31 December 2010

New Year Wishes

I've never been a big believer in New Year's Resolutions and I've never really understood what difference the last day in December makes in committing to change, or do things differently.

Image courtesy of Luigi Diamanti

I'm afraid I'm just not a big fan of New Year's Eve.

It's all a bit too much for me...the pressure to be seen to be having a good, no, A GREAT time; paying over the odds for a meal out; struggling to get into your favourite bar, or restaurant; watching dreadful (and often pre-recorded) New Year's Eve specials; worrying about the inevitable fireworks and the effects they'll have on your pets; the 'traditional' hangover on New Year's Day....

Instead, I'll be spending a quiet New Year's Eve, tucked up with hubby, hounds and Tula.  I'll be praying for no fireworks at midnight and rather than making a long list of resolutions, which I'll never keep, I will be making some wishes for 2011, which I'd like to share.

Four Simple Wishes for 2011

1.   A Healthy Year... for me, hubby, hounds and you.  2010 seemed to be a year full of health problems for those I love and am close to.  It was a year tinged my sadness for many of my friends who lost loved ones and I wish them, especially, a healthy year, without heartache.

2.  A Content Year... happiness isn't a constant and isn't guaranteed. But I would love a simple feeling of contentment at the end of each day. To coin a Talk Talk song: Life's What You Make It and I wish to make it a content one.

3.   A Fruitful Year... for work, studies, home, family, children, friends, gardens. We all work hard and often miss the fruits of our labours. A pass mark on that essay; enjoying the home-grown veg; nurturing relationships; finding a job; getting a promotion.  Whatever the fruits of your labour are, I hope you find the time to enjoy them.

4.   A Year Lived to the Full... using my lovely four-legged companions as an example; I wish to live each day to the full. Seeing where it takes me and keeping my eyes and ears open to the new opportunities.  Every day, Mina, Stevie and Jasper get excited over their walks, breakfast, dinner, having a cuddle - it's the not the same old routine, or humdrum existence for them - it is quite literally a new day and the chance for new experiences and to live life to the full.

So, there they are. A few, heartfelt wishes for the New Year.  If you'd like to share your wishes for 2011, please leave a comment.. After all, you've got to have wishes for them to come true.

And for the final words of 2010, it's over to Mina...

Happy New Year from Mina

30 December 2010

Tula - The Cat That Twitter Named

Since I lost Tazzie in November, the house has felt empty without a cat. It even appeared that the hounds missed Tazzie and couldn't understand where the black and white ball of fluff had gone.

So, in late November we went along to The Lincolnshire Trust for Cats to find a cat that would be confident living in a house full of sight hounds. There were so many lovely kittens and cats to choose from, all deserving good homes, but in the end we decided to take a peek in the 'Weight Watchers' section. (There was a sign on the door that said Weight Watchers - honest!) This was where some of the cats who had been at the Trust for a while, and who had eaten a little too much, were being kept. They were being fed a lighter diet and had more space and activity areas to burn off those extra pounds!

The "feline fatty's" first day

Who'd have thought that a 'feline fatty' (shhhh, don't tell her I said that) would steal our hearts. The not so little bundle of fluff was called Tess and is about 18 months old. She was introduced to Jasper while we were at the cattery and both cat and hound reacted well and Tess' fate was sealed.

As her name was too similar to Tazz, we decided to rename her, but as we couldn't agree on a suitable name ourselves, we turned to Twitter and Facebook. We had over 25 suggestions and in the end chose Tula, which was suggested by the lovely Kim, who tweets as @m3kx

It's been a month since Tula joined us and she's really settled in, enjoying her first Christmas with us. Today has been the first day that she's used the cat flap too and seemed liked a good day to introduce her on the blog. She's slowly losing the extra pounds and is now firm friends with the hounds.

Here's looking at you!

Finding a name for Tula did make me wonder, how we arrive at the names for our pets...

Both Mina and Stevie have kept their original names, as their recall was so good. Jasper, on the other hand, was originally called Magic. I renamed him after the Jasper in Twilight, as my Jasper has very fang-like teeth but more importantly has a real calming effect on those around him. Chivers was named after the marmalade brand and Tazzie after the Tasmanian Devil!

I'd love to know how you came up with the name for your pet, so please share, if you dare!

26 December 2010

Still & Silent Sunday - Boxing Day Walk

Time for hubby & Mina to work off those mince pies and turkey

I think fishing is the least of the worries for this pond's residents

24 December 2010

A Happy Christmas to Humans & Hounds

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy New Year!

Just in case you thought I'd forgotten Jasper in our picture, here's some festive fun.... Spot which mischievous hound started the snowball fight (You'll even get to see my hubby)!

Christmas greetings courtesy of eCards at JibJab!

17 December 2010

The Lurcher in Red

The winter chill is continuing apace and the sub-zero temperatures have meant that the hounds aren't being walked as often as any of us would like. The pavements in the village are still covered with inches of compacted snow and ice, which makes any kind of walk rather hazardous.

So, you can imagine my joy when my parents agreed for Mina to come with me on my travels 'down sarf.' There was zero snow and lots of opportunities for long dog walks, or so I thought....

