Saturday 14 November 2015

Snack time

Snack time!

Why do dogs always manage to look half-starved whenever food is in the offing?

Jenna and Roxy are always the first to show interest but Roxy is the only counter-surfing Labrador we have had. All the Dalmatians were inveterate thieves and we are tempted to give some credence to the theory of transference of souls as Roxy was born just three days before Frodo the Faller died.

To be fair, the dogs were called over by Susannah to be tempted at close quarters by peanut butter on toast.

Isambard, one of our Ocicats, is always to be found near one or other of the dogs. He does not like peanut butter but joined his friends anyway.

As the smallest – even Roxy, at not quite eight months old, is taller than her - Jenna is often to be found on hind legs, greying muzzle and questing nose searching for the hint of a sniff of a smell of food.

Eventually patience and perseverance were rewarded when the plate ‘fell’ to the floor – I believe it may have been after a nudge from Jenna’s nose.

Footnote: did you know that peanut butter is believed to promote shiny coats in dogs? Just the thought of peanut butter seems to have had the desired effect on our dogs!

Sunday 8 November 2015



House-training is defined in dictionaries as, among other things, Taming, Training, Disciplining, Domesticating, Schooling. I am immersed in the process and have been for some while as there are two young animals in the house. They are both at similar stages but I would suggest that the younger of the two is generally more reliable though still prone to occasional ‘accidents’.

‘Two young animals?’ I imagine you asking. ‘Why, yes,’ I reply, ‘Frankie and Roxy.’
Frankie with a favourite 'rocket' ice lolly
Roxy, Lolly (Bethan's dog) and Frankie last week
They are two young animals, just not of the same species. Frankie is a human animal and we will be celebrating his third birthday in three weeks’ time. Roxy is a chocolate Labrador and she will be eight months old in two weeks’ time.

There are advantages and disadvantages in the training of each of these animals. A young puppy, a ‘baby’ puppy, must be taken out to relieve itself after every meal and every time it wakes from its frequent sleeps. This includes the wee, small hours, a particularly inviting time to stumble from the comfort of one’s bed in the chilly pre-dawn or post-midnight to carry the warm, cuddly, licking, squeaky bundle of soft fur downstairs and outside. Small puppies need reassurance, encouragement and company and must be accompanied in all weathers. It is advisable to have them safely secured by a slip lead in case they disappear into the usually damp gloom of a shrubbery or a dark corner in an inaccessible part of the garden.

Even if you opt to confine your puppy to the ground floor, usually the kitchen, you will still have to get up in the middle of the night to let it out. If you don’t you will be greeted in the morning with a task that cannot be delayed, especially if the puppy has, shall we say, spread it around a bit . . .

When Roxy was a baby, not so very long ago, her night-time ventures coincided with the nocturnal visitations of our local rat population. These rodents, sleek, bold and well-fed (on fish food and bird cake), orchestrated the evening air with shrill squeaks and squeals. Our adult dogs would have had no truck with them but Roxy was simply curious, her head tilting from side to side as she attempted to catch sight of the creatures making such interesting noises.

However, a human baby is rather easier in that it can be enfolded in a nappy, at least the bits that leak so haphazardly. Certainly it must be kept as dry and comfortable as possible and when very new it requires food at irregular intervals throughout the day and predominantly, or so it seems to the sleep-deprived parents, through the night, As it grows, the intervals between feeds and nappy changes lengthen and parental dreams of periods of sleep longer than two hours may be realised. When it has entered toddlerhood the challenge of ‘potty-training’ arises. Talk at toddler groups centres on the relative success or failure of these still young and innocent human animals to master the whole messy business – and it can be very messy. Gone are the days of lifting your charge into the air to sniff its behind to ascertain whether a change is optional (wet) or essential (more than wet). Now the focus is on the manner of the toddler’s fidgeting punctuated with, ‘Do you want a pee/ poo? Oh, too late, never mind,’ as the third or fourth set of clothes of the morning are removed and replaced.

Now, there are certain problems that arise when toddlers and animals live together that may not present themselves in solely human homes. Roxy piddles on the floor, an accident that would have been avoided if we had only been paying attention. Frankie piddles on the floor – another accident that would have been avoided et cetera, et cetera.

