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Old Man Bear

Mini Schnauzer rests his head on the back of a sleeping red fox Labrador.

Yesterday, we took Bear for a blood test. Our sprightly senior, described as ‘fit as a flea’ by the vet at the end of June, seems to have aged before our eyes in the last few months.

He’s drinking a lot, sleeping a lot and, while he’s still playful when the mood catches him, he is, all of a sudden, no longer the Peter Pan dog people mistake for a puppy. I aged about a decade when I lost my mum, and I wonder what impact losing Annie has had on our Little Bear. He loved her from the moment he set eyes on her, even though she was lunging and barking at him like a thing possessed. He won her over in no time, and they were friends for eleven wonderful years, so I can well imagine how he must feel now without her.

I mentioned grief as a possible catalyst for the washing list of ailments we were presenting with, fully expecting the theory to be poo-pooed, but to his credit, the vet said that depression could certainly have played a part. My poor Little Bear.

The good news is that his bloods are no cause for alarm. He’s back for a liver scan next week, as one of his results was slightly elevated, but the vet was clear that he wasn’t expecting to find anything untoward. Once that’s done, we can work on his itchiness and investigate his mysterious leg wound that heals and then reappears.

As to healing his grieving heart? Sadly, I know from experience that that’s not possible. All we can do is try to make sure that his days are filled with as much fun, love and distraction as we can cram into them.

P.S Apologies to subscribers for the random way the gallery of the photographs in my last post appeared in emails. I’ve no idea what WordPress tweaks caused that but I’ll investigate.

Holiday Bear

I’ve written before about the challenges of holidaying with a reactive dog. Not all of our attempts at a break have ended well – I’m still scarred by the experience in Hay-on-Wye. Part of the reason I invested in our own dog-friendly holiday let business was so that our fur babies could stay somewhere familiar to them. Sadly, even before the pandemic, Annie’s deteriorating health and discomfort travelling meant we couldn’t spend any time there. Precious days with our girl were far more important that a holiday. After losing Annie in July, we had a bittersweet return to Wales this month for our first holiday since 2017 and our first trip to Wales together for almost two years.

At fourteen, Bear is still reactive to other dogs on lead, but he is also advancing in years, so our trip centred around making sure he was comfortable. Enter the ‘Bear Mobile’, an off-road dog buggy that is, without doubt, our best purchase of the year. He refuses to sleep in it, preferring to take it all in and tell us in no uncertain terms when he wants to hop out and explore. It gave us the freedom to explore places too, and we did some wonderful walks around the area. Link below if anyone’s interested.

He was a complete star all holiday, even tolerating a couple of pub lunches, a night in a Travel Lodge, and trips to visit family. There were days when we stayed home just to allow him to rest up, but on the whole, he loved his trip. One of my loveliest memories is how we woofed and wagged his tail when we arrived at the house. He might not have been there for almost two years, but they say Schnauzers never forget, and he certainly seemed pleased to be back on home soil again. 💗

More info on walks: The Dramatic Heart of Wales

Annie would have been fifteen today. The knowledge of that unachieved milestone has hung, spectre like in the air all day despite my best efforts to drown myself in work.

Last year she wore a home made party hat at a jaunty angle, wagged her tail and ate birthday cake as I snapped 101 photos and made Other Half sing happy birthday at volume. Bear barked at our silliness, but Annie wagged her approval as she looked hopefully for second, and then third helpings of cake.

Two glasses of wine, a bone fide ‘binge’ for lightweight me, have done little to lighten my mood. I miss sunshine dog and I probably always will.

Happy birthday darling girl. You will be forever loved. Forever missed. x

Help! I think I’ve created a monster!

A couple of weeks ago, I had a rare piece of luck. While searching online for a dog buggy for his lordship, up popped one for sale on Marketplace. Not only was it the off-road type we need for trips to the woods, but it was being sold by a lady in the next village whose own dog had only used it twice. The listing was just six minutes old – it was meant to be! Fast forward twelve hours, and Bear was the proud owner of his own set of barely used wheels.

As Other Half commented wryly on the way home though, ‘It’s only a bargain if the little bugger will use it.’ Quite.

