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I’ve written before about the challenges of holidaying with a reactive dog. Not all of our attempts at a break have ended well – I’m still scarred by the experience in Hay-on-Wye. Part of the reason I invested in our own dog-friendly holiday let business was so that our fur babies could stay somewhere familiar to them. Sadly, even before the pandemic, Annie’s deteriorating health and discomfort travelling meant we couldn’t spend any time there. Precious days with our girl were far more important that a holiday. After losing Annie in July, we had a bittersweet return to Wales this month for our first holiday since 2017 and our first trip to Wales together for almost two years.

At fourteen, Bear is still reactive to other dogs on lead, but he is also advancing in years, so our trip centred around making sure he was comfortable. Enter the ‘Bear Mobile’, an off-road dog buggy that is, without doubt, our best purchase of the year. He refuses to sleep in it, preferring to take it all in and tell us in no uncertain terms when he wants to hop out and explore. It gave us the freedom to explore places too, and we did some wonderful walks around the area. Link below if anyone’s interested.

He was a complete star all holiday, even tolerating a couple of pub lunches, a night in a Travel Lodge, and trips to visit family. There were days when we stayed home just to allow him to rest up, but on the whole, he loved his trip. One of my loveliest memories is how we woofed and wagged his tail when we arrived at the house. He might not have been there for almost two years, but they say Schnauzers never forget, and he certainly seemed pleased to be back on home soil again. 💗

More info on walks: The Dramatic Heart of Wales

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Annie would have been fifteen today. The knowledge of that unachieved milestone has hung, spectre like in the air all day despite my best efforts to drown myself in work.

Last year she wore a home made party hat at a jaunty angle, wagged her tail and ate birthday cake as I snapped 101 photos and made Other Half sing happy birthday at volume. Bear barked at our silliness, but Annie wagged her approval as she looked hopefully for second, and then third helpings of cake.

Two glasses of wine, a bone fide ‘binge’ for lightweight me, have done little to lighten my mood. I miss sunshine dog and I probably always will.

Happy birthday darling girl. You will be forever loved. Forever missed. x

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Help! I think I’ve created a monster!

A couple of weeks ago, I had a rare piece of luck. While searching online for a dog buggy for his lordship, up popped one for sale on Marketplace. Not only was it the off-road type we need for trips to the woods, but it was being sold by a lady in the next village whose own dog had only used it twice. The listing was just six minutes old – it was meant to be! Fast forward twelve hours, and Bear was the proud owner of his own set of barely used wheels.

As Other Half commented wryly on the way home though, ‘It’s only a bargain if the little bugger will use it.’ Quite.

The logic behind the buggy is quite simple. Although he’s still very fit, at fourteen, Bear can’t do the long walks he once did. We love walking though, but they’re slightly ruined by having a carry a 9kg lump of dog who will insist on sitting in your arms like a ventriloquist’s dummy. The backpack experiment was a failure, so Plan B is the buggy. Plan C is a personal trainer to help me work on my biceps!

Our fears that he wouldn’t tolerate being pushed around the neighbourhood were, thankfully, unfounded. He absolutely loves it. So much so, I’m starting to worry whether I should be insisting he walk a bit more. Once in, he shows absolutely no inclination of wanting to get out again. He lords it up, woofing self-importantly at passing dogs and cats from the safety of his chariot, his ears flapping in the breeze as I march up the hill on our evening walk, looking for all the world like a dog who’s finally got his humans where he wants them. Then again, I suppose he has!

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Happy Birthday Little Blog

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.

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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

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Sign language for dogs

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. 💜

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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

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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.

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Never stop playing

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

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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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