It is not just in the matter of ‘hygiene training’ (how euphemistic can you get?) that toddlers copy pets. Frankie kneels on the floor and drinks from the cats’ and dogs’ communal two-gallon bucket of water – it’s fun and he enjoys it and the water is clean . . . isn’t it? On other occasions he climbs into Roxy’s indoor kennel (crate) to lie down on her bedding. It’s cosy, it’s comfortable and it’s got some really interesting toys in it and he can carry them in his mouth, just like she does. Out for a walk in the forest he copies Roxy and picks up a stick - and puts it in his mouth.

More worryingly, and this is why toddlers and animals should never be left unsupervised together, he gets down on all fours and pushes his head against hers. She’s a puppy, she loves it and responds like a puppy but puppies play roughly and have sharp teeth and so we intervene, Frankie is learning – and so is Roxy.

So, in the matter of house-training, Roxy and Frankie are making progress but it’s easier with puppies than humans, I think.  Nonetheless, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before I sit Roxy on the loo and put Frankie outside to relieve himself.

Sunday 14 June 2015

The Twenty-First Blog of Augustus Lazarus Cooke (Gus)

The Twenty-First Blog of Augustus Lazarus Cooke (Gus)

Hello everyone!

I see it has been more than a year since I last blogged and such a lot has happened in that time. Susannah and Frankie have settled in nicely and it’s good to have them here with us – more people to make a fuss of us J

The Humans tried to introduce Pats to the other cats but it didn’t work – Herschel and Isambard were fine but Jellicoe bullied her, the naughty boy. Us dogs like her well enough but I don’t think she’s all that keen on us – she likes a quiet life. Then Susannah brought in two Somali kittens and they really like the other cats and us. They’re brothers and they’re called Leonard and Solomon. (Editor’s note: Somalis are semi-long-haired Abyssinians. Leonard looks like a little lion and Solomon is like an Arctic fox) They spend a lot of time downstairs with everyone.

Leonard and Solomon

Soon after that Frodo had to leave us and we were all really sad. It felt strange not to have him around and we all still miss him. He was my hero.
A little while later some people came to sort out the garden and make it safe for Frankie to play in. Now there’s a fence all round the pond so he can’t fall in it. 
Today some other people are in the garden putting up a cat fence so that the cats can enjoy going outside like we do. They won’t be able to get out of the garden and other cats won’t be able to get in.

Lolly came to stay with us while Bethan and Robert went on holiday. It’s nice having her here to play with and she really likes going out for runs with us. She had been here a few days when something unexpected happened. On her birthday Susannah stayed at home with us while Mr and Mrs H went out all day. I was a bit unhappy ‘cos I don’t like them going out without me. I was really pleased when they came back – we all were – but we were surprised to see Mrs H carrying a little chocolate puppy.
She’s called Roxy and Jenna and Bertie and I thought she was just going to stay with us for a little while like Lolly. 

Lolly started playing with her but Roxy was a bit cheeky and Lolly had to tell her off. She screamed so loudly but there was nothing wrong with her. Then Bethan and Robert came back to collect Lolly. She was very happy to see them but we were sorry to see her go.

We expected that soon Roxy’s holiday would be over and she would be going home but she’s still here so I think she’s here for good. I had to reprimand her the other day ‘cos she got in my personal space. I wish the cats would tell her off ‘cos she chases them when she has the chance but they’ve never scratched or bitten anyone so I s’pose they never will. None of us have played with Roxy yet but we all like to sniff her when she’s asleep ‘cos really we’re very interested.

These days Mr H takes us out in the morning. He goes slowly on his bike and we run alongside. Mrs H walks us in the evening. We’re all pretty tired by the time we go to bed but it’s a good sort of tired.

What else is happening? Bethan’s coming home one day next week so that we can all see Lolly, especially Roxy. She’s going to have a baby soon – Bethan, that is, not Roxy (Editor’s note: in August) and Marnie is getting married soon (Editor’s note: in August)

I don’t think there’s anything else to report. Maybe things will be a little quieter round here for a while.

Be good.

Hwyl fawr am nawr! (That’s Welsh for ‘Goodbye for now!’)

