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Archive for April, 2020

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. 

 

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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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Close up shot of Mini Schnauzer Little Bear

I don’t know about you, but the last few weeks have been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster.

I’ve been furious, terrified, pragmatic, determined and a complete blubbering mess eating Lotus spread off a spoon and crying onto my keyboard.

There’s no linearity to it, just a tempest of emotion roiling up, having its moment then disappearing again.

The dogs hate it when I cry. Annie pushes her head into my knees and demands cuddles while Little Bear just jumps on me and barks furiously. If I’m sitting down, he barks and whines in my face and licks my nose and cheeks until I get a grip, which of course I do far more quickly than if I’d been permitted to wallow.

While I’d love to think that Bear was trying to make me feel better, it’s more likely that as his primary care-giver, my distress was just making him anxious about his own safety. Either way, I hate upsetting him and so his technique, such that it is, works every time.

Vulnerability 

I’ve written before about how my dogs have kept me sane, but so much of their power is actually in their vulnerability. Our dogs are so totally and utterly dependent on us that, even when the world feels like it’s ending, we have to be there for them physically and emotionally.

In return, they remind us that there is a world beyond ourselves. They ground us in the here and now and most importantly, show us that there is still joy in the world. It’s impossible not to smile watching Little Bear playing football by himself of an evening, or getting ‘toy-giddy’ when I tip a whole basket of teddies on to the floor for him. He met a sweet little terrier on our walk yesterday and, even though they had less than a minute to play together, he ran back to us beaming.

These are scary times, but they’d be an awful lot worse without our dogs at our sides.

However and wherever you are in the world, we’re sending you and your fur babies love, strength and healing thoughts. And of course, Bear sends woofs. xxx 

 

A few of my favourite photos – just because they make me feel better.

 

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