Happy Birthday dear Milly

Pleased to report that Mr and Mrs Bray have survived another milestone day.

Today – March 31st 2018 – would have been Milly’s 15th Birthday.

As I said in an earlier post, being a rescue, we never knew her actual date of birth, but 31st March was what we always celebrated. Not that Milly really knew what a birthday meant. She perhaps had a slightly fancier dinner – a Lily’s Kitchen special – got an extra walk or a smart new collar. But in reality none of that mattered to her. All that was ever important was that she had her humans around her, and she felt loved.

This is a fairly difficult thing to put into words, but I would probably describe Milly as emotionally needy. She was certainly very complex, and our connection was on quite a deep emotional level. Perhaps that was created from the concentrated training we did, or perhaps it was just what both her and I needed in order to function well, but our relationship was quite intense.

Although she was our dog, our family dog, and we all loved her hugely, I don’t think Matt would disagree if I said she was really “my dog” in terms of responsibility and commitment. It was mummy and Milly versus the world, and her and I both knew it.

Obviously compounded by her issues, she was not an anyone or anywhere dog. There were very few people who I was prepared to burden with the responsibility of looking after her. I realise that may sound like a glorified way of saying I was over-protective, and maybe in some respects I was. But ultimately she was not an easy dog out of the house, and to someone who hasn’t experienced a “Milly” before, what I used to describe of her behaviour probably sounded completely ridiculous and alien. The risk of someone misunderstanding my “she’s not good with other dogs” as anything other than “if she sees another dog she will go totally crazy and try and pull your arm out of your socket” was just too high. It was therefore much fairer on everyone (including her) that she had only a tiny handful of nominated carers if we were ever away (which didn’t happen often).

For all these years she has featured in every thought and every decision I have made. In the past couple of years I have very purposefully made my world smaller and reduced my commitments in order to just be around her. It’s been apparent for a very long time that she wasn’t ever going to be a “take everywhere with you” dog. We only had a small selection of family and friends that she could visit with and over time I found that if I wasn’t going somewhere that I could take her then I didn’t really want to go. If I knew she would be at home with Soph or with Matt, then I felt better about it, but when offered to do something that meant leaving her in the evenings or weekends I generally avoided commitments. My friends may realise now why I’m always SO happy to host at home.. “why don’t you come to me” must be one of my catchphrases! Although, in fairness to me, that wasn’t the sole reason – we have worked incredibly hard to make a very lovely and comfortable home and I really enjoy welcoming visitors, cooking, entertaining and generally taking good care of my people here.

Don’t get me completely wrong – I’m not saying I refused to leave her – but just that I really adapted my life and my interests such that I was at home as much as possible. I wanted to be with her, and I think she was happiest and most settled when she was with me.

Since her passing, a few people have asked me about burial & cremation etc. Although forward thinking to that time was largely avoided, we knew it would have to be cremation.

For me, burial just doesn’t work because putting it bluntly, if I buried her in the garden here then I would NEVER be able to leave. Matt was agreed with cremation as well. Years ago I know he went through the heartbreak of burying his first dog. Bringing her home from the vets, digging a hole in the front garden and placing her down lovingly in her blanket. He knew there was no way he or I could endure that.

With cremation comes that slightly odd decision of what to do with the ashes. I have zero frame of reference on this, other than perhaps the scene from Meet the Parents when Ben Stiller smashes Grandma’s urn with a champagne cork. I guess I know that sometimes people choose a favourite place of their loved one to scatter their ashes. A favourite spot perhaps, be that under a tree, on a hillside, out to sea… I can see how that would make sense. For me though, and for Milly, it doesn’t. She didn’t have a favourite spot, she didn’t roam the hills or the woodlands, sadly she couldn’t have the freedom to pick one. Fairly simply, she belonged next to me.

On the day we lost her, Matt handled the discussion and the paperwork. I could barely manage a nod between the sheets of tears running down my face. I don’t even remember he and I discussing anything, but we must have said something on the subject. Perhaps when sitting in the car outside waiting for her test results. I would guess I probably said something, even though I was sitting there feeling numb and in complete denial as to what I knew in my heart was likely to unfold.

Matt gave instructions for a private cremation, with ashes returned in a wooden casket, engraved with just her name.

We went together to collect her ashes on Monday 26th February. It was the most bizarre feeling. The vets handed me a little carrier bag. I couldn’t look inside, but I clung to it all the way home and sat frozen with it on my lap for a good half hour when we got here. Again with silent tears streaming down my face the whole time. I’m pretty good at crying.

I had tried to avoid giving it much thought, but I hadn’t expected the little box to be a wooden replica of the sort of stone tombs you see in ye olde graveyards. I also hadn’t contemplated how heavy it would be. I was however very pleased to see that it was a fully sealed box and so there was no way of “accidentally knocking the lid off”.

My dressing table was hastily cleared (one swift swipe of everything into an open drawer) and Milly’s little box took up it’s position, and there it will probably stay forever.

