Word on a Whim

Archive for the category “Pets”

“Perhaps it’s because he is on the lead”

Alfie has come to stay for a few days and I’ve been looking forward to going for some good runs with him.

Here he is, enjoying the view from the top of my favourite hill:

The photo would look better without the lead but there was a family with young children playing nearby and I didn’t think they would welcome him joining their game.

As soon as there was no-one in sight, I let him off the lead and he had a good run and a sniff around.  He’s the black dot in the distance:

Although I hadn’t seen any sheep on the way up, we went back down the hill with the lead on and I was glad I had taken the precaution when a single sheep was suddenly in view just over a blind summit.  Alf pranced around a bit and it strutted away.  I am always aware that even if the field appears empty of sheep and there is no fresh muck around, there is often one individualist sheep that did not follow the flock when it was moved.

At the foot of the hill, Alfie was mugged by a farm dog that had come pelting along behind one of the quad bikes they use around the land.  The dog didn’t bite him but charged aggressively a few times doing that bared teeth head butting action to let us know the damage he could do if he really meant it! I guess he thought he was protecting his territory and didn’t have a proper understanding of public rights of way.  Meanwhile the lad on the quad bike was bellowing his name, but he took no notice.  No physical harm done, but me and Alf were both upset by the incident and I hope he will forget about it and not be nervous of other dogs.  I won’t be taking him up there again.  Maybe that’s the result the landowners are aiming for?

That was yesterday.

This morning we did the River Walk, knowing it would be relatively quiet today compared with the next three days.

I saw someone coming through a gateway and stepped off the path and towards the riverbank to let them pass, and a big dog came running at us, looking at Alfie in a nasty way with his hackles up.  The dog was with a couple of women.  One kept out of the way whilst the other started to call his name, but in an airy-fairy way – not prepared to sound like a fish-wife, so it was never going to work!  I managed to grab his collar and held him at arm’s length whilst Alfie did pirouettes on the end of his lead, keeping as much distance as possible.  Alfie has never shown aggression towards other dogs, he is of the slightly anxious tail wagging between the legs sort of temperament.

When this dog’s mistress finally caught up, which was probably less than a minute but seems longer when you are hanging on to the collar of a dog you have only just met, I didn’t want to make her feel awful about this incident, so I said, “He does seem to get picked on for some reason.”  (I do wonder if the ‘reason’ could be that Alfie has balls whereas so many dogs seem to be routinely castrated these days?)

There was no apology.  She said, in a loud, posh, self-righteous and judgemental tone;

“Perhaps it’s because he is on the lead!”  

Oh, so it’s because Alfie is on the lead that we’ve just been scared shitless again, and it’s therefore my fault that we just experienced this kerfuffle?!

I could have given the lady a list of reasons why he was on the lead …  no, I couldn’t actually, because I never think of the right thing to say at the time – and I wanted to put distance between us.

So, I will bore you with the reasons now, sorry.  I do realise that anyone reading this probably doesn’t give a monkey’s about why Alfie was on the lead, but this is what I would like to have told her, and I’d like to get it off my chest, so thanks for listening 😉

Alfie was on the lead because:

  • The riverside path is narrow and I didn’t want him to touch the electric fence.  If you have ever touched it without rubber-soled shoes, to understand how it feels to an animal, you would know that it gives you quite a zap – and even the sections where there is no fence have sheep grazing at the moment … we walked through a flock of rare-breed-looking dark brown ones.
  • Alfie is a friendly dog who is likely to jump up and muddy your clothes if you speak to him nicely 🙂
  • Although Alfie is happy to Come, Sit and Stay in the back garden, he doesn’t take much notice of me if we are out in open space and something distracts him – just as your dog ignored you when you told him to leave mine alone!
  • There are one or two fishermen along the riverbank today. Off-lead Alfie might possibly lick their faces then cock his leg up on their lunch box :-/
  • If he hadn’t been on the lead when your dog rushed at him like that, he might have tried to escape by jumping in the river and swimming to the other side – and then I’d have had to do the same!

No physical harm done these two days, but it worries me that experiences like these might make him nervous of other dogs.  He is still a young boy so I hope he will forget.