The logic behind the buggy is quite simple. Although he’s still very fit, at fourteen, Bear can’t do the long walks he once did. We love walking though, but they’re slightly ruined by having a carry a 9kg lump of dog who will insist on sitting in your arms like a ventriloquist’s dummy. The backpack experiment was a failure, so Plan B is the buggy. Plan C is a personal trainer to help me work on my biceps!

Our fears that he wouldn’t tolerate being pushed around the neighbourhood were, thankfully, unfounded. He absolutely loves it. So much so, I’m starting to worry whether I should be insisting he walk a bit more. Once in, he shows absolutely no inclination of wanting to get out again. He lords it up, woofing self-importantly at passing dogs and cats from the safety of his chariot, his ears flapping in the breeze as I march up the hill on our evening walk, looking for all the world like a dog who’s finally got his humans where he wants them. Then again, I suppose he has!

Annie

Our darling Annie passed away last Friday after telling us she was finally ready for a new adventure. I still can’t quite believe it. Her absence is deafening.

The strange thing is that we had expected that awful day for so long, that when at last it came, it felt surreal. In January, we called the vet because we thought the changes in her behaviour, random demand barking, nighttime disturbances and wandering, were caused by the pain of her arthritis. The diagnosis of dementia was both a shock, but, strange though it sounds, a relief too, just because it seemed to be the lesser of the two evils when compared to physical pain.

We had expected a rapid decline, but thanks to the addition of a new drug, it didn’t really happen that way. She soon started sleeping through the night again and most of the time seemed to be her usual waggy, happy self. She even started asking for the odd walk, never far, but evidence of an interest in the world that we were always happy to oblige.

Our vet made another house call just three weeks ago, and we heaved a great sigh of relief that she didn’t sit us down for ‘the talk’. We all agreed that so long as she was still pottering around, enjoying her food and cuddles and, most importantly, was as pain free as possible, then nothing needed to change.

The look

People say that they tell you when it’s time. Until last week I might have considered that wishful thinking. The product of the unbearable weight of having to play God. But Annie was always a great communicator.

On Thursday afternoon, as I typed away on my makeshift desk in the living room, she fixed me with a look that I couldn’t explain any other way. She didn’t leave her bed again. Refusing all attempts to coax or lift her onto her feet, as if adding a big fat exclamation mark to what she’d just said to me. For that clarity, I will always be thankful.

She passed away peacefully in my arms at 1.30 on Friday afternoon. We brought Bear downstairs to say his goodbyes, but he kept his distance, seeming to sense what had happened but not wanting to see for himself.

Life after love

After the vet left, Other Half and I busied ourselves washing bedding and picking up the dozens of rugs and mats that gave her safe passage across the laminate floor. Next we rearranged the furniture that had many months ago been consigned to corners to give her clear routes, then I moved my work things back up to my office. The duvet and pillow left the sofa and went back upstairs. It seemed at once a betrayal and a necessity. I still expect to see her in her bed by the sofa, tail wagging, eyes expectant, and to have left it there empty would have made it so much worse.

I hope that in time I can write more eloquently about our girl how our runaway foster fail changed our lives. For now, I’m just too heart-sore. All I can say is that we were truly blessed to have known and loved her. Life will never be the same, but that’s how life should be after great love, isn’t it? Forever changed by the force of it. Rest well, my darling girl. Until the next time. ❤️❤️❤️

I can ‘bear-ly’ believe it, but last week, Little Bear celebrated his fourteenth birthday. We had an agility party with a couple of his best pals, Paddy and Barney, and the smile on his face was a joy to see.

Any thoughts of slowing down were obviously far from his mind as he flew over the jumps, raced up the dog walk and, giving us all a heart attack in the process, deciding to scale the full height A-frame! He was probably rolling his eyes at the level of over-protectiveness after that one, but even if he’s unaware of his advancing age, we’d rather err on the side of caution.

Things took on a farsical note back home when posing for a picture with his cake obviously stretched his patience a bit too far. He made a grab for it and point blank refused to let go. In the end, I had to lift the cake out of its ribbon or else I think we might still be there!

It was a fun, memorable day, if tinged with the sadess of remembering those furry friends who weren’t able to join us this year. Archie, Molly, Mickey and Bella. Even our Annie was too stiff to make the journey, although she didn’t say no to cake at home. Precious memories. ❤️

The Little Bear Dog Blog, that thing I started writing just so that I could witter on about dogs without getting crossed off party invitation lists is ELEVEN years old today.

