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Mini Schnauzer stands with front feet on a table, wearing a party hat and looking at a bone shaped cake

Birthday boy

Ten years ago today The Little Bear Dog Blog was born. It was a cold, wet February afternoon when I set up the WordPress account and in all honesty, I thought I’d probably only post a few times. It was just an experiment and never in a million years did I expect people to actually read my ramblings. But here we are, ten years, 152 posts and thousands of readers later.

Thank you

To everyone who’s read, liked, commented on or shared posts over the years – thank you so much.  Your time is precious and I’m so grateful for the time you took to be a part of our story.

I can’t of course leave out the beautiful little soul who inspired the blog. Had Little Bear been the ‘take anywhere’ dog I’d been expecting, I very much doubt that I would have taken to blogging as a way of processing the realities of life with a reactive dog.

They say that our greatest challenges are our greatest teachers. Little Bear and Annie have certainly been great teachers! But above all, they’ve taught me the power of unconditional, unwavering love. How blessed I’ve been.

I have no idea how many more blog posts we’ll have – time waits for no man, woman or dog, so we’ll take each day as it comes and be grateful for every single one we get to share with them.

“There is nothing truer in this world than the love of a good dog.” Mira Grant 

 

Daemon Dogs

Red fox Labrador, laying down, 'smiling' at camera

Annie’s happiest when she’s close to her people

I didn’t have dogs when I first read Phillip Pullman’s Dark Materials. I loved the books for many reasons, not least the fact that in his world, every human has a ‘daemon’, a manifestation of their soul that takes animal form.

While daemons aren’t really animals, it’s impossible to read the books without relating it to the animals in your own life. In Pullman’s world, daemons speak, regardless of their species, and share the same level of intelligence as their humans. They are one and the same being, tethered by an invisible bond and parted only by death.

Other half has long referred to Little Bear as my ‘daemon dog’, a reference to the fact that his moods have always mirrored mine (or mine his) and because he is rarely far from my side.

Of late though, we’ve noticed that Annie has become more ‘daemon’ in her ways. While Little Bear is happy to lounge on his beloved couch while I work upstairs, entertaining himself with his own brand of neighbourhood woof, Annie wants to be wherever I am – all of the time.

Red fox Labrador laying on rug in kitchen

Annie’s kitchen spot

She follows me constantly. If I leave the room, she’s right behind me, hauling her aching bones out of her bed to hobble along, before lowering herself, joints like creaky doors, to lay within a couple of feet of wherever I am.

Telling her to stay is met with a derisory look and the equivalent of two Labrador fingers and so it is me who is being trained in the art of decisive tea-making. Popping back to the kitchen to add a splash more milk and cave in on the idea of that biscuit isn’t an option when you have an arthritic Labrador in tow.

Red fox Labrador peeking around door

Even bathroom breaks are now accompanied

As she has never ‘done’ stairs, (not that we’d allow her to now at her age even if she did) this presents a problem when it comes to working – and sleeping. I’ve taken to splitting my working day between ergonomically comfortable desk upstairs and neck pain inducing lumpy couch downstairs where she can snooze at my feet.

Nighttime is more of a challenge. Three requests for a garden break is typical on the average night. Usually at midnight, three am and then again sometime around five, although if you’re getting up at six, it’ll be ten minutes before your alarm.

She outdid herself on Wednesday though with a record six woofs. Other Half, who valliantly responds to most of her demands at night, was away, so it was a miracle I made it to my London meetings on Thursday as I felt slightly punch drunk from all my nighttime stumblings down the stairs.

As there have been a couple of accidents in the house in recent months, ignoring her requests is not an option, but she only actually needs to go out about half of the time. The others I think are a combination of her arthritis and the need to be with her people. No matter how tired we are, we can’t deny her that comfort in her twilight years.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of daemons lately, prompted by the new BBC adaptation of Northern Lights over Christmas. It occurred to me today that another part of the attraction is the fact that human and daemon are together for life. Oh that it were the same for us and our daemon dogs.

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Christmas Puppy. Photograph by Helena Lopes 

Happy New Year. As I write this, Little Bear is snoozing next to me on the sofa under a blanket and Annie is lounged in her bed; newly revitalised with memory foam to help her joints. People say our dogs are spoilt. I disagree. They are loved, but they are also respected. 

What does it mean to respect our dogs? I’ve heard two stories in the last couple of days that have made me ponder this exact question.

I love my dog, so long as it doesn’t act….like a dog 

The first was about an old man we used to see in the neighbourhood walking his Jack Russell. As our two are reactive, we only knew them to wave to, but our friend got to know them well. She asked me a few months ago if I’d seen them. I hadn’t and yesterday I found out why.