It’s a jungle out there, Alfie 😦   xxx


About five months ago we became aware of rats in our loft.  I was amazed how noisy such a small animal could be, scuttling across the plaster board at night and then scrabbling around, along with a rapid thumping noise that’s probably bonking.   The ‘scuttling’ is a startling noise that jerks you awake each time it happens, however familiar it becomes … after five months.

I am a rat lover.  I have enjoyed them as pets in the past.  Whilst I didn’t want to let them chew through electrical wires and reproduce in the loft, we are animal lovers and there was loads of advice on the internet about getting rid of rats safely and humanely. There was no need for poison.

So, Julz went up ladders to block up any tiny gaps he could find where they might be getting in and soaked cotton wool with peppermint oil and distributed it in the loft.  Next we bought the ultrasonic beeper, a strobe light, and even some product containing fox piss that is supposed to deter rats.  Then Julz tried boiling up his own brew of rat deterrent and sprayed it around up there.  We also had humane traps baited with Nutella, including one that claimed to catch multiple rats as there is a double trap door and they tend to follow each other, and of course humane traps involve regular loft visits in case anything has wandered in.  We heard a litter of rat babies up there but it seemed a shame to disturb them – then a couple of nights where they seemed to be fighting, before it went quiet.  They had used the loft insulation as a cosy winter nest but now they had gone. Julz disposed of the filthy, stinking patch of loft insulation and that seemed to be the end of it … until the familiar rat-a-tat-tat returned and seemed to expand.  Neighbours also had rats, so it seemed we were shooing them out of our loft into theirs, and then they were coming back again.  We had removed the compost bins and bird bath and anything that might attract rats, so our garden was now quite bare; but looking out of an upstairs window across a row of small gardens we sometimes saw a rat eating from beneath a neighbour’s overloaded bird table.

One evening I was sitting at the computer in the corner of the living room and suddenly heard the familiar scratching and scuffling start up above my head … but I was downstairs!  In horror, I ran upstairs, expecting to find them running around the bedroom – but there was no sign.  I went back down and then heard the noise again.  Then I heard scratching noises in the wall, just in front of me.  The rats had found their way into the wall cavities and were now in the space below the bedroom floorboards … the space where the electricity cables were concealed.  I was scared.

We had tried everything, including prayers and energy work and even advice from a professional dowser – but I ended up calling in Pest Control.  They came and put poison in the loft and left a ticket with a box ticked to indicate there were adults, children or pets at risk.  A phone call to get clarification on this reassured us that a dog would have to eat lots to be affected, and they tended not to because it tastes bitter.  Our dog weighs 45 kilos and doesn’t go upstairs.  I didn’t worry.

That night I listened to the rats scurrying around excitedly, and I felt like a murderer.  But then life went on and I somehow started to think of them differently, so as not to feel bad about calling in Pest Control.  Someone (or a combination of people I had talked to) told me that this type of rat was cannibalistic and that nothing deterred them because they had such short lives anyway.  The same day the Pest Control guy had visited, Julz found what appeared to be a cannibalised rat inside the garden shed, with its guts spilled open.  It made me feel less guilty, if that was the lack of respect the rats had for each other.  After a day or two came a sense of relief that the problem had been handed over to the professionals, so I no longer had to worry about the rats.

About ten days after the Pest Control visit, on Saturday evening, Gandalf was keen as ever to go on his evening walk.  He listened patiently whilst I had the usual phone chat with Mum and Dad, and when I said “Lots of love” for the second time he knew the call was finished, got up and stretched and led me up the road like a man on a mission, following some interesting scent he had picked up.  I wondered if there was a bitch in season somewhere, especially when he seemed unsettled after his walk and wasn’t interested in his evening food.  A wedding party was going on up the road in a marquee in a field, and of course they had to have bloody fireworks.  This was a particularly massive and wasteful display, and of course it freaked him out.  When he gets like this we have found the best policy is to carry on as normal rather than make a fuss which might reinforce his stressy behaviour.

