About becausemilly

Heartbroken doggie mummy (& elite dog-avoiding ninja turned storyteller)

Never in trouble

Another long delay, another two weeks since I last published a blog and probably another late night on the cards as I try to write something meaningful.

Although I have been pretty busy life-wise, and getting back involved with things that I’ve been avoiding for a few months, I think there might be more to it than that. I’ve still got so much to say and so many stories to share, so it isn’t that I’ve run out of content.

Typical Heather style, I’ve spent time inwardly pondering and analysing, and trying to work out how I feel, what I am doing (or not doing) and most importantly, whether or not I can put my finger why.

Yesterday something hit me and a firm thought clicked into place. The thought is still there today so having applied the “sleep on it” rule I’m now running with it.


The trigger yesterday was completely unexpected, and completely innocent, but it took my breath away.

Bearing in mind I am looking through photos every day, sharing one of my “Remember a Day Every Day” memories and interacting with my new social media buddies (I’m up to day 97, and have 292 followers on Instagram now), Milly is still never ever far from my mind.

Yesterday morning we had a team meeting, via video conference, with some of our colleagues in India. Since we last met there have been some new joiners to the team, so we spent of the first part on the session doing a “get to know”. We follow a great format, derived from one of the company’s branded campaigns, that shares a series of snippets such as childhood ambition, proudest moment, favourite movie.. you get the gist. I did my own intro last year (a photo edition!) that unsurprisingly heavily featured my canine sidekick. Well yesterday it was someone else’s fondest memory that knocked me sideways… “the way my dog used to greet me when I used to reach home. As if I am the most fantastic person on this whole earth”. I confess I didn’t even hear the second sentence at the time (had to re-read it!) because just the word DOG took the wind out of me. My breath got caught and tears stung the back of my eyes, which didn’t go unnoticed to one colleague in the room even though I was sitting behind everyone else.

I tried my best to concentrate for the rest of the meeting, but I was relieved to get out of the room seek some quiet solace to gather my thoughts.


So hard to make sense of this, but I can’t really put my finger on exactly what the emotion is.. yes I feel sad. Sad that she isn’t here anymore. Sad that I won’t see her again in this life. Sad that she went so suddenly and so quickly. But “sad” doesn’t reduce you to tears in a team meeting…
What I feel is just INTENSE. Overpowering emotion that makes my throat constrict

Day to day I’m not feeling this way. Day to day I function normally, I am engaged, I am enjoying things, I am connected with people, I am caring for people. I’d go as far as to say I’m happy. I’m certainly not “unhappy”. But – quoting something I managed to pose to another colleague a few weeks ago – just because you are grieving it doesn’t mean you can’t be happy in a moment, and just because you are happy and ok in a moment it doesn’t mean you aren’t grieving and aren’t missing someone.

It’s now been over 5 months since that awful day, since my life changed forever.

I knew it was only a matter of time before I returned to some normal function. I knew I would become interested in things again, and find some focus for work and other things that have always been so important in my life alongside Milly. Being frank, losing her was a massive blow to my mental health. A huge wave that rocked the boat, threw me into feeling anxious and overwhelmed, demotivated and low. Sad – of course – but sad is a pretty simple emotion, and what I felt was so much more complex than that. Thankfully, for my sake and everyone else’s around me, I’ve ridden it out and managed to find a mostly even keel without totally letting anything disastrous happen whilst I’ve had my eye off the ball.

What I was also expecting, as well as feeling “normal” for more of the time and having less moments, was that the intensity of my emotion would lessen over time too.
Well – given yesterday’s incident – I think we can agree that that hasn’t happened yet.
The emotion hit me as brutally and as painfully as if it was still February.



My totally unqualified assessment of the situation is this:

Grief is a massive black cloud, and right at the centre is a huge rainstorm.

In the immediate aftermath, and in the early days of my grief, I was standing in the rain. I was soaked to the skin, and quite frankly couldn’t have cared less. I needed to be there. I needed to feel it. If someone asked me I told them that it was raining like I had never known. The intense rain clogged my thoughts, drowned my motivation, and made everything a bit of a struggle. But I needed to let it happen, to go through the process, and to feel whatever it was that I needed to feel.

Five months on I am no longer standing in the rain. I have good stuff around me, I have life and happy times ahead of me, and I am present again. The black cloud of grief is still there above me – it probably will never leave – but it isn’t negatively impacting my every day existence.

What I have now realised is that it is still raining torrentially in the centre of that cloud. I think the change in how I’ve been feeling over the past 6 weeks or so has tricked me into thinking it isn’t raining, or at least it isn’t raining as hard. But I’ve read that wrong. What has actually happened is just that I have stepped out of the centre of that cloud, and out of the rain.
I now know that the reason I’ve stayed dry is because I’ve been putting a huge amount of energy into staying out of the rain, but in reality I’m barely one step ahead and the rain can still catch me out at any moment, and when I least expect it to.
So to me, that explains why I got a metaphorical soaking yesterday.

Generally I like to understand and recognise things, so having drawn that conclusion yesterday I feel considerably better about crying at work (again).


Also – typically me – not satisfied with just that understanding, I’ve tried to work out why I haven’t done some other things and why I haven’t been blogging as much.

I’m scared.

Scared of how strong my emotions still are and scared that if I take my focus away from staying busy, and staying “dry”, I’ll slip backwards.

Some of the things I want to do – such a writing to the specialist behavioural Vet and the RSPCA – I have delayed and delayed because doing that will feel very final and even though I have accepted Milly has gone, I still don’t like the feeling of finality of telling some more key people, and I’m scared of how I will feel afterwards.

I’m also scared because the blog is a big part of my journey, part of my grieving and my healing, but only one is progressing well…the blog… and the healing doesn’t seem to be going at the same pace. I’m scared that I will run out of blog before I’m ready to move forward in the world without it.

I’m scared of being judged – and I know I shouldn’t care but I do. I think there is a genuine expectation that I should be “ok” by now. And – on a pretty superficial level – I am ok! I am probably more than ok.. I’m eating well, training hard, doing better at work, making plans, smiling again. Other than desperately needing a haircut (really weird Milly related thing that I can’t seem to overcome) I look ok now too. For a lot of weeks my grief was written all over my face.
So when people ask me how I am doing I say “good” – because most people are asking on a superficial level.
But somehow some people warrant more explanation than that. So how do I explain that day to day I am basically fine, but under the surface I really am not fine, and currently have no idea when I will be? I guess that is what this blog post is going to do.. and anyone who reads it might hopefully understand why I can laugh and smile and enjoy a movie, but if you ask me if I’m going to get another dog now I have to try very hard to ward off an anxiety attack.

So. I think there is a large chunk of fear that is holding back my writing, on top of channelling the majority of my energy into essential life functions and being “ok”.


Not going to lie, I feel a little bit vulnerable putting that lot out there in print. But I promised to be honest, and that is honestly where I am at right now. Plus if articulating how I feel helps one other person on the planet know that they are not alone in their feelings of grief, then it is worth exposing those very personal innermost thoughts.


I only intended to write a quick paragraph on myself and my current state before launching into another Milly story (which I think is why most of you are reading along). Sorry about that.

As it is getting late in the day I will close out with just a little bit of Milly, with a promise that the next major instalment of our journey will follow shortly.


Despite all of her challenges and anxieties outside, Milly was absolutely perfect in the house.

She didn’t bark at the postman or the dustman or when the telephone rang. If there was a knock at the door she would rush to it but only because she wanted to say hello to whoever was knocking. She didn’t jump up at visitors (apart from putting her paws up on invitation to hug my dad). She didn’t lick or slobber. She didn’t climb all over you or your guests on the sofa. She didn’t actually “beg” in a badly behaved way. She didn’t raid the bin. She didn’t eat the chocolates off the Christmas tree. She knew where her bedtime biscuits were – open packet on the dressing table – but never once helped herself. She didn’t chew, she didn’t steal, she didn’t hide stuff. She didn’t bite your ankles when you were trying to leave the house, or attack the hoover on cleaning day.
She was literally perfectly behaved and I totally took it for granted.

Milly has set an incredibly high benchmark with her impeccably polite behaviour. Although it feels unthinkable right now, I know that I may have to go through a very steep learning curve when another dog comes to live in our home!


I can count on three fingers the naughty things that Milly has done.

There was one occasion when I was sitting at the computer desk, munching bourbon creams. Throwback to my childhood but I still eat bourbons by 1. splitting them open 2. eating the first half of biscuit 3. eating the cream 4. eating the second half of the biscuit. If am having more than one (always!) then I will split them all open, eat all the first halves, then eat all the cream inners etc. On this one particular afternoon I was having four, and had successfully completed steps 1 and 2, lining up the half biscuits on the desk ready for step 3, when Matt called me outside. Thinking nothing of it, I went outside to give him a hand.

I returned to the desk a few minutes later and it took me a moment to remember that I had been eating biscuits! Where were they? Had I eaten them all? I was sure I hadn’t….? And then I turned to look at this innocent little face looking back at me. There was nothing about her that looked guilty, and knowing how good she was, I didn’t believe she had taken them. But then I saw the tiny specks of biscuit crumbs stuck to her little whiskers, and the game was up! I couldn’t help but laugh to be honest. It was too late to reprimand her – I hadn’t caught her in the act – and I have to take some of the blame because it really was just a temptation too far. Had it been the other way round I’m pretty sure I would’ve stolen some unattended bourbon creams, especially if someone had already snapped off the boring bits.

The second incident in the memory bank involved half tuna sandwich. it belonged to Sophie and was on a plate on the coffee table. She stepped outside for 30 seconds to take something off me over the fence and Milly gobbled up the lonely sanger. It was SO unlike her, and so out of character, I think we just laughed at her cuteness.

The only act that we caught her in, and so told her off for, was on Boxing Day 2009. After a massive roast dinner we retired to the front room to lounge in front of the fire. I came out into the kitchen to find Milly standing over the remains of the chicken, filling her little boots. It had been on the kitchen side awaiting further carving, and again had obviously been a temptation too far. Telling her off consisted of one single word. BED. Delivered calmly and sternly, but at normal volume and with a single finger pointing to her bed. The half eaten chicken was disposed of and, ignoring Milly, we quietly returned to the living room. A short while later I came out to find Milly laying in the dining room outside Sophie’s (closed) bedroom door. She was laying in a puddle of weewees. My heart literally breaks remembering this. I felt AWFUL. I knew I hadn’t shouted and ranted, and had disciplined her firmly but fairly, but to think that she was so distressed by it that she had an accident actually hurts my bones 😦


Other than that one chicken issue, I can put my hand on my heart and say that Milly was never in trouble. Although sometimes cheeky (bourbons and that tuna sandwich!) she was never naughty and so never needed to be told off. She was only ever “shut out” if we had to have the through doors open to ferry things in and out. When people came in I always used to ask if they were ok with dogs but merely out of politeness so they weren’t shocked by her presence on the other side of the door. All she wanted was to gently greet you with a sniff and hope for a scratch behind the ears in return. Even people who “don’t like dogs” loved Milly, because she was so gentle and sweet natured. She was never excluded or kept away.

Milly was part of our family but she was the heart of our family, and I can safely say that she was loved and cherished every single one of the three thousand and twenty nine days that she was in our lives.

because Milly… xxx

Thunderation!

Courtesy of modern technology, and despite repeatedly turning off location settings on my phone, I received an uninvited weather alert whilst I was at work yesterday morning.

As it was, it turned out to be completely inaccurate, which isn’t really unexpected because it often feels like you can never actually trust the forecast anyways. Yellow warning for thunderstorms was the notification received. Yesterday I just shrugged and thought “oh right, didn’t bring a coat, nevermind” but dial back a few years and this message would’ve received a different reaction.

In addition to her dog-phobia and generally high levels of anxiety it probably won’t surprise you to learn that Milly was also noise sensitive.

The Kenwood mixer and SDS drill were among her least favourite noises, as well as the more traditional triggers of fireworks and, of course, thunder. As such, a forecast for thunderstorms could not have been ignored. So on receiving a text like I got this morning, I would’ve implemented my own little version of a crisis response.

