Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Chew chew!

Hector during teething - a mixture of puppy and adult teeth
Hector has got a beautiful, full set of adult teeth now and he’s determined to enjoy them.

He’s always liked a bit of a chew, but there’s no stopping him now. Over the past few weeks as his adult teeth have really established themselves, he's seemed to get cravings for particular textures. The antlers were a firm favourite but they've fallen out of favour for now. Next thing you know he's chomping into wood, then plush toys, and then only rubber will do before he gets a sudden urge to chew plastic.

Rope toys may be advertised as good for dental health, but at the moment Hector and Stanley see these only as tug toys. That means they last a lot longer than they would if any of the dogs was in the mood to nibble at them, but it leaves a recently-teethed young dog looking for something else.

Our firewood basket attracts Hector with its selection of dried sticks. This has had the same appeal for every dog who’s lived here, so I’ve invested in a root for safer wood-based chewing.

The nylon marrow bone is also doing a great job at the moment. All the dogs love these as they have a jerky flavoured filling, and for Hector the nylon is tough enough to satisfy his craving for hard plastic.

Another favourite is the Busy Buddy Waggle bone, which is great for when Hector wants something a bit more yielding. That's OK as long as I keep checking it for wear and tear - it seems incredibly hardwaering and he hasn't broken anything off of it, but as he illustrated the other night when he threw up some bits of tennis ball, he's not averse to eating anything that falls off a toy.

But really, anything is fair game to Hector at the moment - a book left lying around is a brilliant toy that makes great ripping noises as well as providing lovely chewy cardboard. And while no shoes have been destroyed, a few have found their way out to the garden. 

Hector's need to chew is literally keeping us on our toes, but he hasn't done much damage so far. My role in all this is to remove temptation (such as access to firewood and shoes) as much as possible and provide a steady supply of satisfying, safe and approved chew toys, as well as making sure Hector gets enough play and interaction so he doesn't end up chewing from boredom. I also take away any toys that he has lost interest in, as these become 'special' again after a short absence. Hence the Stagbar will be in demand again, the rubber dumbell will fall out of favour and even the firewood basket may eventually be safe.
All this is natural for a five-month-old puppy and it's a delight to watch Hector enjoying his new gnashers as long as he's not sinking them into my favourite boots. I'm absurdly proud of his beautiful white teeth and I think he should be too. He certainly loves having his teeth cleaned and he's had a positive effect on Billy and Stanley's attitudes to the toothbrush too.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Goodbye to old friends, hello new

As you know, this year didn't start well for us and it's brought some crushing blows. But it's important to look forward and hopefully there are happier times ahead.

We lost our beloved Oscar on 11 May, when the lymphoma just took over. It was a very aggressive type of lymphoma and while chemotherapy kept him going for a while, the cancer grew resistant to one drug after another. On one hand, most of the time he seemed very well and happy, and you wouldn't have known there was anything wrong with him. On the other, eventually the chemo had little effect, and what effects it did have lasted a fraction of the time they were meant to.

But it did mean we had some very happy times, albeit with underlaid with a mild sense of dread. At the end of April we had a wonderful holiday in Anglesey during which Oscar was up for anything. But by that time he also had swollen glands that just wouldn't go down, and soon after we got home he started losing weight and refusing to eat. Eventually it was clear that the kindest thing was to let him go and he died with me cuddling him on the settee at home. He was only three years old but it felt like he'd been with me all my life.

Then, less than three months later on 1 August, we lost my beautiful old friend Fargo. He’d had a tummy upset that wouldn’t go away, which turned out to be pancreatitis, but we didn’t know what was causing it. It was probably cancer, but we chose not to do any invasive tests as Fargo was already 13 years old and was quite weak. So we tried everything we could to treat the pancreatitis but nothing worked. At the same time, we’d stopped giving Fargo anti-inflammatories for his arthritis until we could get his tummy problems sorted. He still went to physio and he had tramadol and paracetamol, but he was getting very stiff. In the end, after we’d tried everything, letting him go was once again the kindest thing we could do. That came as a massive blow, so soon after Oscar. We knew Fargo wouldn’t be around forever, but we just weren’t expecting to lose him so soon. At least, again, I was able to cuddle him at home when the time came. He was a legend, even the vet was almost in tears.

