Year of the Dog – March

It is now just over a week since we brought Faye home. What an amazing week it has been. The anticipation in the final days leading up to her arrival was not dissimilar to the final days of pregnancy. Are we ready? Are we going to feel like family? Are we going to break the dog? What if something awful happens? Have we read everything? Why? Is all the chocolate and alcohol where the dog can’t reach it? Is all the chocolate and alcohol where I can reach it? Who can we ask all of our remaining really silly questions? Will this be my last ever lie-in? The usual stuff.

Then came the trip last Tuesday, in snow showers, through black fen fields, under moving skies. We were glad the weather had not prevented us travelling. In the morning we met with the Brecks, Fens & Pens Christian writers’ group in West Norfolk. Then a quick bite to eat and off to meet Faye again, fill in paperwork, chat through logistics and ask all the remaining silly questions. Debbie at the King’s Lynn RGT centre was patient and thorough and made sure we knew what we were doing.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, tree, child, outdoor and nature

We left with Faye at around 1:30, back under the moving skies, through black fen fields and dodging more snow showers, in time for me to collect the children.

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It was necessary to stand up and look around at every roundabout

Faye has adapted well to living with us. She has whimpered a little in the first few days, and surprised us by barking a couple of times when there were people playing outside at the front, but is very relaxed and easy-going most of the time. I think she must realise she is part of the family now, and is also tentatively trying to become part of the furniture.

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Checking out the decal butterflies (this stops greyhounds bumping into windows)

Greyhounds love sofas; we have decided however to provide lots of alternative soft and snuggly spaces for Faye. That way, she can have a quiet spot under the stairs and a duvet which can be moved around to different rooms and we have the sofa to relax on without lots of dog hair or having to push her off. She has taken to lying straight on the floor and once or twice trying to sneak on to the sofa when no one is about. She can jump up there no problem, yet apparently isn’t able to jump up into the car. Perhaps she’s after the princess treatment. We’ll have to use treats and take her to lots of interesting places for walks to get her more excited about car travel I think. For now she enjoys spending most of her day asleep wherever she feels safe. Usually this is not far from me, which is wonderful, unless she has recently eaten tripe and got a bit windy. And no Faye, that is not funny.

When she is not snoozing, the next best thing is Going Outside, which Faye can tell might happen at the first sound of getting a coat on or picking up her lead. She adores walks, stopping to check out all the latest smells and wanting to say hello to all the other dogs (most of which are a little nervous of her, as she is still wearing a muzzle at this stage). Even in the snow she enjoyed getting outdoors as often as possible. I love walking her and getting the chance to introduce her to my own friends and people I’ve never met before. Lots of people ask to stroke her or what breed she is (part tiger?) and why she’s wearing a muzzle. The short answer to that is she has to wear one for a few months, while she learns about smaller dog breeds and birds. She’s been trained to race after small furry toys, so may not realise how to behave until we’ve retrained her. Hopefully in time we can trust her on walks without it.

It has been cold here, with snow on several days last week. On Saturday I forced the children off screens for a time to go outdoors and make memories, because that’s the sort of mean mummy I am. Joe helped make a snow-hound, which was great fun. He’d already picked up how Faye lies with one of her front legs folded and one stretched out in front.

Actually I amazed myself by getting creative making a gate sign. I decided I wanted a ‘dog’ notice on the garden gate, but didn’t want anything aggressive. I realised I could paint the shape of a greyhound using a printed outline, a pencil, a sharpie, a block of wood and some old tins of paint. I even drilled the holes and screwed it to the gate.

I’ll do another post on Faye next month at some point, but if there are any topics about greyhounds you want me to cover, do suggest them and I’ll get to those sooner.

Year of the Dog – February

Faye RGT

Meet fabulous Faye!

Faye is going to come and live with us, and we are utterly thrilled and excited. We are all counting down the days to bring her home.

Faye is a sweet four-year-old brindle greyhound, retired from racing and waiting for a home and a family. She is small as greyhounds go, quiet, walks well, has a lovely gentle character and behaves well with people. She used to race under her alter ego as Ferryforth Style in Crayford, winning nine times in 63 races. What’s lovely about rehoming greyhounds is that you can look up their racing history and pedigree back to the early nineteenth century on the greyhound data website (you have to create a login, but it is free). Some have video footage of races they have been in, although Faye doesn’t.

