Monday, 31 October 2011

A picture speaks a thousand woofs

This brilliant picture was done for me by the wonderfully talented Elinor Geller. I discovered Elinor’s work on Twitter, after @BillyWhippet (not my Billy Whippet, a different one) posted one of her pictures.

The prospect of owning an original piece of art featuring my lovely dogs was impossible to resist, so I got in touch straight away. I sent Elinor some photos of the boys along with a description of each one’s character and, after I had approved a preliminary sketch, she completed the picture in ink and watercolour.

Elinor’s love of animals comes through in her art, and she is expert at capturing the personalities, as well as the looks of her subjects. Anyone who knows Charlie, Fargo and Billy will recognise them from their expressions in this picture. I told Elinor about Billy’s tendency to chase frogs and I was delighted to see that not only did she include one in the picture, but that the expressions of both Billy and the frog tell the story of their relationship. I'm so chuffed with this picture I'm telling everyone about it.

Elinor is now booked up for the rest of this year but her pictures are well worth the wait and she can provide gift vouchers for use next year if you want to give someone an extra special Christmas gift. You can see more of Elinor’s brilliant works of art on her Facebook page and she also sells some lovely prints and cards on her website.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Fargo’s food review: Wagg Tasty Bones

Hello, Fargo here. As you may expect from a bouncy Labradoodle like me, I’m very fond of my treats and recently, I’ve been trying out Wagg Tasty Bones. To be fair, it’s not just me. I’ve had to share them with Charlie and Billy the Whippets, but they’ve nominated me as the spokesperson for this review.

So, what are Wagg Tasty Bones? Well, they’re meaty bone-shaped treats with chicken and liver, two of our favourite flavours here at HoundHead Towers. There are several other things I like about them too.

The treats are quite small, so they can come out on walks with us and we can have a few of them without worrying about eating too much. But they’re also chunky enough to bite into. As I have a big mouth full of teeth, this is quite important as it gives me a sense of satisfaction in a treat and then I don’t try to eat them all straight away.

Between you and me, I wish that the Whippets didn’t like the treats so I wouldn’t have to share them. But Charlie is especially fond of liver flavour and Billy likes to take his time over a treat with some substance, and they both tell me that Tasty Bones are spot-on. As for me, I found the treats to be especially worthwhile after a good swim – I did 12 minutes in the hydrotherapy pool on Saturday and I really enjoyed my swim, but it did leave me feeling a bit hungry and a couple of Tasty Bones really did the trick without being too heavy on my tummy.

I’m also told that, like all Wagg treats and dog food, Tasty Bones have no artificial colours or flavours and no added sugar. But they do have added vitamins and minerals. My focus is mainly on the immediate eating experience, but I understand this stuff is important to the humans as it helps to make sure us dogs stay healthy while enjoying lots of lovely treats.

Even though I have to share the treats I'm hoping there will be no shortage of them. A 150 gram bag of Tasty Bones only costs about £1 so I hope we’ll get lots more of them in the future. They do make us wag!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Positive results from a week of walking

Dog-walking has provided a heart-warming theme to the past week. 

I’m so glad to see that, since last Monday, walking Ripley across the web has raised nearly £40,000 for the Pedigree Adoption Drive. It’s been great to be involved with this campaign over the past week and to see so much money being raised to help the UK’s stray and abandoned dogs.

As if to celebrate the fact, yesterday the physiotherapist upgraded Fargo's exercise to two 50-minute walks per day, with some extra massage from me to make sure his legs don't stiffen up. Fargo really enjoys his swims in the hydrotherapy pool and it's doing him the world of good.

Fargo enjoys a good swim
Charlie seems to have a bit of a sore back, possibly because of some degeneration in his spine (he is nearly 13 after all). It's not so bad though. Charlie didn't have a swim yesterday and he's still on 40-minute walks with a heat pack applied to his back a couple of times a day, and at least I'm aware of the issues. I'll monitor him over the next week, and then we can consider whether he needs some anti-inflammatory medicine. The main thing is that Charlie's walking is still improving and he's really enjoying his walks.

So, it's generally positive news on the walking front, but there's still plenty more to do. I'm off to take Ripley for another virtual walk and I hope you'll take her out too. Every time you do, you'll unlock another £1 donation towards the total - just click on the Pedigree Adoption Drive logo below to get started.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

A walk in the park

Early in the morning each day I’m lucky enough to speak to some amazing people. Like me, they’re out walking their dogs, and as we make our way around the park we stop to chat and let our dogs play together. A walk in the park shows me many facets of dog-ownership. Some are positive, some not so. But all of them emphasise the importance of responsible dog ownership.

