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Toodle Pip, Betty

Between my bedroom curtains large tufts of cumulus drifted across the clean blue sky like galleons in full sail. Below them, the tree tops hazed with the green of spring buds and from the field next door I could hear an industrious woodpecker drilling for his breakfast. Next to me, in the bed, Roger roused, yawned, and burrowed back under the duvet. Heedless of my lazy, bed-hogging dog, my mind was on yesterday’s sunlight falling through another window into a bright room that seemed to have taken on a darker, shadowy texture in my memory. In that room, four waifs huddled, trying to keep their dignity in the face of the one thing they never wanted to see – the tiny little coffin on a plinth in front of them.

I was one of those waifs.

For fourteen years my sister, St Francis, had been neighbours with Betty. Private and solitary, unless her children were visiting, Betty would have remained out of our reach if it wasn’t for Rufus. That great feline flirt took a fancy to Betty and spent many of his days in her house or snoring under her hydrangea bushes. He became a part of her family much as he was a part of ours and come Christmas, he sent her a card and a gift. Betty thought St F was daft for doing such a thing but St F maintained that she had nothing to do with it … Betty never fed Rufus, she was very strict about that. He had a home to go to and come the appropriate time, she’d shoo him out the door and tell him to come back the next day. And he did. Year in, year out, Rufus shared himself between us. Betty retired from her job with plans to spend her time gardening, Rufus got skinny and arthritic. The two pals were growing old together. Outside, in the warm westcountry summers, Betty would potter about under her straw hat looking, for all the world, like an animated mushroom and the cat would follow her. Chatting away, Betty warned him not to tread all over her plants or fall off the stone bridge in the rockery until he got too hot, then he’d head for the shade of the bushes.

‘That’s right,’ Betty would call after him. ‘You go and have a lie down, Roofdus.’ She always called him Roofdus.

When Betty became a little frail, St F and I helped out in the garden. We cut down the odd dead tree, mowed the lawn and I spent three painful days removing the six-foot-high brambles that had shot up through the Hydrangea. Our reward was always a cup of coffee and chocolate biscuits. It seemed a fair exchange.

There were shopping trips and lunches out and trips to the dentist and Betty came ever closer to us. We don’t have parents, St F and I – well we do but that’s a whole other story – so Betty came to fulfill a motherly role for us in that we could give her the care and attention that we would have given our own mother who is the same age. Not that Betty needed anymore kids. Her son and daughter were regular visitors and whilst not a demonstrative woman, she was clearly proud of both of them. Despite being geographically far apart, they were a close family. St F and I were gatecrashers but no one seemed to mind.

I wrote a post a short while ago called, I’m Old But I AIn’t Fell Over – Yet, in which I explained how St F and I discovered that Betty had fallen and was unable to get up one day. (in that post I called her The Morrighan for the sake of her privacy but now …) We visited her the following Saturday and it was good to see Betty firing on all cylinders. She laughed at us and we laughed at her and the memory of a frail but determined old lady in her nightwear trying (and failing) to roll herself a cigarette whilst the ambulance crew waited to take her to hospital hid at the back for a bit. We already knew, though, as we were laughing with her, that she had terminal lung cancer. That was why she’d been so poorly.

As Rufus approached his 21st birthday last year, St F and I wondered how we’d ever break the news to Betty if he died. And, what would we do come Christmastime? We came up with the idea that we would tell her that Rufus had left a will detailing the presents he wanted her to have for the next twenty Christmases. We never imagined it’d be other way around. We never dreamed we’d have to watch Betty’s tear-streaked son gather Rufus into his arms and whisper into is ear, ‘Mum’s gone.’ but six days after our hospital visit that’s how it was.

There were others who could have come and shared that sunlit chapel. Other bouquets that could have laid next ours and the one from from Rufus but that wasn’t what Betty had wanted. Private to the end, it was only her two children that she wanted at her funeral – and the two middle-aged orphans who’d borrowed her for a while.