Since walking out of the vets on that awful morning of February 15th I have had Milly’s collar either under my pillow, round my wrist, or in my handbag or pocket. Realise this probably sounds nuts, but it has given me a shred of comfort and something very physical to cling to – literally – when the sadness washes over me.

I do know that this probably isn’t practical, and cannot continue forever.

With a little bit of research, I think we have found the next best alternative. Ashes into Glass are a company who take cremation ashes and, using traditional methods, handmake them into glass crystals that can then be set into pieces of jewellery. I’ve known about this company for a few weeks and have been looking back and forth over their website, but haven’t made the time or frankly had the courage to get in touch. They offer a postal ordering service and will send you out a pack on request. Somehow this doesn’t feel quite right. I don’t like the idea of sending something so precious through the post and am not sure I could cope with unscrewing her little box and removing the teaspoonful they require to set into the gem either.

So, instead, we decided that a visit to the workshop was best. Not only could we see the products offered, but we could hand deliver Milly’s ashes, and have them discreetly and respectfully take what they need.

By now you must realise where this post is going….

Milly’s birthday was obviously the right day to make that trip. My super parents drove down at lunchtime, and the four of us set off to Billericay, Essex. I am aware that I wasn’t a barrel of fun today, and despite trying to put a brave face on it I created a fairly sombre mood in the car there and back.  I also probably drove too fast to get there.  As always I am so thankful for my non-judgemental, non-critical parents, who are always so good at gauging the mood, and knowing just how to “be”.  Not to mention Matt., who is the most consistent and solid rock standing by my side.  With zero words between us he knows exactly what I am feeling, and exactly how to give me comfort and strength.

Ashes into Glass have their workshop in a really sweet craft village at Barleylands. It is a lovely setting, with lots of artisan craft studios and stalls, and a farm next door. On a practical note it is also extremely easy to get to, easy to find, and easy to park in the huge free car park. It’s a shame the weather wasn’t drier and milder because it is the sort of place you can spend a good couple of hours mooching around.

No need for that today though as we were there with one purpose (well maybe two if you count the post-shopping visit to the Tea Room). The Ashes into Glass showroom is a small area right next to the workshop where you can see the glass making process up close. Although it is a “working” workshop, with the background whoosh of the high temperature furnace running, it felt very peaceful and just respectful. Apparently you can arrange to be present when your actual glass gemstone is being made, which is pretty incredible, but a step too far for me.

I already had a good idea of the piece I wanted, but for something so special it was important to see them on display before making a decision. The salesman was a very gentle guy, and not really a salesman at all to be honest. He just stood quietly waiting whilst I looked at the display and then spoke softly and kindly as I choked back tears trying to place my order. My stone and jewellery will be ready in around 6 weeks. They will call when it is finished so I can arrange to go and collect it in person. I am pleased that I will have it before my birthday, and that then Milly will truly never ever leave my side.

I have chosen a beautiful round pendant in white gold, with simple engraving on the reverse. The gemstone will, of course, be black.

because Milly…

Finding a new normal

Another overdue post, as this one relates to last weekend again, but events of this week have taken over somewhat.

After our spontaneous overnighter on Saturday we both felt a bit weird after coming home Sunday. Partially because I hadn’t got beyond planning for Saturday’s bake sale in my mental to-do list, and partially because Milly’s absence felt pretty loud. Other than a sharp-elbowed trip round Tesco, the usual Sunday chores held little appeal. As the clocks had changed and it was a fine day, we decided to take a little trip out in the van.

The van is a recent purchase (in the last month) by Matt. Not his most recent notable purchase I might add. He has already added vehicles 5 (Audi A6) and 6 (Mazda Mx5 Mk1) to his fleet (or 6 and 7 if you count his Suzuki Bandit motorbike). No – before you assume he is a car dealer or a car collector – he is neither of these. He is just Matt. And buying / fixing / scrapping / selling / changing cars is just what he does. A lot. Everyone knows it and everyone loves him for it. He seems to go through cars like I change handbags. But that’s fine. As long as he is happy and leaves a space for my precious Audi on the drive. (And I can carry on changing handbags!)

Anyhow. It’s not always musical cars. The van is a keeper (apparently!).

Years ago, before I met him, Matt had a VW Type 25 air cooled camper named Kangchenjunga that saw his young family through a number of memorable holidays. Since then he has always wanted a replacement. Like for most people, life generally gets in the way of “nice to haves”, but finally he has bought his van – a 2004 VW T5 Transporter LWB Window Van (for those who know what that means) – and is planning to fulfil his dream.

Way back in 2009 I somehow came by a VW T25. It was basically a rolling shell and, under Matt’s watchful eye, I was planning to swap the engine and gearbox, fully fit it out, and get it on the road. Sadly in 2010 we lost all of the bits of disassembled camper in a fire at the family workshop, and it was decided that trying to replace all those bits was too big a task. My camper rolled off to the scrappy on a flatbed trailer. With hindsight, although I had buckets of motivation and Matt had buckets of expertise, I had probably bitten off more than I could chew. But at the time, I was adamant that it was going to happen, and this I told the RSPCA home checker when she visited on a Sunday in late October 2009.