Starting with, where was Milly? (Remember she used to go to my parents pretty frequently back then) If she was at home the second question was where was everyone else and when would they be home? Number one choice was always for me to just go home and work from there, because that was a pretty easy, but if for some reason that wasn’t an option there may have been calls to my parents to go down, to Jamie to go home at lunchtime, to Jean and John next door-but-two to pop in, or to Matt’s mum to check up on her. Yesterday there were no such questions and no phonecalls, but my cogs were whirring and my brain was remembering…


Like everything, noise sensitivity is individual, and the reaction differs from dog to dog. The mixer just prompted Milly to retreat to the other room, the drill was mostly the same but could also trigger frantic digging at the carpet. Thunder and fireworks brought about the most extreme reaction.. pacing, panting, barking, hiding, digging and – basically – what I would describe as “considerable distress”.


When I was growing up, fireworks were reserved for organised displays on 5th November and on the TV over Big Ben on New Year’s Eve. Now however, in 2018, we seem to have to endure fireworks every weekend from mid-October to mid-November, and with them being so easily available – like in Tesco when you pop in for a loaf – all and everyone seems to go in for back garden fireworks.

I’m not against fireworks, but I am against causing unnecessary distress to people or animals just for the sake of it, and so am wholly supportive of the campaign for noise-free fireworks. When you’ve seen your beloved pet in an absolutely state hiding under the bed and scratching at the carpet like her life depends on it, all because someone wants to watch a few whizz bangs, it kinda changes your perspective. And it’s not only pets that can suffer such mental anguish. Pretty timely as our US friends close out their Independence Day celebrations, but fireworks can have a very negative impact on those suffering from PTSD like veterans and survivors of terrible attacks.

For some people and for some dogs, everyday life can be struggle enough, without throwing in this sort of extreme stimulus. So it’s a no from me.

Thankfully fireworks, whilst sometimes unexpected (e.g. at teatime, on a Tuesday, in October), are pretty much guaranteed to have an end point. And other than on NYE, they are usually not too late in the evening, so it’s pretty easy to draw the curtains, whack up the stereo and have a disco for 2 in order to mask the noise.



Thunder, on the other hand, is a bit of a different beast. Eliciting the same suffering and, for Milly, the same very physical response, but decidedly less predictable.

Our first significant thunderstorm experience was during the night, and with Milly pacing, barking and unable to settle there was zero chance of me settling either. There was also no “comforting” her either. Not that you are supposed to do that anyway – apparently that can act to reinforce that there is something to be worried about.

Alas there was nothing for it but to get up with her. So into the lounge we went. Curtains drawn, lights on, Tragic FM (as Bridget called it) playing through the TV, I fashioned up a little floor den with a spare duvet and some blankets between the sofas.

Eventually Milly settled down, and the thunder stopped, and we both fell asleep. On waking in the morning she showed no ill-effects from the disturbed slumber, and luckily had nothing in her diary other than a day on the sofa, so catching up with any lost sleep was no drama. In stark contrast, I could barely move where I’d nodded off in a seriously awkward position on my side on the carpet and was completely knackered. Facing a day in the office my only option was to slap on a load of concealer and hope that the storm was for one night only!

Over the years we had a number of similar nights, and I got pretty well practiced at den building, remembering to pull the sofa cushions onto the floor as a starting point to give some padding to my poor hip bones.


As well as helping us with T-Touch Jacqui also introduced us to the awesome invention of the “Thundershirt” – google it for more details – but in short, it is a very snug dog jacket that works to promote calm, similar to the effect of swaddling a baby. Originally developed to help with Thunder and fireworks, it is now recognised to help in all sorts of different anxiety situations. I know what you might be thinking… “as IF”. but I promise you IT WORKS. On wrapping her cosily in her Thundershirt, Milly immediately changed into a calmer state.

It became a staple in our toolkit. For a long time she wore it on walks and when travelling in the car.  We also combined it with a loose fitting elastic strap across her nose – another recognised calming technique.


The Thundershirt alone didn’t “solve” Milly’s anxiety issues, but in conjunction with all of our other training and techniques, it definitely helped.  So at the first sign of fireworks or thunder I’d whip it on her, as well as implementing the usual noise blocking and light shielding measures.

 


Interestingly, we discovered that Milly could tolerate thunder during the day without batting an eyelid. One afternoon when my parents were here (doing DIY for us if I recall) a storm came over and according to their eye-witness reports, which I consider to be wholly reliable 😉 , she was completely unperturbed. This new information changed the criticality of my emergency action plan, although it was still my preference to get home if I could… “just in case”.


Summer 2017 brought a couple of stormy nights, and these are my most recent thunder memories. Although still aware of the noise, and still not entirely comfortable, there is no question that her reactivity had significantly reduced by this point.

The living room den was no longer required but Milly was still looking for a safe space when thunder struck at 2:43am.  Given the clutter under the bed, her immediate choice was to head for the tiny gap between the mattress and the headboard.

But that was never going to work!

So after a quick reorganisation of some underbed storage (launch it out of the room onto the dining table) and the laying out of a special pad in case of accidents, by 2:50am she was safely under cover, although looking rather worried.

Eventually my baby girl was content with settling herself under my bed in her Thundershirt and by 4:51am normal nocturnal activities had resumed.

 

I really want to attribute this to the dialing down of her general anxiety level as a result of all of my mega efforts at rehabilitation, and so give myself some congratulations.

I probably am entitled to part of the recognition, but being realistic I know there is probably a good dose of hearing loss and, as Matt used to observe with a loving smile on his face, “she just old and she don’t care”…

because Milly…

Breaking into the Church Hall

I realise it’s been a good couple of weeks since I last posted. Even WordPress have stopped trying to communicate with me so I wouldn’t be surprised if half my readers have given up as well. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to post, but there are a whole load of complexities that come with it.

First and foremost, because of the whole purpose of the blog – because Milly – I can’t write impulsively or when rushed. I already know most of the stories I want to share and can see most of the accompanying photos in my mind, but I have to wait until it feels like the right time to write.. Up until now this has mostly been in the evening after dinner, which inevitably leads to me staying up until gone midnight reading, re-reading and tweaking before finally hitting “publish” and sharing the post. Which brings me to the second reason for my delay – bedtimes. Over the last few months I have found myself staying up later and later and so getting more and more tired. I’ve been overcoming that with lots of coffee, and the odd weekend nap, but last weekend I was competing (well, I participated!) in a Sprint Triathlon and having done all the training and been mostly pretty disciplined with my nutrition, I knew it would be foolish to blow all that hard work by not getting enough proper sleep. So at the expense of blogging, I’ve been catching some early nights.

Thirdly, I don’t want to rush my way through the story. Not just in terms of quickly writing posts, but also from a timeframe perspective, I don’t want to charge through Milly’s short life in an even shorter few weeks. Probably fear comes into play here, because blogging is part of my healing.. if I rush through the blog more quickly than I progress on my grief journey then what? I feel I need to keep the two in sync a little bit. I’ll “know” when I don’t need the safety net of my blog to fall back to. At least, I think I will.

Finally, there’s the small matter of confidence. Which has waned over the past month. When I first set out on the blog, although the purpose was to share Milly’s story with “the world”, I really couldn’t have cared what “the world” looked like. I was putting my memories in to print. Publishing them. That made them real and out there for all eternity. That was what I needed. As the weeks went on, I received a few “likes” and a few comments, and built up a few followers either through wordpress or email, and have had some really sweet feedback from friends, either directly or on FB. WordPress helpfully (or unhelpfully, depending how you look at it) gives you a multitude of stats about your site. Number of visitors, number of views, views per post, links clicked on your site, number of referrals through facebook, instagram or twitter, visitor country and so on… If you were running a “business” site I can see how this would be extremely useful. As a lowly fun blogger, who is mostly writing as a form of therapy, it can make or break your day. After publishing a post I find myself regularly viewing the stats dashboard, looking to see if anyone has read it, comparing numbers to the last post, or the best day (currently standing at 95 views on 14th May!). Those stats can either lift you, or trash you. If the numbers are low you feel like a bit of an idiot, and so many negative thoughts creep in; “why would anyone want to read your stories anyway”, “it’s probably getting boring now”, “it was a novelty, and there were a few funnies, but now you should go get on with your life like your readers have”.

I know that is the nature of blogging, and of social media in general, people come in and out of favour, and are popular one day or not so much the next. One instagram post can have 50 likes, the next only 5. It’s part and a parcel of the beast. There is also the mysterious wizardry of Facebook that controls what you see, or how far and wide your posts are shared. I see a lot of posts from pages I follow (often small artists or creators) asking for “shares” or “likes” in order to get them back onto Facebook’s radar. Maybe it’s Facebook who is bored of my posts, and not my friends/readers! Perhaps Facebook hasn’t shown my link on anybody’s timeline which is why nobody has visited today…. but, whatever the reason, I think you have to be pretty hardy not to let the lows rock your confidence, and to just keep doing what you are doing because you want to and you believe in yourself.

“Hardiness” is not one of my strongest attributes, and I’ve had massive moments of self-doubt where I feel like a total loser for dedicating hours of my life to writing stories about my dog. AS IF people care….

So I have to pull back and remember why I am here, and why I started this page.. to write my memories, to help my healing. If someone reads it then that’s nice. But if nobody reads it then it doesn’t actually change the memory or the significance of it… it’s still just as important to me regardless.  That said, at the time of going to print tonight – my page has had exactly 2200 views – I’m no Zoella, but it is nice to see such a respectable number.

I have also learnt how much I value peoples likes & comments – it makes you feel less of an idiot and that someone cares. Many of these have come from my friends, but also I have received comments from total strangers, who have come across my blog somehow, or are now followers on my becauseMilly Instagram account. I am touched by every single comment I receive. To be honest it doesn’t actually really matter what the comment says! They don’t need to think my post is good – I’m not after praise – but just the fact that someone else has taken a moment out of their day to read my post or look at my picture AND follow it up with a comment is really overwhelming.

I read articles all the time, but before now have never worried to like, share or comment… under the misconception that “the author won’t care that I’ve read it”. Now I am an author (?) I’ve realised that they do care, and that it does matter. So, now, if I’ve read something and enjoyed it I take the extra seconds to make a comment, or at the very least leave a “like”. If someone has posted an update, achieved something, feels proud or feels down it’s nice to acknowledge it. If one “like” can make my day then I’d be happy to know that I have had a positive impact on someone else’s day by doing the same thing.

So. All in all, a very longwinded and probably unnecessary explanation of where I’ve been for two weeks. Apologies if you just came here for the story!!!


Here is the next chapter (very late 2010/early 2011)….

As well as the fundamentals I described in harnesses and hotdogs, there were some optional extras in the toolkit that Penel and Laura gave us. Having explained already that we were totally throwing everything at the situation, we took these up these options as well. In for a penny in for a pound and all that.

Natural supplements for anxiety reduction.. we tried both Zylkene and Tranquility Gold (not together of course!). When you are trying a lot of different things and changing a lot of different things altogether it can be really hard to know what is working and what isn’t. Unlike the children’s game of Mastermind with the little coloured pegs, we didn’t really have the time to take a systematic approach, and only change one thing at a time until we found the winning formula. From memory we used the Tranquliity Gold for longer, so at the time must’ve thought this was having more impact.

Mental stimulation… Milly’s anxiety was all in the outside world – in the house she was calm and collected… but it was still important to give her grey matter a bit of a workout. We continued with our treat training for “tricks” that Michelle’s mum had shown us. We also added in puzzle-like games where she had to find snippets of cheese under plastic bones or chew her way into a sealed ice-cream tub to get at the treats inside. She loved her Labyrinth treat ball with biscuit bites or mixer.

Interesting feeding… using traditional Kong or other Kong Toys. We have always fed Milly with wet food, so smoodging it into a Kong for a breakfast challenge was no drama. What we didn’t anticipate was that on receiving it, Milly would happily trot off to the lounge with it in her chops. It didn’t take her long to work out that a very effective way of getting the food out was just to FLING it around with gusto – each time it bounced a chunk of Naturediet would be dislodged and deposited…. on the living room carpet! That carpet wasn’t kept for long but that was fine, absolutely everything was second priority to Milly by this point anyway. After a while I came up with my own genius, and slightly less messy idea for feeding.. an Ikea silicone ice cube tray. It wasn’t as flingy as the Kong, but still gave Milly some fun trying to lick and gnaw her food out of the corners. We actually continued using the silicone trays until not that long ago, basically up until the point that her stability during feeding was more important than the stimulation of doing so.

Chewing… encourage chewing.. it releases happy hormones or something along those lines. In some ways it was good that Milly wasn’t a chewer – slippers and trainers and furniture were all safe – but it meant she needed some coercing to chew the things she was meant to chew! We opted for the Stagbar – all natural cruelty free deer antlers – they don’t splinter, are long lasting, and they contain yummy marrow on the inside. Initially, to get her interested we would smear the antler with something interesting like peanut butter or cream cheese, but she soon got the hang of the chewing. Nothing made me happier than watching Milly having a good old chew!