We have been preparing a lot more at home, including finishing her den space under the stairs and making the garden more secure and safe. The children have learned a lot more about caring for dogs and what they can and cannot do. The RSPCA had a helpful section in their advice booklet on adopting dogs:

We also had another valuable chance to spend time with a local greyhound called Turbo on Friday as it was half term break; we took him for a walk and chatted a lot with his family about practicalities. Getting familiar with the breed was something Matthew and I both felt strongly about, as we don’t want to make a mistake in homing a dog which isn’t well-suited to us.

On Saturday we revisited Debbie at the King’s Lynn Greyhound Trust to meet a couple more possible dogs. Each of us were nervous; I think I was as anxious and apprehensive as when I’d been overdue with each of the children. I was so keen to meet ‘our dog’, but also worried that a suitable dog wouldn’t be there for us and that we’d have to keep waiting. The dogs we thought we were going to see were a black and white girl called Kitty (now reserved), and a young fawn boy called Dave. We loved the look of Dave and spent time with him, but after chatting with Debbie, we realised we would not be ready to take him on. He is a gorgeous gold colour, has ridiculous ears which won’t behave and is a real character, but he is clumsy and silly and would need a lot of crating and a close eye. Here is a link to Dave, so that you can see how gorgeous he is. I do hope he finds his home soon.

Dave is just 2 years old and a real favourite with everyone. He is funny, clumsy and very affectionate. Dave really…

Posted by Greyhound Trust King's Lynn on Sunday, January 21, 2018

 

Instead, Debbie introduced us to Faye, who we had very briefly met last month when we first visited. I remembered looking in and apologising to Faye that we couldn’t take her last month, and wishing her a happy birthday. Lily has talked about her several times since. In fact, Faye was too bouncy when we first met her so we thought she was ruled out, but she has mellowed and is much calmer now. Lily fell for her completely.

Part of the reason I have long wanted a dog was to help children learn responsibilities and to enjoy the unconditional affection a dog can bring. Lily was a different person around Faye: happy, confident and buzzing. Faye relaxed with Lily, gave her attention and was not pushy or overbearing. Seeing Lily happy and feeling loved is marvellous; she can be sensitive and anxious a lot of the time. Where Lily struggles getting close to people, I wanted her to feel accepted and be able to get close to a pet. The character of the dog we chose had to work for us. As a result, the look was always going to be secondary. If I’m honest, I was not taken with brindle patterns at first, but as I got familiar with Faye and took her for a walk I realised she had an inner beauty that radiated, like the markings on her face. She carries herself with dignity and confidence and wears her coat with charm. Her colouring makes her look like a tiger or a tabby cat. Her eyes are deep and thoughtful, while some greyhounds often look somewhat vacant. She has great big feet and an impressively long back, with legs full of muscle and a tail full of joy.

I prayed silently as we thought through our options. Dave was gorgeous, but we weren’t really able to take him on. Faye was not the dog we thought we’d come to see, but she had won both Lily and Joe’s hearts, and was tugging at our own heart-strings too. A number of times along the journey, while perusing pages of retired racing greyhounds, God has clearly said to me ‘that’s not your dog’, when I’ve liked the look of one or other. And there are some stunners out there. I prayed about Faye. I prayed about Dave. Dave was not our dog. I let go. And then I felt the warmth of knowing that if we wanted Faye, God would bless her into our family. From that moment she became part of us.

Like the moment a child is born, a love switched on in my heart. The journey may be muddy and crazy and costly, and will involve pain as well as joy, but the journey is begun. It is exhilarating. It is still sinking in.

And God has a lot to teach us through caring for Faye, I am sure. It has already started. We have been looking at covenants in church and in the New Life lent book. When I studied Faye’s face I found evidence of two covenants right there. She has a rainbow over her eyes, like the rainbow sign of the covenant God made between himself and every living creature (Genesis 9). And she has a cross like an Ash Wednesday smudge, a sign of the covenant of new life, reminding me of mortality and of God’s grace. I think God knew what he was doing when he brought us to Faye.

It is still sinking in here, but in one week Matthew and I will actually go and adopt Faye, bring her home to keep an eye on what’s going on in the garden, to snooze under the stairs and to poke her long nose into anything of interest. How fabulous! Can’t wait to bring you home, Faye!

