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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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We’ve said goodbye to two of our most-treasured canine friends this year. They were the dogs who would rock up with friends and make themselves comfortable on the sofa while we ate dinner, had a movie night or shared a bottle of wine. They were first in the door for canine birthday parties and were great friends to Annie and Little Bear. While both were in their twilight years, it didn’t make their passings any easier or their absence any less keenly felt.

I’ve read much over the years about the passing of dogs, always with one eye defiantly closed to the reality that awaits us too. Annie is thirteen now and Little Bear, a not so little twelve.

One story shared on social media recently was of one much-loved dogs’ last day, enjoying all of the things on his ‘bucket list’ – a car ride to the beach, an ice cream cone and digging in the sand before the vet arrived to send him quietly over rainbow bridge. Yes, I was a snotty mess by the end of the story and really should know better.

Having the courage to see our fur babies out of suffering is the ultimate act of love – the timing, a deeply personal contract between dog and guardian. When I read the story, I wondered what a last day might look like for our two but then I stopped myself, because the sad truth is that too often we don’t get to choose. So I want Annie & Little Bear to live their best lives every day, just like their chums Daisy & Grace.

I’m making a list of everything they love. From puddle jumping to training games and everything in between so that, even when life gets hectic, we can remember what truly matters. Every day we have with them is a gift and I want each and every one of them to feel like their bucket list day.

In memory of Grace & Daisy Dog xxx 

Black labrador wearing a floral skirt and a red ribbon around her neck

Grace in her party gear

Grey & white Collie cross laying in a small dog bed looking at the camera

Daisy squished into Little Bear’s bed

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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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The cat who came to stay

Growing up, we always had cats and dogs. The first one I remember was Nina, a temperamental Siamese who hated everyone but my mother and never missed an opportunity to swipe me. Many more followed and at one point Mum had six, all strays fallen on their paws.

 

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Vizzy hiding his one white whisker 

When, in my thirties, I finally bought my own home, having a cat of my own was top of my list. I adopted Camden, a large black and white bundle of love three months after I got the keys. We spent nine wonderful years together. It was just the two of us at first, then along came Other Half whom she adored, but then to her intense irritation, came a puppy followed shortly after by a second dog. She ruled us all with an iron paw and we loved her for it. Losing her broke my heart and I swore that there would be no more cats.

 

Our one white-whiskered friend

When Mum passed away last year, she had just one cat left. Vizzy, a seventeen year old black cat with one white whisker. She used to say that the white whisker was to make sure a witch wouldn’t steal him. He too had turned up as a stray many years before, skittish and scared and in desperate need of medical care as his back foot was flayed open like raw meat.

It took days to catch him and his story might have been a short one had it not been for my mother’s strength of character. Taking him to a well-known charity, the vet offered to put him down there and then, telling her that he was obviously in agony and should be spared further suffering. All this while, as my mother recounted, Vizzy rolled on his back purring and playing with the stethoscope of the woman offering blithely to end his short life.

Mum took him to another vet and paid for the operation to remove the ruined pad and put his foot back together. Vizzy went home with her and there he stayed, a determined house cat for the next twelve years – until disaster struck and Mum passed.

Poorly boy

 

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Tuckered out after an evening’s play

When I told people about Vizzy, some acquaintances, (my friends would know better,) actually asked me if I would ‘keep the cat’. Just like that, as if he was a piece of furniture to be retained or disposed of at will. There was no question in either my mind of Other Half’s that he would come home with us, the real question though was whether he would live long enough to make the trip. With horrendous digestion issues, a thyroid condition and stage four kidney failure, things looked pretty bleak.

 

I stayed in Wales for two months to look after him while he underwent a barrage of tests and we ran up a truly hideous vet bill. He took it all in his stride and seemed content to be prodded and poked just so long as there was a cuddle at the end of it. He slept every night on my head and purred loudly on my lap during the day as I wrote, and for a while I thought that might be the best I could offer him. The vets were gloomy – but Viz had other ideas.

After a week on a new veterinary diet, our last-ditch attempt at settling his stomach, everything returned to normal. I never thought I’d be so excited that I’d photograph cat poo but hey, I am that person! After finding the right medication, his thyroid stabilised and he began gaining weight too. Through it all though, he remained an utter delight, lapping up love like a sponge and taking everything in his stride.

Homeward bound

I brought him home five months ago – a three-hour journey that felt like six thanks to the yowling. Our spare bedroom is now his, replete with a kitty en-suite, water fountain, three cat beds (although of course he prefers the double bed) plus enough toys to keep him entertained.

 

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Vizzy on his portable chair bed – he stays put as we carry him between offices 

As he and Bear have yet to really ‘bond’ (Little Bear, thanks to Camden’s training is scared witless of him,) Viz spends most his day on his chair bed in Other Half’s office. We swap office dog for office cat during the day just to mix it up for them and ensure we both get the requisite amount of cuddle time. Each night he howls the place down if one of us hasn’t played with him for at least fifteen minutes, so, being good human slaves, we wiggle shoelaces, throw toy mice and set up tunnels for him to wiggle through.

 

I have no idea how long we’ll have him. For now his health is stable and he certainly seems to be content. It’s a juggle keeping him and Little Bear supervised, but we’re getting there slowly. I know there will be further heartache ahead, but for now I’m just happy to have such a wonderful little soul in our lives.

  • While I’ve just discovered that there’s a book by Lesley Fotherby called ‘The Cat Who Came To Stay’, my inspiration for the title of this blog though was the truly wonderful ‘Cat Who’ series by Lillian Jackson Braun. If you love cats, they’re a magical read and thanks to the fabulous narration, the audible versions are even lovelier.