So, where do you go from something like that? Not long after losing Oscar, we added Hector, the lurcher puppy, to the gang. Having him around has helped a lot as he was a new face and he helped bring all of us, dogs and humans, out of ourselves as we adjusted to life without Oscar. He and Fargo got on well, but he didn’t know Fargo for long enough to miss him terribly, and I think that's helped us too. Slowly we have adjusted to life in our current formation.

But I do still really miss Oscar and Fargo. It’s all still quite raw as you can imagine. They needed a lot of care over the last few months if their lives and that’s left a huge gap in our routines. I even miss the Fargo hair that coated everything in the house for many years. I always knew that my pack of four dogs might one day be reduced to three, but I didn’t realise those three would include a new one, and that two of my beautiful boys would be gone. But life goes on, and I’m glad to have Billy and Stanley the whippets, as well as Hector to bring love, life and laughter into every day.

The ones we’ve lost never really leave us and that, in the end, is a comfort too. Much as I can't help feeling sad at some point pretty much every day at the moment, I know it will get easier. I also think that remembering my lovely dogs with sadness is to do them an injustice. They would want me to live in the moment, and to play and laugh with the dogs that are here now. So eventually my memories of Oscar and Fargo will move away from those last few days of illness, to the happy times we shared that filled most of their lives. I wish they – and the other dogs I’ve lost over the years – were still here, but the main thing is that they were here in the first place and they had as happy a life as I could give them. In the end, I’m lucky to have known them.

It's taken me a while to be able to write this blog, but I think it's easy to feel as if most people don't understand how it feels to lose a beloved dog so I wanted to talk about it. I've found that a lot more people than I imagined do understand this grief, but I think it's important to talk about it becaus it just might help someone else out there who is going through a similar experience to know they are not alone.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Hard times - the dreaded lymphoma

Well, it’s been a while and I really didn’t mean to be away so long. My time has been filled with writing (it’s my job, hence I neglected my blog-writing) and, most importantly, dogs. It still is filled with those things, but there’s been a ghastly change.

My beloved Oscar the lurcher has been diagnosed with lymphoma. He's only just turned three years old.

It started with a swollen prescapular lymph node just before Christmas. Really, it must have started before that, but the swollen gland was the first outward sign and Oscar seemed in very good health apart from that. Still, I thought we’d better get that checked out. The vet did a fine needle aspiration and the results came back on Christmas Eve: compatible with lymphoma. More tests were needed – an x-ray, ultrasound and a biopsy – but my vet said we needn’t cancel our planned week away as it was Christmas week and the bank holidays would delay any results to the point where it would only make a day or two of difference in terms of when Oscar could start any treatment.

So, off we went on Boxing Day for a week in Cornwall. While we were there, the node on the other side of Oscar’s neck came up and he started drinking (and weeing) more and more. We came home early and took him to the vets, where he was found to have high calcium levels which can be associated with some cancers. As there was a danger of kidney damage, he stayed in hospital on a drip for the next six days while they did his various tests and we discussed treatments. Then he started chemotherapy (Madison Wisconsin protocol) and came home.

Oscar is generally in good health at the moment, though he’s quite sensitive to one of the chemo drugs and had to spend another night in hospital when he got sick and dehydrated after one treatment. It’s early days yet and we’re still finding out how he reacts or responds to different bits of the treatment, so hopefully we’ll be able to avoid anything like that happening again.

The good days are very good, and we’ve been lucky enough to have lots of them so far, but something like a loss of appetite or sickness can happen very suddenly just when you think everything’s OK. I am always ready to drop everything and head to the vets and I'm very thankful for good pet insurance.