I specifically remember the day, because the clocks had changed, and the home checker arrived an hour early by mistake.  This threw me off, as I was frantically trying to tidy up a bit ready to receive her. I also remember feeling incredible nervous because this lady – this total stranger – was standing between us and Milly.
The visit went fine and she gave us the green light.  Amongst the other standard checklist items, our 6 foot fences were already installed and the garden fully secure. We did have a hole in the garden (not from treasure hunting, but from Matt trying to locate a join in the underground waste pipe) and we were advised that we needed to fill it in because Milly could fall into it…. We didn’t get round to doing that before she arrived – our bad – but turns out that Milly found it useful for safely stashing bones so it didn’t seem to matter that we hadn’t.

Although clearly not a risk to doggies, Matt fell backwards into it once, thankfully not hurt, sadly no photographic evidence.

I recall very clearly that the home checker wrote in her report that “dog will be very happy with this family, and enjoy holidaying in their camper van”. So she had faith in my camper plan being a success, even if I didn’t!

Back to last weekend. Sunday. At about 3pm we set off in the van, bound for Climping Beach near Littlehampton, with a flask of hot coffee, our special new mugs, and a packet of white chocolate mice left over from Christmas.

Having taken the scenic route through Henfield and along the coast from Shoreham, we arrived at Climping but were disappointed to find the car park had slightly changed and you could no longer park up and stare out to sea. Never one to give up, I still found a creative way of enjoying the view.

Perfect Sunday afternoon activity right? Perfectly enjoyable and perfectly normal… or not. It is something that we have always wanted to do (although by regular car not van!) and would have enjoyed, but it just wouldn’t have worked for Milly, and we couldn’t possibly justify bimbling off and leaving her at home. Sunday afternoon “coffee with a view” has therefore always been hosted in the kitchen at home, with coffee, but no view. But with a relaxed and contented Milly, which was always the most important thing.

Depending on how well you know us, or how much of this blog you have read so far, you might be slightly bemused as to why we wouldn’t take our dog on a day trip? And to the beach!?! Why what fun that should be! Dogs loves the beach!!
And herein lies the problem.
Other Dogs.

Milly’s dog issues were so severe that taking her places was pretty difficult. Not only did she bark in the car but she couldn’t relax in a new environment, and as a result, neither could we. We couldn’t easily go anywhere where we might “see” another dog. Too stressful for her, too stressful for us. It just wasn’t worth it. Over the years we did try a few different places, but the risk of an uncontrolled interaction with an offlead dog was too great and just made it more of an episode than an adventure. Nobody needs episodes, so we stopped seeking them out.

On Sunday we saw just one dog – beautifully behaved on the lead a very long way away – possibly further now than Milly’s eyesight would have seen. So maybe we could have taken her. In fact, maybe we could have taken her a year ago, or two years ago, because she had improved so much. Maybe it wouldn’t have been an episode. Maybe we could have had some great adventures afterall. Maybe it’s far too late for maybes….

All in, Sunday was a day of conflicting emotions.
We had a really nice time. Felt so good just being together with nowhere else we needed to be. But tinged with sadness because Milly was missing…. only we knew that had Milly not been missing we wouldn’t have considered going. Like we rarely considered going anywhere just for meaningless pleasure. Ever.

because Milly…

Goodnight Fat Cat

True to my promise of not writing timely blogs, there’s been a bit of a delay since my last post. In some ways this is a good thing.. I’ve been able to fill my time with some other things that, before now, I haven’t felt that I have wanted to do.

Last weekend was bittersweet.

Some weeks back I had agreed to help our dear friends The Sharps with a spot of charity baking… the day finally came around and was this past Saturday. Chad Sharp is Matt’s oldest friend.. they met at East Surrey College in 1985 on their Mechanical and Production Engineering Course. Chad is super tall and super lovely and married to the equally lovely Mel. Although originally Matt’s friends, since meeting them 10 years ago they have become very dear friends of mine too. Chad and Mel are go to people. They are the sort of people you go to if you have a practical problem or a worry. They are the sort of people you go to if you just want to have a good laugh. They are the sort of people you go to if you just want a cup of tea and a quick natter. No invitation needed, they are always happy to see you when you knock on the door. I went through a short phase a few years back of accidentally inviting us for dinner, by turning up with a dessert 🙂 Mel is a great cook, and one of the few people I know who can turn the ordinary contents of the fridge into a delicious meal on the fly.

