About becausemilly

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

Miles and Milestones

Sunday 16th September had been a target date in my calendar for many months. Mostly in a good way but also in an “I feel a lot of pressure” way.

After competing in my first ever sprint triathlon on my birthday back in June I very quickly turned my attention to running training. Determined to give 100% to honour Milly I talked to my lovely PT and worked out a plan to not only complete the half marathon, but to do so in a decent time. I’ve been adamant all along that I am “not a runner” and that this would be my first and my last distance event, so I wanted it to be a good one. Go big, then go home.

Unfortunately I picked up a slight injury during the Tri, which put the brakes on any actual running. My “training” therefore consisted of a rigorous routine of physio/rehab exercises and as much Body Attack as I could fit in. The sum total of my running efforts was 7 training runs over 10weeks for a cumulative distance of 50km. At the end of August we were questioning whether or not I should even be attempting it. There is no doubt that I was completely unprepared.

The pressure in the run up to the event was completely self-made. Bottom line was I could’ve walked the course and still achieved what I had set out to do. But that really wasn’t good enough for me, and I didn’t think it was good enough for Milly.

Despite setting up the JG page when we signed up months and months ago, because of my disastrous prep I felt apprehensive about the fundraising aspect, and really did delay in sending out “the email”. What if, when it came to it, I couldn’t actually do it?

There was never any doubt about Matt’s ability to run a half marathon. Having not run once before the start of the year, and barely deploying his own training plan until the start of August, it turns out that he is actually rather good at it. Admittedly he has probably left it a smidge too late to launch his running career, but despite threatening to sell his running shoes on eBay the day after the half, I’m actually convinced he’s got some more races in him. Watch this space!


In the week leading up to the event I was so moved by the incredible support that we were receiving. Not only in terms of donations, but also the encouragement and moral support that I desperately needed. My grieving has been incredibly slow and incredibly painful, and this half marathon has been a major milestone in my grief calendar. I still don’t know what I was hoping or expecting to feel, or how I thought things might change, but I was totally certain that I would feel “something” different afterwards.


When race day arrived I felt surprisingly calm and ready to go. Even though I was physically completely unprepared, mentally I was ready and knew that I was going to finish. Matt was running for time – he was too quick not to – but for me the goal was just to “finish” and accept I’d have to deal with injury and fall out after the event.

 

Setting off from Reigate Priory and heading towards home felt daunting… it’s actually quite a long way to Horley and back…. 13.1 miles of long way to be precise! Matt and I started out side by side, but after the first km uphill we knew I wasn’t going to be able to hold the pace that he needed to smash the clock, so he charged off ahead. Headphones in, with a killer playlist, I settled into my stride alone.

 

You may recall that the reason we chose Reigate was the route.. specifically that it comes right past our front door and so along a stretch of road that formed part of Milly’s walk every single day.

Running down from Lonesome Lane I saw the smiling faces of Oz & Karen, and Carol & Amy outside their house on Lee Street clapping & cheering people on. Seeing people you know on the route really makes such a difference. Our house was about 5.5miles in, at which point I was holding a steady pace that would’ve got me a 2 hour ticket had I been able to maintain it.

Coming over the bridge into Mill Lane I was on my first “home straight”. Heading actually for home, past my dear neighbours who I am saluting here.  John’s greeting for me was “well done love, only 20miles to go”!

 

 

 

 

A few more paces and into the waiting arms of my parents, Matt’s mum, and brother and sister-in-law. The pause was less than a minute to slurp some fluid before setting back off on “Milly’s walk”.

 

 

 

 

Rounding the corner at the top of our road I passed Matt coming the opposite way and followed up the Reigate Road just a few minutes behind him. This part of the race was so poignant for me, as I really was retracing Milly’s steps. In the “training days” Milly and I would walk endlessly back and forth past this road sign…. back and forth.. forth and back

It’s quite hard to run with a lump in your throat. In fact it’s quite hard to do anything with a lump in your throat and a build up of intense emotions making your face ache. I seem to spend a lot of time like that at the moment.

The drag up the A217 to Reigate is llooonnnnggg and largely free from houses. My pace was dropping off, the 2hour pacemakers were out of sight ahead, and my lack of running was evident by the pain in all of my joints. I didn’t know how far off the mark I was going to be, but by the time I reached the killer hill on Park Lane East I knew I had no chance of hitting a time that I wanted. Although everything was hurting quite badly, stopping was not an option, and neither was walking.

The pain was etched on my face as I crossed the finish line with a chip time of 2:09:45.

I could barely stand as I staggered into the medal zone. I was completely overcome with exhaustion and emotion.

Matt managed to find me and prop me up, along with my parents, friend Marion from ECR and my stepson Jamie and his girlfriend Willow. Having that support at the finish meant such a lot to me even though I couldn’t really string a coherent sentence together.

