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‘Wotcha mean they may run out of biscuits?’ 

With just 54 days to Brexit, it’s still hard to believe how we got here. I had to drive to a client meeting on the morning of the referendum result and even though the traffic was much lighter than normal on the M25, everyone seemed to be crawling along as if in a shared daze of disbelief.

 

As John Humphrey wittered away on Radio Four, I mourned the freedom of movement that I’d not yet gotten around to enjoying and the dream of one day retiring to somewhere quaint and arty in Italy.

A dogs dinner 

But what then loomed largest in my mind was the fear of the utter bloody chaos to come. We’ve been braiding ourselves into the fabric of the EU for over forty years; that untangling ourselves without having to get the big scissors out and chop off a few limbs seemed to be a blindingly obvious reason why most people would vote to remain. Oh foolish fool that I am.

The dogs have taken it all in their stride of course. Bear doesn’t care for the heat so never fancied Italy anyway and Annie doesn’t like long car trips, but on the subject of interrupted supply chains they are far more animated.

Pet prepping 

And that’s why our garage is now like a pet shop. It’s also why we’ve got enough of their essential medicines squirrelled away for the next six months too. Next on the list is a nutritional supplement, just in case we have to resort to home cooked food – a contingency measure I dare say they’re crossing their paws for.

They also relaxed a bit more after I mastered a few batches of bake-your-own dog treats, though to be fair, the acceptance bar is pretty low as they even scoffed the ones I nuked to a near crisp.

But I’m not alone in my ‘prepare for the worst and hope for the best’ approach. When I joined the 48% Preppers Facebook group a few weeks ago there were 3,000 members – today there are close to 9,000 and looking after our fur babies if it all goes south is a hot topic.

While our two are somewhat mollified by my preparations, if asked, I’m sure they’d have just one word on the topic – ‘BrexShit’ – and I really couldn’t agree more.

On that note, I’m off to order them some new collar tags

 

Screenshot 2019-02-03 at 20.45.08

Thanks Growlees for the picture – please look out for my order!   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Borrowed joy

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Mum & her fan club

[August 2018] There’s an old saying that we don’t inherit the world from our ancestors, but instead, borrow it from our children. I’ve been wondering lately whether we might sometimes also borrow our happiness from future sorrows.

Forgive me the gloom, but there’s something about living with senior dogs that makes you so horribly aware of mortality – theirs, your own and that of basically everyone you love.

Annie turned 12 last week, Little Bear was 11 in June. Annie is feeling her age; the arthritis that we feared in her hips and the site of her TPLO materialising instead in her front legs. Little Bear’s now numerous lumps and bumps are tracked on a hand-drawn map that lives on the coffee table to save us time at the vets.

When we meet complete strangers when out with the dogs, everyone seems to comment on how Annie’s ‘a good age’ and I have to bite my tongue SO hard. Some have even asked if we’re considering getting a puppy – how subtle is that?

The reality is that anticipatory grief, the grief we feel before the loss of a loved one, is very real and when we choose to share our lives with little souls who don’t live as long as humans, it’s there in the shadow waiting for us from the very day we bring them home.

This ‘ghost of Christmas future’ type feeling has been with me for weeks now and writing this is, I suppose, my attempt at trying to exorcise it.  I’m not sure it’s entirely worked, but in the spirit of Gandalf’s sage advice: ‘All we have to decide is what to do with the time that has been given to us,’  I’m going to go downstairs, hug them stupid and then get the clicker out for some training and playtime.  I may not have them forever, but while they’re here they’ll know they’re loved.

Note: I drafted this on 24 August, but then couldn’t bring myself to post it. It felt too dark and miserable, so I distracted myself with life – re-building my business, a trip home to Wales, nice walks in the woods and trying (without much luck) to think of more cheerful things to blog about.  

A few weeks later, completely out of the blue, came the 4am phone call and the start of a nightmare that would culminate in the loss of my darling Mum – and Grief stepped out of the shadows and made itself well and truly known. 

