Saturday, 22 November 2014

My Four Legged Fur Babies

My other pets are more mainstream than Lady O.

My boy dog Buddy I brought from a farmer who’d bred his working sheepdogs and had a litter of seven pups – four male, three female. I made contact with the farm and spoke with his wife, having already decided that I wanted a male pup. She agreed I could go and view them the following day and when I got there she’d already separated the males from the females.

One male puppy was very keen to come and say hello, and was the first to walk over to Daddy P and myself and the first to climb up for a cuddle. We decided he was the one for us, as he’d effectively chosen us, and we paid for him and took him home that afternoon. He was the son of champion sheepdogs and he came from good stock, with a good background and was already fully house trained at eight weeks old. He came everywhere with me after that apart from work, and if Daddy P went to work then Buddy went with him (at the time, he worked in a kennels)
Buddy at 8 weeks old

At the time we shared a house with another couple and their two dogs. It was hectic at times having three dogs in the household, but on the whole it wasn't an issue. At times it became worse than others when they fought and after one unfortunate occasion we couldn't allow all three of them to be in the garden together.

We moved house to our own place in April 2007 and for a while our only pet was Buddy. Both Daddy P and I were working full time and he’d be left at home alone all day. We started thinking about getting another dog to be a companion for him. By that December I was working at a police station as a station clerk, and one of my duties was taking in stray dogs that members of the public had caught and handing them over to the dog warden. One evening in December two men brought in a small female dog. She was black and white and her markings appeared to be Border Collie, but she had curlier hair than any Border I’d ever seen and she was quite small, around the size Buddy had been as a six to eight month old puppy. The story was that these two guys had found her walking around in the road by a local Tesco store, but the police station most local to there had been shut so they’d continued down the road to the next town, and wound up handing her in at the police station I was working at. I took her in and contacted the dog warden. There was no answer, so I left a message. In the meantime, the dog was hungry and cold so I let her stay in the office with me and made her a bed of blankets from the kennel block and gave her a bowl of water and some dog biscuits (we always had bits and bobs about for when the police dogs dropped in and needed a rest) The kennels were good for daytime accommodation in the event of a police dog needing a rest but this was December, the conditions were freezing and snow was forecast for that night – I wasn't prepared to leave this small dog there overnight in case I returned in the morning and she hadn't made it.

I made the decision at the end of the night once the time came for me to lock up and the dog warden still hadn't called back, I made the sergeant on duty aware of my plans and left a second message with the dog warden – I took the stray home with me for the night, to return her the following day for the dog warden to collect.

We called her puppy that evening and Buddy wasn't best impressed. We kept her on a lead so she couldn't wander off and make Buddy all territorial. Overnight she slept in the bigger spare room – it had laminate floor so any accidents would be easily cleaned and I put down old blankets and some newspaper for her along with a bowl of water. She howled a lot to begin with but she soon settled down and slept.

The following day I returned her to the police station and the dog warden collected her. I’d already ascertained she had no chip, so I told the warden I was interested  in rehoming her if nobody came forward to claim her. She had seven days at the kennels before she would be put up for rehoming.

Seven days took us to 20th December when I rang the dog warden first thing and asked what had happened about the stray. They confirmed she was unspayed, unchipped and nobody had contacted them to claim her so she was up for adoption. I went to collect her after work that night. She had lost even more weight and due to the bad weather she’d been urinating in a wet run and then running and jumping around in it, so she was covered in urine and rainwater and stank to high heaven.

I got her home and we gave her a bath and some dinner. We kept her on a lead to start with until Buddy got used to her being around and then we allowed her to be free.

As it was so close to Christmas, the name Holly seemed apt, and it goes very well with Buddy!

Five days before Christmas 2007 we adopted Holly

So that was Christmas 2007, we’ve had the two furry hellhounds since. At times I could cheerfully run away from them screaming but at other times they’re affectionate, loving and essential members of our household.