Sunday 17 May 2015

Mag 270 – Metamorphosis failed
Artwork by Ulrike Bolenz

I awoke with a sense of anticipation that my new life was about to begin. Cautiously I lifted my head and contemplated my body but to my consternation it was unchanged apart from two excrescences on my shoulder blades – wings I think. What good were they? They would never be strong enough to lift me aloft. Sadly I realised I would never achieve fame – I was Franz Kafka’s failed first attempt at Metamorphosis.

Thanks to Tess for this prompt. To see the interpretations of others please click here.

Sunday 10 May 2015

Mag 269

In a post-apocalyptic world Mary knew that her beliefs would cause her trouble but her mission was to proselytise no matter what the consequences. She sang, she preached, she prayed, and always she was aware that she was being watched and that reports were being sent to the authorities.  

Came the day when she was arrested and found guilty, without recourse to common justice, of sedition. Her sentence, banishment to the outer reaches of the universe, did not seem so terrible, for she could continue her work there. It was not like the dreadful punishments suffered by earlier saints, for so she knew she would become. Not for her the excruciating torment of being burned alive, or of being lowered into boiling water. She was to be sent into space, suitably garbed – it would be hard never to breathe sweet fresh air, to feel the sun or breeze upon her skin but she would survive.

A short time into her journey she was informed that her life support system would be removed from her and she would be jettisoned into the outer darkness – an unimaginable end awaited her. She closed her eyes and prayed.

Thanks to Tess for this prompt. Go here to read others' offerings.

Wednesday 6 May 2015

The Entropy Gang's May 2015 blog

The Entropy Gang’s May 2015 blog (formerly Conservatory Cats’ Chats)

All change!

Herschel: It’s been very busy in and around our palace. First Paul and John came and took down the old garden fence and put up a new one. Then Paul came and put up new banisters. It was good to see the iron bars go.

Isambard: The THINKER and The MAID and Susannah took all the pictures off the walls and emptied many of the cupboards and packed up lots of things. Then Susannah painted the walls. They looked ever so much betterJ  

Jellicoe: After that some men came and took up all the flooring downstairs and put new boards down. They put new carpet on the stairs – it’s lovely for sharpening our claws. The HUMANS don’t like us doing that – I don’t know why.

Herschel: There is much talk of the Cat FENCE – rumour has it that The THINKER has decided to let someone else put it up. I hope he hurries up.

Isambard:  We were interested to see some men changing the GARDEN. They put a FENCE round the POND so that Frankie can’t fall in it. They also made a dry stream bed and laid nice fresh grass – we can’t wait to get our paws on.
garden, week one 
garden, week two 
garden, week three

Jellicoe: Susannah wanted us to make friends with Pats so she opened the door into her area so that we could go in and out. Herschel and Isambard were quite polite and happy but Pats doesn’t like me so I don’t like her.

Herschel: We were quite sure we could all be friends but Jellicoe wasn’t very nice to her – he bullied her so that’s why she doesn’t like him.

Isambard: The really interesting thing is that Susannah had kittens – well, not her exactly, but she brought two Somali kittens home one day. (Somalis are long-haired Abyssinians.) They’re brothers and they’re really fun. Herschel plays with them a lot.
Leonard, known as Lenny 
Solomon, sometimes called Solly 
Jellicoe: They spend a lot of time downstairs with us, bird-watching in the conservatory. At night they go to bed with Susannah though sometimes they end up with Bertie and us on The THINKER and The MAID’S bed. It’s quite crowded when we’re all there.

Herschel: A sad thing that happened was that Frodo, the spotted dog, has gone. We miss him because we liked cuddling up with him.

Isambard: We liked him because he had spots, like Herschel and me, and he was big and warm and gentle.

Jellicoe: I’ve got spots, too, on my tummy. Actually, we all had new spots, apart from Jenna, even the HUMANS.  Leonard and Solomon, the kittens, gave us ringworm. They didn’t mean to and we’re all better now.

Herschel: The THINKER and The MAID keep saying there will be a surprise soon.

Isambard: We know that Lolly is coming to stay for a few days when Bethan and Robert go on holiday so that can’t be the surprise.

Jellicoe: We can’t think what it will be. I hope we like it.

