Dog Training

Six weeks ago today, our cocker spaniel had three healthy puppies. For weeks, she fed them and cleaned up after them and rarely left their side. But now them have teeth, wagging tails and their own personalities. It feels as though, overnight they went from being dependent, immobile babies, to becoming mini dogs who are now pleased to see me when I get home from work and who are no longer satisfied to exist in the utility room. Their world has grown larger, as this last weekend they sampled life in the snug and the back garden too, now there is no turning back. They have met Joshua and their Dad, Kevin the jack russell, and have even come face to face with the cat, so they have experienced our whole family now.

Thank goodness human beings do not develop and become independent this quickly, as it already seems to have happened in the blink of an eye, that Joshua has turned 18 years old. The gestation period for puppies is just 9 weeks rather than 9 months and they are ready to leave their Mums from 8-10 weeks. While Ruby still feeds her pups as a snack, they are no longer reliant on her milk as they are enjoying solids. She is already happy to leave her brood alone,  so she is preparing them for an independent life without her. So the canine world appears to be much better at transition than I am, as it is the natural order of things. In the animal kingdom, if Joshua had been born into a pack, with his difficulties, he would not have survived. While we tend to nurture our weakest family members, the harsh rule of ‘the survival of the fittest’ in the wild, would definitely have worked against Joshua in the wild, as he would have been the runt of the litter.

We have often supported the underdog: I can remember when we bought our first cat from a pet shop, excited to have our first rented home together. In those days, pet shops were allowed to display kittens in the shop window and we spotted this black and white litter one weekend, while we were viewing rental properties in a new area. We found a small terraced house to rent in a village and one of our first purchases was a kitten. My husband went to work and was to collect the kitten, but rather than the feisty, boisterous one that we had chosen the week before, he came home with the small runt of the litter, saying ” Well, nobody else would want this one, so we have to take care of it!”. With love, feeding and encouragement, Harvey grew to be a strong cat who lived all of his 9 lives. Our first dog together, only had three legs, but he lived life to the full and was always ready to play. After he had been run over and the vet had removed his damaged leg,I would visit him at my mother in laws house, where he lived while I was at university. She was protecting and nursing him through his recovery, but he expected me to play stick with him, much to her horror, as he quickly adapted and bravely triumphed over adversity.

With hindsight therefore, I can see that perhaps through our early pets together, we were gaining valuable insight into our future outlook for parenting Joshua, more than ten years later.

Man’s Best Friend

It was a beatiful, warm morning first thing yesterday as it was time for my sister to return home so I drove her to the ferry terminal. Joshua was awake at 6.40 , it appeared that he was up mainly to say good bye to his Aunt, as he retired back to bed when we left and was still fast asleep when I returned 2 hours later. The morning sunshine was glorious and it turned out that was the best of the weather for us yesterday.

Other than that fond farewell first thing, we had a quiet day yesterday, spent mostly inside the cottage, just chilling and quite a lot of dozing too. It rained most of the day and so it was perfect to hunker down and stay dry, eating both lunch and tea at home. But the sun came out and the rain dried up towards the end of the afternoon and so we ventured out on a cliff path walk, with our two dogs and with Joshua in his wheelchair. Everywhere felt fresher after the rains and it was good to get some sea air in our lungs, to clear stuffy heads.

We had a ball tucked in the wheelchir pocket so when we arrived at an open stretch of grass, my husband began to throw the ball for Ruby, our 7 year old cocker spaniel and she enthsiastically chased after and retireved it. Joshua watched and enjoyed the game for a couple of throws, but he is no longer willing to just be a spectator! He stamped on his wheelchair footplates to gain attention, then he held out his hand for the ball. – there was no doubt what he wanted. Thereafter the game was his and he took turns at good overarm throws of the ball, sending a panting Ruby  running backwards and forwards around the park. Joshua delighted in this game and neither of them got bored of it, so long as I got the ball off Ruby then tossed it to Joshua. They were very companionable and both were very focussed on the game.

I know that therapy dogs exist and dogs that are trained to alert their owners to seizure activity or diabetic shock, but although Ruby has none of the speciliased training, she is very in tune with Joshua and his needs and they look out for each other in a sweet way. My husband was trying to brush Ruby later, an activity that she hates,and so she sought refuge on Joshua’s knee – it seemed that he was ‘den!’. I love the relationship that they have developed: she is my shadow and is always watching to see where I am, but she is also very caring towards Joshua and they clearly have a mutual love for each other and we would not be without her.

Special delivery

Earlier in the week I wrote about my being on the madness spectrum and my friends and family, rather than contradicting me, supported my theory and agreed with me. One of the examples that I gave was us having a household full of pets. the girlsWell yesterday kind of confirmed this state of mind to be a reality as my husband and I, once Joshua had gone off to school, took our four dogs to te vet for thier innoculations and we took two of our cats to be spayed. You can imagine that our entourage took over the surgery and although we had booked several appointments for all of the tasks, a large queue formed behind us and we proved to have all too short a date. It could only have been more chaotic if I had tackled the visit on my own and perhaps had taken Joshua along for added fun!