Buddy and J play and run around together for ages. They’re the terrible two, and the pair of them are as mischievous as one another. Buddy is an old dog now bless him, but he still acts like a puppy, with his constant jumping and barking and wanting to play fetch all the time. He can be a grumpy old sod at times but that’s our Buddy for you.

Holly on the other hand has only just realised she can play with J – she was very wary of him as a baby and as a young child and has only just started to play tug of war with him and playing with him / asking him for tummy tickles. She is at least seven years old now but we’ve no idea exactly as we don’t know what happened to her before she arrived at the police station that cold December evening. She has some serious underlying issues but on the whole she’s a very affectionate dog, though she clearly isn’t pedigree Border Collie like Buddy as she’s never got to adult Border Collie size. I would say she is probably crossed with Springer Spaniel given her size and her corkscrew curls as well as her temperament.

Either way, neither of our dogs are particularly young anymore, and neither of them are perfect – but hey, neither are we. I did have some brilliant assistance with the both of them a couple of years ago from a lovely woman I know called Jacqui who provides TTouch Technique which I found very beneficial for both dogs. Unfortunately due to my own laziness the lessons weren’t kept up as they should have been after Jacqui’s original day with us, so bad habits slipped back in and now I’m back to square one and needing Jacqui’s guidance again! (hopefully I can arrange something with her soon, she’s absolutely brilliant at it and I would highly recommend TTouch as something that any owner should try if you’re having behavioural issues with your animal)

They're both such characters - Buddy is totally bonkers in his everyday behaviour, but he's very loyal and will shout very loudly at anyone who comes to our house. If I take him out with me he's absolutely devoted and protects me faithfully. He's a chunky boy for a Border Collie - they're usually more slender and sleek but he is a pet rather than a working dog. When I was heavily pregnant he would come and stand beside the bed and help me out of bed in the morning. When I got stuck on the sofas he'd come and stand as close as he could and allow me to grab hold of him then he'd help me up by walking away there, too.

Holly on the other hand although bonkers is a much more friendly bonkers. She's going crazy at the stranger at the door not because she wants to get him out of her house but because she's desperate to have a fuss. She's very much a mans dog, and if there is a selection of men available she's spoiled for choice but when there's only women around she becomes less fussy! Its because of her, and the way she was acting toward me, that made me do a pregnancy test when I found out I was expecting J. Holly had gone from being Daddy P's shadow to being mine, and not allowing me to do anything alone, which made my friend suspicious and she said to me I should do a test.

As much as they drive me bonkers my two dogs are such wonderful characters and I love them to pieces. I’m very proud of my four legged fur babies!

Love, Mummy P xxx

Friday, 21 November 2014

Also Mummy to a Bearded Dragon Baby!

I’ve never owned a reptile before – cats, dogs, rabbits and fish, but never a reptile, so when Lady O came into my life it truly was my first real experience with an animal of that nature.

Initially, when adopted, I was told that she was a he, and that he was coming up for two years old. He came in a glass vivarium with what was described as full ‘set up’ and he would need cabbage and waxworms to eat.

The bearded dragon and I – which I thought was a he – got along much better than I initially expected to. I hadn’t anticipated particularly liking this lizard all that much but after my first cuddle I was totally hooked. Honestly. I know a lot of people look at me a bit funny when I say that, and if you’re not into reptiles I do understand they’re not everybody’s cup of tea but honestly, from the first time I held Oscar I adored her (or him, as I thought at the time)

As I had no experience with caring for a Bearded Dragon, I decided to try and find someplace I could find good information to ensure my new housemate was happy. I found a brilliant Facebook page run by a team of experienced Bearded Dragon owners, and they’re fantastic. There’s so much information and they’re fabulous at helping newbie owners.

Unfortunately from their wealth of information I discovered my setup for Oscar was not a good one and despite apparently getting our beardie with full set up I realised that I had to replace basically everything.