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We are new to owning dogs, and I will keep up this ‘year of the dog’ series to let you know how we get on and what we are learning along the way.

Year of the Dog – January

Apparently the Chinese Year of the Dog is going to start in February. I am not one for astrology (Chinese or any other flavour), but the idea of owning a dog – a real live, smelly, silly and always-happy-to-meet-you canine – has been growing in my mind for some years.

And this year is the year we are hoping to make it happen.

It began some time ago. We agreed to start small, and have owned guinea pigs for five and a half years. We lost Stripe, the last one, in December. He had had a lump on his liver and had given up. I was sadder than I thought I would be at losing him, and at the change in the daily routine. Now, we do still have a hamster who lives upstairs, but Lily is responsible for Humphrey and I just take a passing interest in his welfare.

So the time was right to ask ourselves if we were ready for a dog, and if it was the right course of action.

Not everyone loves dogs. Some people are allergic to dogs. Some people have had a traumatic experience of dogs, and some dogs are violent and dangerous. Some religions consider dogs dirty. These things are important to us. Dogs are also hard work, expensive, trouble, need lots of daily attention and will – almost certainly – die before we do, which we know will break our hearts. There are always lots of reasons not to have a dog.

But having children has been no walk in the park. Even off-leash. They are hard work, expensive, trouble, need lots of daily attention and will – almost certainly – leave home, just as they start getting really capable and mature. We know this will break our hearts too. I don’t know of people allergic to children, but I know of people who choose not to have them, or be around them. That’s fine. We bring our children with us to lots of places, but on occasion have been known to leave them with loving grandparents for a bit of well-earned respite and rest.

When we moved to Cambridgeshire, one of the items on the list for our new home had to be a dog-friendly location. Somewhere with space for walks. We found the dog-friendly home.

We knew that the garden had a large number of plants which are poisonous to dogs, so we removed them, and planted new species. We remodelled the back garden to make it safe for a dog.

We spent months investigating breeds and matching ideas to our personalities as a family. We are all fairly introverted a lot of the time, and wanted a low-energy dog which could lift our moods and be a companion while I write in the daytime. Eventually we realised the perfect breed for us was probably a rehomed greyhound. So we spent more months researching greyhounds, learning about the Retired Greyhound Trust, getting a feel for what we would be letting ourselves in for.

Image result for rich skipworth greyhound

Until Stripe the guinea pig died, we did not want to go and meet any dogs. But it wasn’t long after my trip to the vets that we were able to book a visit to the RGT King’s Lynn branch and meet a few dogs there, early this month. We went with a specific dog in mind, but spent two and a half hours questioning Debbie and asked four pages of A4 questions. We would have loved to have adopted the dog we met, but she wasn’t right for us in her temperament. We trusted Debbie and arranged our home visit.

When you adopt a retired greyhound, you need to have a home check to learn what may prevent you taking one in, and any adaptations you have to make. We had travelled a fair distance to King’s Lynn, so one of Debbie’s greyhound connections, Sara, paid us a visit, and declared that we passed with flying colours. We are now in the process of finishing the garden and creating an under-stairs den for our future dog. We have moved a few smaller items to new homes and found a well-sized desk top (from an actual desk, not a PC), which we had kept when the legs were damaged. We have started some rewiring and painting.

Today a greyhound and his lovely owner visited from a nearby village to explore our house and teach us more about what life would be like. Turbo was big. I knew greys can be big, and our downstairs seems big enough, but he certainly had a real Presence while he was here. He loved sniffing everything and exploring where he could lie down and rest, and spent a few mad seconds doing zoomies in the garden. It was wonderful.

If all goes to plan we should be able to adopt a greyhound which matches us well in the coming weeks or months. As we are going into the Year of the Dog, I thought I might as well start a blogging series and make monthly updates on the journey here.

 

Friday 500 -There was an old lady

Having been instructed in my youth in the ways of old ladies by well meaning toddler group leaders, records and my parents, and suspecting nevertheless that perhaps old ladies were less drawn to the overconsumption of animals which do not belong rightly in a food chain or stomach, and more likely to be well-armed with sass, omniscience and sheer capability in a surprising number of life skills, I considered rewriting the entire ode in a more positive light. I never got around to it until now, because nothing makes me concentrate better than an arbitrary deadline and the need to be heard on subjects of my choosing.

benchmates

There was an old lady who followed a spy

(I don’t know why she followed a spy; perhaps she’ll die).