Bizarrely though, she was a very sporadic chewer! Her antler would be in her box in the living room for days and weeks on end and she would pay it no attention whatsoever, then completely out of the blue, she would go and get it, and start chewing, like it was a brand new find. Eventually I realised that she would often only do this once we (the family) were altogether in the living room. It was almost like she wouldn’t allow herself to settle down and indulge, until she was happy that her pack were around her. Rather sweet really.

These were all fairly easy things that we could add into our every day routine, and were all to happy to do so.


We were also introduced to something called Tellington TTouch, or TTouch for short, and put into contact with a local practitioner. I’ll leave you to read the full description of TTouch on their website http://www.ttouchtteam.org.uk, but in very rough summary it is a method of working with animals using techniques, like physical touches, to release tension. Sounded good to me and I got straight on the phone. I instantly clicked with Jacqui and she listened intently and with concern as I described Milly and her issues, and where we were at on our journey. She booked me in for a consultation as soon as she could, but in the meantime gave me a few instructions over the phone of immediate things I could do. One of which was get an old T-shirt and get it on Milly, tying at the waist… I did it, and she went straight off to her travel crate (that we were testing out in the lounge).


I eagerly awaited our appointment, but ploughed on with ALL THE THINGS – outdoors and indoors – in the meantime. It was all very full on.

Finally the date came. I had taken the day off, and Milly and I were ready about 2 hours before we needed to be! We were only going to Coulsden, but as with everything around that time, I had so much hope and so much expectation. Maybe this would be THE THING that really moved the needle. I had the address, had looked it up on the map and planned the journey (even though I knew that route with my eyes shut from numerous Ikea trips). Off we set in the car. Milly in her travel crate strapped in the back of that bloomin’ white Passat. We got there early and managed to park right outside. Right on time I saw another lady turn into the round and pull into a spot. This was it!
A quick hello on the pavement with Milly still in the car, then Jacqui just had to pop over the road to get the keys from the caretaker and then we’d go inside and get underway.

Ah. C’est un problème! The caretaker wasn’t home… and wasn’t contactable on the phone. No caretaker = no keys = no session. Noooooo! We didn’t know what to do. Jacqui knew she had made the arrangements, and I didn’t doubt that she had either, but we were stuck outside. We tried the main doors and looked through the windows – nothing. Nobody inside and no lights on.

I don’t know why but with Milly in tow we went to look round the back, and completely bizarrely, there was an open door. Not just unlocked, but actually open! The three of us scrambled through some undergrowth, over a broken chair, and up the fire escape steps to the door. Gingerly we called through it – genuinely unsure if we were about to interrupt a burglary – but there was not a sound inside. We went in…
Jacqui did a quick sweep around – and there really was nobody there. We must’ve just been lucky I guess, but ultimately we had broken into the Church Hall!!!

After a rather eventful start we secured the room and let Milly off the lead. She immediately spotted a squirrel on the patio outside and went berserk. Great, as if I wasn’t wound up enough already! But it was actually a good thing – similar to Penel & Laura – Jacqui needed to see Milly in all her glory… The squirrel hot-footed it and we drew the curtains, so that was one problem solved.

One of the first things we talked about was the TTouch Body Wrap (again look on their site) but in a nutshell it’s a elastic strip, like a bandage, that you wrap snugly around the dog in a figure of eight. There are a number of benefits, but they include increased physical awareness and decreased anxiety. On putting a wrap on Milly she had an instant and very intense reaction. She started gulping and swallowing repeatedly, like she was going to be sick. It was actually frightening. The wrap was immediately removed. The gulping stopped as suddenly as it had started. If I’d had any scepticism about it’s effect on the body then my mind would’ve been changed right there. More evidence of how highly strung Milly was.. the wrap was just too much too soon.

We moved on to groundwork exercises and the famous “touches”, the most well known of which is probably the “clouded leopard”, where using your fingertips you draw a one and a quarter clockwise circle. I cannot even begin to do justice to the technique, the history behind it, and why it works, but it does.

Our session came to an end, and we clambered back out the way we had got in. Bursting with a load more information, and things to learn and to practice, my little pupil and I headed home to excitedly bombard Matt with an update on the events of the afternoon and tell him all about our new friend.


We had a follow up visit with Jacqui back at the bungalow a few weeks later. She came to see Milly in her home environment and check up on our progress. We did some more groundwork in the garden, and went out for a short walk, but as I recall it was freezing and we soon retreated to the living room to warm up with a cuppa! Although I had been practicing the touches, Jacqui had some years on me. She sat on the sofa, was immediately joined by a leaning Milly, who after barely few minutes of touches, literally flopped and relaxed into the most peaceful sleep before my very eyes.

Watching the tension fade out of Milly’s little body like that showed me that, whilst she was calm in the house, it didn’t always mean she was completely relaxed. What we were trying to achieve with everything we were doing, was helping Milly to “learn” what that relaxed feeling felt like. To reinforce a lot and get her used to it in the house, and then help her to achieve that same state outside.

We didn’t see Jacqui again in an official capacity but her and I were in touch regularly, and still are now. Jacqui has been through her own difficulties and had her own devastating losses over the years. She has been a tremendous support to me with Milly, not just in her professional capacity as a practitioner – giving me guidance and tools – but as caring, emotional, empathetic and lovely human, giving me buckets of kindness and moral support. Anyone who has been through a rehabilitation journey with a highly reactive dog will know how frustrating it can be. How one day you can feel incredibly high after a successful training session, but the next day you can just want to crawl back into your bed because you got caught off guard and on the wrong foot – literally – and so toppled sideways into a pool of mud. You need to learn to laugh at these things, but you also need someone in your camp cheering you on, and reassuring you that you are “doing great”. Jacqui was one of those people to me over the years.

When we lost Milly I was dreading telling her. I just knew how devastated she would be. Not just for the usual reasons – sadness for Milly and sadness for me -but, unavoidably, reminded of the loss of her darling Bonnie. I couldn’t telephone – in fact I literally couldn’t tell anybody verbally – still can’t really (choked up at work a fortnight ago trying to talk to a colleague just back from mat leave) – so I sent her a message. I know that on receiving it Jacqui sobbed and sobbed, feeling the loss and the pain so acutely herself. I’d like to claim it would’ve been because she adores me(!), and a little bit it probably was ;-), but I know that it was mostly for Milly. For dear, sweet, special Milly – who absolutely adored her Auntie Jacqui.


*Again major caveat that I have zero credentials or expertise beyond my personal experience so please don’t use this as a training resource*

During the this time I was absorbing everything that I could and observing everything about Milly that I could.
– I could see when her brow was furrowed or not.
– I could see when her fur was relaxed and laying flat against her body, or stiff as if she had goosebumps.
– I picked up her calming signals, lip licking and yawning
– I noticed when her bum and back legs were stiff and tense.
– I saw when her gait was less or more wonky when she went running down the garden.
– I could feel when her ears were warm or cold.

To be honest, there was so much information and so many things to take on board I was a bit overwhelmed. I can’t say I was always able to interpret and understand all of these signals, but I was becoming more and more aware of these non-verbal and sometimes subtle signs.

Nevertheless, Milly and I were becoming more and more connected. It’s so hard for me to describe it, or find a suitable parallel to draw on, without sounding a little bit bonkers. The best I can do is say that I had one eye on Milly in a way that nobody else did, and in a way that a lot of other doggy mums probably don’t need to most of the time. I wasn’t dramatic and over-protective, jumping in and creating a fuss every time I saw tension sign, but I was passively observing a lot of the time. Basically I was really getting to know her, my little complex and special Millybear.


One final word before I put this one, and myself, to bed. TTouch became second nature to me – I did the touches so often over the years that I had to think about NOT doing it, rather than think about doing it.

I read in the news that Sarah Fisher – the internationally renowned animal behaviour counsellor and leading TTouch instructor (and a friend of Jacqui’s) – had been appointed as an Official Ambassador by Battersea Dogs & Cats Home (another charity that Matt and I have financially supported for a number of years).

Immediately when I read the article I knew it was no coincidence that the appointment had been made just the day before.. on that fateful Thursday… the day our lives changed forever… Thursday 15th February 2018.

because Milly…

 

I should just add that Jacqui did get hold of the caretaker who had completely forgotten that we were coming and so gone out for the afternoon, but was very pleased that we managed to get in anyway, and left shutting the fire escape behind us!  No harm done.

Harnesses and hotdogs

Being sent away with what felt like a whole term’s worth of homework was a little bit daunting, but I absolutely trusted what Penel and Laura had told us so there was nothing to be done but crack on and execute the plan to the best of my ability.

First things first.. shopping… frankly an area that I undoubtedly excelled at (and proudly still do)!

Although rather different to my usual purchases of clothes and shoes, I set about procuring the items that Milly and I were going to need.

1. Harness
I was already walking Milly on a harness rather than clipping the lead on to her collar for fear of her completely choking herself, but it turns out there are harnesses and there are harnesses. Milly needed the other kind. A harness designed to help reduce pulling and rebalance pulling dogs, with special positioning of the O-rings – one on the front (chest) and one on the top (back). Machine washable to tick the “practical” box. Fleece lined and fully adjustable for comfort. Very important because her and I were going to be doing A LOT of miles in this thing. On recommendation we went with the Xtra Dog Fleece Walking Harness, in black. I ended up buying a second one years later, so we could have one for training and one for “best”, and I have to say they were two of the best pieces of kit I’ve ever bought. They withstood a huge amount of tugging and wear, and although looking a bit faded from the washing machine, they are still in great condition and we were using them up to the very last day. Highly recommended.

2. Double-ended training lead
Sturdy clips at each end for use with the above two-point harness and extra O-rings positioned at different points on the lead so the length could be adjusted. Double stitched webbing for strength and fleece-lined to protect my delicate hands – again absolutely necessary given that I was going to be doing the equal number of miles to Milly on the other end. I got a pretty nasty rope burn from a different lead once when Milly got over-zealous doing laps of the field. Again the new lead came from Xtra Dog, and of course in black to match the harness

3. Clicker
Best friend of dog trainers the world over. Totally have no expert credentials here but one of the stated basic concepts of dog training is “instant” reward.. like within seconds of displaying the desired behaviour the reward needs to occur, in order for your dog to associate the reward with the behaviour and know that she has done the right thing. Obviously, initially at least, a click on it’s own isn’t much of a reward to a lot of dogs, and it wasn’t to Milly. So the click is to be quickly followed by a treat. Usually, assuming your dog is food-oriented, the treat is food!
Click ‘n treat became a mantra.

4. Treats
When dealing with very extreme behaviour you need high-value treats. ” Rewarding” Milly for being calm with a dry old bit of biscuit was never going to work. Similar to the practice when we were kids of rewarding bravery at the dentist with a lolly (I know. The irony!) but had mum said “if you’re a good girl you can have an apple” I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been on my best behaviour. That said I can’t imagine I was every very good at the dentist, lolly or not, because I’m a really scaredy and a bit of a pain-phobe. Last time I went to the dentist for a teeny-tiny filling my dad came with me. I was 28.

I realise dishing out sweet treats as rewards is probably now totally frowned upon by the “snack police” (and by dentists!?) but it never did me any harm. And I’ve still got 13 filling-free teeth.

A high value treat for a dog isn’t a Haribo of course. But the canine equivalent would be something like cheese, chicken, sausages, peanut butter, spam (yep you can still buy spam, and Fray Bentos pies – which I have never eaten but am really really curious to investigate just to see how the how “pastry in tin” works). Our treat of choice for Milly was tinned hotdogs. Bought by the tray-load, I always felt I had to justify the sideways glance I got from the cashiers at Tesco as they scanned 12 tins of super-sized All-Star American ‘dogs every week… “training treats for the dog” I’d say…
Chopped into little slivers, these became another thing I never left home without.

5. Treat bag
Now this should be easy… shouldn’t it. All pet shops and online pet stores sell treat bags. In the basket, click to pay, job done. Alas like many things you order online you can’t tell the actual size of a treat bag until it turns up. When it arrived and I opened it I literally burst out laughing. I thought it was miniature. A miniature bag, for miniature treats, for people with miniature hands. It had to go back, as did all of the other ones I ordered. Apparently these were actually fairly standard-sized for treat bags.