Today, we had a smattering of snow - about 1½-2 inches - but enough to turn the rather hilly roads and pavements into a slippery slalom. Luckily, I had thought ahead and packed Mina's winter weather gear. Her aptly named 'Blizzard Coat' came in very handy and she looked very smart with her red snood (think Anna Karenina, but in dog form). I couldn't resist taking a few photos...

Mina, the lovely lurcher in red

Mina, giving it her best "This isn't a Tolstoy novel, you know!" look

I'm not too sure whether Mina was impressed by her snow gear, but it certainly kept her warm and with Mina's track record for accidents and mishaps, the last thing I want is frost-bitten ears!

I'm hoping the snow melts over the weekend, so we can catch up with friends, have some great walks and on Sunday, lunch in a dog friendly pub.  In the meantime, whenever Mina's togged up in her snow gear, I still can't resist humming "The lurcher in red" to the tune of a song, that I'm not really very fond of... The Lady in Red!

28 November 2010

The First Snow of Winter

It's true - us Brits like nothing more than to talk about the weather.  As we live on an island where extremes of weather are fairly rare, any type of weather that is either too cold or too hot tends to make headlines.  This year, we've had very early snowfall in November meaning the roads grind to a halt, schools close, children dust off wellies and under-used sledges and us adults don our best snow-garb and get out there with the other 'big kids' and our dogs!

The hounds' favourite playing field

The hounds also seem to like the snow and the early snowfall this year has coincided with Mina becoming cone-free after the tail incident (see: previous post - Mina the canine catastrophe).

We've only had a few inches of snow, so it's not too deep for the hounds and they can enjoy a bit of a run and frolic in the snow.  I always worry that deep snow and icy pavements could mean broken bones, so I'm very careful where I let them walk and run.

I still want to enjoy the cold weather and want the hounds to enjoy their walks too, so here are my top tips for keeping the hounds safe and warm on winter walks:

Well wrapped-up against the cold
Coats -  Greyhounds have thin skin, very little fur and very little body fat and tend to feel extremes of temperature, so make sure that they have a waterproof, warm, fleecy winter coat to keep them protected from the elements. I like the coats that have a turn up to protect the neck. Alternatively a greyhound snood helps keep their necks warm.

Salty paws - Rock salt and grit may keep the paths and roads snow and ice-free but left on our pets' paws it can be a real irritant. When I get home I wash and dry the hounds' paws to make sure no grit has got stuck and that they can't lick anything that might be toxic.

A happy & cone-free Mina, enjoying the snow
Deep snow - Greyhounds have fairly delicate bones (in rescue we often come across cases where an owner has let their hound run free over uneven ground and the poor hound has ended up wtih a broken leg), so running in deep snow and on icy surfaces could be a recipe for disaster.

Dark nights - The old addage "Seen and be seen" really does ring true for winter walks - both for me and the hounds. I wear a reflective jacket and carry a torch. The hounds each have an Ancol Safety Halo (available from £3.99 at PetPlanet ) although I am saving up for the rather fab Leuchtie LED light collars available exclusively from Collarways 

Steaming hot mug of tea and open fire - When the walk's over, there's nothing better than putting my feet up with a good mug of tea and watching the hounds snooze by the open fire.

So, time to put my feet up and enjoy that cup of tea. Wherever you may be when you read this, I hope that you're safe and warm with your dogs at your side.

16 November 2010

The Final Farewell

Today I found myself making a decision I dreaded, and one which I had hoped not to make until the New Year.  My well loved and aged Taz cat (affectionately known as Tazzie) had to be put to sleep.

It hardly seems just over a year ago that I was in the same situation with my first cat, Chivers. I had always thought that Chivers would outlive Tazzie, but it wasn't to be.

I adopted Tazzie in 1992 from the appropriately named, Cat Orphanage in Billingham.  Her loud purr and sandpaper-like licks won my heart from the first moment I cuddled her. Tazzie was only about 8 months old when I adopted her, but like many poor un-neutered cats she had already had a litter of kittens and had endured a pretty tough start to life.

Tazzie, the food & drink cat burglar

Tazzie was the original cat burglar - especially where food was concerned. Despite always being well fed by me, she couldn't get rid of the instincts that I suspect were ingrained into her every fibre when she was a stray.

I will always remember Tazzie at a family barbecue, with her perfectly manicured talon swiping a sausage from under my Dad's nose. To this day, I don't know who looked the more surprised - my Dad for losing a sausage or Tazzie for her tasty foodie victory.

It wasn't all plain sailing with Tazzie though.  In her first year with me, I lost count of the number of times she urinated on the carpet: a change of cat litter (away from those hard dissolvable pellets) and ceramic tiles instead of carpet soon sorted that, along with the realisation that having a cat flap on the litter box prevented her from using it. There was also one time when me and my first husband had been away overnight and we came home to find that Tazzie had peed & pooped in the middle of our bed (and somehow managed to turn the radio on too - must have been one hell of a party).

I'm sure that these mishaps may have put off other owners, but not me. I persevered, read as much as I could about cats and their behaviour and learnt lots from both Tazzie and Chivers.

Stevie & Tazzie sharing a snooze

When Tazzie was around 13 years old, she was introduced to Mina.  She coped very well and took living with Stevie and Jasper in her stride.
Fast forward over 18 years and my beloved Tazzie was an OAP with failing health. She had become deaf in the last few years and seemed to live in her own little bubble. I was always very careful when approaching her bed and used to tap my fingers on the floor, to wake her up gently and not startle her.