So, 2016 started with many tears, but then I realised they weren’t going to help anyone, least of all Oscar or the other three dogs. Strange new customs have entered our lives, such as rinsing any area where Oscar has had a wee and double-bagging his poo following chemotherapy treatments, as they are full of chemo drugs (that doesn’t sound like a big deal until you have to do it late at night on a muddy lawn in a howling gale). I don’t know how effective the chemotherapy will be, or how long Oscar will be with us. Of course I hope for a miracle, but you don’t expect a cure with canine lymphoma. Mainly I’m focused on this cancer as something he’s living with rather than dying from, and I can make sure it's a good life.

One of the most valuable things I’ve learned from dogs is to enjoy the moment. Oscar is especially good at making me do that and as long as he’s feeling well I find it impossible to be sad in his company. That doesn’t stop me waking up in the night and suddenly, horribly remembering that he has a terminal illness, but it helps me put it in perspective.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Cheeky cat adventure

Just round the corner from me, on the way to the park, there lives a cheeky ginger cat. He’s a lovely fella and very friendly with humans. You’ll spot him chilling out on the mat by the front door of his house, or perhaps sitting in the middle of the pavement demanding a stroke from anyone who passes by.

The cheeky cat can present a challenge for me as I walk past with three sight-hounds who aren’t used to cats, but I like his attitude. He doesn’t bother getting out of the way because I’m walking past with a gang of cat-fascinated dogs; instead, we have to cross the road to avoid the mayhem of a confrontation. Sometimes, he will sit at the end of his drive so we come across him unexpectedly as we walk past – on those occasions, he keeps his cool and doesn’t run off, and we often get past him without any fuss. He’ll brook no nonsense but neither will he go out of his way to provoke anyone – usually.

'Did I just see the cheeky cat?'
This morning I was out with Fargo, who is on short walks due to his arthritis so I’ve been taking him out separately from the other dogs. As we turned down the cheeky cat’s road on our way home, we saw that the street was lined with cats. There was no option for avoidance tactics like crossing the road as there was a cat over there too. So we had to run the gauntlet.

Fargo will chase a running cat, but he only shows a mild interest in a stationary one. He’s come face-to-face with the cheeky cat before and they just looked at each other and moved on, so I was in high hopes. The other cats lining the street gradually moved out of the way with no mishaps, and as we approached the cheeky cat he started walking towards us, meowing as if he wanted some fuss. Obviously, I wasn’t going to stop and stroke him but I thought it wouldn’t hurt for he and Fargo to say hello and see what they made of each other.

'Get off of my land!'
Well. The cheeky cat sat down and kept meowing at Fargo in what seemed a friendly way. Fargo put his nose forward very slowly to sniff at the cat, without even touching him – he was very well-mannered about it – and the cat jumped forward, hissed at him and tried to scratch his eyes out! Though in reality, I think he actually only managed to comb Fargo’s luxuriant side-whiskers and Fargo didn’t really notice.

We said goodbye to the cat and moved on. But he kept following us down the road, meowing all the time and giving Fargo the evil eye! We were definitely being chased away from the cheeky cat’s house, albeit in an extremely slow and sedate manner. We made our escape at an ambling pace and were released from the feline glare just before we turned the corner onto my road.

So, the cheeky cat has won this round – and to be honest, he’ll win any others he chooses to engage in. He owns that patch. Good luck to you, cheeky cat. We may never be friends but I like your style.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Holiday hounds head to Cornwall

Last week we went back to Cornwall, to one of our favourite dog-friendly holiday spots.

We stayed in ‘Beau Tunnel’ the wonderful converted Nissen hut at Boturnell Farm Cottages near Liskeard. There were plenty of other dog-families staying on the farm, but our nearest neighbours were the chickens (and ducks and guinea fowl).