She examined the cats first and they went into the back room to await surgery. Then she examined the dogs, two at a time, and they were all laid back about the injections, micro-chipping and their wormer. I faced a large bill at the end of the visit and I called out goodbye to our ‘kittens’. About two hours later, I received a call at work to tell me that the girls had not been spayed as they were both pregnant! I was shocked as there have never been any signs of a tomcat around our home and I had not appreciated that they were that grown up! I let the news settle in and then told colleagues at work who were either highly amused or went into panic mode on my behalf. By the time that I collected them at lunchtime, I had adjusted to the idea that both cats were expecting a litter rather than coming home spayed. We have no idea who the father is or when they might give birth, so this is more unpredictability in our already pretty unpredictable lives  and more pets in our already over-crowded home, just for the time-being at least.

Joshua is more of a dog-man, he is not interested in cats at all and I have already begun the process of seeking out potential homes for who knows how many kittens, but I had even become excited about the new arrivals by the afternoon, thus proving my point.

The one where we love our pets

I have written before about the impact that Joshua’s pets have in his life and how much he loves our dogs in particular. But the main downside of having pets is the aching sadness that you feel when they die. Yesterday my sister’s family lost their 16 year old cat, Sooty, and they were all devastated. He had been unwell but even so, it was a shock and a real loss to their family. Much loved pets are indeed like members of the family and so their passing has to be mourned, as he had been in my niece’s life for most of her 22 years.

Joshua and I were already visiting his Aunt’s house, we had been invited for tea, but my sister gave me the sad news when I woke at 5.30. We agreed that we would still visit as we could empathize, having lost so many pets over the years, and also , oblivious Joshua would create a good distraction from the sad news. Joshua certainly played his part well as he was very giddy and excited to be at his Aunty’s house, he squealed with delighted and grinned constantly. We all sat in the conservatory and reminissed about Sooty’s exploits and Joshua kept touching his cousin’s  gently, trying to cheer her up perhaps and he gave out a lot of hugs too. He will not have understood what was going on but he will no doubt have picked up on the atmosphere and he did his best to reverse it.

Although we have both cats and dogs, Joshua is most definitely a dog-man , he is not that interested in cats and will only occasionally tolerate them sitting on his knee. He tends to pick them up by their heads, like a tennis ball I have always joked, and lift them off him! I am not sure if cats are too small for him to appreciate or too aloof for him, but he often cuddles and plays ball with the dogs and Joshua and Ruby, our cocker spaniel, have a very close bond. She does not seem to be able to predict Joshua’s seizures in advance, but she is very tuned into him during his seizures, she sits next to him as reassurance and will not leave his side, clearly sensing a problem and feeling a duty to protect him.

There was a fascinating TV programme on channel 4, where dog trainers find rescue dogs and train them to become assistance dogs for disabled people : I saw one episode last week when a dog was trained to wake up his owner with narcolepsy and to guard her if she were to collapse when out and about, until she came round again. The dog made her  feel safe enough to go out again and she re-gained her independence. It was a really uplifting programme and I am looking forward to seeing more episodes, possibly they will feature a dog that can forewarn its new owner of upcoming seizures or one that encourages an autistic child to speak and relate to others. I have no doubt that dogs are a good force in our lives.

I know that the pain of losing a long-standing pet is hard to bear, but they add so much to our lives that the positives certainly, in my view, outweigh the negatives and I certainly feel that a house is not a home unless it contains pets – but possibly three cats and 4 dogs could be considered over the top!


Back home with a bump

We spent most of yesterday in the car,catching a 1pm ferry , that got us back home at 7.30pm. Joshua obligingly slept all morning while we were cleaning and packing up. He even let me remove the duvet cover to take to the launderette, being happy to sleep under a bare duvet!  Collecting the dried bedding, was one of the last things that I did while my husband was packing up the car.We pulled away with my laden down with rubbish on my knee as the boot was too full and we had to do a small detour via the tip But we still arrived at the port with 11 minutes to spare before our ferry left, which is good going for us!

Joshua loves the ferry and we climbed right to the top deck as we had a dog with us – he wouldnt fit in the boot either! We sadly watched the island disappear and the mainland come into view. There was just time for a cup of tea with a sandwich, a quick stroll around the deck, and we had arrived and returned to the car, with Joshua enjoying the luxury of the front passenger seat and me scrunched in behind him.

I have always known that we were lucky to have such a patient passenger as Joshua, but he sat in the passenger seat – dozing, looking out of the window and eating – for six hours. He only started to complain in the last 20 minutes, when his legs were stiff, having Jim the dog sitting on them for so long. He was thrilled, as ever, to get home and headed straight to the piano where he played happily, while we unpacked the car.

I made us all a quick tea and then we found our cat, Star, sitting on the settee looking dazed and unable to walk. He rejected my offer of milk and so I called the Emergency Vet  and took him down there to be examined. She was very thorough with our floppy cat and was not sure of the reason for his symptoms, though suggested a variety of possible causes. I have left him there overnight to be re-hydrated on a drip and they will perform blood tests. So it was back to earth with a bump sadly, as I drove home in an empty car.

We are not protected from bad news or disasters, like falling trees or illness,  while we are on holiday anyway. Knowing we are taking a break, cannot prevent unfortunate events. Until we hear about Star, his diagnosis or treatment, it will be difficult to relax properly . Just feeling as though our home is not complete without our full set of animals, even if they do mainly live outside. Dreading hearing bad news, but we will deal with whatever the vet has to say and hopefully he will soon return.