About three o’clock in the morning I heard a bit of a whimper and he was at the door wanting to go out – not unusual.  I shone the torch on the garden and he stood for a while, sniffing the air with his tail sort of lifted up a bit.

Later on Sunday morning he was still restless and panting and hadn’t eaten, and his rear end seemed swollen.  Enlarged prostate, possibly?  I asked the neighbours if their bitch was in season and when she wasn’t I was suddenly worried, thinking maybe he had an infection.  I phoned the vet who asked lots of questions to ensure it wasn’t something that could wait until after the bank holiday, then asked us to come along to the surgery.  I put his collar on and he went to the door and got in the car good as gold, maybe relieved that we were going to get this sorted out.

He’s never really minded going to the vets and sniffed around the surgery, interested in the new smells, whilst I bibbled on about how he gets like this with fireworks etc.  She said his heart was racing far too fast for a dog his size.  “Isn’t that because he’s panting and hyperventilating?” I asked, and she shook her head and showed me the bright red blood vessels showing in his gums.

Then Julz mentioned the poison, and the vet confirmed that these symptoms were classic.  I went into denial – it couldn’t be anything to do with the poison – that was just an inconvenient coincidence that was leading her to misdiagnose the problem.  “But the poison’s in the loft!  There’s no way he could have got it.  And look at the size of him, he’d need loads and he doesn’t eat rubbish – if you give him something new he examines it first…”  I can still hear myself now, denying the possibility that I had poisoned my beautiful Gandalf, but then agreed that she could only treat the symptoms she was seeing.  She was going to keep in him and put him on a vitamin K drip; but warned us that rat poison can take a long time to work and by the time the symptoms are displayed it is normally too late.  She also told us that if a dog ingests a rat that has been poisoned, this it more potent to a dog than if it eats the actual poison.  Why didn’t the Pest Control people tell us that?!  And these were not what I would have imagined to be the symptoms of poisoning.  I would have expected pain, vomiting, diarrhoea – not just panting and restlessness.

We went home stunned, trying to piece together what had happened.  Gandalf wouldn’t eat a rat; we would have found remains in the garden. Then we remembered the dead rat that was in the shed.  But the shed was always closed – how could he have got at that?  The only possibility we can think of is that he found the dead rat in the garden (he wouldn’t catch one) and had a bit of a lick of its poisoned blood before it was dragged into the shed by other rats.

We waited around the house in a dreamlike state, but it was a horrible dream that we could not escape from.  It is hard to remember the timing of events that day, or how long we had been home before the first phone call from the vet.  Heads together on the phone we both listened to her explaining about blood platelets and internal bleeding, but we knew, by the tone of her voice what she was saying.  I asked if it was possible he had a tumour.  It was bad enough trying to accept that we were losing him, but not in this way!  Not by something that could have been avoided.  She agreed to do an ultrasound scan and found there was so much blood in the abdominal cavity that it wasn’t possible to get a very clear image of the liver, but there was no evidence of a tumour, and his system was shutting down.  We went back to the surgery and cuddled him, telling him what a wonderful boy he was and I told him how sorry I was for letting him down. The vet exchanged the vitamin K drip for whatever it is that puts them to sleep.  He seemed calm, the panting had stopped and he was cooler than usual to touch.  The vet explained this was because he was going into shock.

I think we were also slightly in shock.  The speed at which all this had happened made it feel as though he’d been killed in a sudden accident.

Back home, Julz removed and disposed of the rat poison from the loft and warned the neighbours to be vigilant of their pets, and since then we’ve mostly been grieving and analysing it all and replaying the past.  We’ve been told that people in the locality who don’t have pets are buying poison from shops and putting it the garden.  If Gandalf did die from licking the rat that was in the shed then the poison must have come from a source other than our loft, as the dead rat was found on the day the poison was put there, and it takes some time to work. This may sound crazy but I want to believe that it wasn’t the poison in our loft that killed him – although of course it makes no difference whose fucking poison it was – and imagine how angry we would feel with the neighbourhood if we hadn’t ended up resorting to poison.