We didn’t even have our darling Annie when I started blogging, although the campaign for a companion for Bear was already in full swing.

Annie will be fifteen in August, Bear fourteen in June. That we still have them is such a blessing. It’s hard to imagine life without them, so I try not to. We focus instead on the good stuff, the cuddles, the playtimes and a thousand and one happy memories.

Happy Birthday little blog.

Magic moments

To say that the past year has been, ‘a bit of a challenge’ for us all is something of an understatement. If you’re anything like me, you have your good days when you’re just happy to be safe and well, and your ‘I can’t watch one more news report’ days; days when there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and days when it’s basically all tunnel.

Amongst the gloom however, there is still joy to be found. Little moments of magic that lift my spirits and fill my heart. Mine usually show up fur-covered, so I thought I’d share one with you.

Little Bear, as you know, will be fourteen this summer. But despite his advancing years, he still loves to play. Finding adult dogs willing to play with him is a challenge though and my heart has splintered on countless occasions watching his valiant attempts given the cold shoulder.

It was something of an unexpected delight then that a few months ago, our friend’s rescue Luna gave him the paws up. I don’t know who was more amazed – me or Bear!

They’ve been playing regularly ever since and seeing the contented look on his face – well, it’s nothing short of magical.

You can watch the video here: https://youtu.be/KZn84BwlvKk

Bear and his pal Luna

My canine alarm went off at 4.27 am which, believe it or not, is a lie-in as Annie usually wakes between 2 and 3 am.

It was my turn on the couch with her last night, but after a day of deep cleaning the house, I decided to try and grab a few hours in bed first.

I slept like a butcher’s dog, waiting for the woof. When it came, I hurried down the stairs only to be greeted by the unmistakable stench of dog wee.

Diagnosis

Thanks to our lovely vet, we now at least have a diagnosis. Our darling girl has dementia.

The minute she said the word it all made sense. The pacing, the laps of the house, the nighttime disturbances and the random demand barking.

To the list this week, we’ve had to add what seems to be a new fear of the back door, a flat-out refusal to eat her dried food and a runaway bladder (hence the deep clean which included Annie herself).

Management

The baby gate has been hauled back out of the garage and with a heavy heart, we’ve had to confine her to her dog room overnight for the sake of both the flooring and what’s left of our sanity. Not that she minds at all, she loves her room, but guilt is my default.

We have a new harness on order that’s soft enough for her to wear all day. It has a handle so that we can lead her out into the garden, because carrying a stubborn 28kg Lab to the toilet is really no fun for anyone, least of all her bless her.

As ever, canine social media has been a godsend, this time connecting me to a lovely lady in the US who’s also caring for a senior dog with dementia and has been so generous with her time and experiences. We know it will progress, but knowing what to expect at least puts us on the front foot. Our vets are fabulous, but being able to chat to someone about the day to day realities and practicalities is invaluable.

Still our girl

She’s sleeping peacefully now by my side as I sit, bleary-eyed and huddled under the duvet that has migrated to live permanently at the end of the couch, ready for whichever one of us is on Annie watch.

After being up for almost an hour, I gave up on the idea of dozing and made my first coffee of the morning. As I stood at the stove, she stopped her pacing and wagged at me as if she’d not seen me all night.

It was her usual morning wag, an enthusiastic, Dobby-eared greeting that has always kicked off our little morning ritual of cuddles. She’s still our Annie and for that I’m ridiculously grateful.

Annie loves her Dog Room bed (she has another three to choose from around the house)

A quick post today on my phone as Annie is very unsettled and barks every time I sit at my desk, even though it’s just ten feet from where she’s chosen to lie.

Good Girl Annie

She wagged at me earlier, a soft eyed, open mouthed happy wag in response to me telling her what a good girl she was.

It dawned on me though that she was responding, not to the sound of my voice, she’s very deaf now, but to my habitual hand clapping. ‘Good Girl!’ has somehow always been accompanied by a little round of applause.

I’m so stupidly glad. By happy accident, a silly quirk has ensured that, despite her deafness, she still knows she’s a good girl. 💜

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