Among the park regulars are many owners of rescue dogs with heart-warming tales to tell. A beautiful sleek Rottweiler ran past me the other day, with a lovely long waggy tail. I spoke to his owner and she told me she’d got him from the RSPCA in May. He’d arrived at the kennels horribly underweight and, although he had put on some weight in the rehoming centre, he was still thin and lacking muscle when the lady took him home. Some six months later, he has been transformed into a healthy, well-muscled and very well-behaved dog. He’s four years old and, although the lady has only had him since May, he’s so very much her dog that you’d swear she’d owned him since he was a pup.

Another lady has a history of taking on ‘difficult’ dogs that, under her care, become well socialised angels. She tells me that she’s only ever taken one dog from a rehoming centre because the rest have been given to her by people who can’t cope with them. Sadly, the dog that she’d rehomed from rescue died earlier this week when it was found that he had inoperable gastric tumours. But his life story is inspiring. He was four years old when the lady took him on and he was thought to have vicious tendencies that meant he had to be muzzled on walks. But all that changed in his new life and you couldn’t have met a calmer, happier, more good-natured dog. He didn’t need muzzling at all, he appeared to glow with health and at 12 years old, he looked like a much younger dog. His owner had the comfort that, as she says, his good life was twice as long as the bad life he had before it. His canine companion is missing him, and I’m glad that the lady is going to give a home to another rescue dog in the near future.

For the most part, whether the dogs are from rescue or bought as pups, they’re lucky enough to live with responsible people who give them all the love and care they need. People who spoke to breeders and breed organisations before making an informed choice about the type of dog they can happily share their life with. But the park also shows me the other end of the dog-ownership spectrum; dogs that have been bought in haste, without proper research into their needs, and whose owners can’t or won’t cope with them.

One Husky I know is exercised in the tennis courts with the gate shut because that’s the only way her owner can let her off the lead without her running off. Not ideal, you might think, but then at least he’s trying to make sure she gets a good run. But the real problems start when he cycles through the park with her on a lead. She approaches other dogs and sniffs noses in what seems a friendly way before attacking them without warning. She’s done it to my own Billy the Whippet, who was just touching noses with her when she suddenly went for his neck. Her owner says sorry, she’s usually friendly with other dogs, but after speaking to other dog-owners on the park it’s clear that she isn’t. She does this a lot and her owner is neither coping well with her behaviour nor seeking help from a qualified behaviourist.

For me, this dog highlights the first and most crucial step in becoming a responsible dog owner: do your research before you make a commitment. I know a few people have reported the dog already and I’d hate to see her put to sleep because of her behaviour. But I can’t help thinking that at the very best she’ll end up in a rescue centre needing a very special type of new owner who can give her the training and exercise she needs. I hope she finds that owner.

Hope comes in the form of the rescuers – and especially the dogs themselves – who underline the importance of rehoming centres and of those people who give not just a home, but a whole new life to unwanted dogs. But with the number of dogs abandoned in the UK at an 11-year high, there’s a clear need not only for more people to offer a home to a dog, but also for more responsible dog-ownership so that fewer dogs are abandoned.

The Pedigree Adoption Drive seeks not only to raise funds vital to rescue centres, but also to spread the word about the importance of responsible dog ownership. Pedigree will donate £1 towards the £100,000 target every time you take Ripley for a walk across the web – just click on the Pedigree Adoption Drive logo.

You can also make a donation through the Pedigree Adoption Drive JustGiving page, or treat your favourite Fido with a gift from the Pedigree Adoption Drive eBay shop.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The last walk: Murphy’s story

The 'last walk' theme of this year's Pedigree Adoption Drive brings to mind my first big dog, Murphy. Every day in the UK, some 20 stray and abandoned dogs take their last walk to be put to sleep because nobody wants them. Years ago, Murphy could easily have been one of those dogs.

Murphy was an indeterminate Irish Wolfhound crossbreed, very much like a large Labradoodle in looks and nature. I got Murphy from a friend who had ‘rescued’ him from a dogs’ home where he’d been staying because his previous owners had kept him chained up outside and obviously couldn’t cope with him. I suspect that he’d been an adorable fluffy puppy who quickly grew too big and boistrous for his owners. After seven days in the dogs’ home Murphy was due to be put to sleep, but my friend heard about him and took him on until he could find a suitable home for him.