Her quality of life had diminished and her world had shrunk to the size of the utility room. She could no longer groom herself and despite my regular sessions of brushing her coat, she still had matted fur that she just couldn't reach.  In the last few days her health had declined even further, leaving me with the heartbreaking decision that took me to the veterinary surgery today.

It's fair to say I have been in floods of tears and am still sobbing as I write this.  I wanted to be with Tazzie in her final moments and, as hard as it is to see your pet and companion slip away, I felt I owed it to her to soothe her passing with quiet words and cuddles.

Some people may question why I'm crying and grieving, after all she was 'only' a cat.  However Tazzie (and like Chivers before her) was not just a cat, she was my cat and companion.

Over the last 18 years she has provided me with companionship, cuddles, laughter, unconditional love and has been a constant presence during life's ups and downs.  Through deaths, divorce, redundancy, life changes, marriage, house moves and ill health Tazzie has been there with a loud purr, an emery board tongue and unlimited supplies of affection.

Our pets provide us with so much and their time with us is fleeting. I will miss Tazzie tremendously and I'm sure that the hounds too will wonder what has happened to the black and white ball of fluff that used to follow them around.
RIP Tazzie
1992 - 16 November 2010 

24 October 2010

Mina - the canine catastrophe

I'm beginning to wonder if Mina is just exceedingly unlucky, or one of the most accident-prone dogs I know.

Today, the hounds and I were all set for a lovely autumnal walk in the local woods.  Just as we were pulling into the car park, I heard a yelp from the back of the car.  I couldn't determine which hound had made the sound and thought no more about it.

All three jumped out of the car and seemed OK, but then I noticed some spots of blood on the bedding.  I checked all paws and couldn't see a thing, then Mina moved and I spied some drips of blood by her. On closer inspection I saw that she'd somehow cut her tail through to the tendon.

I then started a frenzied look in the car for something to stop the bleeding (boy, can tails bleed) and to bandage the tail with.  Unfortunately, the first aid kit was in the other car. Thankfully, I managed to calm myself and get my brain working and went to the little café, thinking they would have a first aid kit. They did, and they saved the day.

After bandaging the tail, I called the vet and bundled all three hounds back into the car, vet-ward bound. 

Mina's tail injury, is the latest in a long line of incidents this year. I'm seriously considering retraining as a vet, as I seem to spend so much time at the vet practice with Mina.

This latest visit to the vet cost over £120 and as you can see, poor Mina's tail is completely encased by bandaging. She's feeling very sorry for herself and will be back on restricted exercise until her tail heals.

I am beginning to wonder whether I should wrap Mina up in bubble wrap before I let her venture out of the house, as she seems to be so accident prone.  She's just so full of life though, and I suppose her injuries are the price she pays for this.

What this latest incident has made me realise though, is how invaluable good pet insurance cover is. Mina's tail injury will be the sixth claim I've made this year on her policy. The insurer, More Than, has proven to be a good choice for us. With three hounds, we couldn't afford  lifetime cover, and opted for cover which provides up to £7,000 per new illness. This has been a godsend with Mina. This year alone, we've had to claim for:

  • Keratitis treatment, following her operation last year
  • Operation to remove caruncular mass from each eye
  • Hypothyroidism diagnosis and on-going treatment
  • Broken nail
  • Cutting her back leg through to her Achilles tendon
If we hadn't insured Mina, we would have had to find over £2,345 to pay for the cost of all these treatments.

I don't work for an insurance company and this isn't a hard sell to fellow dog owners to insure their pets, but I hope it does give food for thought. Lots of people I speak to don't insure their dogs, or have stopped the insurance - only for the dog to become ill and then be faced with expensive vet bills.

Working with a greyhound rehoming charity, all the hounds that are homed leave the charity with four weeks' free PetPlan insurance.  We strongly advise all our owners to take out pet insurance, but many don't and on occasion, come back to the Trust when a dog has injured itself and ask for the Trust to pay. As a small charity, this puts significant strain on finances.

What's more, a lot of people don't realise that if their dog causes an accident or damages someone else’s property, then you, the owner, could be held liable and sued/prosecuted. Most dog insurance policies provide liability insurance to protect against this.

I dread to think what the premium will be on Mina's policy when it comes to renew next year, but one thing's for sure: with Mina's track record, I'll be renewing the policy.  And, if anyone has any tips on how I can prevent Mina having further accidents, please post a comment.

08 October 2010

Mina's top 5 (virtually) indestructible dog toys

aka: The Alternative Toy Story, Part 2

For a greyhound (shhh... we don't tell her that technically she's a lurcher) Mina is pretty good at destroying toys. As earlier blog posts have shown Mina is a Squeaker Seeker and Soft Toy Slayer Extraordinaire.

Over the years we've been on a mission to find toys that are 'Mina-proof' and, believe it or not, there are some toys that can withstand Mina's squeaker seeking ways. We've whittled these down to a list of the top 5, virtually indestructible (according to the Minaometer®) toys and thought we'd share them.

So, what's made it onto the list? In true Hollywood style, the results are in reverse order.

The top 5 most Mina- proof toys...

5. Company of Animals - frisbee
Mina & her 'fantasy flyer'

This frisbee is great. Mina can run with it, shake it around, chew it and all without breaking it. The frisbee is pretty easy for me to carry on walks and really does provide a good moving target to retrieve.