Lying in my bed, the next morning, gazing at the world outside my window, Betty was the first thing I thought about. Idly rubbing the dog’s ear, I remembered how, when the curtain slid in front of the coffin towards the end of the service, I felt my head shake involuntarily. Inside I was saying, ‘no, no, don’t take her yet.’ It makes my chest hitch to think of it. To calm myself I moved to another memory. To how, when the vicar intoned ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust,’ I had to fight an impulse to lean over to ST F and whisper, ‘if the dope don’t get you, the acid’s a must.’ That made me smile. It made me laugh when I imagined Betty saying to me, ‘Lorraine, I do sometimes wish you’d grow up.’

‘Toodle pip.’ That’s how she ended her phone calls. ‘Toodle pip.’ We put it on the card with our flowers.

Toodle pip, Betty. From St F and me. And Roofdus XX

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2014 in Family Life

 

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To Prong or Not to Prong – That is the Question

Let’s toss a controversial opinion out there and see what debate results.

You may not be a pet owner. You may not even be much of an animal lover but would you seriously consider putting one these around a dog’s neck?

Image

 

Let’s be clear about this, those spikes are on the inside of the collar.

Pinch Collar

Like this.

Many people are using these things because they honestly don’t know better. Perhaps they’ve been advised by a dog trainer. The idea is to stop the dog pulling when it’s on the lead by inflicting pain and fear on the animal. A dog that is in fear, a dog that is in pain is more likely to become aggressive and then the dog faces further punishment. Might that result in a no-win situation for the dog?

Once upon a time it was very common to see dogs in choke chains. I know that the dogs we had when I was a kid all wore them. The idea with those was that when the dog pulled, it choked, therefore, the dog would stop pulling. None of ours did. The dog went on pulling and choking and pulling and choking. It is now known that choke collars are responsible for all kinds of terrible injuries from a crushed windpipe to blindness. Now imagine lining the inside of one of those collars with a row of spikes…

Defenders of prong collars (AKA pinch collars) will say that when used properly, these will not cause injury. They will also say that they are a gentle method of controlling and correcting your dog. Others will say ‘I didn’t even know these things existed.’

Well,they do exist and they do cause injury. Sometimes it’s a physical injury that you can see and sometimes it’s a psychological one – either way prong collars offer very few positive outcomes when weighed against the risk and I am working with a bunch of concerned citizens to get them banned in the UK. If you are of a mind to, come over to the Banning of Pinch Collars on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/377732549034419/). If you’re from the UK sign the petition, get info on writing to your MP, join others in emailing the sellers and manufacturers of prong collars. Make like a Quaker and bear witness – tell the world about this questionable but legal form of dog control. For it is legal in the UK – unlike Quebec.There is a fine of several hundred  dollars if caught using one (see thenormaldog.blogspot.co.uk). Good old Quebec. Let’s spread their enlightenment.

Are these legal where you live? Do you want them to be? If not then use the power of your keyboard and get the word out there. Dogs need strong, assertive, caring, educated owners not spikes. In the last couple of days, because of pressure from communities like Banning of Pinch Collars, both Amazon and eBay UK have reviewed their policies and found that prong collars contravene their own rules on animal welfare. They have undertaken to stop selling them. Which other suppliers could you email? How about manufacturers like Herm-Sprenger? Can we get them to see our point of view?

The prong or pinch collar is an anachronism. If we must ever see one, let it be in a museum of the macabre alongside the rack and the iron maiden. Not, NOT on a dog.