I feel totally qualified from my hours and hours of click and treat training to pass judgement on treat bags, but not without reason or explanation.
Have you ever tried to get a sliver of hotdog out of a something the size and rigidity of a pop sock, with your frozen fingertips, whilst still clutching a clicker in your palm, in the dark, and with 20kg of “you’ve got seconds to give me my reward before I forget I’m supposed to be good” attached to your other arm? I have. It does not work well.

I pride myself on being a bit of a problem solver, and I think this stems in part from my extremely good grounding as a Girl Guide. I achieved badges for the classics: first aid (goodness knows how with my delicate disposition), cake decorating, arts & crafts, orienteering, stalking (meant to be used for wildlife watching, not the illegal kind). I was also pretty pro at making fires, camping, and various other practical things. In real life, I don’t do a lot of fire making anymore, but I still deploy my practical skills a lot, and quite often to think “outside the box” and come up with a creative solution for a problem faced.

Small, floppy, impractical treat bag was the problem…

Large, solid rimmed CHALK BAG was the solution! Designed for climbers to reach into behind their backs and get a fistful of chalk dust whilst clinging on to a ledge with the other hand for dear life (literally) I thought this was a genius answer. Lined with perfectedly sized bit of tupperware, I was onto a total winner. Had them customise it for me with an embroidered paw print as well!

6. Dicky bag
Say what?!
Dog in one hand.
Clicker and primed to delve in to grab hotdogs with the other….
What is missing?
Why – of course! – how am I to cheerily swing a poop bag?

The less glamorous side of dog-ownership is poo picking. I imagine it has been used on many occasions as the ultimate deterrent when a child is begging for a dog and promising to love it and feed it and play with it… throw in the trump card.. you have to pick up the poop. With your hand. In a bag. <silence>

It’s actually not as offensive as it sounds. My only recommendation is to invest in good quality bags. My mum used to order is the premium range from Mutts Butts… I actually have a brand new box of 500+ in the cupboard.

If, like me, you don’t have a third hand and aren’t blessed with a poo bin every 100 yards (there is actually only 1 I can think of within 2 miles of the house now) then I can highly recommend a Dicky Bag. There are various designs and styles of poop canisters, but I particularly liked the Dicky Bag because it was made of soft neoprene (wetsuit material) and so when loaded, wasn’t going to bounce around and give you bruises. In addition to being soft and washable, it also came in a variety of designs. If I’m going to carry poo in a bag then I may as well do it stylishly!

Very funny story that I’m sure he won’t mind me telling but one evening years ago when Rob was over Sophie sent me a quick photo on imessage of Rob “modelling” what Sophie had told him was Milly’s treat bag. He was totes chuffed that it matched the pocket detailing on his T-shirt…

I could barely stop laughing enough to pause and shout out from my bedroom that it was her poop bag. So so funny.  Just as funny now when I remember it!

7. Utility belt
Like a bum bag, only better.
You get the picture that I was leaving the house with more equipment than Bear Grylls on a survival expedition. There are no human clothes with pockets big enough or accessible enough to carry the gadgetry required for serious dog training.
So it was a DOOG (Dog Owners Outdoor Gear) utility belt for me.

Fully stocked and weighty treat bag clipped on the right with a carabiner, Dicky bag zipped and secure on the left, phone in the pocket, keys on the hook, spare poop bags neatly folded in the dispenser. Check, check, check and check.

With her smart harness and secure lead Milly was all set, and always eager to go out.With my instant access toolkit hanging round my waist, so was I.

That favourite phrase “all the gear and no idea” springs to mind, even if just for comedy value. In reality however, I did have a bit of an idea. I had my instructions from Penel and Laura, so I knew the theory at least…


Looking back I realise that I had previously been of understanding that “all dogs” need a lot of exercise. So long walks and, for on-lead dogs, long lead runs in the field – both of which result in a lot of stimulation.

Well – surprise surprise – I was totally wrong. Whilst it may be true that many dogs need a lot of exercise, Milly wasn’t in that category and certainly did not need and could not cope with the stimulation at that time.

Take a dog who is already wired, already stressed just to be out of the house, already hyper-vigilant and on the look-out for other dogs… She was coiled like a spring. It’s no wonder that if we saw a dog whilst out the walk had to be aborted. All that stimulation just built up and built up and the spotted dog caused her to boil over. It was just too much.

So the goal was to reduce Milly’s stress levels out of the house.
We knew that she knew what calm behaviour was.. as I’ve described before, her behaviour in the house was completely calm and relaxed.

So we just had to help her “learn” to be calm outside… it sounds so easy! And when you break it down, it’s not rocket surgery and the theory makes complete sense. Without boring you more senseless with the details, in the most simplified terms, it was rewarding calm behaviour that was achieved through a number of things:
> Short walks
> Avoiding excessive stimuli
> Rewarding being able to get her “attention”, even if for a nanosecond, with a “Milly Look” command (also reinforced with practice in the house)
> Acknowledging that this simple “training” – for her – was draining in itself
> Accepting that some days she just couldn’t do it
> Realising that – for me – it was going to feel repetitive and at times unrewarding and tedious. Not saying training was tedious – I was wholeheartedly invested in it and determined to see it through as I’ve said before. But to add context to that, many of our low stimulation short walks were had a few hundred yards from the house, on the A217 opposite the Black Horse pub. A quiet stretch of pavement, leading from nowhere to nowhere. Slightly setback from the carriageway. Fields behind, pub opposite – so no houses and no dogs. We walked up and down. A lot. It was good for Milly, and over time we were able to extend the distance that we were walking back and forth. But initially it was literally 30 seconds in one direction, rewarding “calm” and “attention”, and 30 seconds in the other doing the same thing. Do that enough times, in the cold and the dark and you literally have no clue if you’ve been out there for 2 mins, 2 hours, 2 days. I used to come back with her genuinely having no concept of how long I’d been gone, although it was probably usually 20mins max. I usually felt really spaced out from the repetition and lack of stimuli… I realise now that if it was having that effect on me then the idea was it would be having that same effect on Milly. The additional upside for her was hotdogs, whereas I was just getting really, really cold hands.


As with almost everything in life, it took practice. And sometimes it felt like two steps forward and three steps back. But we carried on and on, for weeks and weeks and weeks. I’d love to share the happy ending right here… that I took the instructions and the tools and we cracked it… but that would be too easy, and would be the end of my blog!

I managed to dial her down from being a 10 100% of the time, to sometimes a 10, sometimes a 9, sometimes an 8. It was inconsistent – she was inconsistent – but it all counted as progress in my book.

It was hard on her, it was hard on my cold slightly gnawed fingers, but together we were doing what we both knew we needed to do.  Our bond continued to grow even though we were often completely exhausted.

because Milly…

It’s not loopy!

A few weeks after Milly left us it was time for the crème de la crème of Dog Shows.. Crufts! This year I could only bring myself to watch a little bit of the final, but I’m sure none of the competitors minded (or even noticed) that I wasn’t cheering from the sofa as I usually would.

Unsurprisingly I use social media to keep abreast of all things dog-related.. dog behavourists, dog-blogs, cute sausage dog updates, dog photographers, dog food.. One of my favourite pages is Lily’s Kitchen. For those who haven’t heard of it Lily’s Kitchen pride themselves on creating “Proper Food” for dogs (and cats as well actually). They do all sorts of scrummy recipes that Milly used to enjoy on special occasions. Their flavours include things like “Sunday Lunch” and “Wild Campfire Stew” and without sounding weird, they really do smell edible, and not like dog food at all.

During Crufts, Lily’s ran a Facebook competition called “It’s not loopy”… to enter you had to share with them the loopiest thing that you do for your dog. I wouldn’t normally get involved in something like this, other than reading what other’s have put, but fuelled by grief and Rose I decided to make an entry. I commented on their post, shared my acts of loopyness for my dear departed Boo and threw in a couple of photos for good measure. I hadn’t yet started my blog at this point, but satisfied that I had shared a little piece of Milly-memory with the world (or at least with Lily’s) I put it out of my mind and cracked on with blogging & grieving.


A couple of weeks later I was completely shocked to receive a notification that Lily’s Kitchen had commented on my comment…. I had been picked as a winner! I’m sure it was in-part down to a sympathy vote, but who cares, I was grateful, I needed a little a lift. The prize was a piece of artwork and to claim it I just had to send them in a photo of Milly. Easy right?! Erm nope actually, because having spent the two weeks after losing her pulling together every single photo I had (including ones where just a paw or a tail or a reflection is in the background) I had over 2000 to choose from. It took me so long that Lily’s had to message me a second time like “Hey, please claim your prize”. Oops.
Anyhow, with more wine in my glass I shortlisted three pictures to send them.


About 10 days ago I received a big brown “do not bend” envelope in the box.. and I knew exactly what it was!!

One of the loopy things I shared was how I left the central heating on all day when I was at work so that Milly didn’t get cold. Most days I was last out of the house so I could override the thermostat. I don’t think I ever openly “told” Matt, but he must’ve noticed the warmth in the place when he came home from work. I know she had a fur coat and all that, but she was a Senior Girl, and, like any old person, also very sedentary for most of the day. She didn’t have the ability to put an extra jumper on or pull a blanket over her knees, so I took care of her comfort with a heavy paw on the room ‘stat and a direct debit to NPower.

On opening my brown envelope I was completely speechless. I’ve actually been itching to share it but wanted to wait until it was all framed… my prize artwork is a caricature by the incredibly talented Mike Bryson.

TA-DAH!!!


For those who can’t see it the quote reads “feeling a little chilly, Milly adjusts the thermostat….”, with her paws ON the thermostat, and laying on the bed in front of the radiator, which coincidentally is what one of my shortlisted photo submissions showed.

Mike has captured Milly absolutely perfectly and I am so thrilled with this unique and special gift. I know lots of people have Pet Portraits (which I also plan to get) but I can’t imagine many people have Pet Caricatures! Probably because often you encounter a caricaturist at a wedding or a corporate event.. and I know I’m loopy but I’ve never taken Milly to either of those.

What an amazing and rare keepsake we now have 🙂


It took me some deliberation to choose a frame. As with all things nowadays there are almost too many choices. After giving it a bit of thought I decided I wanted to print out a few things, so that Milly’s little caricature wouldn’t stand alone. I love photos and as such we don’t have a lot of bare wall space left. Something was going to have to give… Of all the places in the house, I wanted to find somewhere prominent to put it, and not have it as something you’d just glance at on your way down the hall. It therefore had to be the kitchen. With no suitable space other than up in the vaulted ceiling it was time to ditch the green penguin canvas (that was put up “temporarily” so we didn’t have a blank wall whilst we chose a decent print….. four years ago!). If anyone wants a lime green photo of penguins give me a shout.

After much fun and games with a tape measure and a spirit level, Matt bashed some nails in for me at the weekend.

Our little Milly Wall is finished…

 I LOVE it.

It makes me smile every time I look at it.. and isn’t that what photos are for…



As well as special occasion suppers, Milly’s other link with Lily’s are the infamous Bedtime Biscuits. Introduced as an addition to the bedtime routine a couple of years ago, Milly would woof down one a night before the ultimate highlight of every day.. the Pedigree Dentastix. If she was extremely lucky, human communication would fail and she’d get two, one from me and one from Matt. She never once said “but Mummy I’ve already had a biscuit from Daddy”… funny that!


Frankly we could run out of milk, bread, toothpaste, chocolate, wine or ANYTHING in the house as long as we didn’t run out of Dentastix, or chewies as we called them. Even my mum has a supply ready for when Milly went to stay.. they are THAT important. I distinctly remember one night when I realised that the drawer was bare… and so was the stock in the cupboard. Thank goodness for the 24 hour Tesco half a mile down the road. Off I went in my jim-jams to buy a box of bedtime chewies.


I’ve already been way too honest to worry about holding back on any elements of my crazy now. On the evening of February 14th Milly had had the last of a packet of bedtime biscuits…. I really really don’t like coincidences like that, even if they are completely inane and meaningless. It makes me feel uneasy.

Sadly, down to my extremely efficient procurement skills I had that day been to Waitrose to replenish our stocks… which now stand unopened and untouched in Milly’s cupboard, atop a stack of food that will never be eaten, next to two special occasion Lily’s, and amongst a plethora of other goodies that can just stay right where they are.