 

There was an old lady who asked an insider;

She wanted to bug him, (or was it to spider?)

She asked the insider to follow the spy.

(I don’t know why she followed the spy; perhaps she’ll die).

 

There was an old lady who was shaken and stirred;

(She followed the herd – it wasn’t absurd),

She followed the herd to ask the insider,

She asked the insider to follow the spy.

(I don’t know why she followed that spy; perhaps she’ll die).

 

There was an old lady with a collar and hat,

(Some very dark glasses, a bag and a cat);

A collar and hat, to follow the herd,

She followed the herd to ask the insider,

She asked the insider to follow the spy.

(I still don’t know why she followed that spy; perhaps she’ll die).

 

There was an old lady who went the whole hog,

(With a specially trained dog – she went the whole hog);

She went the whole hog with a collar and hat,

A collar and hat, to follow the herd,

She followed the herd to ask the insider,

She asked the insider to follow the spy.

(I still don’t know why she followed that spy; perhaps she’ll die).

 

 

There was  an old lady who could read secret code,

(It was not highway code – she was crossing that road);

She read secret code to go the whole hog,

She went the whole hog with a collar and hat,

A collar and hat, to follow the herd,

She followed the herd to ask the insider,

She asked the insider to follow the spy.

(I still don’t know why she followed that spy; perhaps she’ll die).

 

 

There was an old lady who always knew how,

(She was double-O licensed to knit and ker-pow!)

She always knew how to read secret code,

She read secret code to go the whole hog,

She went the whole hog with a collar and hat,

A collar and hat, to follow the herd,

She followed the herd to ask the insider,

She asked the insider to follow the spy.

(I still don’t know why she followed that spy; perhaps she’ll die).

 

There was an old lady who would never use force,

She got him, of course!

 

 

Friday 500 -Wrestling with an Idea all Night

Because his wife had fallen for them, he had bought the two kittens. One a ginger tom, the second his smaller, scrawny grey-white tabby brother.

roof-kittens

And, because he was a writer and insisted on naming them, they became Esau and Jacob. So, when Esau began bringing home kills and expecting more attention, he found the humour and tickled his chin and forgot to chide him. And when Jacob tried to assert himself he laughed and let them chase and playfight under his feet in his messy writing den. Invariably Esau would end up with the reading chair, licking his tail and turning to stare, while Jakey rolled on his back and teased the curtain with his claws.

The nights were always the best time to write. The cats kept him company too, occasionally curling on his lap or nosing into empty mugs. Deep in the quiet dark, the rattling purr of a happy cat kept him going when the ideas were thin. His wife was far better than he was at the feeding and cleaning out, but he was the first to notice that Jakey had gone missing. Esau of course wasn’t for telling why. He’d always been that more aloof and hated sharing in any case. So when, one night in the winter, only four ginger paws crept into the warmth of the den, he looked over his glasses and scratched his head.

The ideas didn’t come so well that night. Even in the morning there was no sign of Jakey and the writer’s wife said she’d ask around.

There was nothing.

Missing Jakey impacted on him more than he thought it could. Esau grew fatter, and redder. The words he wrote each night weren’t funny any longer. The muse had gone and his imagination started playing tricks on him. Could he have been hit by a car? The nights were not as friendly, not as productive, sometimes even painful, so he considered stopping.

His wife encouraged him. They hadn’t heard anything or seen a body. Sometimes cats just go off wandering. Perhaps he should write about it. Or go for a walk. Or have a nice hot bowl of soup.

The soup was tempting.

It was some time later, during a night of slow words, that he heard the brawling, the breeowling, the hhhreow of the brother cats in the garden. The ideas he had been wrestling over for hours were gone in a moment as he rushed to open the back door, looking out to see exactly what was going on. Esau had his back to him. Jacob was there, alert, devious. Both were singing now, arching and staring at each other, tails flickering. Claws were out, paws extended. The writer stepped out, called out. A moment of contact, a chase, and then Jacob ran through the open door, straight into the den and on to the chair. It was his. He sat licking his hip as the writer returned with a chuckle and sat to write.