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The last few months have been really tough for Little Bear. It all started with the mystery wound on his leg in September that elicited the trip to the emergency vet one Saturday night. Within days, he was gnawing at his feet and belly. The vet prescribed Piriton. It didn’t help. A second vet suggested medicated shampoo and oils to add to his food. That failed to stop it too. A third vet put him on Apoquel and, as I mentioned in my last post, the itching stopped, but so did Bear. He became a shadow of himself, not wanting to eat, play, or even walk. It was horrendous.

Here was our otherwise sprightly little chap, deteriorating before our eyes and we were just being told to ‘keep taking the meds.’ All concerns about the side-effects, poo-pooed. After reading about the drug myself and checking that we could stop it without ill-effect, I took him off it.

He brightened up in himself, but went back to chewing his paws in earnest. I also found a small scab on his head, but dismissed at as a one off. We took him to our groomers as he was so hairy it was hard to see what was going on with his skin. His paws, she said, were thickened. While he was being groomed, I was on the phone to the head vet, arranging for him to see her.

By the time we could see her later that week, his paws had gone from slightly thickened to puffy and sore. Whatever was happening, it had hockey-sticked in severity during that last 24-hours and it was no surprise that they admitted him on the spot for skin biopsies. With the warnings of ‘potentially something more sinister going on,’ ringing in our ears, we left him at the vets for four agonising hours.

There was good news when we collected him. Various scans had showed no evidence of any tumours, so the diagnosis was that of a common bacterial skin infection, easily treated with antibiotics. The working assumption was that the symptoms had been masked by the Apoquel, allowing the infection to run amok.

Still drowse from the general anaesthetic, his feet shaved to bare skin and still shivering from his medicated bath, he was in a sorry state when we collected him. However, with the help of steroids and antibiotics, he picked up quickly. By the following day he had his appetite back and was woofing at the postman. We were thrilled.

Sadly, the improvement didn’t continue. As his feet healed, the rest of his skin became covered in scabs. They’re now everywhere – even in his ears. With the biopsy results back, the vet now suspects Pemphigus foliaceus, which is the most common autoimmune disease in dogs. It can be treated with steroids, but until the right dose is found to put the disease into remission, it leaves them depressed, lethargic, and generally feeling unwell.

We’re off to see a specialist next week in the hopes that we can speed up the road to recovery. We have lots of questions – not least, what part Apoquel played in making an otherwise fit and healthy dog so desperately unwell in his golden years. We also want to know why this wasn’t suspected far sooner.

There are some glimmers of light. On Christmas Eve, he found a ball and decided to have a play. Today, he grabbed a teddy and we played chase around the living room for a few minutes. He’s enjoying his new diet of scrambled egg, fresh chicken and vegetables, particularly if I hand feed him. He’s more than capable of eating it by himself, but I think he just likes the improved level of service.

We have, I hope, many more Little Bear years ahead of us, so whatever we have to do now to return him to wellness will be worth it. If you’ve got some love and prayers to spare, please send them his way. x

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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.

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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. ❤️

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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)

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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’ 😉

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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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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 

 

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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. 

 

 

 

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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

 

 

 

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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

 

 

 

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