 

 

 


Those who have been here, or the eager eyed amongst you, will have noticed that Milly’s wall is directly above Milly’s bed. Present tense. Not above where her kitchen bed was, but above where her bed IS. Her bedroom bed is still at the foot of my bed. Her blankets are still on the sofas – one in the lounge and one in the office (I have wrestled that bloomin’ pop-up tent away now though so I could get to my desk without it attacking me) . For anyone who thinks that leaving these things out is “upsetting me” you can keep your unhelpful thoughts to yourself. Milly’s bed has been at the end of my bed for 8 years…. I’m going to notice if I DON’T trip over it when I’m getting dressed more than if I do. I’m not creating a “shrine to Milly” (although would be perfectly ok if I was). But I don’t want to go through the house removing all trace of her. Why would I do that? Why would I create that sort of enormous change? I think what I’m trying to cope with is change enough for the time being thanks. My whole world stopped at 9am on February 15th, so if I feel like I want to hit pause on a few bits of home furnishing whilst my poor brain and my hurting heart catch up with reality then that is perfectly ok too.


Most people will be familiar with the concept that “everyone is an expert”. Or at least they think they are. Everyone has some word of wisdom for you, or an opinion on what you should or shouldn’t do. There are plenty of great things I took away from several rounds of counselling and CBT, but the most impactful of them was probably the realisation that nobody ever has the right to tell you what you should (or should not) do. Could… is ok. Might like to… also ok. Have you thought about…. ok.

But SHOULD? Not very ok. I try my very hardest never to use it and try my very hardest not to grimace when someone uses it on me. If I asked for your opinion.. “What do you think I should do?” then it’s fair game to tell me what you think I should do. But other than that… I don’t like it much unless it’s light-hearted or tongue in cheek. Can be particularly upsetting if it’s completely unprovoked and/or when its coming from a self-considered “expert”.



Having done a tiny bit of my trusty Google research on “Grief” as a topic, especially related to pet-loss (obviously), and through my own feelings, it has become ever more apparent that there are no shoulds, and no rights or wrongs.
Cry. Don’t cry. Both ok.
Leave stuff. Move stuff. Both ok.
Talk. Don’t talk. Both ok.
You get the theme? None of it is loopy. Anything and everything is OK.

Grief is 100% personal. Plenty of people have empathy (equally plenty don’t – avoid them!) and can be very kind, but absolutely nobody knows 100% what someone else is feeling (perhaps with the exception of identical twins who are known to have this incredible connection where one can feel a toothache from the other twin’s dodgy tooth).  Maybe 99.9%, but as I am not one of an identical twin, nobody gets that final 0.1%.

If someone understands and has empathy then brilliant. But if they don’t then shake them off, even if temporarily.

I’ve got enough on my plate without my personal grief process being judged and opined on.


To end on a more lighthearted note, I’ll fess up to the other NOT LOOPY things happening right now:
Collar still in my handbag despite having my beautiful pendant
Food and water bowl still in place (washed but back on the step)
Kitchen floor still completely covered with non-slip matting (lime green)
Harness and leads still where they’ve always hung by the back door
The jeans and hoody I was wearing when Milly went to sleep in my arms… folded away in the wardrobe and not worn or washed since (good job I’ve got plenty more of both)
The last bit of fur she shed when I groomed her that terrible morning.. in a jewellery box on my dressing table
The open and half eaten packet of chewies still in my dressing table drawer…..


None of it is loopy.  It’s just me being real.. it’s the only way I know…

because Milly….

Too stressed to learn

Time for another dart back in time and to add a little bit more to Milly’s backstory.

Through 2010 I had made brilliant progress with Milly’s general obedience training – all of which was part of building the incredible bond that we shared. But there was no question that we needed more help.

After returning from our holiday in France, and relaying the tales to our nearest and dearest, we realised how very limited we were going to be in terms of travel and trips. This didn’t matter very much on it’s own and we could have just lived with that if she was comfortable on a day to day basis…. but she wasn’t. She was still wired, often unmanageable, pulling on the lead and 10/10 reactive to other dogs. It was absolutely not fair to leave her like this, and it wasn’t doing much for my wellbeing either.

Walks with her were at best a bit of a mission, and at worst an ordeal. Nobody could carry on like that long term. I’ve never thought about it before this moment – and I can barely type these awful words – but I guess that would have been the point at which someone else would have considered “returning her” to the RSPCA, or alternatively maybe she would have become a house & garden dog and never had any walks at all.

By now you should have learnt enough about me to realise that neither of these thoughts even crossed my mind. There was no choice but to plough on and do the best we could.



I didn’t have a network of dog experts (like I do now) so was doing copious amounts of research online. So many different methods and approaches.. it was pretty mind blowing. I did go and visit a local “expert” and came away pretty traumatised after learning the tool he would have had me use. A prong collar? No way Jose.
So the late night reading continued, with me scouring the internet looking for the “success story” that would lead me down the right path.

One of the hardest things I found about overcoming dog reactivity (and I guess it is similar with lots of every day triggers like bikes or buses) is that you cannot control, or even attempt to control, the “event”. On a walk, a dog can appear (or bark) at any moment at any distance, meaning you are left no choice but just to “react”, all the while your reactive dog is very convincingly reacting on both of your behalves, and uncomfortably tugging your arm off. It isn’t the ideal scenario for training.

I did have this idealistic notion of borrowing a dog, going somewhere extremely quiet, and just walking up and down, up and down, with the expectation that Milly would eventually calm down, and we could all wander off together in the same direction, and have a walk at distance.  Repeat this often enough and to my mind, we would have cracked it.


The main problem with implementing this idea was the “borrowing a dog” part because we didn’t know many people with dogs. We did use Titch once, a darling JRT girly who belonged to Matt’s late friend Roy. Roy was very relaxed about us taking her over the road into the big field and doing some training. Unfortunately Titch wasn’t quite as laid back, although not in the way you might be thinking.

She wasn’t the slightest bit bothered about Milly’s extreme behaviour, and mooched about quietly in the same spot whilst Milly and I walked up and down, up and down, at the furthest distance we could. Trouble was, we were making such slow progress towards Titch and Matt that Titch was literally bored senseless. She wasn’t really used to be on the lead for long periods – she was Roy’s sidekick and was never more than a pace behind him – so half an hour of standing in a field doing nothing took her to her limits of tedious.

We had to abandon.

Although it was unsuccessful at the time and I came home completely deflated AGAIN, having gone down the path we eventually did, I see now that we did have roughly the right idea, but just that the execution needed some refinement.


Another funny Titch memory that has stuck in my mind is when Roy was repairing a car once, and using “The Yard” (which was the family land next door to / behind the Bungalow where Matt had his workshop) to do it. The Yard and our garden were divided by a fence, but because of Milly being out in the fresh air, Titch had to stay in the car. Roy came in with us at lunchtime for a drink and bite to eat and Titch – being unused to a) being shut in and b) being away from Roy – let herself out of the car and came sneaking into the garden through the back gate. She absolutely knew she shouldn’t be there because she had that favourite posture deployed by a dog trying to get away with doing something naughty…. skulking along the floor making herself as small as possible. Once again my A* Dog Radar picked up her presence before Milly did and although she was only a few yards away we managed to intervene and prevent contact.

Cheeky little monkey.

Titch passed away a few years ago and, tragically, Roy is no longer with us either.


On a day to day basis I was cracking on with the walking but I was pretty desperate and I just didn’t know what to do. Thankfully I was in the very fortunate position where money was no object – when I found the way forward I could and would take it, regardless of cost.

What I really wanted was some sort of “residential” where Milly and I could go together. A bit like a bootcamp I guess. But at the time of looking, there really wasn’t anything like that around. I realise now that it probably would’ve taken more than a weeks’ worth of drills to get Milly into some sort of manageable shape, and with only a limited amount of annual leave in the bank this may not have been the best option for us.


These days I seem to always be able to find what I’m looking for on the interweb. I don’t know if this is because Google have changed their search algorithms or if I have just become extremely good at drilling down to find the right keyword to search for. Back in 2010 I was still mastering the art but via some really long-winded link – I think through a site, to an article, to a blog, to a review – I saw something about a place called “Dog Communication”. Now with my interest piqued and a targeted search term at my fingertips I was able to find their actual website and read about their philosophy for myself. Everything about them was screaming YES and conveniently they were not too far down the road from us in Banstead, Surrey.

I immediately got in touch, giving a potted history of Milly and the struggles we were having, and frankly probably pleading for their help.

They didn’t have a space to see Milly for a couple of weeks, and there was paperwork to do, including a referral / confirmation from my vet that Milly had no underlying medical issues that could have been contributing to her behaviour. Whilst that was being organised they invited me along to see their classes in action one Saturday morning.

I arrived as instructed in my wellies and fleece in time to watch the end of the previous class, before joining them in the secure field with their clients and dogs for the next session. I was completely overwhelmed. Partly due to the fact that I had spent 12 months avoiding dogs at ALL COSTS, so to be in a field with a dozen or so, all off lead, was a far out concept even though Milly was safely at home on the couch. What was most fascinating was seeing Penel and Laura and their own dogs in action. How they were reading the situations, and how their dogs were basically supervising the interactions between the pupils.

I was only there for about an hour but I came home an emotional wreck. I couldn’t believe what I had seen. I was crying with amazement, joy, relief and profound HOPE. I had found what I was looking for.

Dog Communication – Penel and Laura – were what Milly and I so desperately needed.


Milly’s initial consultation came around a few weeks later, and Matt and I arrived at the crack of dawn with our little furry student ready to be assessed. I was as nervous as hell to be honest. I always was with anything to do with Milly. For some reason I always felt like it was me who was on trial or being tested. Her behaviour was being watched, and to some extent, so was mine. I needn’t have worried that day because Milly completely outshone anything I could have done. Unsurprisingly, she was OFF THE SCALE. In this circumstance this was actually a good thing – we needed them to see her at her worst.. and I can assure you they did. Although vastly experienced in their field I think Milly was one of their more extreme cases.

Unusually for me I can’t remember the finite details of the assessment – probably because I was so stressed throughout – but I know that Milly proved herself quite incapable of any reasonable interaction with Barley the Lurcher, who was Penel’s helper on that day. Thankfully for us Penel and Laura were not at all put off by Milly’s true colours – I was a bit worried that they would turn us away. But they did not, and they agreed to help us. Thank goodness for them.

They gave us long one to one slots first thing on a Saturday before any other clients would be arriving at the farm. A session consisted of 45 minutes of trying to desensitise Milly to the existence of another dog (completely stationary and silent) on the other side of the fence. We started at the furthest point in the field and walked back and forth, trying to inch closer with every turn, and all the while rewarding Milly with high value treats when she was not reacting.

The overarching assessment of Milly at that time was she was “too stressed to learn”. This makes me feel so sad.. this really was not a good state for her. Deemed totally over-comeable however, we were given homework exercises to take away. These largely involved “clicking and treating” to reward calm behaviour at every opportunity.

We had a number of weekly sessions but each time we started at the same distance away, and took the same amount of time to inch forward by the same small amount…. poor Milly was not making much progress.

During one session Dog Communication even brought their autistic dog along… my confused face was met with the kind explanation that sometimes special dogs can make a connection where the other dogs can’t. They can connect with their own…. and so we discovered that Milly was probably in that category… “Special”.
Alas that lesson still wasn’t a great success – Milly had a good shout at the autistic dog but we didn’t have a major breakthrough.


After several weeks Penel and Laura decided we really needed to focus first on reducing Milly’s stress levels. They gave us everything they could – tools, instructions, advice and recommendations on supplements she could take.

Armed with all of this, off we went, still hopeful that we would get there, but just accepting we needed to take this little detour on the path in order to get to the end point.

The only things they couldn’t give were motivation and resilience.

They turned out to be critical, especially the resilience… day after day I had to power on, implementing all of the strategies they had given us. Regardless of whether or not I felt they were working, I wanted to follow their instructions to the letter.

Success or failure was resting on my shoulders alone… I wouldn’t have been able to handle it had I “failed” but having knowingly not done exactly as I was advised.

So I followed the rules.

Me and my eager little student set out to de-stress… because there was no alternative

because Milly…

Precious Treasure

On Friday morning I received the phonecall that I have been eagerly waiting for, and was really hoping I would get before this weekend. Ashes into Glass called to let me know that my jewellery was ready. They said it would take 6 weeks, and it has been exactly that since Milly’s birthday and the day we went up to the glass workshop to place the order.

Already committed with a family get-together yesterday, it had to be today that we went back up there. It was important to me that Sophie would be with me so had planned for that from the beginning – and the timing worked perfectly because Rob wasn’t working so was able to come too. We four set off from home just before lunch. We arrived in Billericay in no time, but this time because the M25 was kind not because I was speeding (Matt was behind the wheel today!).