Sunday 19 April 2015

The Final Adventures of Frodo the Faller – a Trooper to the End

 The introduction of two beautiful Somali kittens to the Crowthorne Crew in February resulted also in the introduction of ringworm. It is not caused by worms but by a fungus belonging to the Tinea family. It creates intensely itchy spots which are very painful when scratched. Bertie and I seemed to be the worst affected but naturally Frodo had to share the experience. At the same time he had another outbreak of sarcoptic mange (canine scabies) on his shoulder, four months after the first attack.
He had also been experiencing recurrent stomach upsets. Courses of antibiotics and a change to an hypoallergenic diet helped – his appetite was unaffected – a greedy Dalmatian is greedy to the endJ

However, it was clear that he was slowly deteriorating. His system seemed to be breaking down and each new problem or setback took him longer to overcome. He began to sleep longer and longer, sometimes as long as eighteen hours, and each time I hoped and prayed he would quietly slip away but he wouldn’t. The mange on his shoulder broke down within two weeks into a wound that refused to heal, despite antibiotics, and it was clear that he would soon be in a great deal of pain if it were left to attack the underlying tissues and expose the bone. So, with great sadness, we let him go. We were comforted by the knowledge that he had spent so much time with the vets that he was never afraid of visiting them and so his final moments were with people he trusted and who loved him.

Frodo was hard work when he first came home with us at five months old. He liked all our family dogs but any unknown dogs were a challenge and he would always make the first aggressive advance. Even in his (short!) show career he would attempt to take lumps out of other dogs as he galloped past them. For that reason and also because he never really liked shows we stopped subjecting him to them. In any case, the small rings at dog shows don’t really allow dogs to show their full potential. There is nothing finer than seeing a healthy animal at full stretch in the countryside.

Eventually Frodo learnt to be more trusting and in his final years he bore the attentions of puppies and other dogs with grace. He was such a special dog – he had so many problems but he bore them all with stoic determination. He was my Velcro dog, never happier than when he had me in his sight. Indeed, when we went walking together he checked on me every few seconds. Sometimes I would hide from him and he would rush back, a concerned expression on his face. His relief when he ‘found’ me was palpable. He was gentle with small children, the other dogs and the cats. Anyone could steal his food from his bowl as he ate and he wouldn’t murmur, quite unlike his Labrador companions! He was the top dog but never lorded it over the others. If he wanted a particular bed he would loom over the occupant until he or she moved. Naturally the cats refused to move and so he would climb in and lie down on them. They moved then!

Like all Dalmatians (or was it just ours?) he was an inveterate thief and we had to hang the rubbish out of his reach as normal bins were no defence against his raids. The medication he took twice daily to try and control his epileptic seizures made him ravenous, constantly seeking food, not always from an appropriate source. He started to eat Frankie’s books because they had miniscule applications of food on them – toddlers are so apt to deposit tasty morsels everywhere! His tablets also caused him to ‘leak’ and thus he wore wraps or ‘loin cloths’ which added to his dignity rather than diminishing it. He was much admired, even in old age, in the forest, my elegant, loping boy. In latter months he wore a harness which enabled us to lift him if he got stuck somewhere as occasionally his hind legs let him down and he couldn’t extricate himself from whichever flower tub or bush that had trapped him.

He taught us such a lot. We learnt how to comfort him after he had had a seizure and was unaware of his surroundings – how frightening that must be. We learnt how to lift him into the car for the journey to the forest where he loved to walk. We learnt to be patient when he had ‘accidents’ in the house because he couldn’t move fast enough to reach the door. He was a fastidious dog and hated to be dirty.

We miss him – it’s only been four weeks – and I have not yet broken the night-time listening habit that developed after his seizures began, ten years ago. I am sure Bertie misses him, too, for he spends much time wanting reassurance from us.

So ends thirty years of Dalmatian companions. I think we shall not have another – all four of ours had different health problems, though the first, Cariadd, was the strongest and the longest-lived.

Our last walk together . . . 

 Frodo was fun, a character and a wonderful companion. He gave such love, such trust. Sleep well, my boy, in starlight.

 Frodo - Washakie Lord of the Rings: 06.12. 2001 - 23.03.2015