It's also big enough to see if she does drop it in the field. It would have been higher up the list had it not been for one minor flaw:  the domed top of it often comes off. It's easy to clip back on, but is a bit inconvenient. 
What I love about it even more is that when our play session has ended, Mina's job is to carry it all the way home!  The frisbee, known as a Fantasy Flyer, costs around £4.99

4.  Kong Classic
Mina & her Kong in 2005
Where would we be without the Kong Classic? This was one of the first dog toys I discovered for Mina - under the guise of a boredom buster to help with separation anxiety.

The Kong Classic has been stuffed with kibble, broken up dog biscuits, bits of liver cake and 'plugged' with Kong paste or Primula cheese spread and has helped keep Mina calm and my house destruction free!

Kongs come in sizes from small to XXL and cost from around £4.80 to £16. For serious chewers there's even an Extreme version in black rubber and there is a range for both puppies and seniors too.

3.  Ruff Dawg Stick

Have I mentioned that Mina loves to run, fetch and chase things? Anyone who follows me on Twitter, will know that Mina can be quite accident prone when she's enjoying a run or game, so the Ruff Dawg Stick is a godsend!

Mina loves sticks and I'm always preventing her from picking them up as I don't want any splinters or accidents happening, particularly as Mina is so accident-prone.

The Ruff Dawg Stick is great - a big rubbery, indestructible stick that Mina just loves. We can play games of fetch, both inside and outside the house, and if it gets mucky, it's very easy to clean. It's also very easy to spot in a field full of autumn leaves - unlike a real stick. 

The Ruff Dawg Stick costs around £10.99 and in my, and Mina's opinion, is a great buy.

2.  Orka Jack
Did you ever play jacks as a kid? The kind with a small rubber ball and little metal jacks that you had to pick up? Well, I loved playing jacks and so does Mina, particularly with her Orka Jack.

It's not quite the jack you may remember from childhood - it's bright turquoise for a start and has a rope through the middle - but it's just as much fun to play. It's covered in knobbly bits, which Mina loves to chew, and the rope allows it to be used as a tug toy too.

It's great to throw as well and can bounce a fair distance, whether it's thrown by me or the dog! Mina has managed to un-knot the rope before, but it was easy just to thread it back through and knot it again. When the rope got a bit smelly I popped the Orka Jack in the washing machine and it came out like new.  Mina has the large size which costs around £10.

1.  And the winner is..... The Pentapull
I have to say the Pentapull takes a very deserved first place, particularly as it's the only non-rubber toy on the list.

It's made of durable webbing and can come with, or without, a squeaker (I chose a duck without a squeaker). It has 5 'arms' and can be used for games of tug, for throwing about, shaking...

I bought it at Crufts in March 2010 and seven months later it's still going strong and is in one piece.  Mina just loves it (as does Jasper) and seems to really enjoy throwing it about and playing games of tug.

The only real signs of wear and tear are around the duck's neck (awww, poor duckie). All in all though, it has certainly beaten the record for any other soft toys.

It is also the most expensive toy on the list and retails for around £16.99 but to me, is worth every penny. It's great to see Mina playing with a soft(ish) toy that lasts and can't have the stuffing picked out of it.

'All good (toy) stories must come to an end'
So, there you have it: a list of toys - all tested by Mina - and all still going strong after months and even years.

We've just found out about a brand of toys called Skineez, which I'm trying to find for sale in the UK. They look exactly like the sort of toy Mina would love - flattened versions of rabbits, squirrels etc (not real ones - I hasten to add).

Mina and I would love to know what toys your dogs like, so don't be shy and please leave a comment.

Thank you

12 September 2010

Dogs and fireworks

A scary Saturday for Stevie
Fireworks are stressful for many dogs
Before I had dogs I always loved fireworks. The whooshes, fizzes, pops and bangs and glorious technicolour displays plus the smell of gunpowder always evoked childhood memories of bonfire night, eating jacket potatoes around the bonfire, making silly shapes with sparklers and generally having a great time. But not anymore.

Yesterday I was provided with an early reminder of the effects that fireworks can have on our dogs...

We'd spent the afternoon and evening at my Mother in Law's house and just as we were about to leave, at around 9pm, someone started letting off fireworks - the very loud kind that make the windows rattle and dogs howl, cower and shake.

The effect on Stevie was immediate and very distressing to see. The first firework went off while he was snoozing in the lounge. Within a nano-second, his ears pricked up, he stood up and started to shake. His heart was racing and he had nowhere to escape to. We managed to make it to the car between bangs and unfortunately, just as the hounds got into the car a loud bang went off, making poor Stevie even more fearful.  We drove away quickly and left the firework sounds a long way behind us.

Our drive home is a good half hour's drive away, yet Stevie was still shaking when we got home. He immediately ran up stairs to his dog bed, in the quietest corner of the house, and stayed there panting, shaking and with his heart racing.  It took a long time for him to calm down.

Stevie is very fearful of fireworks

It's only the beginning of September and bonfire night is about 8 weeks away.  New Year's Eve is even further off. However, last night's events were a salutary and somewhat timely reminder of what is to come

There are some great web resources to help all of us prepare our dogs for what is now turning into a weekend or even weeks of firework 'celebrations.' 