 

 

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Our darling Camden 

 

 

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Mini Schnauzer curled up on the writer's chest

Little Bear decided I needed a hug

When you have a reactive dog, let alone two, holidaying with your hounds isn’t the relaxing experience it might be. We have tried, but as my post, The Hay Scale details, sometimes with disastrous/hilarious results.

We’ve also tried holidaying without them, stealing ourselves to leave them at home with our wonderful house-sitter friend who they absolutely adore, but as they get older, it gets harder and harder to leave them.  The best scenery in the world can’t make up for the ‘what if?’ thoughts.

Taking the plunge 

Realising that never taking a break wasn’t a recipe for good health, in late 2017, high on the (misplaced) optimism and security of a new job and the opportunity to spend more time with my wonderful Mum, we took the plunge and bought a little house high in the Afan Forest, back home in Wales.

Having our own dog-friendly rental made complete sense.  We’d get more time in Wales with friends and family, the dogs would get to stay somewhere safe and familiar and I’d always have a base I could take the dogs to if my mum was ill.  In the meantime, we’d let it out so that other people could enjoy it.

We called it Ty Hiraeth. Ty is Welsh for house and Hiraeth means ‘a Welsh person’s longing for home’ although I prefer the more romantic interpretation of ‘a longing to be where your spirit lives.’  It felt apt as this was literally the house that ‘called me home to Wales.’

Home from home

The dogs love it there.  Little Bear turns billy-goat and just wants to climb every mountain, even when that means we have to follow on hands and knees (we keep telling him he’s 11 but he doesn’t listen), and Annie has made a new sport out of jumping in the waterfall pools whenever our back is turned.  There are so many walks that it’s easy to avoid other dogs if we want to, but they’ve also made new canine friends too. And of course, Bear being Bear, he quickly sussed out which of our lovely neighbours are always good for a biscuit!

There are times in life when it’s good to know what’s around the corner – and times when if you did, you’d probably never leave the house again. 2018 was certainly the latter.

Here come the lemons

We had barely started the renovation when my mum began to rapidly lose her sight and was told that she’d need mayor surgery.  Then I was made redundant. We stepped up the pace on the house while I also set about re-staring my consulting business, but like peeling an onion, we found more and more that needed to be done in the house before we could open the doors to paying guests.

A few months later my darling aunt passed away plunging us all into a black hole.  A few weeks later my mum had her first surgery, followed a few months later by the second.  Her sight was completely restored and we all breathed a huge sigh of relief.  But then just seven months after my aunt passed, my mum was gone too – following her beloved sister.  And the losses would just keep mounting up from there.

Constant companions

I’m sure in years to come I may look back on 2018 with a wisdom and maturity that are just beyond me at the moment.  What I do know is that by my side throughout it all I’ve had, not just my wonderful husband, (see hon, you do come first sometimes) but my incredible dogs.

They have sat in uncharacteristic patience with me in my numbed silences; licked tears gently and thoughtfully from my face; curled up one each side, when even moving was beyond me and forgiven me who knows how many times for delayed dinners or walks. When it felt like no one understood or cared, I looked into their eyes and knew that they saw it all – felt it all, and in that connection, they held me here.

Ty Hiraeth 

Against the odds, our little holiday let, ‘Ty Hiraeth‘ welcomed its first guest last summer. More followed and their lovely comments have been little rays of sunlight amongst the gloom. I love seeing pictures of our canine guests exploring the forest or romping on the beach, tongues lolling, happy holiday faces beaming.

‘Ty Hiraeth’ has already given us so much – it allowed me to be there for my family when they needed me and most importantly of all, it gave me time with my precious mum. Then, afterwards, it provided a place of healing and retreat for us all.

We have no idea what 2019 will bring, hope can be cruel, so I’m leaving it in the box for now, but one thing I do know – when life brings you lemons, at least we have dogs.

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Little Bear on sofa with his teddy

Little Bear’s first blog picture in 2010

Wow! The Little Bear Dog Blog is (drumroll please) NINE years young!  How can that possibly be?  But yep, sure enough, my very first ‘Hello World’ post is dated 21 February 2010 which means Little Bear was just two and a half when I started. Happy belated birthday little blog!

While I’ve not been the most consistent blogger over the years, I love that so much of our journey has been recorded.  Living and loving reactive dogs is a massive challenge and human nature means that we’re great at remembering the bad stuff, but not so great at remembering the good things.

In the early days I was definitely on the quest for the ‘cure’ – the training method, diet, supplement, harness, magic talisman (I added that for effect, but I got really close to being tempted!), that would transform my highly strung super-sensitive nutcase into the chilled dog I had so wanted.

It took me a long time and a lot of learning to be okay with the fact that he would never be a ‘take-anywhere dog’, not because I’d ‘failed’ in some way in not finding the holy grail of dog behaviour modification or scrimped on his training hours or socialisation, but because that’s just not how he’s wired.

I certainly made plenty of mistakes along the way, but looking back, I think we’ve done okay.  Suzanne, a very dear friend of mine who, thanks to her own journey with her own super-reactive dog is now a brilliant trainer, joined us in the woods for a walk the other week with her chilled Cockapoo Barney.

Watching LB meet lots of new dogs (pre-vetted by me obviously), play in puddles, carry sticks and clown around with her lad, she gave us the highest compliment ever, “Wow, he’s just like a ‘normal dog’, she said.  Now THAT I’m going to remember. Well done Little Bear! x

 

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Little Bear with his pals 2019 

 

 

 

 

 

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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. 

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