I know I have rambled on a bit here and gone into too much detail but writing about this is helping in some way. This is day four after it happened, and I no longer feel so permanently choked up. Some people lose children and somehow manage to carry on, and I know this doesn’t compare.  We are gradually disposing of the things that make us cry – brushes with his hair still in them – that kind of thing, but I wonder how long it will be before we stop opening door so carefully in case he’s behind them or turning to pick up his water bowl to fill it.  That reminds me; I’ve learned that poisoned rats tend to go to water as it makes them thirsty.  Poor rats.  So, if you have pets in the garden beware of birdbaths etc.  This also reminds me that when Gandalf went out at three o’clock on Sunday morning I noticed his water bowl was nearly empty and filled it up, but just thought it was all the stressy panting that was making him thirsty.  Poor Gandalf. I take some comfort in knowing he had eight good years, and deerhounds don’t live to such a grand old age so he missed out on the last year or two that would have seen his decline.  Looking at photos taken just a week before his death he is showing his age a little. It is chilling to think that on that lovely day the poison was already taking its insidious course and we had no idea what was about to hit us, and of course I am worried about all the other dogs and cats in the neighbourhood.

I want to spread the word about the danger of using rat poison.  I have written to the Pest Control company, begging them to give their customers more information about the product they are using, the way it works and especially the hazard of dead rodents.  I am amazed how widely available this stuff is in shops – when they will only sell two packets of paracetamol at a time.

I think this post has finally dried up, thank goodness.  I feel strangely disconnected at this moment, as if I’ve been writing about something that happened to someone else, but will end this now with two of my favourite photos:


Gandalf Running


Gandalf:  7/03/2007 – 24/05/2015     Canerikie Celtic Chief.

Our beautiful darling doggy who will be loved and missed forever  XXX

Bank Holiday weekend

The weekend saw the arrival of my first ever, and possibly last, Ikea purchase. I have never visited the store having only ever heard colleagues complaining about ‘having to go’ there, presumably to please their partners, so I thought the £35 delivery charge might just be fair exchange for not having to go anywhere near the place, even though the sofa I bought was only £95.  At that price, I wasn’t expecting much but was still disappointed when it tuned up damaged.  I guess some people would have sent it back, but the damage was only evident once it was unpacked from the rather large box that we had nowhere to store other than the middle of the living room floor.  I justified not sending it back because it was a replacement for Gandalf’s day bed, which had reached the point of being utterly minging.  At least this smells clean and fresh, and I won’t be too bothered if he damages it since it’s already been thrown around a warehouse.  I’d have preferred something better quality but second hand but anything bigger than this would have blocked the doorway – and there’s an awkwardness with second hand seats that I want to sniff before I buy but can’t politely do that in a charity shop!  Anyway, Gandalf is pleased with it:

2015-05-02 17.22.55

Oh, and here’s the old sofa:

2015-05-03 13.51.57

Not wishing to exaggerate Gandalf’s powers of destruction, I should add that it’s all in bits because Julz sawed it up into manageable chunks because I fancied a trip to the tip on Sunday to get rid of it. The car park and surrounding areas were heaving with with people who had gathered to watch Morris Dancers. I suppose some of those people packed into that small space must have been enjoying themselves, whilst many others might rather have been chucking their old junk into a skip.

I also did my usual weekend run, which is gradually becoming more of a ‘jog’. I’ve been running for thirty-plus years but lately it has become more like hard work than pleasure and I’ve slowed down considerably.  I keep thinking back to when running was effortless, with occasional but memorable highs, such as one evening running the last few miles along a deserted beach when I became a galloping horse and pounded faster and faster with abnormal energy and a feeling that I could run forever …

I guess the decline is just down to ageing, as I’m not doing anything different, but just feel tired and heavy. Never really been into exercise and fitness but I’m aware that if I were to give up running I would do nothing other than sit all day at a desk or in a car.  Dog walking doesn’t count – there’s too much standing around waiting whilst he sniffs and marks everything, and watching out for little dogs that are going to snap at him owing to his height.  Running has always suited me because of the solitude it offers and the escape from conversation other than the persistent rubbish that goes on inside my own head. I feel awkward though, running, and have probably mentioned it before – that straight mile stretch when I recognise a neighbour approaching and find it difficult to decide the correct distance to start smiling at them!