Oscar was on wood chips upon arrival to me – loose substrates are not advised from the point of view of the ‘no risk’ group that I’m part of.  I’d been advised by my local pet shop ‘expert’ that I should swap the woodchips for playsand – another big ‘no no’ as far as ‘no risk’ goes. Loose substrates like woodchips and playsand can be ingested by the bearded dragon and cause impaction. I quickly removed the undesirable substrates and after consulting the recommendations replaced with tile, adding patches of fake grass and a piece of slate as alternative spaces for Oscar to enjoy.

It’s advised that a single beardie is housed in a vivarium no smaller than 4ft long in order to get the correct heat gradient and humidity levels. Oscar’s viv is 3ft long. Gradient can be an issue and humidity varies but remains below where it should be. I blame this also on the horrible mesh top of the vivarium rather than a solid top and air vents – now we’ve hit winter its easier to keep the humidity right because I’m drying my washing in the same room on airers next to the radiator which makes a difference. I am saving to replace with a decent viv but this will set me back in the region of £200 to kit it out fully so its taking me a while to put the pennies together!

It’s known that coiled UV lights can cause damage to the eyes of bearded dragons, yet Oscar’s viv was supplied with coils and described by the pet shop who sold it as ‘the perfect starter set up’ for a bearded dragon. Needless to say, while I’m sure most of us knew anyway that pet shops should not be trusted 100% for their animal knowledge as most of them are promoting one thing or another, please please speak to an experienced owner of any animal for full information – pet shops will sell you sets for bearded dragons and other reptiles that are completely unsuitable, and I have complained to one pet shop about the advice they are providing in their leaflet in store with regards to setting up a vivarium for a bearded dragon and what equipment they recommend is needed. This list of equipment includes a heat rock or heat mat, which is something that should never be added into a beardies viv because they cannot regulate temperature or feel the heat of such an item on their feet and bellies, so use of this could result in them burning and becoming seriously injured.

Somewhere to bask – After eating, a bearded dragon needs to bask under a heat lamp (for approximately 2 hours) in order to correctly digest their food. Oscar had a root in the vivarium to climb, but as it reaches the top it couldn’t be placed under the heat lamp as it would be too close to the bulb. I added two hides, one hollowed out piece of wood to go under the heat lamp and one to go in the grassy patch in the cool end. The one under the heat lamp she climbs on to bask at the recommended distance from the bulb – she sleeps under it at times as well.

Upon arrival with us, Oscar also had fake plant in the viv which I removed as the first few times Oscar tried going to the toilet it appeared to be very difficult and when it happened the first time there was blood and evidence that Oscar had been eating the plastic plant. Once we established a healthy eating routine for Oscar and everything was in order I put the plastic plant back in and she hasn’t eaten any of it since!

In August, the community page I’m on recommended getting tests done to make sure that there were no parasites before the dragon went into brumation. It turns out they do this hibernation of sorts, sleeping a varying amount in the winter months and requiring a slight change in care as a result.

Again, this was all new to me, but thanks to the page I managed to sort out the first set of tests which unfortunately showed parasites – again the page admin advised me on what my vet needed to know, so I got the medication for Oscar without an issue. It was at the vets that the question of whether Oscar was a boy or a girl was raised. It’s quite hard to tell with bearded dragons, and since I’d been told it was a boy dragon I hadn’t questioned it, but my vet said she was confident that it’s a girl dragon! I re-named her Lady Oscar, since it seems easier than changing her name completely and I refer to her as Lady O or Ozzy most of the time anyway. I also read up on a woman in history called Lady Oscar, and the name seems very appropriate for my bearded dragon! She is quite a character.

Today is the first time she’s been out from under her hide in over a week. As soon as she had a bit of a run around and a stretch out I gave her a nice bowl of fresh veg and a small amount of water which I dropped on her nose for her to lick. She’s basked a bit on top of the log for a while and now she’s climbed up her root so when Daddy P gets home she’ll have been awake and warming for long enough that I can take her upstairs for a bath. It’s important when they’ve been in brumation to ensure they’re hydrated before they go back to sleep again. I’m looking forward to some cuddles with her because it seems like much longer than a week that she’s been asleep I’ve really missed her!