Completing the Family Sharp are their great kids Amélie (12) and Jamie (11). Amélie was the reason for the baking session at the weekend. Amélie and a school friend have started a 2018 fundraising mission in memory of a much loved friend and to raise money for the Children’s Hospice who cared for him during his battle with childhood cancer last year. All ideas are their own and they are showing energy and commitment to their cause. I feel so proud of Amélie for her resilience and for taking something so devastating and turning into something so positive. So Saturday was Vintage Bake Sale Day. Held at the Sharp’s home in Burgess Hill, complete with bunting, vintage teasets, including that belonging to Mel’s late Nanna, and most importantly delicious cake and hungry generous visitors. Saturday morning was spent helping Amélie with a few bakes, then I sat drinking tea whilst her and another friend iced 48 cupcakes and made labels for the display. Around came 3pm, the house filled with friends and neighbours, the tea started flowing and the event was a great success, raising an incredible £225 plus extra online donations from folks who couldn’t make it.

Matt had come down and, happily, so had Soph & Rob. I don’t think I’ve introduced her yet but Soph is Matt’s amazing daughter and Rob, her chap. More on those two later. Chad has known Sophie all her life, and Mel much of it. Although not so much recently, in the past Matt and Sophie spent a lot of time with the Sharps. They both said how lovely it was to see her, and to see what a lovely young woman she had become. Guess it is always strange when your friend’s children grow up into adults, but it is really nice when those relationships grow along with them.

After the cake had been eaten (mostly), the tea drunk and the visitors departed, Mel, Chad, Matt and I hit the sofa. What followed was a great evening of prosecco, curry, limoncello, more cake and an impromptu overnight stay. Whilst lovely and perfect and much needed, it felt strange and a little unsettling. Why?? Why of course… because just “not going home” would have been impossible 6 weeks ago…

I haven’t mentioned this yet, but sitting in warm spot by the kitchen door, through the entire day was Otto. The darling family cat, and very senior boy. Although the Sharps adored Milly, and welcomed her often, after the addition of Otto’s younger siblings, kittens Rusty and Ora a couple of years ago, Milly sadly couldn’t visit the Bungamalow anymore. Before the kittens arrived, Milly always came with us to see the Sharps, and spent numerous evenings making herself very comfortable on the living room sofa.

Whenever she came to visit Otto very graciously gave up the run of his home and slept on Mel and Chad’s bed, with the bedroom door firmly shut. Although she obviously was aware that he was there, somehow she also just knew he was kindly staying out of her way, and rather than terrorise him from the hallway she let her normal guard down and relaxed.

There was one occasion when this canine/feline separation didn’t work out so well. Mel and Chad were hosting a get together when there was a friend over from Australia. There must’ve been a dozen of us sitting round in the living room chatting and laughing, including Milly. Otto must’ve wanted to say hi to the crowd and “escaped” from his bedroom den. Otto was a sturdy fella in his younger days, and very affectionately called Fat Cat by me. Totally unknowingly he strolled into the living room through the kitchen door. Goodness me I have never seen him move so fast, nor me for that matter. Otto clocked Milly, Milly clocked Otto, she went for him and he flew back out of the door and through the catflap. Thankfully, through sheer luck, I was sitting on the floor almost triangulating Milly and Otto, and I managed to see him at the same time she did. Instant adrenaline took over and with ninja reactions I launched myself towards what would have been the point of furry impact, and managed to secure Milly in some sort of body lock. It happened in the blink of an eye and before the rest of the room really knew what had happened. Milly calmed down instantly but it took a good 20minutes for my adrenaline to subside, and poor Otto exiled himself to the garden Wendy House for the rest of the night! Very dramatic.

Milly was looking over us on Saturday, from a spot on Mel’s living room shelf.

Yesterday I had a very sad message from Mel, to say that last night would be Otto’s very last. When we saw him at the weekend he was fairly subdued (although still hovering for milk whenever the fridge was opened) but he took a downhill turn and was in a lot of pain. After an amazing 21 years on this earth, this morning the Sharps said goodbye to their beloved Otto.

I have never been a cat person (too unpredictable!) but Otto was the most gentle soul, and wanted nothing more than a lap to sit on. Never once did I have an angry paw swipe, and he and I spent many an hour on the sofa watching trash TV whilst I was babysitting the, then little, Sharplets.  I am so thankful that we all got to spend a little time with him at the weekend.

Otto, like Milly, was SO loved. He had the happiest and most contented life, and was absolutely adored by Chad, Mel, Amélie and Jamie. The gap he will leave in their life is a huge one and tonight my heart goes out to them all.

I promise the pain will become less intense guys. You will never ever forget, and that gap will never be filled, but you will learn to live with it and to cope.

Goodnight darling Otto xx

because Milly…

Things unfinished

One of my overwhelming panics on “that day” and in the immediate aftermath of losing Milly was that things that were left undone.  Things that I had arranged or had planned to do, but now can never be done.  Diary entries made but that will be crossed out.  The thought of things remaining unfinished filled me with fear.

