Tuesday, 28 May 2013


Still here. Enjoying the sun and being outside doing outside things.

And calling. Always calling.

"It's entirely conceivable that life's splendour surrounds us all, and always in its complete fullness, accessible but veiled, beneath the surface, invisible, far away. But there it lies - not hostile, not reluctant, not deaf. If we call it by the right word, by the right name, then it comes. This is the essence of magic, which doesn't create but calls."

~ Franz Kafka

Monday, 13 May 2013

In which I am taught a lesson or two

It's hard not to write endless posts about Dooley because he's taking up a big chunk of my attention. As much as I adore him already, I've been holding back a bit because my experience is that it takes a few weeks for a dog to reveal him/her self to you (and many months before they start to feel at home and really be themselves). I already know that Dooley has a beautiful temperament around people - I mean beautiful - and that he's more than happy to live with Zoey. They've had their chances to fight and neither have taken them. I wouldn't say they're best friends yet, they largely ignore each other, but their interactions are all positive and hold great promise. I think we've seen all we need to see of how he is indoors. He's a gentle, loving little soul with a big heart. I'm not sensing any lurking surprises.

Who? Me?

Outdoors is a bit different. Outdoors he's all terrier with a huge prey drive. What started off as amusing as I saw him charging through hedges after squirrels, is less of a laughing matter when he's doing the same thing in pursuit of cows on the other side of a river. Or another dog who is just standing and waiting to say a friendly hello (no physical aggression from Dooley but a lot of barking and teeth-flashing, and with a different dog/person there could've been trouble).

I spent time awake during the night worrying that a dog with such a high prey drive couldn't live where we live. It's private land - managed by our Landlord - and open to the public, with lots of local families, children, dogs and horses about. It's farmland. There are cows and sheep everywhere. There are ways I could avoid these things: walking only at certain times and in certain places, keeping him on a lead more than I have but that soon takes a big chunk of enjoyment out of life for both human and dog and over time that can cause more problems. That's the dark place I was in at about 3 this morning.

Awake again at 5, I lay staring at the ceiling and looked at the story so far. Had anything hideous happened? No. Was he in trouble? No. Was I? No. Had pain been felt by anyone or anything at anytime? No. Had anyone been scared? Just me. Is there a good to excellent chance that working with Dooley to sharpen his focus on me while we are out, while allowing him to settle and relax in his new surroundings, will improve things? Hell yeah.

I have this thing that happens. I've written about it here many times. I hear voices, or rather, I know what was just said to me. It's as if I'm remembering the nanosecond that just passed, so soon after the event that it feels like the present. Sometimes I think it's an external voice; sometimes I think it's my intuition or my future self or my higher self. Sometimes it's not so much a voice as imparted knowledge. I'm not trying to get all mystical, it's just what happens, it's absolutely not 'just my thoughts' and it's reliable. It speaks/shares the truth.

This is what it told me:

"Stop it. Just stop it. This dog is your dog. He's your dog. You knew he was coming two years ago and you know that this is him. You know each other. He's here to walk with you on the next part of your path and you're here to walk with him on his. Do the work. Do the damn work. You will both learn so much more than you think. You'll both learn so much beyond the practical. This is a doorway. Now get your arse through it. This was never supposed to be easy because you have always flat out refused to learn from 'easy'.

P.S. That 'generous male who will inspire you to great things but may be a pain in the butt to work with', who appeared in your tarot reading? Did she say he had two legs?"

Chastened, out in the early sunshine I walked through a field next to one where sheep were still lying in dew-sodden grass, warming up. Dooley, temporarily on his lead, stared at them but we walked on. A safe distance away I unclipped him and in a split second he turned and was off. Across a field, straight under a gate and in amongst the sheep. I grabbed Zoey, put her lead on (she chases sheep too but is the size of a large sandwich and about as fast so it's less of an issue) and ran after the errant dog over a five bar gate and then a wire fence. Zoey followed me just as the electric charge went through it, zapping her on her head. She screamed and looked at me in disbelief, cowering away from me, convinced I'd just stabbed her. I scooped her up, covered her in kisses and turned to see Dooley flying around the field with the sheep (fairly unconvincingly, it must be said) running away from him. I was thankful for two things: it is a small field and there were no young lambs. Okay, three things...these sheep are used to extremely professional sheepdogs who ride quad bikes'n'shit (no really, they do) and can turn a couple of hundred sheep into a Busby Berkeley routine (ask your grandparents). Every now and then they'd stop and stare at Dooley with a,"Who the heck is this numpty? We can't work with this" expression. Meanwhile he'd turned and was chasing the other half of the flock in the other direction. My inner pessimist was by now expecting him to appear over the horizon with a bloody corpse hanging from his mouth. I was calling and calling, using all the things he'd responded to before but he was up wind and clearly couldn't hear a thing. As I yelled and ran I noticed that far from nipping at legs and trying for an early breakfast, he was charging into the middle of the flock and, when they slowed down, he'd turn and chase off after some sheep more prepared to run around a bit. He could've taken out several sheep but he didn't touch a single one. Finally he heard my voice, looked over, ran straight to me and sat squarely at my feet.