Murphy was around six months old when he came to live with me. He was already a large dog and although he was very friendly and eager to please, it soon became clear that he hadn’t had much positive training. He pulled hard on the lead, chewed the skirting boards and, when visitors came round, he’d pee himself while cringing at the prospect of a telling-off.

I must admit that in those first few days I had some doubts about whether I could handle Murphy, but he was a very intelligent dog and quick to learn. He just needed to know what was expected of him, to be told a firm but friendly manner and to know that nobody was going to hit him. He got on really well with my other dog Zephyr, a Whippet who was choosy about the canine company he kept, and the three of us soon became inseparable.

All Murphy needed was to be given a chance to be a good dog, and that is what he became. He was soon wonderfully well behaved in the house and, once I directed his boundless energy into games so he didn’t run off after every other dog he saw, a great companion to take for walks. Zephyr died at the age of 12, and when I got a new Whippet puppy (the lovely Charlie) some months later, Murphy was the most tolerant and understanding playmate he could have wished for. By this time he was about ten years old.

Murphy loved his walks and he loved meeting people. When I walked him on the university campus at Reading, overseas students used to ask to have their photo taken with him because they missed the dogs they’d left at home. Murphy was always happy to oblige.

Later in life, Murphy developed arthritis and then Chronic Degenerative Radiculomyelopathy (CDRM). His walks became shorter but luckily his conditions didn’t advance far enough to stop him enjoying them and he always loved a game. He was such a good-natured dog who took everything in his stride, and he was on the best of terms with the vet.
So, some 13 years after he was due to be put to sleep at the dogs’ home, it was me who took Murphy for his last walk. He was about 14 years old then, and we’d only recently discovered that his kidneys were failing. I knew he didn’t have long, and on that last walk he let me know the time had come: ever keen for a ramble, this time he just wanted to go home. I slept on the floor with him that night and did my best to keep him comfortable. The next morning the vet came to the house. Murphy died peacefully, with his head on my lap.

Murphy was a great friend and he left a gigantic hole in my life. I know that anyone who had anything to do with him remembers him fondly. I'll never forget his sunny smile, his intelligence and his positive outlook. Eight years later I still miss Murphy, but I treasure the memories of those 13 years we had together. He gave me so much happiness and I'm so glad I was able to give him the long and happy life he deserved. I'm glad that, after years of brilliant walks together, he took his last walk with me.

There are many other dogs who, like Murphy, deserve a chance to take their last walk after a long and happy life, not after a spell in the rehoming kennels. That's why the Pedigree Adoption Drive is so important to me. You can help by taking Ripley, the Pedigree Adoption Drive dog, on a virtual walk around the Web. Pedigree will donate £1 towards their target of £100,000 every time you do. Just click on the picture (left) of Murphy enjoying a game among the dandelions with his Kong, and off you go!

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Diet pays off for Cassie the Collie

Earlier this year I was really upset to see images of Cassie, a Collie that was three times her normal weight.

So I’m delighted to read on The Sun website that, thanks to the dedication of staff at the Dogs Trust, Cassie has lost half her bodyweight in six months and she’s ready to go to her new home with a responsible owner.

Although Cassie’s story is an extreme example, it illustrates the growing problem of canine obesity and how easily things can get out of hand. The photos of Cassie before her weight loss are still distressing but at least she's much happier now, despite the classic Sun pun that 'Now she ain't nothing like a round dog'!

This week, the Pedigree Adoption Drive is raising money to help dogs like Cassie and to spread the word about responsible dog ownership. Please visit the site to find out more and take Ripley, the Pedigree Adoption Drive dog, for a virtual walk across the web – Pedigree will donate £1 towards their target of £100,000 every time you do!

Monday, 17 October 2011

Pedigree Adoption Drive: Let's walk!

This year’s Pedigree Adoption Drive is underway, and Ripley the dog is waiting for you to take part in the world’s first virtual dog walk.

Simply collect Ripley from her virtual kennel and take her for a walk around the web, and Pedigree will donate £1 towards its tail-wagging target of £100,000. The money will help provide much-needed funds for rescue centres across the UK, and the campaign will help educate anyone considering getting a dog about the responsibilities involved.