Through another friend, I discovered that the little dog, let’s call him ‘Bob’, was put down after snapping at the man’s grandchild who woke him up while he was sleeping in his basket.

To someone like me, who sees animals as I do people, (a soul is a soul no matter what the container), this is akin to murdering a human.

To be killed for exhibiting your natural behaviour when startled is an abomination. That’s like putting me down for swearing in the car when someone cuts me up on the motorway.

Failed by humans

The real crime here wasn’t ‘Bob’s’, it was the failure of his human to protect both child and dog from their own instincts. Few humans read a dogs body language well, so it’s insane to expect that of kids – or to expect them to stay away from dogs just because they’ve been told to. As adults, we need to manage the situation to keep them both safe.

Better safe than sorry 

Little Bear spent the best part of three days in the dog room last weekend while our granddaughters visited. He barks incessantly at kids and while I’m confident he’d never bite, I wouldn’t dream of putting my precious granddaughters or him on the Roulette wheel.

He had plenty of walks, free time to roam the house while we were out, plus he got his beloved sofa and humans back when the girls went to bed, but heart-breaking as it was hearing him howl, it was the safest thing to do.  

Respect dogs for who and what they are

To expect a dog not to act like a dog, well, that’s like asking a child not to act like a child. Dogs often do things we wish they wouldn’t, like hunt squirrels, roll in fox poo or lunge at other dogs, but they are dogs, doing what dogs do and when we take them into our homes and our lives, we need to understand and respect that.

Our job is to train them, control the environment to minimise unwanted behaviours and ultimately, keep them safe. And keeping them safe does not mean killing them when we get it wrong!

New Year (Doggie) Declutter? 

The second story was from the lovely rescue organisation, Friends of the Animals Wales, who, just three days into the new year, are full to capacity with surrendered dogs. They’re literally having to turn dogs away for want of space and foster families.

My mind reels even thinking about it. Are these older dogs shoved out to make room for Christmas puppies or are they just part of the new year clear out? How long I wonder before the Christmas puppies follow them to the rescue? Or did these older dogs growl or snap amid the stress of Christmas celebrations or exhibit some other doggie behaviour that wasn’t acceptable? My heart is breaking just thinking about how those little souls must feel to be turfed out and abandoned.

The bottom line is that, if you can’t respect a dog for who and what he/she is, then please, just don’t get one.

If you’re based in the UK and could offer a foster place to a dog in need, please apply via Friends of the Animals Wales. 

 

 

 

Back in the summer I watched The Great Hack, a documentary about the insidious world of big tech, the systematic erosion of our privacy and the manipulation of the masses by companies such as Cambridge Analytica.

It confirmed most of my fears about the reality of social media and after watching it, I swore I’d take a break. Like a lot of people, it’s become a distraction and an interruption that I know I could live without. That I could be being subtly manipulated in the process just adds another reason to the long list of reasons for spending my time more wisely.

Twelve hours later, I was reminded of the flip slide to social media.

Bear takes a tumble 

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Little Bear during his ‘no walk’ week 

With Other Half away, the dogs by some miracle had granted me a rare lie in. Annie’s patience wore thin at around nine am and a polite woof reminded me that it was her breakfast time. Dogs fed and their garden wandering complete, I headed for the shower.

I knew instantly that there was something wrong with the tone of Bear’s whine. The baby gate at the top of the stairs is the only thing stopping him from ransacking Vizzy’s room and scoffing the cat food, so I’m used to him lying on the top step grumbling, but for reasons I can’t put into words, that morning, I knew something was very wrong.

In the three seconds it took me to run from the bedroom to the landing, it all happened.  As I grabbed the stairgate his head lolled back, gravity pulling it towards the bottom of the stairs and then, before I could save him, he was falling like a ragdoll, bouncing off the stairs as he went, before landing in a heap in Annie’s bed at the bottom.

Panic stations

Screaming after him, I reached him just as he started to come around. Obviously dazed and very confused, he sat up and looked at me as if to say, “what am I doing down here?” I raced him to the vet and sat with him in my arms in the waiting room trying to fend off the panic attack that I could feel hovering. A frequent occurrence since my mum passed last year, I had thought I’d learned to control them, but sitting there alone not knowing whether this would be another goodbye, was just horrendous.

By the time the vet called us, I’d breathed myself to, if not calmness, then at least a focused sense of control and Bear had recovered enough to bark at an unsuspecting Bassett Hound which I took to be a good sign.

Ticker trouble

By some miracle he’d not broken anything, but an ECG revealed an abnormality with his heart that would likely require a pacemaker. With orders to watch him closely, keep him calm (fat chance of that happening) and not walk him until the referral to the cardiologist, we headed home.