Not that Milly was ever a to-do list entry, but on particular days where I was feeling like I wasn’t achieving anything I sometimes wrote a list of all of the “things” I had done.  This proved to me that I wasn’t completely idle and also, at the end of the day I was able to look back and see tasks ticked off, and feel good about the quantity of things achieved.  Walked Milly, fed Milly, changed Milly’s bed were usually completed actions numbers 1, 2 and 3.  Seeing those completed lists in my notebook now brings a sad sigh… “that was before…”

These Milly related things were a given part of my everyday.  As sure as brushing my own teeth (which also went on the tick list if I felt I needed a particularly big pat on the back) these were just things that were, without doubt, going to be done.  The gap I have now in my everyday, in my routine, feels vast.  Add in that grief is resulting in little motivation to do much at all, had I been writing a list of things achieved for the past month it would be decidedly short.  I know that in time my routine will evolve and my grief will ease, and I’ll start doing more than just the basics.  But for now “functioning” is the goal.  Remembering that one must always brush one’s teeth…What I didn’t anticipate was how upset I would feel about other things.

I realise now I haven’t explained much yet about what actually happened, and I’m not ready to do that, apart from to say that it was completely out of the blue, unexpected, sudden and desperately desperately quick. We had no warning of what was to happen that morning. It happened, there was nothing the vet could do, we had to let her go.  Boom.  Life as we knew it completely destroyed in 90 precious minutes.

That said, Milly was a senior and a just 6 weeks short of her 15th birthday. A pretty grand age for a pooch.  Not unsurprisingly she was showing some signs of her age. Her eyesight and hearing were both deteriorating, although priority sounds like the biscuit tin opening could still be heard at 100 paces.  She had some slight nerve damage in her lower spine, and so her back legs could be a little bit peg-like and she scuffed her toes when she walked.  She was still very mobile, but you could see that getting up and down was more of an effort, and traction was a problem.  We had made a number of modifications at home to make things easier for her, but I had more planned.

I had also been speaking with one of my most trusted doggie advisors just a few days before about maintenance for an oldie.  She had recommended a fantastic animal chiropractor that I was going to call.  I was also going to make an appointment with the vet to get her opinion on a few things.  Did Milly have arthritis?  Should she be on anti-imflammatories or some pain relief?  Was she suffering from cognitive impairment / canine dementia?  Was her current medication still appropriate?


Unanswered questions, now completely irrelevant of course.  But I still feel like I want to know.
Every day actions that are no longer mine to complete.
Unfinished things that will never ever be finished.
Really struggling to reconcile all this in my head.

But in honesty I’m a bit confused as to why I’m finding that so hard because I’m not actually much of a finisher!! I prefer having ideas and starting things, then I get distracted with other things. I have quite a number of unexecuted (but brilliant!) plans and ideas, and an equal number of not quite completed works-in-progress (bit of a theme in our house to be honest). Yet none of the other unfinished things in my life cause me to lose a wink of sleep. Perhaps that is because they are still on the list, and I genuinely believe I will get to them one day.. do them and/or finish them.

I guess now I’m questioning my logic a bit now.
Firstly, if it’s still an idea or just hasn’t been finished, is it really necessary? Maybe I should practice some prioritisation, and firmly relegate to the bin ideas that really are neither urgent nor important.
Secondly, when is “one day”? And what if it gets taken away from you?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to leap in the air and start being a powerhouse of activity, charging through my to-do list with the robot efficiency.  But I do recognise that there is an opportunity to just get on and do some things that matter, and permanently bin a number of things that really don’t matter one bit

So that is what I am going to try and do now.

because Milly…

“If it matters then DO IT.  If it really doesn’t then just bin it”

Heather Bray 2018


Not good with other dogs: A Beginner’s Guide

“My dog isn’t good with other dogs” is something that is often said. Usually from one owner to another, sometimes from just a few yards away.

I can’t help but smile when I hear this.

If you are able to stand a few yards away from another dog & owner, and politely request they keep their dog on the lead, with your voice at an ordinary volume, then from where I’m sitting you really do not have a lot to worry about.

I suppose it is all relative right? So if you’ve never experienced (or witnessed) a Milly, then you may not know what it is like to have a dog that is actually bad with other dogs.

In a nutshell, Milly was a dog-phobic dog. This made her highly reactive in the presence of another dog.

“Reactive is the term coined by dog trainers and owners who own dogs that overreact to certain stimuli. It might be the sight of other dogs, people, kids, loud noises and chaos. The dog’s reaction to these stimuli is usually a bark and lunge type of behavior that scares the pants off both the person or dog being barked at and the person holding the leash.” Extract from: CanineUniversity.com

When I say presence I mean the sight (any distance), sound (any volume) or smell (any strength) of any canine enemy.

If you scored reactivity on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being indifferent and 10 being completely unmanageable, Milly unquestionably started at a 10.  A few years ago we might’ve had the odd 8 day, and when we were intensively training with her perhaps we even hit a 6, but 10 was her default in those early days.  In addition to scoring 10 for reactivity, she also scored rather highly on hyper-vigilance, which meant she was constantly on the look out for trouble.  For her it wasn’t “oh there dog….. react” it was “where dog? where dog? gonna react react REACT when I see it. Where. Dog?”.  The minute she stepped out of the house she was on high alert.