Comfortably done

Annie the Labrador laying on duvet on the floor looking up at her mum

Finally….!

In the on-going conversation between humans and dogs, dogs are by far the better listeners.  If we were measuring it in terms of reading ages, I think they would be on Dostoyevsky and we’d still be on the Ladybird Classics.

I haven’t worked out what I do differently yet, but Bear will start sulking and sitting in the window to keep watch for my return, even before my overnight bag has made it out of the cupboard.

Annie, normally a frenzy of arthritic acrobatics when I so much as look in the direction of their harnesses, doesn’t even stir from her bed on the days when Bear and I are heading out for an extended walk in the woods. When he’s harnessed up and ready to go, she’ll calmly go and sit by the fridge waiting for what we call her ‘consolation carrot’.  How does she know? She reads me like a book.

Are you sitting comfortably? Er, actually no… 

Lately though her communication skills have really ratched up a gear. Other half and I have been trying for months to get her to join us in the living room of an evening. There was a time when evenings meant all four of us squished happily onto the sofa, but since her arthritis has started bothering her, Annie will no longer jump up and won’t settle even if we lift her on and off.

There’s no denying that she loves her crate with its three super-soft crate pads and the thick duvet that make up her bed, but her crate is in the dog room and we of course, want her with us.

We tried moving the spare crate into the living room but she wouldn’t settle so after a fortnight of it gathering dust, it went back to the garage. I bought her a new memory foam Orvis bed, which after a week of her flatly refusing to even put a paw on it, I reluctantly returned. I even bought her a second fabric day bed which is almost exactly the same as the one that she still uses, just not as squished and flattened – but this too was found wanting.  And yes, we’ve tried just shutting the door but that just gets us woofed at until we relent.

Breakthrough

I don’t know what made me think of it, but a few weeks ago her duvet was hanging over the living room door drying after a wash. I folded it double and put it on the floor in front of the sofa and her eyes lit up. She hurried over, turned around twice and plonked herself down. She glanced up at me and if she could speak, I swear she would have said, ‘Finally!’ She lay down and went to sleep and she’s been curled up on her duvet in the living room every evening since.

Her communication skills don’t stop there though. Last night, I forgot to put her duvet back in her crate at bedtime.  As I was about to head up the stairs she stalked out of the dog room, stood on the duvet in the living room, wagged at me and nosed the duvet. Good slave that I am, I returned it to her crate while she watched, only for her to barge me out of theway the second I was done and settle in for the night.  Who says that dogs can’t talk? Or that humans can’t (eventually) learn to listen?

Driving home from work the other evening, I saw what looked to me to be ‘the four ages of dog.’  Glacially-slow temporary traffic lights meant that for once I had the time to watch the parade.

It was a beautiful summer evening, one of the few we’ve had this year in the UK, and it was prime ‘after work but just before dinner’ dog walking time. With two reactive dogs, we learned a long time ago to avoid those peak times but it’s always lovely to see the neighbourhood dogs out enjoying their evening stroll.

The four ages of ‘dog’ 

Alternatively bounding around in circles, chewing its lead and then sitting down and refusing to budge, was a golden Labrador puppy.   Behind them, I saw a young husky towing the beefy-looking chap on the other end of the lead in his wake.

Then there was my neighbour with her cool as a cucumber Pointer who was loping at her side and stopping every now and again to sniff and lift his leg. But then suddenly there was a lump in my throat, because the next dog I saw was a very elderly chocolate Labrador. Unlike the other dogs, he trailed about 10 ft behind his people, who were so deep in conversation that they seemed almost to have forgotten why they were out.

His tongue lolled out of his grey muzzle, his gait bore the tell-tale signs of arthritis and he looked like every step was a decision. When he stopped, sometimes to sniff but other times just it seemed to rest, his people turned and called him on. He’d break into an awkward jog to join them but within seconds they had outpaced him again and he was left watching their backs and then hurrying once again to catch up.

