition to the household - Malli, a three-year-old cross German Shepherd Malamute introduced to help calm down the energetic two-year-old.

It's been such a rollercoaster ride that Phil's committed the Ipswich couple's experiences to paper and self-published the tales as a book called Kopek the Destroyer: Causes of indigestion for a wolfy puppy.

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“The book is based on my wife's love of neatness crashing against the destructive tendencies of the dog, and the need for exercise with my adverse reaction to anything physical,” says the IT service delivery manager at Ipswich Hospital. “The main theme throughout is about a battle of wills between the dog and me.”

Phil and wife-to-be Justine (aka Ronnie) had met in their 30s. While he had had dogs most of his life - mostly rescue animals - his good lady had no experience of keeping animals apart from rabbits and guinea pigs. She thus had no idea what lay in store . . .

“To say Ronnie is house-proud is a slight understatement. She is not as extreme as to enforce living in a show-house environment, but cleanliness and tidiness are never far from her mind,” writes Phil. “My attitude to housework is typically manish: 'There's always room for one more plate in the washing-up bowl.'”

The couple bought and renovated a 1930s house in eastern Ipswich and it wasn't long before thoughts of getting a dog were mooted. Ronnie was game, and so the household was swollen by one. Scruffy Tim, an 11-year-old border collie, came via the Blue Cross centre at Felixstowe.

“Tim turned out to be the perfect dog to introduce my wife to the joys of canine ownership” - though the first year was hard work because he was a “bad-tempered grouch” with strangers, whom he nipped. Even his new owners weren't immune; Tim tried to stop them leaving the house by circling their legs and delivering deterrent nips.

Overall, though, he was “a great dog, with a unique character”, and they were distraught when he died in his sleep at the age of 15. “He may have been the grouchiest dog in the world, but he was such a character, and gave so much back, he was impossible not to love,” says Phil.

Ronnie had become “a true dog person”. Both she and Phil were miserable post-Tim, and managed to last a month before the idea of getting another dog was broached.

While buying hay for their guinea pig and rabbits, they saw an advert for British Inuit puppies. Research showed they were a mix of Malamute, Husky, German Shepherd and Czech Wolf dog.

They phoned the breeder, went round that afternoon, and spent �500 on a fair-sized, 15-week-old fluffy bundle. “He had huge paws, enormous pointy bears, and the longest tongue I had ever seen on a dog . . . it seemed to loll out like a cartoon character,” remembers Phil.

He was christened Kopek after the Turkish word for dog; it's a country they both love.

And thus it began: the wolf-like howling when he was left downstairs at bedtime (they caved in after five sleepless nights) and the shredding of anything he could get his teeth into - newspaper, tennis balls, toy rubber rings, brushes, mops, half-a-dozen eggs, Phil's shoes, the car handbrake, hall carpet, Phil's cowboy boots, doorframes.

In those first few months he seemed to have two speeds: almost lethargic for a couple of hours, and then full-on hyperactivity. Oddly enough, he did really well at obedience classes, yet seemed to forget everything he'd learned when he got to the local field. He was a smart dog, yet with . . . well, selective hearing.

Plentiful daily exercise helped make him a lot quieter and content. There were still battles and embarrassments, though: picture an inquisitive dog on a train to Portsmouth, for example, and a fellow traveller wearing a Trilby hat and a wig, and you can guess what happened.

When he was about 10 months old, Kopek learned to open the front door by pushing the lever with a paw. Phil would get calls at work from a neighbour saying the dog had got out and was heading for his favourite field.

“I wouldn't want to give the impression that Kopek went on a rampage of destruction every time he was on his own. He was slowly growing up and becoming a bit more responsible as he grew older. We could now leave him on his own for an hour or two, quite often with no problems at all. But every now and then, he decided he was bored and felt the need to entertain himself. Although the frequency grew less, the resulting damage was greater.”

After his first birthday, there was no doubt the destructive spells were becoming less frequent. “It was around this time,” says Phil, “that I came home one day to find that the post had arrived while I was out and Kopek hadn't eaten it. As he normally just couldn't help himself when it came to paper, this was an absolute first. He received an awful lot of praise that day . . .”

Happily, Phil tells ealife, things have got an awful lot better in the past few months. “Getting Malli has certainly calmed him down. Having the chop might have helped as well. I hope so - I wouldn't want to think that was in vain!

“Yes, there is still the odd occasion when he 'goes for it.' We went to see Marley & Me at the pictures the other week” - the Jennifer Aniston film about how a family learns important lessons from their adorable but naughty and neurotic dog - “and we left them in the house. My wife did ask why we didn't just sit outside and watch them through the window, as it was bound to be as entertaining as the film. I should have listened.

“When we arrived back home it looked as though we had a chicken house. They had been playing tug of war with a duck-down cushion off the sofa. I didn't realise just how many feathers are in one of those cushions.

“They repeated this, although with a cheaper cushion, this week when we left them for two hours. There have been a few other occasions, but they are spread apart these days. Two hours seems to be the limit at the moment. Mind you, that's a damn sight better than the 30 minutes it used to be.”

Here's a key question: did the couple ever consider seeking advice from an animal behaviourist?

“We'd consider a behaviourist, but I'm a stubborn bugger,” Phil admits. “It ended up a real battle of wills, and one I was determined to win. I think if he hadn't finally settled down a bit, we would have had no choice. Mind you, going by the experience of the training courses, he'd probably have been the model citizen whilst the behaviourist was there.

“We did find out that the Husky (which is a big part of his make-up) is a natural destroyer of furniture, especially when left alone. Getting another dog was our final ploy; if that hadn't worked as well as it has, then I don't think we would have had much choice but to get some help.”

Waving the white flag and putting him up for rehoming was never on the cards, however.

“No, we never considered taking him to a rescue centre. We are both firm believers of 'a dog is for life'.”

Phil does end his 133-page volume with a word of caution for anyone losing their heart to those cute eyes and lolloping tongue: that owning a dog like Kopek, including any of the “Northern” breeds, is a lot of hard work. “They are not a breed for the novice dog owner. While having a fantastic temperament, they are all very stubborn and single-minded; training one is a real challenge.”

Can he explain why he and Ronnie love Kopek so much when he's really put them through the mill?

“Tough to answer, really. He is such a giving dog. He's handsome and cute, and very funny when he plays around. He's great company on walks, or just lolling around the house. Because of him, we have so many new friends: people that have started talking to us because he was with us.

“I think the one thing that gets both of us about having a dog is the unconditional love you get from them. Also, to be honest, his destructiveness is part of his character. He is a stubborn SOB, but if he wasn't, then he'd be a different dog.”

The book can be bought through www.kopek-publishing.com for �6.98 (or �9.97 including postage).