Apologies for the dodgy filming, but here’s footage of an early wired Milly as an example.  There were no other dogs in sight, just people and cars.  To be honest when I watch this now I hardly recognise her.. I think I have pushed all of those difficult times to the back of my brain.

One of the hardest things about her being 10/10 was that, after an episode of reactivity, her levels of cortisol/adrenaline/whatever remained SO high that there was zero chance of us carrying on with what it was we were doing. If it was a walk, it had to be immediately aborted, because she was unable to compose herself enough to either carry on or turn back. In this situation there were two choices: wrangle and struggle to get her home without getting an injury (her or me), or phone Matt to come and rescue us. Preferred option was always the latter and so Matt was the recipient of countless phonecalls from a sobbing Heather. Never leaving home without a phone had never been so important. Milly’s extreme behaviour also meant that very often we didn’t get too far from home, and longer walks were reserved for weekends only because it really wouldn’t matter if it took me 4 hours to get her home from 1 mile away.

So – based on my personal experience – I have quite a strong opinion on what it means to have a dog that is not good with other dogs!!

If you can answer yes to one or more of the following statements, then perhaps you and I are on a similar page:

  • On sighting another dog I have to immediately turn round
  • I have to hide behind cars/trees/wheelie bins etc. to avoid other dogs
  • I have zero qualms about entering someone’s private driveway to make use of cars/trees/wheelie bins for hiding
  • I have a pre-planned escape strategy that involves flagging down a bus and jumping on
  • I have run across roads, into ditches and scrambled through fences to get away from an advancing offlead dog
  • I have picked up my 20kg dog and whirled around in order to prevent contact with an escaped dog
  • I have diverted a whole 2miles out of my way to avoid a dog running loose
  • I am known to every dog owner in the area, but have never been close enough to speak to them
  • I have hidden in the Tudor Rose Car Parking secure premises so many times they know me by name and practically put the kettle on when they see me
  • I have one bicep a solid 1cm bigger than the other from continued excessive lead wrangling

Looking at that list, it appears I score 10/10 aswell.

because Milly…


Please note:
Above is just a snapshot of early life with Milly (2009-2012), to give a little insight. It is written with some humour now, but at the time I was desperate and nothing about it was funny. Please do not read this and think we let her carry on in this highly anxious state, or neglected her well-being. We sought professional help very early on and followed their advice to the letter, with no expense spared, and no task too great… more detail on that will follow in future blogs.

Poor Mills never made it to level 1 – that was an ask too much – but she worked so hard with us and got as far as she could. Between us, we implemented all the strategies necessary to ensure a walk was a just pleasurable walk, and not a run of the gauntlet, for her or for us.


After yesterday I was planning to write an upbeat post and to start sharing a little bit more about Milly, but that might have to wait until tomorrow as a new topic has become more pressing.

Some of you facebookers may have seen this already, but over the past 10 days I have been avidly following the search for a missing puppy called Ghost (FB: Help Find Ghost, the 5 month old Labradoodle – Near Oxshott) who was lost from doggy daycare not far away from us near Chessington World of Adventures. I was planning to spend my weekend with Team Ghost, helping with the search. On checking for the FB updates when I got home from work a while ago, I saw the most distressing news – that dear little Ghost had been found dead. Any of you who have also been following along will have seen the desperation of Ghost’s Mummy in her video updates, and any of you who have a pet will know that your pet being lost is your actual worst nightmare. I cannot express how sad I am for her.

I also feel incredibly sad for two other people… two people who were total strangers to Ghost and to his Mum, but who leapt* into action on chancing upon Ghost’s advert on Dog Lost (after spending the previous weekend searching for another random dog), and who have spent hours and hours of their time joining in the search for Ghost.  Out every day this week, walking in the woods in the cold and the mud, putting up posters and handing out flyers, speaking to local people, caring & giving their support. And they were not the only ones, not by a long way. The community came out in force, people took time off work, the local pub opened early to provide facilities, day after day after day people searched and spread the word. Apparently there are dog search and rescue teams who offer their professional services on a voluntary basis – they all came out searching for Ghost too. And all of these people were strangers to Ghost and his Mum as well… he wasn’t from the area and neither was she. Yet they all still did it. Every single one of them must’ve tried to put themselves in her shoes. To imagine how they would feel if it was their beloved pet who had gone missing. Hearing the news of Ghost’s death is going to be so sad for all of them.

In her sad and final post Ghost’s Mummy says she is so thankful for the kindness and support of everyone. Although due to truly devastating circumstances, things like this really restore one’s faith in people and in humanity.

In a similar vein, I have been overwhelmed by the kindness that has been shown to me over the past month. So many people taking the time to check up on me, to listen to me, to share their own heartfelt stories and  empathise with what I am feeling. Nothing changes the pain you are going through, but being cared about makes a huge difference, and stops you from feeling so alone.


Not everyone can put their life on hold to go searching for a lost dog. Not everyone can give time or has money to spare. Not everyone can juggle things in their lives and be on the end of the phone 24/7. Not everyone can put their own needs completely to the side.