Wrapped in a towel after a bath - How could you resist that cute little face?

Love, Mummy P xxx

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

A Dramatic Improvement

Since the Major Meltdown at my brother’s house over half term, I have noticed a dramatic improvement in J’s overall behaviour. I don’t know whether it’s because he had such a huge meltdown that he got it all out of his system for a while, or whether he took note of what his Uncle J said to him that day, but whatever the reason we have had a very good couple of weeks since then. He has had his moments, but nothing more extreme than what I would expect for a four year old, and the moments have been stressful but quickly brought under control.

I am still keeping a diary of his behaviour, as if it becomes an issue again I want a record of how long the calm lasted before the storm. I am confident though that if it does eventually turn out that he is on the AS he is high functioning and it shouldn’t have a massive effect on his everyday life. He seems to be controlling himself a lot better recently, and I’ve taught him steps to control himself by breathing deeply, not saying or doing anything until he has taken a deep breath and pushed out that breath while envisioning he is pushing out the anger and frustration he is feeling. It seems to be helping for those moments when he does get upset.

I hope that it continues – he’s happier, and I’m more relaxed.

Monday, 10 November 2014

October Half-Term Holiday

In an effort to keep J entertained this half-term (and therefore make half-term less stressful for all involved) I decided the best option was to keep him busy, so I decided we'd go to my parents. It also works out better for me, as it means I have someone there to look after J while I’m getting on with work – at home alone with him on half term while I’m trying to work is next to impossible as he is interrupting me every five minutes and it makes everything take ages longer than it should to get done.

He broke up from school on the Wednesday, and while he was at school I packed our things and got the car ready for a long journey. After collecting him from school, he got changed and we got in the car. Having done the trip many times before, I prepare thoroughly – he had a small lunch bag containing various Tupperware boxes with nibbles for the journey and two bottles of drink (I also take an empty bottle with me in case of emergencies!) He had his backpack containing his (fully charged) Leappad, a notebook and pencil case, a couple of toy cars and some Lego pieces. I picked up a very handy car organiser in Aldi a couple of weeks ago for £5 and in this I put other small bits and pieces which would help keep him entertained. For me, up front in the drivers seat for 113 miles, I had a thermos travel mug of coffee and a bottle of strawberry water along with a packet of sugar free mints. We got in the car and set off for the journey.

J is very good at car journeys – he always has been, right from when he was tiny. His first ever car journey was home from the hospital like most babies – it takes about 40 mins and he slept the whole way in his CabrioFix carseat. We travel this particular journey a few times a year, normally just J and I, and we stay with my parents for a few nights and visit family and friends we don’t often get to see.

The Queen Elizabeth II bridge - Image by

Our journey is by default 2 hours door to door, however there is normally some kind of hold up on the way making it longer. On the way there we encountered a silly man who failed to realise the person in front had braked by the toll booths at the Dartford crossing on the M25. Police were on scene but the two damaged vehicles, plus police cars, made a bottle neck style squeeze right before the toll booths to get off the Queen Elizabeth bridge which delayed us by about 40 minutes. J was brilliant the whole time, chattering away to his invisible friends (there are many – it varies who he has with him, but at that point it was constantly Emmett and Lucy from The Lego Movie) He was building with his Lego and pretending they were helping him, I had Radio 1 on the car radio and it was all very civilised and relaxed despite the hold ups. We arrived at mums later than planned, but it wasn’t a big deal and we ate dinner as soon as we arrived then J went to bed.

Our first full day there was Thursday, and I had to work – Once mum had been to the dentists and come home again, I disappeared upstairs to work in the loft room (my old bedroom – it’s always very surreal sitting there working) Mum kept J entertained and they had a great time. The following day I came downstairs for lunch and J played up as soon as I appeared – once I went back upstairs again he was fine. It’s weird how he gets like that when there’s more than one person about.

