22 October 2009

To be, or not to be...off-lead that is?

One thing that seems to divide dog owners, especially sighthound owners, is whether to let their dog off lead or not.

I'm lucky as the village we live in has a great and fully enclosed playing field that is ideal for letting my 3 dogs off lead to have a good run. The playing field is completely flat and it's easy to see if other dog-owners are coming, giving me enough time to get all my 3 back on their leads.

Jasper enjoying some off lead fun
I've worked hard on developing and training all my dogs' recall but would never dream of letting them off lead when on a general walk or in a park full of other people and dogs. Their speed can be quite startling to other dog owners and people and unfortunately, there are huge misconceptions about greyhounds off lead.  Despite my dogs' recall being good, a park with lots of new sights, sounds & distractions would not necessarily make me 100% sure they'd come back immediately. So, I never let them off lead in these situations.

However, what about other dogs that are off-lead when mine are all on leads?  Is it acceptable for another (usually small or toy breed) dog to come up to my dogs, yapping and then snapping and weaving in and out of their legs?  I've lost count of the number of times other dogs have come running up to my three, barking, jumping, weaving in and out of legs, all the time ignoring their owner's attempts at recalling them.

Unfortunately, this happened whilst my Mother-in-law was walking the dogs. An off-lead border terrier came running at the dogs, yapping and snapping... Stevie & Jasper weren't bothered, but Mina was.  Despite my Mother-in-law shouting at the dog's owner to call his dog away; he didn't. The dog kept coming and Mina lunged and bit it.
Practising recall with Mina
I'm not making excuses for Mina's behaviour, but the tirade of abuse that my Mother in law was subject to was unacceptable. The terrier owner's view was that it should be acceptable for his dog to weave in and out of my dogs legs and that as "hunting dogs" (?!?) mine should be muzzled as they're bred for hunting and being aggressive.  (I'm sorry, but aren't terriers traditionally ratting dogs, known for their tenacity and snapiness?)  To add insult to injury, the story now doing the rounds in the village is that "the greyhound pack all attacked his dog and that his dog was at death's door."

Most people I've spoken to have said that they wouldn't have paid the vet's bill for the terrier as it was off lead and warning was given to its owner. However, we live in a village and I don't want any animosity. We paid the bill, which was for £36.  Looking at the bill it was for an antibiotic jab + antibiotic tablets - hardly treatment for a dog at death's door surely?

The analogy I often use when speaking to people about dogs reactions to other off lead dogs is 'Imagine you're walking down the street, enjoying yourself and suddenly you see someone you don't know running at you... You suddenly realise that they are running straight at you...What do you do?  Run away, stand your ground or punch them?

Stevie coming back when recalled
Why is this scenario any different for dogs?

If they know the other dog and owner, there's rarely a problem. If they don't know the other dog, I usually take the time for on-lead introductions - gauging their reactions and taking it slowly - which leads to happier dogs and happier walks all round.

14 October 2009

The hardest decision of all

I can't believe that I started this blog over two weeks ago and haven't posted since.  The last two weeks have been very difficult as I had to face the agonising decision that all pet-owners dread..

Chivers, my beloved cat and faithful companion for the last 17 years, had  to be put to sleep on 29 September. Chivers has been with me through all life's ups and downs. Divorce, house moves, illness, job changes - he was always there and a very special cat.  He used to follow me like a dog, often meaning I'd have to pick him up, put him back in the house & lock the cat flap so I could go out without him following & risk being run over! He'd also raise his front two paws to let me  know he wanted to be picked up and cuddled.

Although I thought I'd prepared for the moment and spent the whole Sunday with him, nothing could have prepared me for the range of emotions I felt on the Monday when the inevitable became reality.

Thankfully my husband drove me to and from the vets. I really wasn't in a fit state to drive. I wanted Chivers last minutes to be peaceful and I definitely didn't want him to die alone. I couldn't hold back the tears in the waiting room, and as they know me so well at the vets, I was ushered into a separate area (I'm sure I was off putting to the other clients).

Unfortunately, Chivers last moments weren't as peaceful as I'd hoped - or as quick. His left leg was shaved and the lethal injection started, then his vein blew. The vet tried his right leg and the same happened. In the end he had to be injected in his kidney. I cradled him the whole time until he passed away. I left the vets in streams of tears and also covered in Chivers' blood.

I know it was the right decision - he'd stopped eating, lost a fifth of his bodyweight, wasn't able to enjoy his usual activities and was suffering with chronic arthritis, renal disease and thyroid problems - but it didn't make it any easier.

I decided to have Chivers cremated and picked up his ashes this week.  I've a keep-sake box which contains his collar, some locks of his fur plus some of his ashes and I've ordered a grave marker so he can be buried in his favourite sunbathing spot in the garden.

I dearly miss Chivers, he will always have a special place in my heart and his spirit will live on.  Each day gets easier and I still have Tazzie and the hounds to consider.

 Chivers & Mina snuggled up
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