(Leaving the field on his lead, this time Dooley got zapped by the fence and also yelled out, cowering down in terror. He also thinks it was me that hurt him. Great. You've never seen two such heartbroken faces. Make that three.)

I don't take these things lightly. Dogs that worry sheep are a nuisance and it's against the law. I know the farmer here well and I think, as long as no harm was done, he'd give Dooley the benefit of the doubt once, maybe even twice but that's not the point. It's at best a fine-able offence to let your dog worry livestock and there have been cases where a farmer has shot a troublesome dog and not been prosecuted for it.


This is what the experience gave me: proof that although he loves to chase, really loves to chase, Dooley is not interested in hurting anyone. And when I can get his attention, he behaves exactly as I'd wish him to. I saw the truth of these things in a small, safe field with animals who were not remotely traumatised and nobody got hurt (even the fence gives a low enough charge for me to be able to hold it in my hand and not flinch). If I were so inclined, I might think that it was a pointed and practical demonstration of what I had been told earlier. I could dwell on the fact that throughout, I felt as if I were standing on the holodeck with no real danger. Learning that I should stop borrowing trouble and work with the great dog that Dooley is. "You want proof? Here's proof. Now get over yourself and stop being so bloody afraid."

I'm dusting off the clicker that's been sitting idle in The Drawer O'Doom, chopping up some tasty treats especially for training lessons and doing the damn work.

Friday, 10 May 2013


The XXXL Sweatshirt of Commitment falls almost to my knees, keeping me warm as, in the semi-darkness, I pull a pair of old jeans over my pyjama bottoms (what?) and tiptoe downstairs, hoping not to wake any humans. Being up and out this early is something I haven't done on a regular basis since the mid 80s. It's still fabulous now and I'm not thinking about winter. I only just stopped thinking about winter.

Dooley needs to spend some of the energy that threatens to jack-in-a-box out of him several times a day. After a night's sleep he has to run before breakfast. It does Zoey and me good too. I am a morning person who got too tired for mornings, so this is good therapy even if I am ready for bed at 9.30 most evenings. This is my natural rhythm.

At the foot of the stairs, I know now that I need to be ready to head out before I release the strange, grunting, yipping animal on the other side of the door, so wellies get pulled on along with my old parka; treats are packed into a pocket along with my phone and I grab two leads from the peg. I open the kitchen door and get Tigger-bounced into the garden.

Dooley is always so very glad to see me and even more gladderer to be going for a walk. If I hadn't already got his lead in my hand he would go and fetch it for me, and if it wasn't chain he'd chew through it in a split second just because he's so. EX. CITED. ZoZo is also excited but at considerably less feet above sea level.

At 6 AM there is no traffic but still I put them on leads because you just never know and besides, next door's cats and next next door's lone guinea fowl are often by the garden gate. Too much temptation plus a random motorcyclist, late for his morning shift and let's not think about that. Once across the lane I unclip them and we set out into the fields.

A path through the rapeseed.

This is not wilderness. This is not hiking up hillsides. I'd love it if it were but I love this too, this Wiltshire farmland. Half the fields are already bright yellow with rapeseed, the others are are full of sheep and lambs. Luckily, living where we do, I have access to fields where there are neither crops nor sheep.

It's fun having young dogs again. Dooley is an athlete outdoors, morphing Transformer-like into a tank whenever he scents a squirrel. Emerging from a hedge with bits of fence around his neck, and thorns sticking out of his face like he's Balacafalata. ZoZo the Fu Dog does her best to keep up, periodically attempting to goad him into play by hanging off his face and barking in his ear. So far he's not buying but he's not complaining either. The other day he walked up to her and licked her on the nose. He did, I saw it. She blushed.

When we get home I just hook her on a peg.

This dog is a dream. His temperament is rock solid around people and dogs - he clearly spent some of his young life in a family environment and a noisy, busy one at that because nothing phases him. He just needs to be in the middle of it. Sunbathing, if possible.