If you have no strong view or, if you believe that there is a place for such a collar then don’t just read what I have to say, check out these links;

http://www.adogsview.net/Types-of-Collars.html

http://tarastermer.wordpress.com/2008/11/25/prong-collars-and-why-i-do-not-recommend-them/

http://www.dogstrust.org.uk/mediacentre/newsreleases/pr14prongcollars.aspx#.U0SbyqhdUpc

blogs.rspca.org.uk/insights/tag/prong-collars/

It may not seem much but getting these collars banned is a step along the road to better animal welfare and, as the Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu said, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Aside
Help Yourself to my Bed Why Don'tcha

Help Yourself to my Bed Why Don’tcha

Spring has crept up behind the storms and dragged the daffodils, daisies and crocuses up from the soggy red soil. Crows are zooming overhead with nesting materials gathered in their beaks and the larks have risen from the fields until they are barely visible specks in the sky pouring their song over our hilltop. But … I have had to buy Roger a coat. He feels the cold, poor chap. Though he’s put on weight he’s still much too thin. (He needs at least another three kilos, then – shhhh, don’t tell him – I’ll reduce his intake to a maintenance diet.) His lack of body mass doesn’t help with his susceptibility to the cold and so when we walk out on wet, chilly days he wears his new coat. At night he sleeps under a duvet – mine. He must be under the duvet and he must have his head covered. His preference, not mine. Even when dozing under a blanket on one of St F’s sofas, he must have his head covered. I wonder why. He dreams a lot and growls and whimpers in his sleep. Sometimes he sounds so distressed I have to gently wake him up. Other times I have to wake him up to get him to move back across the bed, bloody bed hog. Bleary golden eyes gaze at me and I can read the thoughts there ‘what? You want me to get off the bed? But I like it here.’ However he does (eventually) get up then I can move back from the precipice and gain a little mattress for myself. As soon as I’ve settled, back comes Roger, under the duvet and rests his bodyweight against me and I start the inexorable slide towards the edge of the bed again. Lucky I’m a dog lover isn’t it?

You can't see me, right?

You can’t see me, right?

Oh well, as I said at the top of this post, spring is springing and most days are warm enough for my bony bed hog to go out without his coat. He runs around the field chasing St F’s latest family member, Molotov, a puppy rescued from a future as a bait dog, and she out manoeuvres him exactly as Eric was out manoeuvred by his girlfriend, Madge, and Roger loves it. He has learned to play frisbee (but not to give it back yet) and best of all, he comes back when I call him. What more can I ask for? Oh yes, a cure for his slobbering. Other than that, Roger is a truly lovely, well-mannered gentleman and I love him.

My Very Tall Dog

My Very Tall Dog


One Month On And I’m Smitten

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2014 in Family Life

 

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I’m Old But I Ain’t Fell Over – Yet

Two days ago I celebrated (mourned?) my forty-ninth birthday. Like every other person of a certain age, I live in a no-man’s-land extreme maturity and utter childishness. I can be relied upon to give reasoned advice on almost any problem whether it be teenage spots or how to use a self-contained breathing apparatus and … then when I get in the car with my sister, St Francis, we slap the beejaysus out of each other when we see a yellow car or a mini. (With a mini you punch the other person and yell ‘punch buggy – insert colour of car. Woe betide if you get the colour wrong because you get six punches back for your mistake followed by a punch for the correct colour!) I am very aware of my age but despite the knowledge that I am now a crumbling ruin, I utterly refuse to grow up.

When I lived up north with the love of my life (he is still the love of my life despite the 300 miles that separate us), I felt myself growing older by the minute. He is fun and daft like me but hangs out with a lot of older types. We went to a lot of funerals. I made one friend who is as juvenile as I am and she helped me stay sane but, sadly, I needed more. A move back south was the only way to protect my inner child.

But. Even an eternal bambina like me gets pulled up short sometimes.

St F’s neighbour, The Morrighan  is a feisty (and I don’t use that word lightly) pensioner who keeps herself to herself. It’s taken years to get close enough to be invited into her house and we both know that we are privileged in this. In the last year she has asked me to help with her rather large garden and, recently I’ve dismantled a storm damaged shed for her. St F has taken her shopping once a week and all was well up until about three weeks ago. The bad back she complained of was diagnosed as arthritis. She also has a frozen shoulder. The prescribed painkillers knocked her out and she napped much of her day away. Suddenly, almost overnight, she became a pain-wracked old woman. She was unable to go shopping so St F shopped for her. For fear of disturbing her (and getting a flea in my ear) I worked in the garden and left again without seeing her. We were no longer allowed in the house.

