The Brightest Star in the Sky

Long time no post.


And I really wish I had a great reason, a meaningful reason. But I don’t. I’ve basically just been too busy at work since about October to find a spare hour in the week, let alone the usual 3 or 4 it takes me to prepare a post. I still have several years of Milly’s tale to tell, and have my original handwritten notes where I jotted down the few headlines that sprang to mind when I first decided to start the blog. I am still committed to finishing her story and to sharing her with the world but, full disclosure, I just don’t feel like story telling today.

I don’t feel like much today. I feel kinda weird.

Why? Well today is 15th February… and marks exactly 1 year since I lost my beautiful girl.

Although the weeks and months have been flying past at a rapid rate, today hasn’t wholly crept up on me. I have seen it approaching for a few weeks, and have been thinking hard about how I would spend the day. I had always thought I would take the day off, although with no concrete plan as to what I would do with my time. Given that I’ve been putting in 60 hour working weeks for what feels like forever, and have several more weeks of this to come, it actually felt a bit counter-productive to take leave today. I’ve been regularly waking up in the night thinking about accounting infrastructures, and spreadsheets with formulae to make your eyes water, so it was always highly unlikely that I’d be able to switch off today.

As well as having just far too much on my plate, I also really struggled to think of what I wanted to do to mark this first anniversary.

Go to Milly’s favourite place? Nope. She didn’t have one because we couldn’t really go anywhere.

Eat Milly’s favourite dinner? Tempting. Who doesn’t love sausages and mash.

Spend the day looking at photo’s and remembering? That’s pretty standard for a good portion of every day. Most of you probably see my daily instagram posts.. I’m still working my way though a 3000+ strong photo collection.

My only other option was to get my tattoo. Only slight flaw in that plan is I haven’t fully decided what I want or where, and even if I had, I am 100% allergic to the mere suggestion of pain of any kind (pain = fainting). So it would probably have to be in the form of a transfer or a sticker anyway. Not worth taking a day off to draw on yourself with a felt-tip.

So when it came to it I decided just to have a mostly normal day. Whilst that may sound dull, or not very significant, it does actually make sense. Milly needed normal. She needed routine. Her world was small, as I’ve described before, and this gave her the security and comfort she needed to be ok. Anything too far outside of her normal just caused stress and anxiety.

In her later years Milly’s normal looked a lot like this

So today largely became just another Friday. Matt and I went to spin class at 6:30, and by 8am I was settled down in my office with a massive mug of coffee and an overflowing inbox. This morning was pretty uneventful, although at about 9:15 I had my first meltdown. Sadness and grief and just sheer disbelief. A year. A whole year. Three hundred and sixty five days since Milly slipped out of this world. HOW has that time passed? And how much do I just MISS HER?

After the morning’s calls and a few hours staring at the screen Clover and I set off for some fresh air. We walked Milly’s circuit today… the same route, the same direction, crossing at exactly the right spots. The only major difference was on bumping into Tia (our Choc Lab neighbour) out for her lunchtime stomp, Clover and I just stood back at a few metres distance and let her pass with one little excited shout, rather than tearing the other way out of the field like Usain Bolt. It’s taking me some time to adjust to this new level of canine tolerance.

Whilst Clover was largely oblivious to the meaning of today, and embarked on our walk with the usual exuberance of a bull lurcher – deploying launch control to achieve record breaking 0-60 after every pause, and executing turf destroying wheelspins at every opportunity – I was struggling. The weather was glorious. Blue sky, sunny and mild – it felt like a spring day – which can usually lift anyone after the long dark days of the winter. January has felt long indeed and after days and days stuck on conference calls, it was nice to see some daylight. Sunshine on your skin can’t help but make you smile. Balancing that out was the fact that I just felt sad. I’m not sure if my eyes watered the whole way round from the bright sunlight or from the overwhelming emotion.

Throughout today I received several messages of kindness and support. Starting 3 minutes after my alarm, with a Whatspp at 5:43am (someone has clearly been up half the night with their new puppy!), I’ve had a constant flow of people checking up on me and showing me their love. It has been much needed and very appreciated. 15.02 is a date I will never ever forget, but I wasn’t expecting so many other people to remember it too.