I hope the photos largely speak for themselves and so there is little need for me to whitter on, but I will just give a very brief description.

Ashes into Glass have made me a beautiful white gold pendant. Milly’s ashes are set into a gorgeous handcrafted black gemstone. They are distributed so evenly that the stone looks like an amazing starry night sky. The whole piece is just lovely and completely unique and I am so pleased with it.

To me it is PERFECT, like Milly, and I can treasure it forever.

xx Thank You Ashes into Glass xx


We had planned to make it a bit of a day out by having lunch then continuing up the A13 to Southend-on-Sea for a mooch on the pier and an icecream. Change of plan though when we realised that the Dogs Trust Basildon Annual Family Fun Day was being held in the showground opposite the Barleylands Craft Village! Soph adores dogs (well, all animals really) so there were no objections to cancelling Southend this time. We arrived in time to see the “Best Rescue” category in the show ring, followed by some of the dogs available for re-homing. The Basildon Centre, opened 4 years ago, currently looks after 90 dogs. NINETY. It’s just so sad.

They weren’t all out today, but we did see an adorable pair of inseparable friends. Andreas the Pyrenean Mountain Dog.. and his best friend Pippin the Westie!

Andreas and Pippin need a quiet home together, and we hope they find one soon.

Thankfully the weather was great (unlike yesterday) and there seemed to be a really good turnout at the event. Even though it was fairly late by the time we were admitted, there were still lots of families there. And lots of dogs. It is just so alien to me to see dogs – multiple – just chilling out in the same space. Some interacting with each other, some interacting with people and some just interested in standing quietly beside their human. But they were all there together. I think it will take me a very long time to get used to that.

It was lovely to be there, and I’m glad we went in, but I did find it very hard to be honest. At one point Rob very sweetly asked me if I was sure I was ok to be there… he could obviously see I was biting my lip and struggling not to cry (totally forgot my Jackie O sunglasses that I could’ve hidden behind). It’s so hard to explain the feeling. It’s not like it was a painful memory because it is not a place that we could ever have even considered taking Milly to in a million years.

i guess it’s just a deep deep sadness.


Without going into details, it has been a difficult week for me.

I’m the first to admit that I am finding things quite hard… at times I’m feeling very low and struggling for motivation, struggling to find my purpose and my place in space again. But I’m trying to “carry on normally” and, unlike the first couple of weeks, I don’t think I’ve got a massive sign on my head that says “bereaved”. I’m going to work every day, I’m shopping and cooking, I’m washing and doing laundry (I don’t clean.. lovely Pipi looks after that), I’m caring for people, I’m training… Given how much my heart is aching I’m actually pretty proud of how well I am coping. Maybe I’m not very objective but 99% of the time I would say I’m not “a mess”.

I’m connecting with lots of people on social media, by sharing my daily photos and happy memories (recommended technique for dealing with pet loss). I’m really enjoying my sporadic blogging and slowly building up Milly’s story to hopefully eventually create a lasting legacy.

I’m so touched by the number of really kind people that have reached out to me, either with nice feedback on my blog, or just general kindness. Many that I know, but also many that I don’t know. I’ve got a couple of lovely contacts on Instagram who engage with me every time I post one of my “remember a day every day” photos… they think it’s a lovely idea and a lovely way to celebrate her.  When you are going through a tough time it’s very nice to be surrounded with love and with genuine empathy.


I’m over the denial stage. I’ve accepted that she has gone and is never coming back. But the rest of my grief journey is just that…. MY grief journey. It is personal to me and it will take as long as it takes and I am completely ok with that.

Having said that, I wouldn’t mind accelerating to the stage where I can say “we lost Milly” without completely breaking down. Once I’ve shared the initial news I can have a conversation about it without crying, or if I’m talking to someone who already knows then I’m fine, but when telling a “new” person for the first time.. total mess ha. I’m sure it will get less raw.. won’t it?

In the meantime I’ve had some cute little cards made up with this http://www.becausemilly.com site so that I can “tell” people by choking out “lost Milly, can’t talk, read this” and thrusting a card into their hand before running away (which I did at the gym this morning…. sorry!)

 

I’m hoping that having my pendant now will help settle me a little further. Milly is always with me anyway.. she lives in my heart and my mind… but having my little piece of perfect around my neck will be a very physical reminder.

I also hope that I will now find the strength to stop carrying Milly’s little collar around with me. It has been giving me comfort round my wrist, in my pocket, my handbag, or under my pillow for the past 12 weeks…


But not tonight. Tonight both her collar and my precious treasure will be kept close.

because Milly…

Doors, barricades & tailgates

It looks like WordPress (the blog hosts) continue to be concerned by the number of visitors I am getting. Or, more accurately, the lack of visitors I am getting. Perhaps they are not used to blogs or bloggers who can survive on such little traffic. At the time of starting this I’ve had just the one visitor today. That’s one more than none, but considerably less than most blogs probably. I’m not dissatisfied with just one visitor – my dear musician friend Canada says that if his creations entertain just one person* then he is happy. Likewise for me, if just one person reads one of my blogs and walks away with a picture etched in their head of my little Milly, then I too am happy. If they are mildly amused or momentarily entertained then all the better. But WordPress are not so easily pleased, and have again sent me their best tips to increase my site traffic.
(* “one person” cannot be your mum)

Content. They advise me to publish more content more frequently. Firstly, do that not realise I have a day job? As much as I get incredible flexibility from my employer, I think blogging in the office would be a step too far. Secondly, what could I possibly blog about on a daily basis? The only thing I could write about would be the minutia of my everyday life, and I can assure you all that that would soon get a little tiresome. It could drive my viewing figures from one to none!

That said, today, I am going to write about some everyday life minutia…. but hopefully not in the tedious “sharing my every move on twitter” way that has become a bit of the norm.


To state the complete obvious – I miss Milly every day. Meaning that every single day of my life now I miss her. She isn’t with me, she isn’t here, and I miss her. Not a complicated concept to grasp.

In an earlier post I talked about the “everyday tasks” that now don’t exist.. the ones that were caring for Milly.. walking, feeding, brushing etc etc. Those have also gone. Again, not difficult to see why they leave a gap.

There is, however, a whole other level of “everyday” that I am still struggling to get my head around, even all these weeks on. And these are the simplest of things – gestures and actions – that are an inherent part of my everyday life, and have become so because Milly.

I can’t bore you with all of them, but I can give a couple of examples from the last 12 hours.


By now you should have the picture that Milly was a restricted dog. Because of her dog-phobia and chase instinct, she could not be allowed to roam free. I accept that lots of dogs are “on-lead” dogs, but Milly was next level. As a result, we very quickly adapted to being “checkers” and “shutters”, especially when it came to being outside. Fortunately our garden is now laid out such that we have just one entry point to the wide world – the side gate. Slightly more challenging is the fact that, around the bungalow, we have 3 sets of doors to the garden, plus the front door straight onto the driveway. This is where checking and shutting comes in to play. Checking where Milly is or isn’t, and shutting this one or that one accordingly.

It’s not that Milly spent her entire time plotting to escape, but just that if, at the exact moment she was glancing out of an open access point a fellow canine happened to be walking past in her eyeline, it would be game over.

It would’ve been nice to think that, providing the gate was shut, Milly could have the run of the garden without supervision. In the past she used to, however the arrival of new dog owning neighbours either side put an end to that.

She used to have particular trouble with Tia – the loveable chocolate lab whose side alley runs the entire length of ours. Unsurprisingly Milly’s nose would tell her if Tia was outside, and she would go into a state of high anticipation… ears pricked, nose twitching, the odd squeak or whimper. It usually wasn’t until Tia made a sound – often just a single quick bark – that Milly would react. We have a 6 foot solid fence, so there was no chance of any contact, but Milly would race up and down the alley barking and lunging at the fence in a complete frenzy. If nothing else, I was terrified of her hurting herself , so it had to be prevented. If we were on our way to or from a walk the lead was clipped on/off inside the back door, rather than at the gate which is how it used to be. If we were just “outside” in general then we made a barricade between the back of the house and the shed to stop her from getting to Tia’s fence.

Initially it was a temporary one, fashioned up from whatever materials we could find.

This is it. With Milly looking innocently back from the side she was not supposed to be on…

Barricade FAIL.

 

 

 

 

So out came the big guns – ply wood, a saw and some screws – and Matt made us a more sturdy sliding gate/door.

On the other side and behind (our garden is U-shaped around the bungalow) we had Harry the pup to contend with. Harry just wanted to play, but clearly his innocent racing up and down the fence line completely terrorised poor Milly. It didn’t last too long though because Harry escaped a few times out of his front gate and was then given less opportunity to do so, meaning Milly could have some peace in her little patch of outdoors.


On a day like today – when we were gardening and pottering outside – Matt and I would normally be communicating constantly on where Milly is, and who has shut or opened what. “I’ve opened the gate, keep the dog with you”.. that sort of thing. One of us, usually me, had an eye on Milly at all times. But today there was no need, and I was extremely aware of it as I wandered in and out of the house, and back and forth from the front garden to the back garden. I was habitually pulling the gate shut behind me and doing a quick check that, if the gate was open, both the back door & the barricade were firmly in the shut position. I’m sure I’ll get used to it not mattering, but today it just felt weird.

The importance of shutting doors also applied to the front door, and the door between the living room and the front hallway.

I never ever wanted to be in the position where Milly could “greet” someone coming in the front door. Although it’s totally lovely to be greeted be a smiling face and a wagging tail, if you are wrestling your way in the front door loaded down with bags with barely a free hand to turn the key in the lock, you don’t need to be caught unawares by Milly on the other side of it. Not that she would try and dart out, but if at the very moment you were making your bag-lady entrance, a dog happened to be passing across the end of the driveway it would not end well. Even more of a disaster could unfold if the dog was walking past the end of the drive on the opposite side of the road… So it just was not worth the risk. Ever.

That is The Rule.  Milly doesn’t come in and out of the front door, or have the opportunity to do so, without a human attached. Or rather, Milly didn’t. Keep getting my tenses muddled don’t I.


As well as the gardening and stuff, I did a Tescos shop today… so how on earth I am going to tenuously link this back to Milly? “AS IF Milly used to come to Tesco with you”. Well of course she didn’t, but I often used to think how nice it would be to take her inside and walk around knowing that there was almost 0% chance of meeting another dog. In all the years I’ve lived here I have never once seen an assistance dog in Tesco Hookwood, so a wander down the aisles would have been pretty safe. Illegal I guess, but that isn’t as important as it being dog-free.

So other than the reminder of the now unnecessary “door rules” associated with ferrying supermarket shopping into the house, the other “everyday” is that I no longer have to wedge my shopping into the dog bag or pile it on the back seat.

A dog bag… but isn’t that for picking up poop?! Well yes, that is one type of dog bag, but the other is of the car carry bag variety, to stop your beloved canine traveller from roaming around in the vehicle.


As you saw from my last blog on France, Milly used to travel quite happily (although often noisily) on the back seat of the car. Whilst this could be ok if there were two of you travelling it wasn’t ideal for day to day stuff, or around town. I also think that it might be illegal not to have your dog properly restrained. I feel like I should know that. I’ll look it up.

For a while Milly had one of those plug in seatbelt harnesses, but I think they work best for non-agitated dogs, because Milly used to just get herself tied in knots in it.


When we first got Milly I had my trusty hatchbatch – a black Astra lovingly named “da Copter” – and Matt had a classic Mark II Golf. Deciding we needed a sensible “dog car” we bought an old Passat estate to trial. I was far too attached to Copter so Matt took the Golf off the road and drove around in “the Longun”. We got on well with it, it was super practical for runs with Milly, and did us proud with that trip to France and various other road-trip adventures for a couple of years.

Despite being a 2.5 V6 Diesel though it wasn’t exciting enough for Mr Petrol Head (not to be confused with Mr Potato Head). We swapped it for a slightly newer and more whooshy 2.8 V6 Petrol 4Motion Passat. I say “swapped” in the loosest sense. We didn’t actually swap it – we never do – we always buy the next car and then ponder for ages what we might do with the old one.

The Longun eventually found home with the late Mr Lorusso, our good friend Mikey’s dad. When Mr L Senior passed away the Longun went to our friend Chad, and then eventually after some years of good service, it came right back to Matt, who finally scrapped it. That sort of thing is pretty normal for Matt and his friends. All have multiple cars, and will loan this one to that one, or buy that one from the other one. Was totally alien to me. My car was my all time pride and joy and the only person fully trusted with it was my Dad! I’ve relaxed on that now, and will get involved in the borrowing/lending/sharing to the extent that it can help others out.