Today, The Morrighan was due to have a blood test at the local surgery. St F and I assembled at the car, waiting for her. She is usually punctual but not today. Five minutes past the agreed time, St F went and knocked on her door.

‘Lorraine, come and help me,’ St F called. ‘Morri has fallen over and can’t get up.’

Morri’s children are grown up and live far away. They visit often but they are out of reach in a situation like this. St F and I took turns to talk to Morri through the letter box until an ambulance turned up followed by a police officer who broke a window so that we could get in. Living alone for so long, even in such a quiet area, had made Morri concerned about security. No windows were open, all the doors were locked and the security chains on. With out the police officer and his truncheon, we couldn’t get in. Once in, we realised why we had been denied access lately. House-proud Morri was unable to cope. OK, this only meant a bit of washing up in the sink and her fire had gone out but to her, that’s unforgivably lax.

Dazed and a little bewildered, dehydrated and hungry, Morri had been on the floor since 6 a.m. It was gone 4 p.m when we gained access. She was still on the floor in her nightdress but as ornery as ever. After climbing in the window, St F patted her arm as she passed to let the paramedic and the copper in.

‘I don’t need patting,’ Morri grumbled. ‘I need lifting off the damn floor.’

Tonight, Morri is in hospital where they are monitoring her low blood pressure. Tomorrow morning I’m going to her house to finish the washing up that St F and I started while the paramedic examined Morri.

Morri has long wanted to move somewhere smaller and no doubt she will get her wish now but in the meantime, we want to make sure that her home is clean, tidy and welcoming when she comes back. I hope that will be soon.

I, meanwhile, am looking in the mirror and saying to myself, ‘How long, Lorraine? How long before you can’t manage? St F and I are two tough, physically capable old birds but we both have arthritis of the spine and we’re both accident prone ( I currently have a black eye from a frisbee-related incident. Yes I threw it. Who knew it was going to act like a boomerang?). What if I fall over and can’t get up? I live with a food obsessed dog who was once starved. Is he going to think all his Christmasses and birthdays have come at once?

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2014 in Family Life, Musing

 

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Writing at last – sort of

Just a quickie. Yes I know, you wait weeks for a post then two come along at once. Maybe I’ve had too much caffeine.

Anyway, today I handed over a book I’ve written!

A dear chap called Robbie celebrated his second birthday on Sunday but we didn’t get to see him until today when we presented him with his very own story book, written about him. I printed it off and hand-stitched it into a cardboard cover adorned with photos of our hero. He seemed pleased but was rather more taken with the chocolate buttons wrapped up with it.

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2014 in Struggling Writers

 

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Life Turns on a Sixpence

My Beautiful EricIt’s been two weeks and two days since I lost my beloved Eric. I miss him terribly and my little house seems suddenly too big without him shambling around or barking insanely at the postman or knocking my slippers off my feet as he follows me, too closely, up the stairs.

It isn’t only my grief, of course. As if the tears of my family weren’t enough, I didn’t realise how much he meant to everybody until I discovered that my niece, Medusa, had secreted his collar, lead and muzzle in her school bag. Her consternation when I asked for them back a few days later was so sad to see. We agreed that I could have the lead but she could keep the collar and the muzzle. The muzzle was a recent addition to Eric’s life. I bought it as his condition worsened and his behaviour became more unpredictable. I hated it as much as he did but it was necessary when he was around the kids, lest he snapped at them. I found it strange that Medusa would want to keep it, but she did, and now her teddy bear wears it with the collar. Not sure how Ted feels about that.

Having a dog that was known as a character in the village means I’ve cried publicly several times as I’ve explained to concerned locals where Eric has gone. And so has my sister, St Francis. We are a right bunch of softies in my family.