And yes, not everyone can do all of these things, or all of the time.

But I truly believe that EVERYONE can do SOMETHING. Even a simple smile or gesture, a hello to a stranger, a quick message to a friend, a genuine “how are you?” to then hear and acknowledge the answer you receive without just immediately talking about yourself.

Kindness is free people. Pass it on. One day it might be you who needs it… make sure you’ve got some credits in the bank.

because Milly…

PS. Those two other people are my amazing parents and I am so proud of who they are.
(*metaphorically leapt into action. Actual leaping should be reserved for Lords, deer and those persons under 21 years of age)

xx hold your dear ones close tonight xx


Thursdays will be good again

Measures of time are a human invention.

I sent a message very similar to this to my mum on the very first Thursday… I was trying to make myself feel ok as I walked into the office to face the day.

It’s only a tough day if I say it’s a tough day, right?  “weeks” meant nothing to Milly…. a week was an arbitrary number of days, where a “day” was just a period of nighttime spent asleep and a period of daytime spent mostly asleep

Tried reminding myself of this again this morning.  On the fourth Thursday.  And thanks to Julius Caesar and Pope Gregory XIII, also exactly one calendar month since we lost our girl.  It didn’t seem to comfort me much today, and I feel like I’ve swung way back on my pendulum of grief.  Empty, empty, sad, empty.

Thursdays were a bit different to every other weekday.  Thursday was the set day that Papa Bear walked Milly in the morning, so Mumma Bear could go and train with the amazing Emily without ending up late for work.  Every other day was a default Mumma day, unless pre-arranged, but in May 2015 Thursday became THE Papa day and all 3 of us knew the score.

Thursday training is rarely missed for ANYTHING.  Rain, sleet, snow, work, tiredness, illness…  nothing is allowed to mess with Thursday.  Once I had an alarm fail and massively overslept .. somehow in 15mins flat I managed to get up, get dressed and get to the gym.. sprinting into the studio to take my place in perfect time for the very first beat.  Very serious business.

We got married on a Thursday and I spent a long time deliberating whether or not I had time for Body Attack first. In the end it was decided a leisurely breakfast would be a better choice, plus give my gorgeous Soph maximum time to spruce me up ready.

What a perfect day that was #081015

Alas, back to now.  I still don’t know how the universe intervened such that I decided to skip training that day…. it messes with my mind if I start thinking about it.  The “what if” fear of not being here with her fills me with complete panic and terror.  Can’t. Even.

But I did bail, and I was here.  When she needed me most.  And, when these measures of time creep up to rattle me, and nothing else seems to bring me comfort and peace, then that really should.

because Milly…

Grief is love not wanting to let go.

Earl A. Grollman



Introducing Milly

Full Name

Milly Bray

Prior Names

Milly Bray-Smith  – before we were married

Milly Smith  – when I was pretending to be a strong independent woman for about 5 seconds

Amelia – her actual name when we adopted her from the RSPCA.   I had put this out of my mind to be honest.  We very rapidly morphed it from Amelia, to Melia, to Meelie, to Milly.  But when I overthink it I feel bad


Millybear/Milly the Bear/Millbear – in the early days this was she.   And many of our very dear friends still use this address.  In fact so did I.  On the day we lost her… “oh Millbear you are in a muddle”…

Boo/Booboo/Boobear – generally anything beginning with B.. apparently this is standard for those that we love

Poppet or Poptart – Matt’s names for her.  For many months to begin with Matt and I used to have this repetitive dialogue..

Me: Do you love her?

Matt: She’s cute

Me: Yea but do you love her?

Matt: She’s cute

Me: Yea, she’s cute. But do you love her…. etc etc.

You know how this plays out!!  I can’t remember how long it took, but at some point he started just. saying. YES.   I knew it, however, because I often used to catch him talking to her when he didn’t realise I could hear.  And it was ADORABLE.

Banana – over the last 6months or so I’ve been calling her Banana.  As in “oopsie Banana, be careful” if she slipped or tripped.  Old age was catching up with her, but she still thought she was a pup and would try and stand on her hind legs with her paws on your tum.

Cupcake – my absolute FAVE.  This was what my CUTE CUTE dad used to call her.  I’ve always known my dad was a softie but with Milly he was SOMETHING ELSE [insert cute eye covering monkey emoji. At least twice]




Mid-thigh-ish –  tall enough to rest her head perfectly on your lap when sitting at the dining table, but not tall enough to steal things off the table.  Not that she EVER would (see future blog!)


Winter ~20kgs

Summer ~18kg – not that she was consciously training for a bikini bod.  But if I was it undoubtedly meant our walks were longer, or faster, or both.


Nearly 15ish (see below)



31/03/2003 – Guesstimated 😦  Adopting a rescue meant that we were never sure when her actual birthday was.  But we celebrated 31st March every year.





Black with a white bib, although getting greyer and greyer around the muzzie and paws as she got older.