Boturnell Farm is very dog-friendly in a refreshingly realistic way. For example, nobody pretends that dogs who are allowed on the furniture at home are going to stay off it for a whole week while they’re on holiday. Instead, they provide throws instead so that dogs and humans can relax (although I always take a load of my own throws too – you can never have too many with four dogs about). You can take as many dogs on holiday as you like at no extra charge, and there’s a lovely wood on site where they can scamper to and fro sniffing the country air. We’ve stayed there a few times and we’ll definitely be going back for more. I especially love Beau Tunnel because of its curved, ribby walls, which make me feel as if I’m inside a whale or something.

Boturnell is a fantastic base for exploring Cornwall’s dog-friendly delights and its website includes a handy list of dog-friendly beaches and days out in the area, so you can get some ideas about what to do before you go. We started with a visit to the Cheesewring on Bodmin Moor, where the dogs were delighted to discover the smells of sheep, rabbits and horses as well as the amazing views from the granite tor. 

We stopped off at the Cheesewring Hotel, which proudly claims to be the highest pub in Cornwall, in the village of Minions. Here, the sheep roam the village streets and graze on the green, and we sat outside the pub to watch them. The dogs were unfazed and managed not to bark at the sheep, and were rewarded by some fuss from passers-by and some biscuits from the pub staff.

We also drove out to Cremyll, to explore the gorgeous Mount Edgcumbe Country Park which has oodles of walks to enjoy and loads of gardens, including a lovely dog cemetery with gravestones dating back more than a century. Once you tear yourself away from the park you can take the Cremyll ferry to Plymouth, but we decided to top the day off with a pint by the river instead, at the dog-friendly Edgcumbe Arms pub.

No holiday is complete without a visit to a castle, in my opinion, so next we headed to beautiful Lostwithiel to walk around the battlements of Restormel Castle which dates back to the 13th century – the views were amazing. This castle was built more for show than for defence, but it still played its part in the civil war. It’s pretty well preserved and if you look down from the battlements you get a really good idea of the rooms below.

There was so much to do. As well as visiting these lovely places, we ran around on various beaches in the glorious sunshine (or at one point heavy rain – this is an English summer after all), and ate delicious pasties and ice cream on the sea front in Looe. The dogs enjoyed some fuss in the pasty shop here, and we even found a shop that sells ice cream for dogs! For the last day of our holiday, we took advantage of the fine weather and spent hours exploring the coastal path around Polruan. Then we went back to relax in the pretty little garden outside our cottage, sharing some quality time with Mr and Mrs Chicken who seemed to like hanging around in the field nextdoor.

So, all in all that was a brilliant holiday and everyone had a lovely time. I always think of Cornwall as a very welcoming place for dogs and their people, but every time I visit I’m pleasantly surprised all over again by just how dog-friendly it is. We're still discovering more places we can visit together and I can’t wait to go back there.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Great idea: hol cols for hounds away from home

I love taking the dogs on holiday but I need to know that if they got lost, whoever found them would be able to contact me. Over the years I've searched long and hard for an inexpensive way to make sure each dog carries my temporary contact details while we’re away, and at last I think I’ve found it - the hol col.

Holiday identification for dogs is an important issue to me. My dogs are experienced holiday-makers and are on the lead most of the time when we’re away, but in a strange place you never know what might happen. Of course, each dog is microchipped and tagged up with my contact details. But if one of them was picked up as a stray there’s no guarantee that his chip would be scanned because, despite the law on compulsory microchipping, there is no legal requirement for compulsory scanning yet. As for my mobile number, it’s on their tags but in many of the places I stay, my signal is almost non-existent.

Hol col is a day-glo green, water-resistant disposable collar that is worn over your dog’s normal collar. It can be seen easily at a distance and is recognised by most UK dog wardens. It’s emblazoned with the message ‘I’m on holiday’ and has a space for you to write your holiday contact details. While it’s very strong, the hol col is also very light and it's designed to break if it’s pulled hard so your dog won’t come to harm if the collar catches on something.