I thought about getting a bike, but would be nervous of the traffic bombing around these narrow lanes, and, as a careful driver, I find bikes a nuisance and frequently drive a few miles behind bikers going at twenty to twenty-five mph before I can safely overtake.  Yet as a runner, (or jogger), I feel like an obstacle when a swarm of bikes from a club rides past bellowing “ON THE LEFT!” straight into my right ear, as they pass me.  Apparently this is standard practice and they are warning the bikers behind that there is some idiot obstructing the road; on the left.

Other than that, I spent some time with my lovely ninety-one year old friend who is as independent as possible and with a very calm, reassuring manner that I love. I met him through doing care work and still visit regularly.  He was an accomplished athlete in his youth – I saw some sepia photos of a young man receiving trophies and got him to talk me through them.  But hasn’t been well just lately. He attempts to laugh things off when it’s clear that he’s struggling – so it was really good to find him so much brighter at the weekend 🙂


Gandalf is a typical Sighthound; flat-out (running) or flat-out (dozing). He has a gentle and trusting temperament; welcoming visitors to the house but without pestering them once the greeting is done. If anything gets posted through the letterbox and disturbs Gandalf, he gives it a dirty look but does not move unless it actually lands on him.
So, why would a dog like Gandalf need a Thundershirt? Well, he’s a sensitive soul, and over the years has developed a few phobias. Thunder and fireworks are the common ones he shares, and the sound of gunshots – but he also gets worked up if it’s very windy and things are blowing around outside, especially at night. Hot air balloons are a particular phobia, and this was a real problem a couple of years ago when the sky was suddenly full of them. Not sure what happened to the balloons but the epidemic left him scarred so that if anyone in the neighbourhood is doing work with a blow torch or anything that sounds like a hot air balloon burner being fired, his anxiety is triggered.
Gandalf’s anxiety begins with general restlessness, a worried expression, pressing himself against us, and looking out of the windows. The next stage is panting, whining and shaking, which then leads to the worst bit where he attempts to climb up on to the highest surface he can find. Given that most such surfaces (desk, table, mantelpiece, kitchen worktops) are not just slippery but crowded with clutter and appliances, it is important to nip the anxiety in the bud, if at all possible.
My natural reaction is to cuddle and reassure him but from what I have read this is wrong. By making a fuss of him when he is pacing and panting I am supporting and encouraging his behaviour, and yes, I can see how ignoring the thunderstorm, firework display or whatever is happening might be the best policy – but my lack of interest does nothing to convince him that there is no reason to be afraid.
Some episodes are predictable, such as the weekends either side of November 5th, although fireworks seem to go off all the year round now, at birthday parties or whatever. Last November I bought some herbal calming tablets but I couldn’t say whether they helped or not, and didn’t know how soon they would take effect (if at all) and for how long. Without having two Gandalfs and giving the tablets to one but not the other, there is no way of knowing.
Anyway, l found the Thundershirt on the net and it had enough good reviews to make it worth a try. It is made of soft stretchy cotton jersey material and well-designed for the shape of the dog. The idea is that it gives him a reassuring hug around the chest but without being uncomfortable or constricting. I guess it’s a reinvention of the old idea of swaddling babies to keep them soothed.
This is what it looks like:


The bit I have looped together fastens below the neck and the long flap goes down under the deepest part of the chest, wrapping around and up, and is secured beneath the side flap. It’s all held in place with Velcro, which is noisy to pull apart so it’s a good idea (and recommended on the blurb) to try it out first in none-stressful situations with food treats involved. I had wondered if Gandalf would tolerate wearing it, but he was fine. There’s no way I could wear one – can’t stand any clothing that clings. You can get also get them for cats … maybe you could get it on a very chilled-out cat in preparation for a visit to the vets or something … and hopefully not have to tear the Velcro apart too many times to re-adjust the fitting.
For the Thundershirt to be effective I think it needs to be put on at the first signs of anxiety, to nip it in the bud. I can’t imagine there being much point putting it on if a full-blown clambering up the furniture situation was already underway, and I would not leave a pet wearing one unsupervised – but the last couple of times he began to pace and pant and we put it on him, this is what happened:

Gandalf thundershirt

Not the best view of the Thundershirt as I took this discreetly from an armchair rather than standing over him with a pointy camera. He is still a little wide-eyed and tense, but the panting and pacing has stopped. Happily, we’ve only had cause to try it on a couple of occasions, but it takes the edge off immediately. Early days yet, it’s a recent purchase, but so far so good. Thirty quid well spent, I think.