I've listed a few of my favourite sites below. They're all packed with practical and realistic advice to help us help our dogs, at what is a very stressful time for our pets.

  • Dogs and Fireworks is a fantastic site which was established last year by some great friends of mine. It includes a free e-book, packed full of practical advice, and a free MP3 of firework noises.
  • There's also the Sounds Scary CD which can be used in the weeks running up to bonfire night to help desensitise your dog to firework sounds

So, where does this leave me with Stevie?  Well, I'll definitely be following the advice in the websites I've listed above.  I'll begin with gradually introducing him to the noises of fireworks by using  prerecorded sounds of fireworks. I'll also be using a DAP collar and diffuser, and making sure Stevie has a quiet den that he can escape to and feel safe in.

I certainly won't be letting off any fireworks when the 5th of November arrives. I'll walk all the dogs early, close the curtains, turn the TV up loud and keep the house as calm as possible.

Most of all, I will breathe a huge sigh of relief once the weekend of 5 November is out the way and then take a deep breath to start preparing for New Year's Eve.

27 August 2010

Mina's mission... aka ' The Alternative Toy Story. Part 1'

I've blogged about Mina's "squeaker seeker and destroyer" tendencies before (see December 2009 Archive).

I'm sure it's a situation many dog owners find themselves in... a brand new plush toy, dog excitedly starts to play with it and then about 50 seconds later, said plush toy has been well and truly disemboweled, squeaker removed and the stuffing knocked out of it - quite literally.

I've lost count of the number of toys Mina has disemboweled, pulled apart and shredded. Cheap toys, expensive toys, Mina pretty much destroys them all - if not within a matter of seconds, then usually a few hours.  I sometimes wonder if she sees it as a personal challenge (if any dog toy manufacturers are reading this - I'm sure I could hire Mina out as a toy tester!)

So, what's survived and what's made it onto the Mina Wall of Shame?

The Wall of Shame...
Valentine's teddy (only a £1 from poundland)

Sadly, this teddy didn't live long past Valentine's day.  I bought three teddies in total - one for each hound - and yes, you've guessed it, Mina destroyed them all!

Only one of the original teddies now remains. This Ted is minus his innards and one leg, but still gets thrown around by Mina and Jasper on a fairly regular basis.

Twas the night before Christmas....
...well, OK then, it wasn't really; it was Christmas day and each hound received Rudolph the Rope Reindeer.
The 'before' shot of Stevie's reindeer

'Caught in the act'

The 'evidence'

"Who me?"

Even poor Rudolph couldn't stand up to Mina's inquisitive and supercharged squeaker seeking capabilities. I suppose you could say it was her alternative to the stuffing served with the turkey!

Boyes finest - Freddy the Frog

Another multiple buy, I have lost count of how many versions of Freddy the Frog I have bought - he croaked it too! The slide show is like an animation of Mina in full squeaker seeker and destroyer mode.

The pièce de la résistance...

After five long years, toys were no longer enough and Mina turned her attentions to her bed.  In fairness, I think there was a little, tiny hole in the cushion and Mina being Mina couldn't resist  pulling at the stuffing. From there, one thing led to another....

To find out what toys have survived the Mina Wall of Shame, watch out for The Alternative Toy Story, Part 2...coming soon to a blog near you.

If you've some stories of your dogs toy terrors, do share them too.

15 August 2010

My life's going to the dogs...

On April Fool's day this year, I received a letter notifying me that I was likely to be made redundant.  Unfortunately, this wasn't an ill-conceived April Fool's joke and 13 days later I was officially out of work.

Now, you may think that's enough of a reason to describe my life as "going to the dogs" but you'd be wrong. On the day I received my letter (great timing - not - as it was before the Easter bank holiday weekend), and once I'd recovered from the shock, I hit Twitter.

"Redundancy for all" by Brian CK/Digital Leica on Flickr
I didn't really want to tweet all my woes (honest), but I remembered seeing a tweet about a job at the Kennel Club and wanted to find out more...

...The application deadline was the following day, and after speaking to my husband, parents and the Kennel Club, I decided to apply. The post was for 3 months, covering sabbatical leave, and was based in London - hence the conversation with hubby, who'd be on hound duty whilst I was away, and my parents, whose house and creature comforts I'd be taking advantage of if I was lucky enough to get the job.

To spare you the to-ings and fro-ings, I did get the job and once I'd finalised my termination date from my old employer, I started on 16 April.  However, whilst I was in doggy heaven I did need to find work for when my time was up and I returned home.

I live in a lovely part of the UK -  rural Lincolnshire really is very beautiful - but it is a part of the UK that isn't exactly flush with Senior Marketing Communications jobs.

"Yellow is the New Green" by Lincolnian (Brian) on Flickr

I need a job that allows me to work flexibly so I can start my University studies in Canine Behaviour and Training this September. I also need a job that will help pay for my University studies and help keep me, hubby and the hounds in the manner to which we'd like to become accustomed!

So, I've done several things...Firstly, I've set up my own Marketing Communications business - SJM Marketing - essentially, 'rent a Marketing Director'. The SJM element happens to be my initials, but in a happy coincidence is also the initials of the hounds - Stevie, Jasper and Mina.

The aim of the business is to provide marketing and PR advice and support to small companies which may not be able to afford a permanent, full time Marketing Manager/Director. Hopefully, I'll be able to work with companies within the pet care sector and I'm already in discussion with one such company.

Running SJM Marketing also means I can work from home with the hounds taking over regular 'office guarding' duties and keeping me company. I'm working on the website, but if you're reading this and would like to email me about marketing/PR, you can contact me on: susan@sjmmarketing dot co dot uk

Stevie taking his 'office guarding' duties very seriously!

Secondly, I've just been accepted to be trained as a tutor for National Puppy School, which is very exciting. I'm a firm believer in the importance of socializing puppies and can't wait to start the training, which begins in September.

I'm hoping that the Puppy School and University studies will complement each other.

I should be able to start running Puppy School classes in 2011 and complete the foundation part of my degree by 2013. I'll then need to study a further 2 years to obtain a full Bachelor of Science degree in Canine Behaviour and Training.

So there you have it -  whichever way you look at it -  my career is definitely going to the dogs, but thankfully for all the right reasons.

04 July 2010

Dr Ian Dunbar and a hot Saturday

Yesterday I was extremely fortunate to attend a seminar on 'bomb-proof off leash control' led by Dr Ian Dunbar.

I was really excited to be attending and Ian certainly didn't disappoint. His lecture and insights really do show the power of positive training (and by the way... he did mention that he has also helped a certain Mr César Millan with the training of his new dog - Junior).  I especially loved his "DogCon" (think DefCon style instructions) for dogs and was intrigued by the use of a neutral tone when asking a dog to 'sit,' 'stay,' 'down' and 'come.' I certainly can't wait to try out the techniques on my three hounds when I get back to Lincolnshire.

The only thing that did disappoint me on the day was the small number of attendees, many of whom were professional dog trainers and/or behaviourists, who insisted on bringing their dogs and then leaving them in their cars.

Words pretty much fail me at this point. Yesterday was extremely hot, probably in the late 20's/early 30's ° C, yet the lecture was interrupted due to one dog being found wandering in the car park (the dog belonged to a delegate). This poor dog was obviously distressed and in need of cooling down and water.

 (pictured: Stevie & Mina)

When the seminar ended and I was leaving the car park, I saw another car with towels draped all over its windows & the boot open (no -owner in sight) with a dog in a crate in the back. 

How many warnings and times do we need to be told about dogs dying in hot cars? There's never any excuse to leave an animal unattended in a hot car.

11 May 2010

A pocketful of treats... a diversionary technique

This Sunday, my last dog walk with the hounds before leaving to travel back down South, turned out to be quite eventful and got me thinking about how little us humans sometimes 'think dog' and expect so much from our canine companions.

Me, hubby and hounds had decided to stretch all 16 legs and take the hounds for a bit of off lead time, recall practice and a run in the local playing field. When we got to the field there was another dog - an off lead German Shepherd (GSD) - playing with its owner, so we decided not to go in as Mina can be unpredictable with other dogs.

We carried on walking for a bit and then turned round to head back home...at this stage I could hear screaming and shouting coming from the field, accompanied by loud barks and yapping. We ran back to the field and when I saw what was happening, I handed Stevie and Jasper to hubby and went into the field to help...

...it was quite a sight. The German Shepherd was half lying down, being held and protected by his owner, and was being attacked by two off-lead terriers (a Jack Russell Terrier and a Terrier Cross). The owner of the terriers was frantically trying to catch them, and the owner of the German Shepherd was desperately trying to (a) stop them biting her dog and (b) keep her dog calm, preventing it from biting the terriers.

I know that getting involved in a dog fight isn't the most sensible option, but it did look I could help and the attack hadn't escalated into a full blown fight.

I always carry a pocketful of food treats when I'm walking the hounds, and remember reading somewhere that if a dog starts to attack your dog, try and throw food, a ball or an object to get the attacking dog's attention. The terriers were running around barking and nipping at the GSD, who thankfully was long haired - as it appeared that the terriers were mainly biting out chunks of hair.

The terriers' owner was struggling to catch either of them, so I went across and started calling to them and throwing food treats - in their direction, but away from the GSD. Food can be useful diversion and both appeared to be food motivated. Somehow the lure of the food worked its magic and got them away from the GSD, allowing me to hold one by its harness and the other by its scruff (their owner had taken off his collar/harness).

Thankfully no-one was hurt - human or dog. The terriers' owner clipped them both back onto their leads and the GSD owner was keeping her dog calm.  What made it even more unbelievable was that the owners and their dogs were neighbours...

...and this got me thinking to how much we really know our dogs and just don't think dog.

Just because you may be neighbours, and even if you don't like your neighbour, the chances are you're polite to them - you say hello and exchange niceties about the weather and know how to act socially around them.

But, what if you're a dog and all you see/hear of your doggy neighbour is barking, growling and jumping at the other side of the fence when you're out in the garden? What if that 'big dog next door' is always trying to jump over the fence, or the 'little dog next door' is always poking its nose under the fence barking and trying to nip you?

Just because us humans know how to act when we meet a neighbour, we shouldn't expect our dogs to know what to do. All too often we expect our dogs to be mini doggy etiquette experts, doing what we would do in a strange situation, minding their doggy Ps & Qs, but dogs don't think human; they think dog!

We all want well behaved, well socialised and well mannered dogs but this takes time, patience and training. Next time you think about letting your dog off lead - think dog!