With my mind unhelpfully replaying on loop the scene of Bear falling, I turned first to Google and then, overwhelmed by technical papers I didn’t understand, the Mini Schnauzer UK Facebook group. I needed to know what to expect and most importantly, what to hope for.

Mini Schnauzer UK 

Screen shot of Facebook post asking for help for a sad looking Mini SchnauzerWhat I had wanted was information, but what I hadn’t bargained for was the outpouring of kindness that went with it. Along with the stories of other Mini’s who had had the same procedure and recommendations for specialists, total strangers sent him love and wished him a speedy recovery.  A couple of members sent me private messages, one even giving me her phone number if I wanted to chat about the procedure her dog had had.

With Other Half away and being effectively confined to the house on Bear watch, not knowing if he would collapse again at any point, these wonderful, caring people reminded me of just how lovely people are.

Twitter love 

Screenshot 2019-09-01 at 07.31.45The night before the referral appointment, sick with worry and unable to sleep, I tweeted into the void. But the void answered back – with love and prayers, crossed fingers and paws, funny giffs and cute pictures and the sweetest messages.

I read them to Other Half as we waited impatiently for our boy at the vet’s the next day. Then I took great delight in Tweeting the ‘all clear’ message once the cardiologist had confirmed that they could find nothing wrong with his heart over and above a slightly slow heartbeat.

The whole experience was so humbling and so touching that I was reminded that despite living in worrying times, where everyone is at pains to tell us how divided we are, people really can be truly incredible.

Have I changed my mind about social media? No. Like most people, I’m still very concerned about privacy and the use of social media to manipulate and control, so I’m rationing my use. What the experience has taught me though, is that the world really is full of amazingly kind people and thanks to social media, with all of its flaws, we now have more opportunity than ever to connect with them.

Thanks to everyone on Mini Schnauzer UK & Twitter for their love & kindness 

xxx

 

 

 

We’ve said goodbye to two of our most-treasured canine friends this year. They were the dogs who would rock up with friends and make themselves comfortable on the sofa while we ate dinner, had a movie night or shared a bottle of wine. They were first in the door for canine birthday parties and were great friends to Annie and Little Bear. While both were in their twilight years, it didn’t make their passings any easier or their absence any less keenly felt.

I’ve read much over the years about the passing of dogs, always with one eye defiantly closed to the reality that awaits us too. Annie is thirteen now and Little Bear, a not so little twelve.

One story shared on social media recently was of one much-loved dogs’ last day, enjoying all of the things on his ‘bucket list’ – a car ride to the beach, an ice cream cone and digging in the sand before the vet arrived to send him quietly over rainbow bridge. Yes, I was a snotty mess by the end of the story and really should know better.

Having the courage to see our fur babies out of suffering is the ultimate act of love – the timing, a deeply personal contract between dog and guardian. When I read the story, I wondered what a last day might look like for our two but then I stopped myself, because the sad truth is that too often we don’t get to choose. So I want Annie & Little Bear to live their best lives every day, just like their chums Daisy & Grace.

I’m making a list of everything they love. From puddle jumping to training games and everything in between so that, even when life gets hectic, we can remember what truly matters. Every day we have with them is a gift and I want each and every one of them to feel like their bucket list day.

In memory of Grace & Daisy Dog xxx 

Black labrador wearing a floral skirt and a red ribbon around her neck

Grace in her party gear

Grey & white Collie cross laying in a small dog bed looking at the camera

Daisy squished into Little Bear’s bed

At the start of the year, I decided that I wanted to do some volunteering. As our last ‘foster’ is still with us eight wonderful years later, Other Half was right to point out that something hands on in dog rescue was likely to end in tears – most likely mine as my campaign for dog number three was rightly thwarted by his good sense.  So when I got the opportunity to join the fundraising committee for Battersea’s #StrayOver campaign I jumped at the chance.

By spending the night as a ‘stray human’ and swapping a warm bed for a sleeping bag under the stars, teams raise money to support the thousands of cats and dogs who arrive at Battersea’s centres as strays each year.

So, on Friday I packed my newly acquired sleeping bag, my thermals and an emergency supply of homemade cookies and headed over the Battersea Old Windsor for my very first Stray Over.

Brilliantly organised, the event was tremendous fun, with talks, demos, a scavenger hunt and even a midnight, candlelit yoga class to keep spirits high. And of course, there were dogs! Current and previous residents mingled with the human strays and stoically put up with a near-constant stream of cuddles. They even provided the dawn wake-up call, although in all honesty, I’d not slept a wink.

Humbling

Despite the fun, the experience was incredibly humbling. Here we were having to endure a single night under the stars, in relatively mild weather in the safety of a car park overseen by staff and even a St John’s Ambulance team, but this is a reality that stray animals and homeless people have to endure every single day.