We spend so long teaching our puppies and young dogs to walk to heel – to walk with us.  I think the very least we can do in their dotage is to remain by their sides – just as they did for us.

Red Fox Labrador Annie sitting in a field 'smiling'

Our Annie – 11 years young but still loving her walks

Annie and Little Bear with their friend Grace

Annie and Little Bear with their friend Grace

Oh my poor neglected blog. Seven whole months on its lonesome, twiddling its pixels in cyber space wondering if this was it, the thing every blog dreads – the last post.

Well, despite my tardiness, TLBDB, now in its fifth year, need not fear, I have no intentions of abandoning it. I have though come to accept that my posts may not be quite so frequent as they once were.

My less frequent updates are due to a couple of factors.  Finding a group of people locally who are all living and working with reactive dogs has been an enormous help, not just for the opportunity to socialise our dogs, but to find support from people who really, genuinely understand the challenges.

Working for myself also means that I now get paid to write. Admittedly, I don’t get paid to write about dogs, but you never say never!

Little Bear and Annie have come such a long way and continue to be a source of joy and hilarity.  They still have issues and we’ve come to realise that when working with fearful dogs, there’s rarely ever a destination, just a better quality of road.

Mini schnauzer Little Bear having a cuddle

Bear deals much better with firework night if he has someone to snuggle with.

“Remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot.” For some unknown reason we’re still celebrating Guy Fawkes’ failed attempt to blow the Houses of Parliament to smithereens 400 years after the fact.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for tradition if it brings a smile to people’s faces, but when you have a dog that’s terrified of loud noises, firework night is traumatic. Picture your dog hunched in a corner, shaking like a leaf and panting so hard you’re afraid he might pass out.

It’s a pitiful sight especially when you’re unable to control the source of their fear. What’s worse is the fact that as the sale of fireworks is unregulated, fireworks ‘night’ now seems to last up to two weeks meaning another assault can come at any time.

Advice 

Lots of dogs are of course frightened of fireworks and social media has been awash with people asking for advice on how to cope with their terrified pets.  On the whole the advice offered is sound: Turn up the TV; try a Thunder-shirt, herbal calmers, hormone collars and diffusers like Adaptil and for those instances where nothing works, a consultation with your vet for a prescribed tranquilliser.

However, there are still those who insist that ignoring your dog is the only way to deal with the situation.  I understand where this thinking may have come from – in positive reinforcement training we often ignore bad behaviour like jumping up for fear of reinforcing it with our attention.  However, YOU CAN’T REINFORCE FEAR! Once your dog is afraid he’s incapable of learning anything so you won’t make it worse by giving him attention.

For pity’s sake, just cuddle your bloody dog! 

So please, if your dog is frightened and wants to be near you – CUDDLE HIM! Distract him, play with him – hell, wrap him in a blanket and feed him roast chicken off a fork if it’ll make him feel better but please, PLEASE do not ignore him.

You didn’t have to be a dog lover to feel your heart break at the news reports of the fire at the Manchester Rescue Centre which killed more than fifty dogs last night.

Two local men broke into the burning complex to kick down doors and rescue as many dogs as they could; locals jammed roads on their way to the scene with food and blankets and overnight more than a million pounds has been raised for the charity.

That the fire was started deliberately is horrifying enough, but what is perhaps even more haunting is the fact that this was the second tragedy to befall these poor dogs, having already been abandoned by the people who they trusted to care for them.

While cute puppies remain commodities to be bought on a whim and discarded when the hard work becomes apparent, there will be little respite for the rescue centres who try so hard to re home these abandoned dogs.

Fifty dogs lost their lives in horrendous circumstances yesterday but 9,000 perfectly re-homeable dogs are killed each year in this country by Pounds and ‘Rescue’ organisations simply because there are no homes for them.

As I watched the pictures of the wonderful people of Manchester lining up to help outside the smouldering Rescue Centre my one consoling thought was that perhaps people might now be moved to show similar compassion and help save the lives of the 25 dogs a day who die silently all for the want of a family to love them.

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