03 May 2010

Finding my 'fido fix'

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that I recently started working in London, which means that in the week I'm living away from my husband, hounds and Taz, the cat.

Most weekends I plan to come home to Lincolnshire as I really miss the hounds in the week and by the time the weekend arrives, I can't wait to see them again (and hubby of course)! It also means that I can't help the Lincolnshire Greyhound Trust, the charity which I work for on a voluntary basis.

Last weekend, I spent the weekend 'down South' and by the Friday, I was really missing my 'Fido Fix.' So, thanks to the power of the Internet, I Googled to see if there were any local dog rescues nearby who allowed volunteers to come and walk dogs. Luckily I came across the wonderful Stokenchurch Dog Rescue and after a quick phone call on the Friday I was all set to walk Echo, a four month old Collie/Lurcher cross, at 10.30am on the Saturday.

So, Saturday morning - with the sun streaming down -  I found myself travelling down the M40 to Stokenchurch Dog Rescue. Despite all the years I lived down South and travelled this route, I'd never really noticed the rescue until now, or maybe it's just my memory playing tricks on me! After introducing myself, and filling in a volunteer form I was introduced to Echo - a four month old, Collie/Lurcher cross - who'd been found as a stray pup.

As you can see from his picture, Echo was a little bundle of absolute loveliness.  I was asked to walk Echo for 20 minutes, as being a pup they didn't want to overtire him.

I checked whether I could use treats before we set off and then we started our walk together. I'm generally used to walking dogs the size of my greyhounds and a bouncy puppy was certainly a different kettle of fish.  Echo was very excitable, but soon calmed down and took everything in his stride.

When he didn't pay any attention to the cyclists or the fire engine that passed, I made a big fuss of him and gave him a treat. However, when he showed too much interest in some of the other dogs (I'd been warned about this), we just walked calmly by (well I did, anyway) without a word from me.

At the end of the walk, I handed Echo back to the centre staff and was asked if I'd like to walk another dog. I readily accepted and was then introduced to Ben.

Ben was a 2 year old Patterdale Terrier, who had been rescued from his abusive owners. I was informed that Ben was afraid of men with deep voices and was wearing a muzzle to prevent any mishaps.

Ben was lovely but I could see how fearful he was, particularly of men. He'd obviously been trained to basic commands as he knew "sit" and "wait" but at the beginning of the walk he had a tendency to stop, drop to the ground and flatten himself out; not wanting to move or go on.

With gentle persuasion, and the use of some tasty treats, Ben became more accustomed to me. I used the treats as a reward for him coming to me when called and ignoring cyclists (there were a lot of cyclists out that weekend and apparently Ben's terrier instincts generally kicked in when he saw cyclists)! By the end of our walk, I felt I had gained a little bit of Ben's trust as he did allow me to stroke him without tensing up, or showing signs of stress.

The next weekend I stay down South I'll certainly volunteer my dog-walking services again. It was the perfect way to get my 'fido fix' and to build on my studies,  but more importantly it gave these rescue dogs the chance of a good walk, time away from the kennel environment and the opportunity to socialise with more humans.

Many dog rescues can't survive without the help of volunteers and if you have a few hours a week to spare, why not consider helping a local rescue centre? There may be no pay, but the satisfaction of knowing you've helped a dog in need is worth its weight in gold.

02 March 2010

'Gone to the dogs' - a look at greyhound racing

Everyone who knows me, knows I love greyhounds...

I'm a committee member and volunteer for a local charity which rehomes retired racing greyhounds and given half a chance I can bore for England on the joys of living with these most noble of hounds.

When I'm out and about with the hounds, I'm often asked whether I race them, to which my retort is usually: "No. I can't keep up with them!"  The next question is usually about what my views are on greyhound racing...
Two of my hounds are retired racers; Jasper (pictured above) and Stevie (pictured later in this post). Mina was a stray, and to my knowledge, has never raced.

Greyhound racing is an emotive subject which is often in the news. I 'd like to state that I am neither for, nor against greyhound racing, which may seem at odds with my love for the breed. I have spent time at racing kennels.  I have been to greyhound races at different stadia in the UK and, through the Lincolnshire Greyhound Trust, I work with retired racing greyhounds looking for their forever homes.

What is apparent to me is that the majority of the dogs I have seen have been well looked after and well cared for - both on and off the track.  It is unfortunate that what appears to be a minority of trainers with little or no regard for their dogs' welfare make the news, but then again 'bad news' sells newspapers! There is still no excuse though, for mistreating these animals and one ill-treated hound is one hound too many.

The charity works closely with a number of trainers and we have waiting lists for dogs to come into our kennels. The hounds we rehome come to us at all ages... some are young and have no chase instinct, some are not successful racers, some have had injuries and have retired early, and some come to us at the end of their racing careers.

It is true to say that greyhound welfare needs to be improved by those making money out of the sport. New legislation is being introduced by the UK Government in April 2010, which goes part way to redressing this and influential charities such as The Dogs Trust are continuing to campaign for improvements to greyhound welfare. A campaign which I support fully.

In the USA many states have banned greyhound racing; racing is per se illegal in 36 States and Massachusetts is the latest State to ban commercial dog racing. In the UK many tracks have closed with Walthamstow closing in 2009.