On Saturday we piled into the car with my dad, and we drove another few miles to visit my brother, his wife and their daughter. J is obsessed with his cousin R – he loves visiting them all, and when we’re there he wants to cuddle and kiss her all the time. The trouble is, R is not a particularly tactile little lady – yet – she’s only six months old and she’s unsure of us because she doesn’t see us very often, so she tends to be worried about J’s constant affection and seeking the reassurance of her mum and dad. Since J does get himself so over excited about visiting them he does tend to go off on the deep end a bit – he starts running around, getting louder and louder, and sillier and sillier. After some work checks I suggested we all went for a walk, so we got R in the pushchair and went out. J held onto the pushchair nicely and we went to see the planes nearby, but on the way home he started getting silly and didn’t want to hold hands to walk nicely. His Uncle J and myself ended up grabbing a hand each and almost dragging him along as he screamed about wanting to hold the pushchair again – we explained if he wanted to, he’d have to walk holding hands til we caught up with his Auntie E and the pushchair, but he continued screaming and struggling the whole way. By this point my dad was beginning to understand the difficulties I have with J as he’d never really witnessed much before and it’s difficult to explain to people in a way that they realise when you say you can’t do something it isn’t for lack of trying. J held onto the pushchair and walked nicely again. Then, for reasons best known to himself, he let go, and he raced off down the road.

The road is very quiet, but it’s a turning off a busy, fast road and while the chances of him coming to any harm in their road are remote, if he’d got as far as the main road and tripped over into it or raced out to cross it in his silly mood, it could have been disastrous. Fortunately my brother can shift when he puts his mind to it and he stopped J getting any further, then held his hand back to their house. Once there, J and I went into the back garden so he could carry on running around without causing damage to their home – for a while we had a great time.

One thing about J is that even if he’s boiling hot and red faced with sweat pouring off him, he won’t think to take his sweater off or pause for a drink and catch his breath, he’ll keep going. So as he started getting hotter and sweatier, Auntie E asked him to stop and take his sweater off and have a drink. He wanted to have a drink first, and went indoors for it. He then came to the backdoor with a mouthful of squash and spat it out onto the patio.

I was so upset. We’d had a big chat just a couple of days before travelling to mums house about him spitting. It certainly isn’t a habit he’s picked up from myself or Daddy P – I think it’s absolutely disgusting and I’ve been known to tell off friends of mine for doing it! There’s no reason for spitting and yet J for some reason has always gone through phases of doing it. (Last time was when he was about 3 and he would hang over the edge of the sofa in the front room and spit onto the floor, saying he couldn’t swallow the spit in his mouth because swallowing meant going uphill due to the position he was in) My brother told him off for spitting and asked him why he’d done it. At this point, J had a meltdown.

Whether it was because it was so unexpected having my brother tell him off, whether it was because he realised that Uncle J is a force to be reckoned with (he’s a mild mannered, laid back character, but he is a stubborn and strong willed man too) whether it was because he realised as soon as he’d done it what a big mistake it was and felt silly, I don’t know, but J literally went off on one. There were tears, screams, he was struggling to get away from Uncle J’s grip, kicking out at him, yelling, he was asking me to help him because he didn’t want Uncle J to have him, all sorts. Uncle J was calm and firm, kept repeating himself to J “Why did you spit? Tell me why and I’ll let you go” for ages all J kept doing was screaming no and mummy help and it took a long time to realise that wasn’t getting him anywhere so he eventually gave Uncle J a reason – that he’d taken too big a mouthful of squash. They had a chat about taking smaller sips of squash and not spitting.