Even though the daytime temperature had peaked at around 17 degrees, the night was so bitterly cold that even with the benefit of my winter coat, hat and a hot water bottle, I was frozen. It is so hard to imagine having to endure that, along with the constant fear for your safety, night after long night. 

This of course is what Annie had to endure for two nights when she went missing all those years ago and Friday’s experience has given me new insight into what she must have gone through and why she was so shut down when we finally found her.

So, despite the cold and the lack of sleep, I’d do it all again in a heartbeat if it meant that more stray cats and dogs were able to find first safety and then the warm, loving, forever home that every animal deserves.  Roll on #StrayOver2020!

Support #StrayOver here

 

 

 

Growing up, we always had cats and dogs. The first one I remember was Nina, a temperamental Siamese who hated everyone but my mother and never missed an opportunity to swipe me. Many more followed and at one point Mum had six, all strays fallen on their paws.

 

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Vizzy hiding his one white whisker 

When, in my thirties, I finally bought my own home, having a cat of my own was top of my list. I adopted Camden, a large black and white bundle of love three months after I got the keys. We spent nine wonderful years together. It was just the two of us at first, then along came Other Half whom she adored, but then to her intense irritation, came a puppy followed shortly after by a second dog. She ruled us all with an iron paw and we loved her for it. Losing her broke my heart and I swore that there would be no more cats.

 

Our one white-whiskered friend

When Mum passed away last year, she had just one cat left. Vizzy, a seventeen year old black cat with one white whisker. She used to say that the white whisker was to make sure a witch wouldn’t steal him. He too had turned up as a stray many years before, skittish and scared and in desperate need of medical care as his back foot was flayed open like raw meat.

It took days to catch him and his story might have been a short one had it not been for my mother’s strength of character. Taking him to a well-known charity, the vet offered to put him down there and then, telling her that he was obviously in agony and should be spared further suffering. All this while, as my mother recounted, Vizzy rolled on his back purring and playing with the stethoscope of the woman offering blithely to end his short life.

Mum took him to another vet and paid for the operation to remove the ruined pad and put his foot back together. Vizzy went home with her and there he stayed, a determined house cat for the next twelve years – until disaster struck and Mum passed.

Poorly boy

 

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Tuckered out after an evening’s play

When I told people about Vizzy, some acquaintances, (my friends would know better,) actually asked me if I would ‘keep the cat’. Just like that, as if he was a piece of furniture to be retained or disposed of at will. There was no question in either my mind of Other Half’s that he would come home with us, the real question though was whether he would live long enough to make the trip. With horrendous digestion issues, a thyroid condition and stage four kidney failure, things looked pretty bleak.

 

I stayed in Wales for two months to look after him while he underwent a barrage of tests and we ran up a truly hideous vet bill. He took it all in his stride and seemed content to be prodded and poked just so long as there was a cuddle at the end of it. He slept every night on my head and purred loudly on my lap during the day as I wrote, and for a while I thought that might be the best I could offer him. The vets were gloomy – but Viz had other ideas.

After a week on a new veterinary diet, our last-ditch attempt at settling his stomach, everything returned to normal. I never thought I’d be so excited that I’d photograph cat poo but hey, I am that person! After finding the right medication, his thyroid stabilised and he began gaining weight too. Through it all though, he remained an utter delight, lapping up love like a sponge and taking everything in his stride.

Homeward bound

I brought him home five months ago – a three-hour journey that felt like six thanks to the yowling. Our spare bedroom is now his, replete with a kitty en-suite, water fountain, three cat beds (although of course he prefers the double bed) plus enough toys to keep him entertained.

 

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Vizzy on his portable chair bed – he stays put as we carry him between offices 

As he and Bear have yet to really ‘bond’ (Little Bear, thanks to Camden’s training is scared witless of him,) Viz spends most his day on his chair bed in Other Half’s office. We swap office dog for office cat during the day just to mix it up for them and ensure we both get the requisite amount of cuddle time. Each night he howls the place down if one of us hasn’t played with him for at least fifteen minutes, so, being good human slaves, we wiggle shoelaces, throw toy mice and set up tunnels for him to wiggle through.

 

I have no idea how long we’ll have him. For now his health is stable and he certainly seems to be content. It’s a juggle keeping him and Little Bear supervised, but we’re getting there slowly. I know there will be further heartache ahead, but for now I’m just happy to have such a wonderful little soul in our lives.

  • While I’ve just discovered that there’s a book by Lesley Fotherby called ‘The Cat Who Came To Stay’, my inspiration for the title of this blog though was the truly wonderful ‘Cat Who’ series by Lillian Jackson Braun. If you love cats, they’re a magical read and thanks to the fabulous narration, the audible versions are even lovelier.

 

 

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Our darling Camden 

 

 

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