Matt had finished almost 20 minutes before me with a fantastic time of 1:52:02 and even pulled his quickest split out of the bag for the final km. I am so proud of him

(Although he was 16 seconds too fast really… 1:52:18 would’ve been out of this world!)


At the time of writing this, our fundraising total is £2,835.75.  This is truly a staggering amount and far more than we had ever hoped to raise.

The fundraising side is so very important to the rescue – Nikki of Epsom Canine writes:

“Heartfelt thanks to Heather Bray and Matt Bray for their tremendous fundraiser in memory of the lovely Milly x They raised a fantastic total of £2823.25 for ECR in a year where kennel fees have nearly doubled and fundraisers have been thin on the ground x Cannot thank you enough guys and know how hard the last months have been for Heather. Lovely to see you both last Sat at our walk and having a cuddle with Trixie xxxxx”

 


The fact is that the real thanks go out to all of you.  We really are beyond overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness of so many people.


THANK YOU” on it’s own doesn’t really seem weighty enough to show my gratitude and appreciation. But it’s the best we have in our language so here we go…

♥ Thank you ♥ to every single person who donated – we can see almost everyone’s names and I will be reaching out individually as much as I can.

♥ Thank you ♥ for the early donations as soon as we started the page and when we were still totally engulfed in grief. It really helped us to focus on a positive. I know these thanks are hugely and embarrassingly overdue… at the time I was suffering from severe social paralysis, and, as ridiculous as it seems now, I just couldn’t handle even reaching out to acknowledge. So so sorry for my lateness, I realise it must have seemed very rude.

♥ Thank you ♥ for the “special” donations.. meaningful numbers and perfectly calculated amounts to hit meaningful targets. None of this went unnoticed and, for someone who has developed a lifelong habit of making sums from the numbers on a digital clock face or a number plate, this was so appreciated.

♥ Thank you ♥ for making donations at specific times on specific dates to give me a little boost when you knew I would be struggling.

♥ Thank you ♥ for donating twice!

♥ Thank you ♥ for donating with Milly in your heart and your memory.

♥ Thank you ♥ for donating on race day, when I was systematically checking FB and Insta and email almost continually as a means of distraction.

♥ Thank you ♥ for cheering us on around the route, for handing out jelly babies and for high fiving us on the way to the finish.

♥ Thank you ♥ for every message of kindness and support, not only for the Half, but also just generally towards me this year.

♥ Thank you ♥ for sitting with me in the canteen the very next morning, listening and showing such compassion when I was basically jibbering and in shock.

♥ Thank you ♥ for sorting and printing photos and stationery and mugs for me. In the first few weeks putting focus and energy into something tangible was an amazing coping mechanism.

♥ Thank you ♥ for checking up on me, sometimes constantly.

♥ Thank you ♥ for messaging me with my new most frequent emojis “hearts” and “paws” and treasured hashtag… #becausemilly.

♥ Thank you ♥ for avoiding eye contact with me in the office because you know I will struggle to stay composed.

♥ Thank you ♥ for making eye contact with me at a crucial moment when my eyes are shiny with tears and you want to pull me back up over the edge.

♥ Thank you ♥ for not losing patience with me when I haven’t replied, sometimes for days or weeks.

♥ Thank you ♥ for knowing when I need to talk and, equally, when I need to be distracted instead.

♥ Thank you ♥ for not being awkward when you’ve asked me how I’m doing and, out of nowhere, my throat constricts and I can barely squeeze out any words for fear of sobbing.

♥ Thank you ♥ for endlessly going over and over things with me, empathising with me, hearing me and understanding me when I’m trying to analyse why I’m still feeling how I’m feeling so many months on.

♥ Thank you ♥ for not judging me and for accepting that I am just not “ok” and may never be quite whole again.

♥ Thank you ♥ for letting me talk and talk and talk, and share all my thoughts and feelings even when I’m feeling a bit bonkers and not really making any sense.

♥ Thank you ♥ for letting me cry, and sometimes sob, despite not knowing what has set me off or what to do to help me, especially when it’s in the middle of the night and I am inconsolable all over again.

♥ Thank you ♥ for looking at my “Remember a day every day” pictures, liking and commenting on my posts. Complete strangers sending their love and best wishes, reaching out from around the globe to show their appreciation and affection towards Milly. It’s overwhelming.

♥ Thank you ♥ for reading any/some/all of my story and laughing, crying or smiling along the way.

Thank you all so very much for everything …

but most of all, THANK YOU for caring and THANK YOU for remembering.  My biggest fear is that because she could never really be widely known, Milly will just fade away.  The actual thought of this can bring on a chest tightening anxiety in me. I want to believe that my feelings will be enough to keep her memory alive, but in case they are not, I’d like a buffer of the combined power of you all behind me, remembering her just a tiny bit, and helping me out.