The meltdown was a fairly impressive one, considering he’s never done it in front of J and E / at their house before. Usually his really spectacular behaviour is reserved for myself and Daddy P, sometimes in front of my parents and rarely in front of Grandma and Grandad P. I was really impressed with the way my brother reacted – he kept calm, he got down on the same level as J, he spoke calmly and firmly and repeated himself and provided reasoning and everything that you’re meant to do but which sometimes, when it’s the fifth or sixth time that day and I didn’t sleep too well the night before, the things I find so difficult to do. My dad started to get really concerned with the degree of meltdown after the calm-down time and the conversation, and then without warning J suddenly revved up again and was yelling and screaming. My brother wanted to explain to him why we didn’t spit (us civilised, well mannered human beings in developed countries) and J was done listening. This meltdown I was the one trying to hold onto him as he went beserk. He landed several punches, kicked me in the stomach (I was sat on the floor trying to wrap my arms and legs around him to stop him running off or hurting himself and he managed to get me several times and with a lot of force) He started pulling my hair to get me closer to him and smack me round the face or headbutt me. He grabbed my jumper and pulled at it to expose the skin on my neck and shoulder and then grabbed it with his hand and dug in his nails. At one point I tried to wrap my arm around him and control him and he grabbed two fingers of my right hand and bent them in opposite directions as he squealed in my ear. His transformation from Jekyll into Hyde was complete, and all in front of his Uncle J, who continued dealing remarkably well, but who was obviously surprised by this behaviour.

In total, not including the five minute breather after the incident and before part 2 of the meltdown, J was screaming / yelling for two hours. It started around three, just as his cousin R went up for her nap – it didn’t finish until twenty past five, when I said to him he’d wasted our time there and it was time to pack up and go. He was upset and started getting worked up about that – I told him if he hadn’t wasted all our time being silly and having a tantrum he could have done much more playing with Lego with Uncle J, more reading 10 Little Fishes with Auntie E, more watching In The Night Garden with cousin R. I eventually had to carry him, still screaming and yelling and kicking and hitting at me, to the car and put him into the carseat then wrestle the seatbelt around him. He continued for a short time but soon realised he was getting no further reaction from me or my dad, and he calmed down. Back at their house, he kicked up a fuss about dinner and refused to eat, so he ended up going to bed with hardly any dinner but he was so exhausted by that point after such a stressful day that he fell asleep exhausted relatively early. My dad couldn't believe it – he was in total shock about the behaviour. (More about that in a later post) I may have gone to the supermarket once he was asleep (with mum and dad at home with him, obvs) and got a bottle of vodka and I may have got a little drunk that night. It wasn’t a successful day – and more than a little challenging.

Sunday I woke feeling apprehensive. After the meltdown of the previous afternoon I wasn't sure how J was going to behave and I wasn't sure if he would still be in the frame of mind where he wanted to go home. I needn't have worried – he’d slept well and woken up in a good mood and gone downstairs with my mum. He didn't mention coming home again, and we had a lovely day. On Monday I worked in the loft room again – mum’s sister, my Aunt M, came round and spent the morning with mum and J. Once again at lunchtime I went downstairs and J immediately started acting up – Aunt M had to leave, J continued to tantrum throughout lunch so eventually mum left me with J. One thing we've found when J starts acting up is that it’s made worse by having more than one person there. If you’re left with him to get on, chances are he’ll come down and it’ll be fine pretty soon. Sure enough it worked and soon we swapped, so I could go back upstairs and carry on working and mum spent the afternoon with J.

On Tuesday I was off work but mum and dad both went to work. J and I had a lovely morning – we did some crafting (we made a book!) and we watched some Thomas and some Scooby Do. At lunchtime we were treated to a visit from an old friend of mine. A is not a parent, but she adores Star Wars and Lego and her and J are good friends. We spent a wonderful afternoon with her and then J had an early bath and was ready for bed by the time my mum got home from work – I headed out for the evening, leaving mum to babysit. Mum reported that he was absolutely fine and went to bed with no arguments *relief*

We made our return journey on Wednesday. Again I loaded the car carefully to make sure J was well entertained for the duration. Once more the Dartford crossing was stuffed and added almost an extra hour to our drive time but we made it and got home by mid afternoon. It had been a tiring but on the whole a lovely time with my parents. I’m sure they needed a rest from us as much as we needed to get back to our own home by the end of it!


Mummy P