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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. 💜

Canine carers

I’m writing this after two very strong cups of coffee. It was my turn on the canine night shift and after a couple of weeks of relatively few interruptions, Annie outdid herself last night.

At fourteen and a half, it’s to be expected. Arthritis, confusion and a weaker bladder, all conspire to play their part and when she wakes, she woofs for us. Bear joined in too last night, twice waking me for a bathroom break. All in, I was up six times.

I’d be lying if I said that there were nights when stumbling down the stairs by the light of my phone, I didn’t long for an uninterrupted night’s sleep, but in the absence of a functioning time machine, a quiet night would mean only one thing. When I think of it like that, the interruptions are a gift.

Senior dogs

Caring for senior dogs isn’t easy. While Bear is wearing his thirteen and a half years pretty lightly (touch wood), Annie is feeling her age. In response, our lives have pivoted around her care. We’ve spent countless nights sleeping on the couch next to her when nothing else would coax her to sleep. I abandoned my upstairs office and moved my desk to the kitchen to be close to her (and always available for backdoor duty). After a bout of fainting episodes the vet diagnosed as neurological, one of us is with her at all times, which makes even walking Bear together an impossibility.

Her medication schedule sits on a clipboard in the kitchen and alarms on Other Half’s phone remind us to dish out her pills three times a day to keep her comfortable. When everyone else was panic-buying toilet paper, we were stocking up on lentil shell crisps and peanut butter – her pill delivery method of choice!

Every day is a blessing

We know our time together is limited, that our love will one day need to step up to the plate, but that just means that every day is both a blessing and a bonus. In the meantime, so long as she’s wagging her tail, reminding us of her mealtimes, demanding the odd walk when the fancy takes her and enjoying her life, we’ll move heaven and Earth to care for her.

Annie ‘Nightwalker’ 😉

Ten years ago today, we excitedly picked up our ‘foster dog’ Annie, an overweight, flea-ridden breeding bitch from a puppy farmer who had no more use of her. Thanks to a broken collar, we lost her before even getting her home.

We refer to 5 August as her ‘Gotcha Lostya’ day and 7 August as her ‘Gotcha-back’ day, but there isn’t a day that I don’t feel incredibly blessed to have her in our lives.

She’ll be fourteen in a couple of weeks and old age can be unkind. Her arthritis requires careful management and even pre-lockdown, our world had contracted around her needs. She doesn’t ask for much bless her, save for three timely meals, walks on demand and most important of all, our company.

In honour of our precious girl, here’s Annie being her wonderful, glorious, gorgeous self.

Red fox Labrador dog looking at camera
Annie
Annie the labrador
Annie
Annie the Labrador covered in mud
Annie the Labrapotomous
Annie the Labrador with her certificate and rosette
Annie with her award
Little Bear and Annie on the sofa
Nap time: Little Bear and Annie

Bear has some strange fears. The other week I terrified him by blowing a dandelion clock next to him. Who knew? He shot me a horrified look, then stalked off as if I’d just done something hideous.

Has he gone yet?


Today though saw the arrival of his nemesis – the window-cleaner. Knowing that he hates the sight and sound of the brush at the window I popped him on his lead and took him into the garden with some treats. Problem solved – or so I thought.


Bear however, had other ideas. It seems everything about the window-cleaning process, including the poor man himself (who has changed many times over the years) is terrifying. He bolted and hid, quivering behind the shed.


He was beyond coaxing and when he started crying too, I picked him up. He clung to me, paws hooked into my shoulder, his head wedged under my chin, shaking like a leaf.


The window-cleaner gave us a funny look, then frowned and asked if Bear was afraid of him. I said, ‘yes, sorry about that. Please don’t take it personally, he’s just afraid of window-cleaners.’ But I rather think he did. Oh dear.

Black and white photo of Mini Schnauzer with soft toy in his mouth

Playtime Bear

I had to eat my breakfast at double speed this morning because Little Bear was desperate to play. So desperate that he was actually whining at me. It’s the same story most days. He’ll eat his breakfast, head out to the garden for his ablutions and then charge in, full of the joys, looking for a teddy or a tennis ball.
He loves being chased and when that gets too much, he plays football, flicking a tennis ball with his paw while ‘savaging’ a teddy. He loves being told he’s clever, so another game usually involves me hiding a toy under a blanket or the cushion on his bed which he then snuffles out, tail wagging in anticipation of the praise.
He doesn’t play for long these days, ten minutes tops, but to see him, you’d never think he was fast approaching thirteen. The reality of their respective ages is never far from my mind, a shadow over the sun of our lovely days together. That’s why I’ll not deny him a single minute of playtime. It lifts me too, just to see him so happy, so caught up in just enjoying the fun of the moment.

There’s a quote that I love that says, ‘We don’t stop playing because we get old, we get old because we stop playing.’ Never stop playing Little Bear. x

Red fox Labrador dog looking at camera

Annie

I drafted this post five years ago and for some reason, never got around to publishing it. Annie will be 14 this year, but without one very special lady we might never have found our ‘little dog lost’. It’s time to say a proper thank you. 

This summer will be ten years since we adopted Annie – and ten years since that fateful first day when, before even getting her home, she broke her collar and bolted, terrified into on-coming traffic

We might never have found her had it not been for a 92-year-old lady called Margaret. I remember her exact words when she called me, “Young lady,” she said with the annunciation of a school headmistress, “your missing dog is in my garden.” She gave me her address and as I started to blabber my sleep-deprived thanks, she added, “Don’t shilly-shally about talking or she’ll be gone again! Hurry up!” Then she hung up.