However, what would happen if greyhound racing was banned in the UK? Would it be driven underground to independent (illegal?) flapping tracks, which may have even less regard for the hounds' welfare? What would happen to the thousands of dogs that used to race at licensed tracks? What would happen to the breed as a whole? Unlike pedigree show dogs, racing greyhounds are bred for strength, fitness, health and stamina NOT for looks. A show greyhound does look somewhat different to a racing greyhound.

The list of question goes on as will the debate over whether it's right or wrong to continue greyhound racing...

Finally, I would like to share a view of greyhound racing from a friend of mine, who owns several retired racing greyhounds and who, by her own admission, is an "animal rights placard waving lefty."  Reproduced, with kind permission from my friend, Jayne, here is her take on the world of greyhound racing:

"Last Friday we went along to Peterborough to watch Chapelane Mac race. Now, no-one was more surprised than me to find myself there: I am your stereotypical tofu munching, knit your own tea bags ,tree hugging animal rights placard waving lefty when it comes to stuff like this.Yes I am the sort of person who thinks the Grand National should be banned and I've put my money where my mouth is when it comes to anti fox hunting etc etc.So you can guess that I was probably never going to feel too comfortable with the idea of dog racing.

Anyway I went along because I wanted to see for myself what its all about and try and get an informed view of what the dogs' experience of track life actually is.

The dogs were there for all to see getting prepped up for their race.We watched the trainers go through the pre-race stuff and the dogs all looked happy and some were obviously very excited and couldn't wait to be off.  Chapelane Mac (Jock) was looking beautiful and was very perky and impatient for his race.  Fine looking boy that he is, I'm sure he'll create a wave of adoration when he retires!

As they were paraded up and down the track I really enjoyed seeing how alert and proud the dogs looked.  It was lovely to see them in the peak of physical health and so beautiful. The atmosphere was very exciting.

The call came and the dogs were put into the traps.  I dont like seeing this bit as to me it has looked like they are positively stuffed into them against their will. But into the traps they went and the bell rang.The dogs took my breath away as they flew out of the traps.  I couldn't believe the power and the speed.  It was one of the most exhilarating things I have ever seen. Jock looked like he was having the time of his life and before I knew it I was yelling my head off for him to run run run!

At the end of the race the hounds all bounded up to their trainers not looking the least bit tired and it was back to the kennel block. This was the bit I was really impressed with.  I watched the staff carefully towel down and clean each dog.  Faces were washed free of sand and feet were washed,inspected and nicely dried too.  They all had plenty to drink and time to recover.  Much like we all do with our own hounds really-there seemed that same kindness and care.

After a few more thrilling races I decided to get a closer look at the dogs going into the traps so went down to trap side. Ok some of them didn't look terribly keen on going in, but they didn't look terrified either. They weren't being 'stuffed' in-they were being lifted in!  It amused me to see one or two trainers whispering in their dogs ears as they waited-I like to think they were giving them a last minute pep talk but they were just probably keeping them calm.  Once in, it sounded like the dogs were excited about what would come next judging by the pawing and yapping!

I loved the whole experience to be honest.  I know I only saw a tiny window on what greyhound racing is really like and fortunately no dogs were injured but the dogs really did seem to love it.  Of course I wasn't really expecting to go down there and see nasty people beating poor exploited Grey's into racing their little hearts out without so much as a bowl of water afterwards but I did have preconceived ideas about how I felt about making money out of dogs etc .And I now feel more at ease with the whole idea.

I also feel like I understand my own dogs a little bit more now that I have a tiny insight into their 'other' life.  Especially Seamus who loves to run still and regularly acts the fool and tries to get me running him on his lead.

I'm so glad I went and it certainly wont be the last time.  I'd recommend it to anyone else like me who doesn't really know much about the world of racing or who hasn't made up their mind about what they feel about it.  I feel more confident about dispelling some of the myths that the general public tend to bring up at meet and greets too.  I know that we have some really responsible trainers who contribute here and I have already been able to tell the public about the additional support that they provide to the trust.So...yes...give it a go.  And its worth the trip for the carpet in the main bar alone! "

03 January 2010

The art of playing

All dogs love to play right? It has been said that if a dog does not play it could be unhealthy or unhappy (source: PetPlace.com)

But what if play doesn't seem to come naturally to your dog. Does it really mean that they're miserable or unhealthy? Stevie, our beautiful blue & white greyhound, has never been one to engage in traditional play but he's certainly not miserable or unhealthy. He still gets excited for his walks and often does his little kangaroo jumps at the sound & sight of his lead and plays in less traditional ways.

Both Jasper and Mina, by contrast, love to play and engage in traditional play bows, chase each other, throw toys around and actively seek out toys to play with. Jasper has tried to get Stevie to play with him (it's hilarious to watch) by play bowing, woofing, advancing forward - woofing & retreating woofing - all to no avail.

However, this Christmas it looks like we've finally found toys that encourage Stevie to play! I bought three rope toys, because I thought they would be less likely to be destroyed by Mina (how wrong was I?!?) and Stevie loves it as the slideshow shows!

Jasper absolutely loves to play and tears around like, well a greyhound!  After a few minutes of playing he's then pooped & spends the rest of the day snoozing.

Hope you enjoy the slideshow and video. Proof of the fact that retired racing greyhounds really do make greyt pets.
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