By now you may have worked out that I am a super sensitive person. Many a time I have had to check myself with a reminder to “not take it personally”. I think 999 times out of 1000 this feedback is given in a negative situation… someone did something against you… “don’t take it personally” you are told. So this is how you try to be and try to think. And in a lot of those negative situations it protects you, and you are able to distance yourself and not take it personally. Which is good, right?

But what about the flip side?…. I know I have never thought about that before…..

So now, on reflection, I don’t think I want to be a person who goes through life striving to take nothing personally, because, frankly, sometimes stuff is PERSONAL.

Sometimes people have done things.. good things… to you, for you, about you.. because of YOU.

Every single thing I have given thanks for above I have taken HUGELY personally, and more importantly I have taken personally on Milly’s behalf.

Because for me, it is all about her.  It always has been.

because Milly… x



Run Reigate Half Marathon – 16th September 2018

Referral to the Top Dog

After persevering with the all of the tools Penel and Laura gave us, and implementing all things TTouch learned from Jacqui, we returned to Dog Comm months later with what we thought was a much less stressed Milly. We weren’t completely wrong – she was less stressed than she was (it’s all relative right?), but she was still too stressed to learn in that environment.

It was time to call in the big guns.

Penel and Laura said they would like us to consider a referral to veterinary behaviourist Jon Bowen. They told us Jon was very experienced in difficult cases. He is the man to help dogs where other methods have failed. There was no doubt Milly was a difficult case, and despite doing everything we were told, our other methods had ultimately failed.

Of course we didn’t hesitate – we were past the point of no return, and there was nothing we wouldn’t do to try and get closer to the end point. After seeking a formal referral from our Vet we contacted the RVC at the Queen Mother Hospital and made an appointment.

I will never forget our the day of our consultation. It was my 30th Birthday. Despite leaving bags of time, the M25 was a total nightmare and we ended up being late. Thankfully clinic was running behind schedule as well that day and we got away with it.

We relayed everything to Jon – everything we knew and didn’t know, everything we had done so far, everything that we basically hadn’t achieved. During a really long consultation he listened intently, asked lots of questions and gave us a plan of attack, following up a few days later with a thorough written report.


In summary we needed 1.Medication 2. Training and 3. Time

1. Medication was fluoxetine.. which you may recognise by its more familiar name of Prozac. Despite not being licensed for use in dogs at the time, neither of the two licensed medications were appropriate for her situation. So. Prozac it was. I used to “joke” that at dinner time it was one for Milly one for Mummy but the truth is that I was so overwhelmed with Milly and with just about everything I only just swerved going back down that path for myself.
So. Milly started on Prozac, where we expected to see beneficial effects within 4-6 weeks, and with a minimum treatment time of 6-8 months.


2. Training, in two stages The first being in a dog-free zone, with the objective of reducing anxiety. The instructions for this were very similar to what we had already deployed with Penel and Laura – short walks, get Milly’s attention, click and treat. At least I had already sussed out the best place to buy bargain hotdogs. We certainly went through a lot.

I have Jon’s full report in my hand….

“Anxious dogs are vigilant because they are trying to find sources of information about their environment; they need to know about everything happening around them in order to feel secure. The problem is that dogs, like Milly, who have an anxiety disorder will never be able to find enough information to enable them to feel secure. They keep scanning their environment but never feel like they really know what is happening or how to cope. We need Milly to learn to look to you for information, so that in any situation where she is unsure what to do, you will be her source of guidance”

When I first re-read that it brought a lump to my throat. The Milly we had then was so different to the Milly we shared the last few years with. Yes – perhaps she was never ok with other dogs – but seeing that in black and white print reminds me of how bad she was, and just how far she came.

It also makes me feel desperately sad and protective. I know it is wrong to project human emotions on to animals, but Milly had anxiety disorder #truestory. As a suffer of anxiety myself in the past, I know too well how scary and crippling that can be. My poor little Milly.  She needed me to be her security and, so far, I wasn’t doing a stellar job at it.

(The second stage of training was instructed to be with other dogs – but that was so far down the road at this point I’ll leave it for a follow up post)


3. Time. There was NO QUICK FIX. Whatever we did, it was going to take time. I think from our efforts so far we already knew this, but Jon re-iterated that it was going to be a slow process. He expected that good results would be achievable, but that we couldn’t rush the pace.



Off I went back round the M25, aged 30, and armed with Prozac and instructions, to start the next phase of rehabilitating Milly…

This photo I have already shared, and I absolutely love it, but on checking again I can see it was taken the day after our consultation with Jon.

 

At this point it really was prescribed rehabilitation. Everything we had seen and suspected had been confirmed and diagnosed. Milly 100% genuinely needed help. Of course we knew that anyway, and had being doing our best so far, but to have it all explained so logically and succinctly by Jon the Vet, the undisputed Top Dog of behavioural consultants, really helped.

My commitment to her was never ever in question, but seeing Jon at a time when things were really tough gave me the added strength I needed to carry on carrying on.

because Milly…

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…