Fifteen minutes later a small posse of people stood in Margaret’s neat cottage garden marvelling at how a massively overweight Labrador could be squeezing herself through tiny gaps in a chain-link fence that looked to be hardly big enough for a rabbit. But obviously channelling her inner hamster, and then running at speeds that would shame Derby-winners, Annie evaded us for hours, crossing back and forth between the line of back gardens and into the horse yard and fields beyond them.

We blocked off every hole in the fence we could find. We hacked our way through the thick bramble bushes that divided the gardens from the fields, checking for hidden escape routes. At one point, to the bemusement of the resident horses, I even lay in the field, squeaking like a puppy on the advice of the dog warden who claimed to have had some success with the technique, although, with hindsight, I have my doubts.

After about three exhausting hours, Annie finally gave up, collapsing in a heap in one of the gardens. My lovely friend Louisa had cleared her fridge of her husband’s expensive imported salamis and cheeses, hoping that the smells would tempt our runaway charge to her feet, but by then Annie had completely shut down. In the end, Louisa’s husband Sven, bearing no grudges to see the contents of his fridge adorning a strangers’ patio, picked her up and carried her to our car. 

As the relief swept over us all, it was Margaret who brought tears to my eyes. As we all hugged each other, this tall, elegant lady with perfectly set hair, dabbed a handkerchief to her eyes and said, “It’s just like the day the war ended.” 

I returned to Margaret’s the next day with flowers and a thank you card. Her small bungalow, whitewashed with pale green windows and doors that wouldn’t look out of place on a Farrow & Ball mood board, was like a time capsule from the forties. 

Margaret invited me in and I tried not to gawk and coo at the lifetime of neatly arranged treasures. We had tea in delicate china cups in her front room and I sat in a wingback chair with homemade lace coverings on the armrests. She chatted easily, telling me first about growing up in London and then how as a young woman she had seen the building in which her fiancé was staying, hit by a German bomb. It exploded in front of her and while she survived, he did not.

Margaret never married but went on to travel the world, first for the war effort and then alone. She showed me photographs of herself in places I’ve only ever dreamed of. As I listened to her story I had to pinch myself now and then so that I wouldn’t cry, not that she presented her life as a tragedy, far from it, but underneath it all, I sensed that that lost love was forever present. 

I left her our phone number with the offer of help should she need anything or fancy some company and promised to call again. When I did call around a couple of weeks later, she was a bit confused, and I wasn’t sure she even remembered me. Blessed with wonderful neighbours who checked on her daily and shopped for her, we decided that to persist would only be for our own ends and so we resorted to cards at Christmas, signed with enduring love from Annie of course.

That was five years ago. Driving past her bungalow this week I noticed a for sale sign outside. Margaret would be 97 now. I slowed the car, intending to pull in and speak to one of the neighbours, but then changed my mind. As my eyes filled, I decided that Margaret is being pampered in a wonderful residential home, enthralling everyone with stories from her travels, the day the war ended and of course, the day she found a runaway Labrador in her garden. 

 

As it’s day four-thousand and twentyone of lockdown, I thought I’d have some fun. Here are my top ‘facts’ about life with a Mini Schnauzer. Well, life with ours anyway….

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They bark – but only a lot 

I know there are exceptions to the rule, but most minis I know love the sound of their own voice. They’re vocal little dogs and will woof at the drop of a hat. Little Bear sometimes barks just for fun (or to annoy my husband). We’ve neither of us finished a complete sentence in his presence for the last twelve years.

 

Mini Schnauzer being carried

They like to be carried 

All puppies do the ‘stop and stick’ to the pavement routine when they’re tiny and are a bit worried about the world.

Schnauzers, however, don’t seem to have forgotten that often, once the treats had run out, their exasperated people resorted to carrying them.

Little Bear is an old master at this trick now and will even limp dramatically to get a lift. Like a fool I usually give in and hey presto, the minute I close the front door, he’s racing about the house like a spring lamb.

 

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They hate coats

I often think Schnauzers are the polar opposite of the House Elves in Harry Potter. Give an elf an item of clothing and you free them from servitude – give a Schnauzer a coat and he’ll look at you like he’s a newly condemned man.

A few years ago I decided that Bear’s statue routine could be ‘fixed’ by just   waiting him out.

I popped his new coat on him and waited. After an hour of him standing rooted to the same spot in the kitchen, I caved in. It was a battle of wills. I lost.

 

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They have sensitive fur 

While dog coats can render them instantly and completely immobile, so can other ‘unexpected items’ about their person.

Leaves on the legs, a twig on the toe and most infamously, a minuscule bit of poop stuck to the botty fluff. That one cost us £50, a mad dash to the vet with our ‘paralysed’ puppy and lost dinner reservations. We also had to change vets.

 

 

Mini Schnauzer curled up on the writer's chest

 

They’re incredibly loving 

Mini Schnauzers have huge characters. They’re certainly not a breed for anyone who wants a quiet life.

Little Bear is and always has been, a total drama king, but he is also the most sensitive, loving little soul imaginable. I suppose, in the end, that’s all we really need to know.

 

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