The White Passat never got a name, but it had a reputation.

In a former life it was a service vehicle. Tell tale signs were score marks from decals on the exterior, rubber grommets covering aerial holes in the roof, evidence of electronic equipment on the dash and the front headrests being screwed in (?). It also had serious “limo tint” all round, which made it look pretty mean. We guess it was either Police or Paramedic. Either way though, it went bloomin’ quick, and with the lovely feeling that you only get as you wind up a petrol to the red line.

By this point Milly had progressed to the boot, with one of those universal “trombone” dog guards, where you extend the rails to fit the shape of your car…like the sliders on a trombone. Well clearly Milly knew her way around musical instruments. On one particular journey she made it known that she wouldn’t be restrained, and a bit like that playground game “What’s the time Mr Wolf” she snuck her way out of the boot and into the car.

Each time we turned around she was making another move until she was happily in position leaning on the back of the drivers seat.

 


In addition to all the physical gadgetry of a service vehicle, something had also been done with the electrics of the Passat. Specifically the central locking. We should’ve known something was dodgy when, very early on, the car self locked with the key inside. With no spare, Matt set about the door with a crow bar and a length of steel rod and somehow managed to activate the unlock button on the door in order to break back in.

For me, however, I found the boot catch more problematic and it gave rise to one of my most embarrassing stories of all time.


It was late on a Sunday afternoon and we had invited Mikey round for a spot of tea. Matt was busy in the workshop doing something or other so I made a quick dash to Tescos to secure us some pie and mash, and a few essentials. I returned to the car with my shopping, duly loaded it into the boot, returned the trolley to the bay and set off home. It was only when I was turning in the top of the road that I clocked in the rearview mirror that the tailgate was wide open. How long it had been like that I have no idea… I had the stereo so loud playing my tunes I hadn’t notice the buffeting wind noise.

All Matt remembers is me running down the yard drive calling him saying “Matt come quickly, I’ve lost the shopping!!”. I made him drive me back to Tescos, and round the carpark, but my shopping was nowhere to be seen.

Who knows when I lost it.. maybe I pulled out of the space with such gusto that it was immediately ejected, or maybe it was when I careered through the petrol station on two wheels after deciding to abort a refuel because of the queue. Whatever happened anyway I felt like a total idiot (and rightly so). I also had to make an emergency trip to little Tesco to try and get something to feed us and Mikey for dinner. I can’t remember what we had in the end but I do know he was very grateful not to be fed a cheesecake with tyre marks on it! Almost 8 years on and we STILL frequently joke about bringing “a road kill dessert” as a contribution to dinner.

I admit that I was a bit of wally that day, and had I practiced my very best Sunday Driving I would have safely delivered our groceries home, cheesecake and all. However TO THIS DAY I still stand by the fact it was a faulty boot catch. Plus, all normal modern cars have lights and alarms that go off when a door isn’t shut properly… where were those lights when my cheesecake needed them?

To prove my point it happened to me a second time – although thankfully there were no carrier bags in the road and no witnesses this time – but I had been following a horsebox so there is NO WAY it was my acceleration that caused the jettison of cargo.

One plus point of the Passat was the tow bar, which I used to good effect as a fender to prevent me fully reversing into walls. It was a LONG car I tell you.

So given the untrustworthiness of Milly, the boot catch and/or my driving, we invested in a travel crate for Milly in the car. This meant she could be securely stowed and the thing could be covered which would prevent her catching sight of any hounds out of the window and getting stressed out.


On changing cars again, this time me “swapping” Copter for my favourite car of all time – The Rocket – the crate was deemed too likely to get clanged against the body work and do some damage, and we instead got her a Dog Bag. Very similar to a pop-up festival tent, and just as impossible to dismantle, this thing was an instant hit.

Milly was so keen to get in it that she got on it before I had fully lashed it in to the car.

She also used to snuggle into it at every opportunity, I suppose it was like her little Wendy House.

 

After 5 years my beloved Red Rocket was “swapped” for the more sensible and sedate Bluey, a big mistake which was hastily remedied with another swap onto the current beast of an Audi-with-no-name.

Throughout these car changes I’ve managed to avoid Matt’s persuasion to get something small(er) and nippy with the “I need an estate for the Milly” excuse… I’m hoping he doesn’t suggest any fleet changes on my side in the near future because I’ll probably just stamp my feet and say I WANT AUDI. The only thing I could be possibly be tempted to upgrade to would be something with an autoclosing tailgate.

Because it was such a pain in the bum to unclip and dismantle, I used to keep the tent up all the time. Everything – like shopping, gym kit, laptop bag – used to just fit in or around it, and I got used to not being able to see in the rearview mirror.  Like a van, the wing mirrors were perfectly adequate. Although I realise I’ve been driving around with an empty tent for the majority of the time, it was her tent, Milly’s tent. Her little safe space away from home.

Today the dog bag no longer lives in the car… it is sitting in my office room – still popped up, because I’m just not ready to put it away yet, and even if I was I’ve lost the instructions so I don’t know how to fold it up and squeeze it back into it’s child’s napsack-sized case.


But as I went to Tesco and threw my shopping with ease into my fancy Audi, with it’s boot open warning light and all round parking sensors, I felt a pang of sadness at the empty boot.

Similarly when I got home and opened the front door AND the hallway door at the same time, propping them open to bring my shopping through to the kitchen, I was all too aware that there was no Milly there to keep shut in. No little nose checking out my shopping bags and hoping I had ventured down the dog treat aisle as I normally did. Matt was there – obviously – and hoping I had snaffled him an ice-cream from the freezer aisle (which I had), but it wasn’t the same….

So although I miss her every day, Milly is completely intertwined IN my everyday. There are connections and links and thoughts where you would never think to notice them. But to me they are as obvious as the moon in the sky…. they are part of me and although they haven’t always been there, they are now and I really think they always will be.

because Milly… 

Milly goes to France

I flipped a coin on the topic for today’s blog. I was either going to write about anxiety (mine) or Milly abroad. Luckily for you guys, Milly came out on top.

As soon as Milly came home to us we knew we wanted to involve her in every aspect of our life, including holidays. Little did we know how unrealistic that was going to be. At the time however that was our intention and we duly set about obtaining the documentation so she could accompany us abroad. A rabies vaccination, some blood tests and a large chunk of cash later, we were the proud owners of a UK PET PASSPORT.

Despite battling our way through the start of 2010 with Milly, when the opportunity arose at the end of the summer to go and stay in our lovely friend Caro’s delightful cottage “La Grange” in Provence we took it. And took Milly with us! We weren’t going completely blind – Matt had already spent a week down there and sussed out the area. Although nestled in a little village, Matt assessed that the location was quiet enough that we would not have any dog trouble. I was sold.

Other than the usual holiday packing I had to go into full organisational mode with regards to Milly. Back in 2010 the PETS Travel Scheme requirement to cross the border back into the UK was that the documentation had to evidence that the animal had received certain medicines between 24 and 48 hours prior to the date of re-entry. This meant we had to take Milly to the vet. In France. And not just anywhere in France either, in deepest, rural France. Given that vet visits at home were extremely stressful because of the inevitable presence of other canine patients, the thought of going to a local French vet filled me with fear.

Not only was it a vets visit, but it also had to be a vet who could scan the microchip and complete the requirements under the PETS scheme. Cue avid Google search. Primarily using British forums, because everything else I found was in French, I was able to identify a suitable Veterinary Practice in the neighbouring town of Uzes. Next challenge. How do you make a Vets appointment in French? Whilst also explaining that your dog is severely dog phobic and so we must be confident we can ensure no dog-dog interaction? No idea frankly. Drawing on my pre-GCSE level French lessons I could tell you that a chien is a dog, but that is about it. Luckily for me our dear friend Chad (Otto’s daddy.. see earlier post Goodnight Fat Cat) speaks fluent French. Hurrah. Appointment made, instructions given, and assurances received that everything could be done to comply with the PETS scheme.

My biggest worry about taking her over there was that something would go amiss with the paperwork and she wouldn’t be allowed to return home. My parents know of a couple who took their dog on a trip across the channel in their personal boat. They didn’t give it much of a thought but when it came to coming home their docs weren’t in order and some major scrambling had to be done. Little dog had to come home on the Eurostar.

Next on the agenda was ensuring that I had the ability to communicate effectively with the owner of another dog, just in case any situation should arise. Pretty sure “Non” accompanied by some wild hand flapping wasn’t going to cover it. I went to Aurore at work, who hails from Toulouse, and she kindly wrote me out a very easy and succinct sentence that delivered the message I needed. It was along the lines of “My dog is scared. Please keep your dog away. Thank you”. I had it written down in my purse, but I practiced and practiced it just in case. How ever I thought I was going to have the presence of mind to use it in the moment I have no idea – in my native tongue I can only just about manage to yell “NO. NO. AWAY. NO. NO” over the sound of Milly’s barking. Never the less it boosted my confidence knowing that, in theory, I could say what I needed to say.


I don’t remember why now, but for some reason we booked the Dover-Dunkerque ferry crossing. Given that I suffer from motion sickness (and did then!) I don’t know why I would have done that. It would have been much more sensible to book the tunnel, which is the only way I’m prepared to drive on to the continent nowadays. But in 2010 a ferry crossing it was.

I imagine that for normal dog owners, or at least the owners of normal dogs, there is a little bit of uncertainly when it comes to making this trip for the first time. Until you’ve done something once, you don’t really know what is what, or how easy things are going to be. There is only so much internet research you can do from traveller reviews, noting that plenty of those you have to take with a pinch of salt. For us, the owners of a special dog, or at least for me – the worrier – there was a large helping of apprehension.

We had booked a crossing at stupid o-clock in the morning, not only to allow us to cover the miles down to Uzes in a single day, but also to hopefully be on a quiet crossing.

On check-in at port they give out the regular car mirror hanger thing, and on ours we were also proudly displaying a big sticker to show we had a dog on board. Directed to a boarding lane number we thought nothing of it, until we arrived at the lane and realised it was the dog lane. And there were three other cars already in it. Gulp. Milly was not making her maiden voyage as a lone canine.

Once aboard the ferry I was trying not to freak out that our car was surrounded by other cars containing dogs. As those of you who have been on a ferry will know, you have to vacate your car and go up to the passenger deck for the duration of the crossing. Where “you” means the humans. Canines remain locked in your car, on the car deck. I did know this in advance, and must have thought I’d be ok with it. But when it came to it I felt awful leaving her. I was also desperately worried that she would realise she was surrounded by dogs and get herself into a terrible state. For 2 hours. At that point however there was no going back. We were loaded on and the doors were shut – we had to get upstairs. I spent the trip fighting both my seasickness (with extreme mental concentration) and my anxiety over Milly (using much of the same technique).

No joke I was the first person back onto that car deck when the tannoy gave us permission. Turns out there was nothing to worry about, for Milly was curled up fast asleep on the back seat.


The drive down to Uzes was about 1000kms and, given that I insisted on us stopping every hour to let Milly stretch her legs, it took ages! Didn’t matter though – we had successfully made it to France! We were on our holidays!!

 

 

Milly started off alert and scanning the horizon as she usually did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

She must’ve realised the scenery wasn’t changing much as we bombed along the toll roads, and soon settled down to a slightly more relaxed position.

 

 

 

 


On arrival at La Grange I was extremely pleased. The garden was gated and surrounded by high walls, a handful of houses in the village, and La Grange itself was cosy and perfect. We were going to have brilliant week!

On closer inspection the following day, we discovered that the courtyard garden probably wasn’t escape-proof enough for a dog as determined as Milly so we fashioned up a long line so she was free to roam, but not disappear.  No worries.


Unfortunately we did have three near-misses whilst we were there.

The first, and the funniest, was when we were taking our evening walk out of the village and on a little circuit down some country roads. Like a lot of dogs, Milly likes to hug the fence line, and was doing this along the perimeter of what appeared to be a very large property. So engrossed in what was going on outside, she initially didn’t notice that INSIDE the fence line the resident dog was doing exactly the same thing and trotting alongside her. Unfortunately neither did we! I think all 4 of us jumped out of our skin when she did finally notice.