Meet Ripley
While she may be living in virtual kennels for the next week, Ripley is real dog with a story to tell. Ripley is a friendly, outgoing and inquisitive dog who now enjoys life as a professional stunt dog – you’ll soon be able to see her starring alongside Kirsten Stewart in the forthcoming film Snow White. But it wasn’t always that way. Ripley was abandoned in a terrible state, underweight and matted with mud. She had already had at least three homes by the time she was two years old. She arrived at Battersea Old Windsor as a stray, underweight and matted with mud.

Ripley was one of the lucky ones. Instead of taking her last walk, she won the heart of stunt dog expert Gill Raddings, who adopted her shortly after they first met. Now, as the face of PAD 2011, Ripley is doing her bit to help other dogs in need.

More than 20 stray and abandoned dogs being needlessly put down every day in the UK. By taking Ripley for a walk around the web you can help raise money so that instead of taking their ‘last walk’, those dogs can have the chance of a long and happy life.

Happy walking!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Get ready for a virtual dog walk!

I’m delighted to be supporting this year’s Pedigree Adoption Drive, which starts on Monday 17 October.

More than 120,000 dogs were abandoned in the UK last year and every day, 20 of those dogs take their last walk to be put down because no home can be found for them.*

Since its launch, the Pedigree Adoption Drive has raised over £1 million for rescue centres across the country, helping them to find new and loving homes for abandoned dogs. Last year alone, grants of almost £250,000 were distributed to 34 rescue homes and went towards funding the vital refurbishment of dilapidated kennel blocks, desperately needed veterinary facilities and the supply of essential surgical equipment.

As regular HoundHeaders will know, dog-walking is a way of life for me, especially with two of my three dogs undergoing physiotherapy at the moment. So the theme of this year’s Pedigree Adoption Drive – the world’s first virtual dog walk around the web – really grabbed my attention.

All you need to do is collect Ripley (pictured above), the Pedigree Adoption Drive 2011 dog, from a virtual kennel next week and take her to visit four websites. Then Pedigree will donate £1 towards its target of £100,000.

I’ll be posting more information during the next week as well as hosting a virtual kennel where you can collect Ripley for her walk around the web. Don’t forget to check back on Monday 17 October for more details.

Happy walking!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Dog-leg diary: A minor wobble

It was all going so well. Following his successful eight-week post-operative X-ray, Fargo was up to 25-minute walks as well as some other exercises. He was enjoying the fact that he was getting to see more of the park, albeit at a slow pace. Then he started limping again.

We think Fargo had probably tweaked his leg getting up or something. We had to be aware of the danger that he'd torn the cartilage in his knee, but it didn’t seem that way so we reduced his exercise and monitored the situation. So poor Fargs went back down to 10-minute walks pure and simple; no walking over poles or turning circles, just some more ice packs and then heat packs to make his knee feel better.

The good news is that it seems to have done the trick. Fargo's been to the physio a few times since the limping incident and his leg has steadily improved. Although the tweak has set him back a bit in his recovery, his walks have been extended first to 15 and then 20 minutes, and the poles and circles are back in. He’s been enjoying his weekly swim in the hydrotherapy pool and he seems perfectly happy on his operated leg now. Nice to see his fur growing back too!

In the meantime, Charlie’s gone from strength to strength. He swam for five minutes last Saturday and he’s now on 30-minute walks as well as walking over poles and turning anti-clockwise circles to strengthen his left side. He did seem a bit stiff one day a couple of weeks ago and I’m keeping an eye on him to see if that recurs on damp days. If so, it could be arthritis – he is almost 13 years old, after all. Of course, we haven’t had many damp days just lately so I haven’t really had chance to observe anything in that context yet.

It’s great to see that both Charlie and Fargo seem to really enjoy their swims. My attention wandered for a second the other day and when I looked round, Fargo was already up the ramp and about to get in the water! I had to stop him getting in until he was allowed. I don’t think Charlie would get in the pool of his own accord, but he does seem to enjoy the swim and he feels great afterwards. I can see that, once Fargo’s been given the all-clear, I’ll have to watch him whenever we go near a body of water.

As for me, my morning routine now consists of an hour’s walk for Billy, followed by half an hour for Charlie, and then 20 minutes for Fargo. In the evenings I might take Billy out with each of the other two, rather than running him on the park. It certainly keeps me fit and I now have unsurpassed knowledge of the various 10-minute, 15-minute, 20-minute and 30-minute walks from my house. It’s pretty time-consuming, but it’s also great to give the dogs that individual attention. And since the weather’s been so fine I really can’t think of much that I’d rather be doing.