Chelsea the Cat

Chelsea was the cat we adopted some years ago (before Gandalf’s time) and cared for during the last couple of years of her life.  I just read a post about a cat on a favourite blog, and it sent me looking for photos of our special cat, and I decided to post them here, to record her in history; and to bridge a gap in this blog.  No-one seemed to know where she had come from, and I have no idea why she was known as “Chelsea”, but that’s what the local kids called her.

We brought her home on a cold February night after hearing reports that she had been sleeping in a plant pot on someone’s doorstep but the plant pot had been turned upside down as the resident feared finding the cat dead in it each morning.  She had a large, pendulous cyst hanging from her neck that was easily removed with surgery – but yet she never did hold her head up – as if she had become used to the weight of it pulling her down.  On the first visit, the vet scanned her in case she was micro-chipped and gave her a general check-up.  Considering how she put away hard biscuit kibbles as well as soft meat, it was a surprise to learn that she had no teeth – they had all been extracted except the two canines.  The vet’s verdict was that she was an old cat who had been well cared for until recently, so we could only assume that her owner had passed away and the poor cat had been made homeless.

 Despite being elderly herself, in true feline style, she moved on and found herself a new home; with us.  She loved being held and stroked and rarely stopped purring. Too arthritic to leave the garden, and on steroids that sent her doolally tap; she would clamber out through the cat flap, walk a few yards to the patio doors and knock to be let back in.  I think she must also have been deaf as the pounding on the glass was accompanied by a loud “BRRRWOWWW!!!!”  Then, once indoors, she would saunter through to the kitchen and back out through the cat flap again – and then “BRRRWOWWW!!!!” … you get the picture?  In case not, here she is, bless her:



Copy of 100_0652

Sunday Ramblings

Most Sunday mornings I run along the riverside path with Gandalf.  When I say run, it tends to be very stop-start, because he is a hound dog and does what doggies do in that particularly stubborn way that is characteristic of the hound.  He is a lovely companion, partly because he does not speak, and if we pick a time when there are not too many other people and dogs around, this is our special time together – and the time and place where much of my fiction is created.

Often the route is dark, dismal and muddy. This morning the sun was burning off a heavy mist, so it was atmospheric, whimsical … and muddy.  I have never seen it looking so lovely.  I had a mobile phone in my pocket with a camera on it and decided to take some photos along the way.

Gandalf used to bolt under this bridge because the first time he went under it a train went over and freaked him out.

Those are cattle in the distance, standing in an area where the mist hadn’t yet burned off.  Aberdeen Angus, I think.  Shaggy ginger ones with really cute faces.

I don’t know much about photography but was always told the light should be behind – but I was trying to capture the heavy dew and the impressive network of spiders’ webs – and it could only be seen from this direction.  That fence has an electric current running through it to keep the cattle in the field.  The path gets quite narrow in places and poor Gandalf once touched it and hollered like hell.  I touched it myself and wondered why he’d made such a fuss – but I was wearing rubber soled shoes.  Gandalf’s hu-dad went along another day, took his shoes off and touched it, and his hand was stinging for hours.

These two guys wondered what the silly cow was staring at.

The foreground is mostly cobwebs and dew, the bit in the middle is the river and the sky has chemtrails.  (Oh, don’t start on about those again).

When I took the photos, Gandalf was either up to his ears in an interesting smell, or else marking ‘Gandalf woz ere’ on it – so I didn’t take any pictures of him by the river … but here he is back home; washed and fed and no longer smelling like a swamp.

Wishing everyone a peaceful Sunday,

Jules x

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: