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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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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?

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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

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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.

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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.

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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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Seven years ago today my life was tipped upside down by a small, yappy bundle of cuteness. I thought I’d done my homework. I thought I knew dogs, but in hindsight I knew about as much as Jon Snow. I’m still only scratching the surface in terms of my understanding of these acutely intelligent, sensitive creatures so many of us share our lives with. 

As my blog has chronicled, Little Bear hasn’t been the easiest of dogs. He has challenged me emotionally and intellectually from day one and we’ve had our fair share of dark days when I’ve doubted us both. 

I used to often catch myself wondering what life might have been like had he been a different dog. If he’d been born with the laid-back genes of my beloved childhood Springer or had the take-anywhere personality of those dogs who happily lounge under the table at pavement cafes…. But he is not that dog. He will in fact never be that sort of dog, but that’s fine with me.  

I’ve been blessed not just with an amazing companion, but with an incredible teacher.  The irony is of course that in searching for ways to better understand and help him deal with his fears, I’ve had to face down quite a few of my own. So thank you my Little Bear. Thank you for being the funny, sensitive, sweet little soul you are. My life is so much the richer for you. xxx 

And now for some shamelessly cute photographs for no other reason other than the fact that you’re shamelessly cute! 

Two mini schnauzer puppies

Little Bear and his brother.

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Our first picture

Mini schnauzer puppy Little Bear

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear with his teddy

 

 

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear in the garden

Mini schnauzer Little Bear sleeping on the sofa

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear in the autumn leaves

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear looking out to see

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear in witches hat

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear in a hat

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear in the pool

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear laying down

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear sticking out his tongue

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear in the  field

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear in a bandana

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