But every sad ending brings a new beginning.

Loving Homes Dog Rescue, the charity that placed Eric with us, let me know that a female Doberman cross was in urgent need of a new home and I was sorely tempted. She was a truly lovely looking dog but, like many rescue dogs, she had her issues and after coping with Eric’s deterioration, I was exhausted. I needed a gentler housemate. (We are making it up to them by possibly fostering a little six-month-old that was stolen from her owner by muggers who apparently wanted her as a bait dog.) So I browsed various rescue sites on the internet, without any real idea of taking on another dog so soon, until I happened across Great Dane Care and that was that.

I like big dogs. I like all dogs (well, nearly all) but I really like big dogs and I’ve had Danes before so I stopped on the Great Dane Care site and had a look around. As luck would have it, the half-starved and mistreated Alfie was at the top of the page. St F and I made enquiries and exactly one week ago Alfie took up residence in my house. No longer is my home echoing and empty. It’s filled with the snoring, farting and grunting of its newest occupant. I still see Eric everywhere but it is a calm feeling as if some remnant of Eric’s spirit has given his approval – but then that’s the rescue dog prayer, isn’t it? ‘When I go, let another experience the love and care that you gave me …’

Any of you who read my earlier post Int Life Brilliant? will know that I’ve had an Alfie in my life before. We don’t duplicate names, St F and I. It wouldn’t be fair to our Alfie’s memory and it wouldn’t be fair to this chap so St F and I spent that first day watching our new friend to work out what his name could be. A chance remark  from St F about the dog’s very mobile and expressive eyebrows led to me joking about Roger Moore (An actor famous for his being able to raise one or both eyebrows). There was a pause, St F and I looked at each other – ‘Roger,’ she said. ‘I like that.’ And so Alfie the Dane became Roger the Dane. He’s also known as Roger Dodger, Roger the Lodger, Droopy and Slobadan. The last refers to his drooling like a leaky tap, especially at mealtimes.

Starved, beaten, with scars that are quite likely to come from cigarette burns, Roger is a surprisingly trusting soul. Well-mannered, gentle and calm and I am more than a little in love with him already. Thank god for the people who work so hard in rescue centres like Loving Homes Dog Rescue and Great Dane Care, They don’t make any money and they witness the awfulness of man’s inhumanity daily. I am truly glad that people like St F and I are trusted to care for some of their precious creatures.

Roger's first day

Roger’s first day

Look at those ribs!

Look at those ribs!

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2014 in Family Life

 

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Life Without My Dog

He’s gone. My beautiful, big, black best friend has gone. This is going to be a very short post because my heart is in so many pieces and I have cried so much I can hardly see.

Eric was always unpredictable – there was something wrongly wired in his head. Also, he had a problem with his eyesight that must have been frightening for him. I managed him with help from my sister, St F and a brilliant trainer called Brendan but as time went on he became more and more unstable. Finally, after he bit me, we consulted Brendan and the charity he came from and agreed that if he couldn’t cope in the home I’d given him, he couldn’t cope anywhere. In effect, he was too dangerous to re-home so …

In the few hours I had left with him, I fed him peanut butter and cheese and blew bubbles for him to chase and I kissed his nose many times. I told him over and over that I loved him. But you know when St F came to take him to the vets (she refused point blank to let me go along) and I walked him out to the car, it wasn’t enough. I just wanted to hold him forever.

 

His bed is still in my kitchen. His giant muddy paw-prints decorate the floor and the plastic bottle that I filled with treats for him to chew is safely stored in a cupboard. I miss him, I miss him, I miss him.

I don’t regret knowing him. I don’t regret a single second of being with him. I love him and I wish it could have been different but at least he had fun. He had love. He had security. And I had him.

I will have another dog, another rescue dog, because however heartbreaking it may be, there is always need for softies like me but, just for now, I’m going to sleep holding the collar I made for Eric with his I.D disc on it.

I love you, Eric

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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