The second less funny event was when I was taking Milly out on my own during the day. Following the same circuit which, aside from the perimeter walking dog, we had deduced was super quiet and very low risk. On approaching the village on the way back and being in sight of our gate, around the corner came a dog. On his own. No lead. No owner. Clearly he was just taking himself for a little walk. He spotted Milly and started advancing, tail wagging, ready to greet her with the universally accepted customary bum sniff no doubt. Milly spotted him and reacted as usual. We tracked back a little way, and he stopped, but was stood neatly between us and our gate. We were trapped. Perfect.

Having relaxed my “take mobile phone” rule because I was on holiday, I had no choice but to call for Matt, hoping that he would be able to hear me and come and rescue me. I have no idea how far away I was and even if I had known it wouldn’t have helped because I have no concept of how far you can throw your voice. So all the while keeping one eye on the guardsman blocking our path, I yelled for Matt as loudly as I could possibly manage. Thankfully he could hear me, and came out to lead the loose dog away whilst Milly and I got safely in the gate. Matt said I was loud. The entire village probably heard me. Sorry about that village.

The final incident was not funny in the slightest, and literally makes me shudder with fear when I think about what could have happened. I will therefore gloss over it with minimal detail. Turns out the guardsman dog lived in the neighbouring house to La Grange. He came outside and barked one day, and Milly saw red and took a running jump over the garden wall. With lightening reactions Matt turned round and managed to grab hold of her line. With a superhuman heave on it Milly must have spun around mid air and reappeared face first over the wall, landing safely back on her paws. Can’t even think beyond that. Needless to say I didn’t relax outside very much after that. Milly had proven that she couldn’t roam on her line. For the most part, her and I stayed inside.


On one day mid-week we were feeling adventurous and drove down to the beach at Montpelier. Having located a secluded spot, and sussed out a safe route back to the car for emergencies, armed with my French phrase from Aurore, we spent a bit of time chilling on the beach. Despite the remote location and there being nothing on the horizon between us and Algeria, Milly remained on high alert most of the time. She just couldn’t help it.

 

One of my favourite photos taken on that day Matt had enlarged onto a canvas for me at home. When he placed the order the retailer referred to it as “lady with smiling dog”, and that is what we still fondly call it.

You can’t tell from this shot but she actually has her paw resting really sweetly on my knee.


The end of our holiday was drawing near and so was our pre-booked vets visit. Being ultra-prepared we had already driven through the town and sought out the vets, worked out where we would park etc. We arrived on time – first appointment after lunch – and thankfully were the only clients. With no stressful waiting in reception we were seen straight through to the vets office where she was waiting for us. With her MASSIVE golden retriever napping under her desk. HOLY. COW. Somehow we managed to rapidly reverse a reacting Milly out of the room and down the corridor whilst the poor retriever was relocated to continue his nap in peace somewhere else.

The vet did the necessary treatments and signed the book. Phew.

It wasn’t until we got safely back into the car that I realised she hadn’t actually scanned Milly’s microchip! She could’ve been treating one dog and signing the passport of another for all she knew. Nevermind.


Following another mammoth road trip through central France we arrived back at port in good time for our return ferry. All documents are checked by Border Officers before you board the ferry, leaving you free to disembark and put your foot down on the other side. Still, we had nothing to worry about – all three of our passports were present and correct. Looking at our sun-tanned faces was enough to confirm our identity, but Milly needed a microchip scan.

Which didn’t work.

The Border Officer handed me the scanner through the car window to do the honours on the back of Milly’s neck. One attempt. No chip. No bleep. Second attempt. No chip. No bleep. My pulse was through the roof.. this cannot be happening?? The Officer must have taken one look at my ashen face and realised that I wasn’t faking this panic to try and smuggle a dog across the border. She waved us through without the successful scan.

Less dogs travelling on the way back, so I only had my sickness to concentrate on, and we arrived back at Dover in good time. 90 minutes later our adventure ended when we closed the bungalow door snugly behind us.


Although overall we had a lovely time, the trip wasn’t without it’s little stresses. The guardsman dog, the napping retriever and the microchip fail were all filed away in my memory bank. At the time we didn’t rule out taking her on holiday again, in fact we even renewed her rabies vaccine in 2012. But as her story unfolded it became more and more difficult to find the perfect trip, and to be honest I became less and less brave about doing so. We did look into several trips but each time we considered taking her away we came back to the decision that it just wouldn’t be relaxing for us or for her. Not only abroad, but we researched UK based dog friendly holidays, cottages for rent and that sort of thing. Despite hours of research, and using Google earth view to full effect to determine the locality of cottages to ANY OTHER properties, we never did book anything.

I have always felt sad (and a bit guilty) that we never took her further afield again, but then I remember that trip to in 2010 and her smiling face on the beach. We took her to France! She paddled her paws in the Mediterranean Sea! Not many Surrey dogs can make that claim.

We tried our best. But ultimately settled on what we all deemed was the lowest stress solution all round. That was the story of her life.


Since 2010 Matt and I haven’t been on very many holidays ourselves, but we were lucky enough to give Milly her perfect holiday each time…. a stay with my lovely parents.

 

Somewhere where she felt as safe and as loved as she did in her own home……because she absolutely was.

 

 

because Milly…

Becoming Milly’s proper Mummy

Despite seemingly “settling in” at home very well and very quickly, looking back Matt and I realised that it actually took quite a long time for Milly to come out of her shell. We think it was probably the best part of a year before her little dogonality was fully revealed. This is a largely uneducated guess but we attributed this to her being highly stressed and almost shut down when she was in kennels. I don’t know if there is such a things as Canine PTSD (?) but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect that, after months of being in kennels with/near the enemy (all other dogs), Milly might’ve been suffering from it.

When I look back now, I can’t quite put my finger on why we felt that she wasn’t herself for so many months, but we definitely discussed and agreed on this some years back now, so there must’ve been something, or a number of things, that made us feel that way.

Similarly, I guess it took me some months to adjust to my role as a doggy mummy. With hindsight I realise that I actually had no idea what I was doing beyond the essentials.

From day one I was absolutely meeting the most fundamental and basic needs of a dog: Food; Shelter; Exercise. I took those duties very seriously.
I was also dishing out a bucket load of affection and ardently following her around with my camera phone to ensure that I captured those all important “firsts” and cute moments.

First “sore paw” incident – early 2010.

I’ve never seen someone look so unimpressed at a first aid attempt.  I’m sure that special bootie cost me the best part of a tenner.. and lasted on her foot for all of 4 minutes.

 

 

 

First “snow day” – Winter 2009.

There’s something extremely cute about paw prints in the snow.

 

 

 

First “bath time” – Winter 2009

Wasn’t a favourite.  Like a lot of dogs Milly loved a muddy puddle or a slightly stale pond, but give her a warm bubble spa bath and a fluffy tumble dried towel and she was unconvinced.

 

Despite really loving her and caring for her, I didn’t actually have much of a bond or connection with her in those early months. She knew I was the food provider and the boss in the house but that was about it. Something that probably made it considerably more difficult to build that connection was the fact that she was literally unrecognisable and unpredictable out of the house. In truth, I was possibly a little bit fearful. Not of her directly – I never ONCE thought she was going to turn on me. But the fact that we stepped out of the house and she immediately became a different character made me feel uneasy I guess. Just as a loose point of reference I’ll liken it to someone who has been drinking excessively…. people can “turn into” something or someone that you don’t recognise. You aren’t scared of them, but you can be a little scared by the drastic change. When the alcohol wears off, or in Milly’s case when the back door shut behind her, they are again themselves and, probably – through sheer relief – you forget all about it.

I didn’t knowingly feel scared – but now I have all the time in the world to look back and over-analyse I can come up with these things. Hindsight eh.

Despite having a Jekyll and Hyde for a pet, I was largely unperturbed, and just ploughed on doing what I had to do. I never regretted anything but looking back I was out of my depth with “special dog” ownership.

I was, however, in the extremely fortune position of knowing a superstar dog trainer, and I went to her to receive some very basic but crucial guidance.


After completing my GCSEs at 16 I went to college at Brooklands in Weybridge. It felt super grown-up at the time.. it was a campus college and not attached to a school, the tutors were tutors not teachers and known by their first names, you only had to be there when you had actual lessons, and my Economics tutor – the infamous BOB – used to regularly send us home from class early so we (or he?!) could go to the pub. It was at Brooklands, and in Economics, that I met Michelle. Michelle was from Goldsworth Park Woking (I can still remember her home address from 20 years ago!), and despite being only a few months older than me, she seemed much more worldly wise than I did. The unexpected free-time that Bob used to give us was often spent honing our American Pool skills at Planets in Woking with other friends Gemma – my best friend from home – and Paul, who Michelle knew. Blimey weren’t those carefree days.

Michelle and I got on well from the beginning, although we had a momentary glitch when she snogged my ex-boyfriend on a Geography field trip in France. I wasn’t best pleased at the time.

At home Michelle had a lot of dogs – I’m going to punt at usually 5/6 at any one time – because her mum was/is a MASTER trainer. From what I knew or understood then it was mostly agility training, but I think she has done every kind. I confess I was too busying thinking about boys and driving and parties to pay too much attention to the dogs, although we did visit her a number of times when they had puppies because Gemma was a major animal lover.

Michelle is petite, proper cute (still now) and looks like butter wouldn’t melt, but she has the fastest tongue of anyone I know. There is a superb story of her Year 11 Prom (or some other school organised party). I hadn’t heard of it, but Michelle went to one of the more down-to-earth schools in Woking (not dissimilar to my Sunbury Manor experience I think).

So legend has it, at said school party, things got a little heated at the end of the night and security were brought in complete with their ferocious guard dogs.  Tiny Michelle was surely front and centre of the commotion. When faced with the threat of having the “dogs set on them” Michelle took one look at the snarling, barking hounds and delivered some quick-witted & frankly cheeky response to the security guard before proceeding to call one beast over for tummy tickles and a chin rub. Whether it was actually her dog whisperer talents or just her bolshy confidence that told her she wasn’t going to get savaged I’ll never know, but she walked away unscathed.

Anyone who can talk down a guard dog was pretty impressive in my 17 year old mind, and this story still makes me chuckle out loud to this day.

Michelle wasn’t hugely committed to studying at that point in her life, and after just over a year or so at Brooklands she left and started working full time in Mr Cod. Michelle had enough courage and self-belief to try her hand at something different, and she went on to qualify as a Financial Advisor, sit A-Levels, study for a law degree and complete her Masters. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if I saw in the paper that she was running for Prime Minister.  I do actually think she would make a cracking job of it.

Oh, and she is also now an awesome Mummy to two beautiful daughters. Last time I saw them, her eldest girl was certainly showing signs of the same quick wit her mummy has…. good luck Michelle & Tim!!



So, back to 2010, it was Michelle’s mum – who was living just a couple of miles away – that I turned to for advice on Milly.

She was never going to be a flyball queen, but I came away with a much better understanding of some of the basics. I learnt that “assertive” was just that. It wasn’t angry, or mean. It was just assertive and confidently in charge. It is said that it can cause more stress to a dog if they don’t know who their pack leader is. Drawing on her Collie genes, Milly proceeded to master various commands with me, including but not limited to: Wait (obvious), Close (turn 180degree at heel), Touch (my hand with her nose), Down (again, obvious).

 

Milly proudly showing off her “wait” command in 2014.  Took me 5 attempts to get this picture before she was allowed to snaffle the hot dog lettering.  I felt very proud of her.

 

 

Amongst other things I also learnt from Liz that it would be hugely beneficial if I was relaxed and happy, and she had me giving upbeat chitter chatter to little Milly on all of our walks. Milly never chatted back, but I’d give her a run down of my day, my shopping list or anything else that I could deliver in jolly sing-song voice. Despite feeling like a bit of a nutcase at times – some youths in town once mocked me after observing “listen to her, she’s talking to her dog” – there is no question that Milly and I were seriously bonding over the months that followed.

Although I wasn’t able to influence her reactivity towards other dogs at that time, her and I were having a better time of it out of the house and our relationship was progressing nicely. Whether she would’ve admitted it or not, I know I stopped being just that annoying and slow human on the end of her lead… it didn’t take too long before I was Milly’s proper mummy.

because Milly…

 

I also need to mention here that Michelle’s immediate reaction on hearing about my loss of Milly was to drop absolutely everything and head over to my house.  Busy lives and commitments now mean that we don’t see each other or speak from one month to the next, but in one single text message she reminded me why she is, and always will be, such a good friend.  As it happened I had forced myself into the office the very next day in order not to be home alone so Michelle didn’t need to make her emergency visit.  But that fact that she was going to, and I know would’ve exactly done the same had I messaged her at 2am not 9am, meant so much to me.  Thank you x