Soaking up some rays.

He is a little claustrophobic. Put a door, a gate, some bars between him and the rest of the world and he will take them out. Even if the other three sides around him offer an open path. Don't fence him in.

This fence is about to be Tiggered.

He is made of Tigger. Tigger with a bloody great cast-iron helmet on that knocks your nose off if you're not ready to twist away from his jumps.

He is a big, cuddly dope of an animal who holds a cushion in his front legs and rests his chin on it as he sleeps. Who rolls over in submission all the time, even though we don't need or ask him to. He has the Labrador soft mouth and will relinquish anything in it without any argument. His eyes are locked on all the time. I haven't lived with such intense scrutiny since Nell passed. He wants so very badly to know what you want him to do so he can show you he can do it and then you'll tell him he's a good boy and there might be a cuddle and then he can do it again and again.

He is a thief. We're used to having small dogs who can't reach much above chair level. This boy is just the right height to survey and empty your work surfaces and he does so at every opportunity. His instant reward is tasty food - he has a special fondness for soya margarine - so naturally he keeps doing it. This weekend I'm starting to do clicker training with him in the hope I can get past this well-ingrained and reinforced habit because it is not a good one. Apart from the loss of our food, there is a real possibility he'll jump up and put his paws on the hot stove.

He is handsome. He is 'tall, dark and forehead'. He is a real Hound of Love.


Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Back to the earth

And the world turns.

Jackson has moved from this life to the next and that day was both terrible and wonderful. He will always be with me and of course, I will find him again when my time comes, along with all other lost loves but still...the heartache.

I said goodbye, au revoir, here at home and buried Jackson in the garden, in a hole I dug myself. I held him while he moved into the next place, rocked him, cried, lay on the floor with him, wrapped him in my favourite shawl and smudged his little body. Lay him in the ground with toys, favourite things, a letter and some photos and, most importantly, the ashes of Nell and Casey. The three of them always belonged together. I mixed the earth with my tears, scooped it back in with my hands and sat for a while. Asked the cedar tree looming over us to watch out for this place.

How often do we get to do this with our human loved ones? Not often anymore. I never have. I found such comfort in doing things this way. I feel I did right by Jackson; I was respectful and loving and broken open and able to feel the flow as he moved from this song to the next. What a gift of love that sweet baby boy of mine gave me after nearly 15 years of many others.

And then, because that love doesn't contract, it grows and needs to be expressed, and because there are so many dogs out there who need a home and a chance, a space in a rescue away from death row, I went looking for someone new to bring to our home.

I knew certain things about this abstract dog already and needed to find the real one that fit. I came across a candidate at Lizzie's Barn Animal Sanctuary where we found Zoey. Many conversations with them led me to think we should give him a go. Fionna, who runs the place, is headed out of the country for six weeks today and while her husband is able to see to the day-to-day stuff, I wanted to talk more with her in person once I'd seen this boy (known as Jeeves at this point). I alerted the friend who does crazy dog runs with me, packed up Evie and Zoey in the car along with a crate for the new recruit, and set off for south Wales last Sunday.

Reader, I brought him home. He is known to us as Dooley and he is wonderful. Because he's been returned to the sanctuary before and it's been hard for Fionna to place him - for one thing, black dogs tend to get passed over and also he's half-Staffordshire Bull Terrier - she suggested a period of fostering. His microchip is still in their name, he is technically still their dog. We have him for a couple of months and if it goes well, we adopt him then.

I will write more about him in a separate post, he more than deserves it, but after three days he has not put a paw wrong. He's clearly a very sensitive soul with a beautiful energy about him and I can only imagine that living where he has been, with numerous other dogs all hyped-up beyond belief and sharing limited space, must have been incredibly difficult for him. His issues have centred around separation anxiety (maybe just about being left in kennels when he's so people-orientated) and over-excitement. Hyper behaviour all the time. Here, he has been the opposite. I look at him and I feel drowsy. I think he is mostly made of lavender.

Anyway, that's where we are today. May Day has brought sunshine and heat and focus shifting back to the garden. The Mill is full of young jackdaws and bees and we have toads and newts around the pond. There are birds everywhere - a rare thing these days, deer 'barking', foxes calling, owls swooping and the one-eyed magpie who appeared last week is still around, stealing next door's duck eggs but charming my socks off anyway.

The world turns. And where the walls are thin it brushes up against others sufficiently for you to be able to hear them. To hear sprightly Jack Russell paws racing around with a black cat in hot pursuit and a Corgi X laughing as she runs ahead on her whippet legs.

They are running towards love and so am I.