Despite not taking leave, I was intending to shirk a bit this afternoon and have a little bit of down time, but as seems to be fairly routine at the moment I got stuck into something meaty after lunch and the next thing I knew Clover was off charging round the house with a Ted to greet Matt seconds after she heard his key in the door. 5pm came and went, and I finally pushed my mouse aside at about half 7. Still got a bucket load of work to do but that will have to wait until tomorrow or Sunday somewhen.

There is no doubt that Clover has brought some sunshine back into our lives, and it would be unfair not to include her in today’s story.  She is proving to be a very sweet and loving companion, and is taking care of me in a way I hope Milly would approve of.

Clover has some similar traits to Milly, but in many ways is very different.  Both the similarities and the differences are bringing us much needed smiles every day.  It’s incredible how very grey things can get before you even realise.

One of the added benefits of a cloudless sunny day today is an uninhibited view of the night sky. Where we are in the South of England it’s not always easy to enjoy a clear night – so much light pollution from the airports and the motorway and just the towns generally. Darkness is one of the things I like most about getting away to the countryside.

Weather-wise Thursday 15th February 2018 was a day very like today. Blue sky day and a clear night. I think I can remember that now, although at the actual time ANYTHING could’ve happened in the universe that day and I wouldn’t have noticed. My universe had collapsed at 9am and I was deeply in a shock state that lasted for days and days.

One of the reasons I know for a fact it was a clear night is because on Friday the 16th February my mum told me what she has seen on looking out of the bedroom window on the Thursday night. Low in the sky straight ahead was a very bright star. A star actually SO bright that my mum was convinced it must’ve been a planet, and duly went to get the iPad to look it up. After a quick check on Astronomy Now you can imagine how emotional she felt when she discovered it was not a planet, but a star.

A star called Sirius. Also known as The Dog Star. And genuinely, truly, scientifically, factually THE brightest star in the sky.

Forgiving my terrible photography (how ever do you take a photo of a photoframe without a disastrous glare?) this is a favourite piece of artwork added to our memories collection in the last few months.

Quite hard to see, but Sirius truly is the LARGEST star on the star map. I also particularly like it because the moon is nowhere to be seen.

Tonight again, one year on, Sirius is shining bright and moving from east to west across the southern sky.

The Brightest Star. The Dog Star. Milly’s Star.

Please look out for it if you are out and about tonight, and give her a little smile. Let her know she is not forgotten. Not by me, but not by anyone.

because Milly… xx

Expanding the Heart

I am completely surprised to be writing a post today that I genuinely thought would take YEARS to get to. This year has been unspeakably hard. I’ve been up and I’ve been down, I’ve been negative and positive, happy, sad and angry and EVERYTHING in between. Often without warning or triggers, these emotions can flip on a coin. What has been constant throughout this year is the firm understanding that life continues, and even when I didn’t think I could, somehow I’ve faced every day. Granted it will NEVER be the same again. But the sun rises and sets, and the days and weeks pass.

For some people being busy is a good distraction. Some people just need the passage of time. Others, like me, would actually prefer unlimited head space to process and process and process some more, until everything is neatly put to bed.

In recent months I’ve not had as much head space as I feel I need. Don’t get me wrong, I thrive under pressure, and when all the plates need spinning I step up and spin them. But the first thing to slip when work and life takes over is my “processing” time. I’ve been working long hours, trying to stay on top of sleep and fitness, and just trying to get back to being the best that I can be, in as many directions as I can. This has lead to me de-prioritising the processing, which ironically then requires even more processing because I get upset with myself for not doing something that is SO important to me. There just are not enough hours in the day. I’m sure a lot of people feel like that for lots of reasons!

I’m still on the treadmill and I’m still spinning all the plates for a good few more months, but somehow I need to find more time to do the things that I need to do, and say the things I need to say.  New Years resolution in the making perhaps.

I’m not done grieving. Not by a long way, My heart is still aching, and the panic still comes out of nowhere sometimes and knocks me sideways. I think of Milly every single day. I miss her like nothing I’ve ever known. But I have realised that as much as I might want to sometimes, I can’t put life on hold so that I can neatly finish my grieving.

So the grieving will have to carry on alongside the rest of life, and will take as long as it takes.

What I have therefore also realised is that, if I wait until I’m done grieving to move forward, I’ll be old(er) and grey. Meanwhile there is warm sofa and a comfortable home, and a lot of love and kindness that is just going to waste.