At £2.50 each (plus postage), these look like a sound investment. It’s cost just over a tenner for me to make sure my four lads carry up-to-date contact details for our forthcoming holiday in Cornwall, a small price to pay for extra peace of mind.

Now all we have to do is finish packing and we're ready to go. See you soon!

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

A jolly dog-friendly holiday in Pembrokeshire

Last week we piled the dogs into the car and headed off to explore the delights of Pembrokeshire in Wales.

Fargo, Billy and Stanley are old hands at holidays, but this was the first time Oscar the Lurcher had joined us. Oscar is a young dog who we adopted at the beginning of June from Southern Lurcher Rescue. A lot of the experiences would be new to him, so I planned to keep a close watch on him to make sure he behaved himself. I needn’t have worried though, he was a star from start to finish and he really enjoyed himself.

A growing number of holiday cottages welcome one or two dogs, but it’s still difficult to find one that will welcome four. We stayed at the Old Cowshed, a little cottage with a big garden in the village of Woodstock. It’s inland and quite isolated, but still within easy reach of Pembrokeshire’s lovely coast, so it was perfect both as a base for exploring the whole area and as a lovely, chilled-out place to come back to. We booked it through Coastal Cottages, which focuses entirely on Pembrokeshire and has a wealth of knowledge about dog-friendly holidays. They even sent us a booklet of good dog walks in the area.

Our travels took us to various beaches including Barafundle Bay, where a shipwreck scene was being filmed for TV. A small part of the beach was taken up with actresses in period costume lying in the sea (I didn’t envy them), and the beach was quite busy with spectators so we headed off for a lovely walk around the headland before stopping off for a drink at the Stackpole Inn nearby. 

We also visited Saundersfoot and walked through the old railway tunnels to Wisemans Bridge, where Winston Churchill watched troops practising for the D-Day landings in 1943.

We didn’t get to all the beaches in the area, but our favourite one so far is at Newgale – also popular with other dog-families, judging by the comments in the visitors’ book at the cottage. This being September, part of the beach still had dog restrictions in place, but there was plenty of room for us and we had a whale of a time. All the dogs enjoyed racing about on the sand and Oscar, who generally doesn’t care to step in water, developed a great love for paddling in the sea. We went back to Newgale a couple of times and I can’t wait to visit it again.

About five miles up the coast from Newgale is the beautiful village of Solva, where we found a very dog-friendly pub (the Harbour Inn) and restaurant (ThirtyFive - also a B&B) overlooking the harbour. Solva isn’t a very big village, but it expands as soon as you go for a walk around the harbour. Everywhere we looked we found more paths to explore and we enjoyed looking around the old lime kilns by the beach.

Pembrokeshire is known for its ancient castles, many of which allow dogs in. Carew Castle gave us plenty to explore, with its spiral staircases leading to magnificent views from the turrets. Our ticket included entry to the old mill too, where we learned all about flour milling. Like many dogs, Fargo wasn’t sure about the open-tread stairs in the mill, but he’s a brave dog and he soon learned to handle them.

We finished our adventures with a welcome pint at the Carew Inn across the road. 

The weather was warm all week and sunny for most of it, so Fargo coped well with his adventures. But he does have arthritis in his hip, so we limited the castle visits to one and the next day took it easy on him with another trip to the firm, flat sands at Newgale where he enjoyed a more sedate walk around the rocks and caves. 

The beauty of Pembrokeshire is that there’s plenty of opportunity to tailor your activities to the weather, your dog's arthritis or your own whims. You can walk all day up hill and down dale, or you can take it easy with shorter walks, for example around the old fort at Fishguard.

It was such a brilliant holiday we really didn’t want to come home at the end of the week. There's so much to do with dogs in Pembrokeshire that we barely scratched the surface. It's a perfect place for holidays with dogs and we're already planning a return trip for next year.