I haven’t been “looking” for a dog. I haven’t even considered being ready to have a dog. In fact quite the opposite, I’ve been totally adamant and openly telling people just a month ago that I am absolutely not ready and have no idea when I will be. I wonder now if by doing this – by saying it out loud – I’d inadvertently put the thought in my head and have since been subconsciously challenging my own words.  Probably.  Sounds like the sort of way my brain might work.

Two weeks ago a good friend of mine, who is also a bereaved doggie mummy, and knows exactly where I am at, “shared” a post on Facebook. (I found out afterwards that she just had a “feeling” and nearly tagged me in the post, but didn’t want to upset me so just shared it knowing I would see it anyway!).

The post told the story of a nine year old lurcher girl, who has been patiently waiting in rescue for a home since her owner sadly died in February. Despite all their efforts to re-home her, and having numerous viewings, nobody has offered this lovely girl a home.

I follow plenty of rescues, and have so many dog lovers amongst my friends, that I see rescue posts all the time. I read them all, I onward share many of them, and I always feel sad and hope that the little canine involved finds a home.

But two weeks ago I just felt differently.  I still don’t know how or why, and it was so unexpected, but I did.

I wanted to call the kennels…. and not only that, but after seeing so many shares and comments already on the post, I felt a moment of “oh no but what if I phone and she has gone”. That panic didn’t last long thankfully.. but it was replaced with a smashing wave of GUILT that I could even be considering calling them. I felt AWFUL and completely broke down on Matt. Again.  He consoled me with hugs and words and promises that it wasn’t unkind to Milly, and that it wasn’t trying to replace her.  He even shared with me a long thread from one of the FB groups he’s been following where lots of people were exchanging their feelings on losing a dog, whilst having another, and how they are all loved equally and in their own way.

I went to bed declaring I would “sleep on it”. Tried and tested method in my family for making sound decisions.

When I woke up the guilt had numbed a bit, but I still wanted to call.

Despite the kennels opening at 9 I didn’t phone until almost lunchtime. From the messages I had seen on FB I was just so convinced someone would’ve snapped her up that I wanted to delay hearing that disappointment.

You have probably worked out by now where this is going.
So long story shortened for the first time ever in this blog….

I am pleased to introduce to you Miss Clover Bray


Clover is an absolute sweetie and we think she is settling in well. Over the past 8 days she has test-driven every bed, dog bed and sofa in the house, and seems to approve of them all. Choosing to sleep most of the day, she has little bursts of energy which result in her nose butting you, bowing down and barking for playtime. After 8 years with Milly – who didn’t really know what playing was – this is a completely different and new.

In fact everything is different and new, and I am trying very hard to keep it that way and avoid any sort of comparisons, because that wouldn’t be fair on either Milly or Clover.

At the moment Clover is undoubtedly confused and probably just waiting to be “collected”. She has spent 11 months under the care of Kat and the kennels team, and most recently spent a week at home with Kat and her family (human and canine). The bond between them was so clear, probably because Kat has given Clover so much love and patience, and put so much energy into socialising her and trying to find her a home. We are sorry you guys had to wait so long, but we promise to give Clover the very best of everything that we can. Thank you for everything you have given Clover, and for waiting for us.

Perhaps this is too strange, but I also really want Clover’s owner to know, wherever he is, that she is safe and loved and will be cared for to the best of our ability. I don’t know his circumstances but I cannot imagine facing the end of my life knowing there is nobody to care for my beloved dog after I am gone. Heartbreaking.  We promise to love Clover and give her all the happiness we can, until the bittersweet day comes when she will leave our world to be reunited with you in yours.

It is early days for us all. Clover has a lot of settling in to do. I have a lot of adjusting to do, and am just hoping that the rollercoaster of emotions I am feeling starts to settle down quickly

Clover isn’t Milly, and I wouldn’t want her to be.

I truly love Milly, and love her with my whole heart, and I know that I always always will.

What I also know now is that my heart is really big, and after rebounding some from the massive blow this year has dealt, it has grown bigger still.

My heart is plenty big enough to love two dogs, and I am so pleased that it is Clover who has found us and chosen to be that second dog.

And so with both tears and smiles, our journey continues, another chapter starts and our hearts expand.

And I know now that I have got the strength to see it through.

For Clover

But, like EVERYTHING in my life…..

because Milly… x

Welcome to our family Clover

Custom “Clover” collar lovingly handmade by Dog ‘O Nine Tails on a moments notice before Christmas break xx Thank you so much Lisa xx


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


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, 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.


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…