Eye Colour

Cloudy – Milly’s eyes used to be brown but she started to develop cataracts a few years ago, and her eyes took on a bit of a cloudy blue hue.  In some respects a slight deterioration of her sight was helpful – it meant I had a strong chance of spotting another dog before she did – but I swear it was selective… she could still spot a squirrel in trees 30 metres away from the kitchen doors.



Mixed – Lab x Collie was what her RSPCA form said… but perhaps she was even more of a mix.  We’ll never know I guess.  Not that it mattered one bit.  Milly was perfect.

Unique markings

Two moles – neither you could spot immediately, but on close inspection she had one on her back that resulted in a little greasy patch or fur as she got older (greasy mole in human = gross.  greasy mole in canine = cute), and a second on her side that was invisible expect for the fact that a couple of hairs grew out of it and were especially long.  I hope she won’t be embarrassed by my sharing…. frankly hairy moles are a watchout for all aging ladies.  Obviously she was groomed well.  Regular dry shampoo and essential hair trimming (Note to self).

Black spot on tongue – when I first saw this I completely PANICKED.  All sorts of things went through my head.  But apparently it’s just a no worry nothing.

Scattering of white hairs on the very tip of her tail – used to think it was from swishing against wet paint, but in 8 years it never grew out so it can’t have been!

Place of birth

Somewhere in Ireland – this is all we know of her history pre-RSPCA.  To be fair that is probably all we would want to know.  But thank god for the EU.

Favourite food

I might have to revisit this later on, but she was partial to an ice-cream.  It was the only thing she ever used to dribble over…



Unknown – one of the HARDEST things I found was never knowing if Milly had been a mummy or not.  It never troubled her I am sure, but it troubles me.

Back on the map

In addition to the grief and the loss and the sadness and the emptiness of home, one of the more obscure things I am finding really hard is that we have fallen off the Hookwood map.

Walking with Milly gave me a connection to the community and to society.  Although not your regular dog walker – I could never actually speak to any other dog owners, or interact with more than a wave as we scurried off in the opposite direction – I felt like I knew people, and I’d like to think that some people loosely knew who we were too.

Having walked the same circuit, at roughly the same time, every day for actual YEARS, Milly and I must have been familiar paws on the block… mustn’t we?

In the past 8 months our circuit was generally cut a little shorter, to make it easier for the aging Milly, but the original “Povey P” (aptly named because it is loosely P shaped on a map) is still what I consider to be our route.

Generally I consider myself to be super observant.  I notice things and remember things.  I can’t help it.  With Milly I just walked….being present in a way that I probably am not when I’m on my own.  No headphones, no mobile phone in hand.  Just me and Milly walking our route.  I guess most of this is ingrained in me from the early days of the need to be hyper-vigilant, and to spot a dog and take evasive action in the wag of a tail.   Even though we haven’t needed to be quite so extreme for a long time, paying attention just became part of the routine.

It’s amazing what you can passively observe over days and months and years, sometimes without even realising it.  Milly and I have seen extensions and DIY, garden makeovers, new driveways.  Houses for rent, houses for sale.  People moving out, people moving in.  Children who used to get the school bus that clearly now get the 6th form coach.  Remembrance Poppies on lampposts in November, or adverts for the local school fete in June.  Every day there are walkers, joggers, cyclists…. you get the picture.  I’ve now understood that all of these things are an important part of me, part of my life, and made me feel connected to society…

In particular I know cars and number plates – both the ones we pass and the ones that pass us.  A couple of weeks ago I saw a FB post on the local Horley page, from a girl pleading for people to keep a look out for her dad’s van that had been stolen the night before. She gave the van type – a standard black transit – and the number plate, and without sounding weird, it was someone that I would say I “know”.  OK so maybe I’ve never spoken to him…. but I “know” who he is, and where he lives, and I see him driving around locally all the time.  On reading her post I felt instantly sad, and wanted to go and knock on his door and say I was really sorry to hear about his van.  I didn’t, because that probably would’ve been a bit nuts, even for me.  Then the more I thought about it, I considered that actually, he probably “knows” us.  And maybe he’s noticed that we aren’t walking anymore.  Or, actually maybe he hasn’t….

I know it doesn’t really matter – people come and go all the time – but for some crazy reason it matters to me that Milly isn’t just forgotten.  I have this occasional mad thought of knocking on doors or delivering leaflets “Hi, you might not recognise me but I’ve been walking past your house with my dog Milly for 8 years, and I just wanted to say hi and thanks for noticing us, but we won’t be walking anymore”….?  Totally bonkers.  Hopefully I will manage to keep a lid on that for everyone’s sake.

For three weeks I haven’t walked any of our route, haven’t seen those houses or noticed those people.  Those roads have been on the way to somewhere, rather than part of the purpose and destination.  I’ve just got into the car on the driveway and driven away.  And I feel really peculiar about it.

The last time we completed the full Povey P was on Christmas Day with my mum and my aunt.  It is a very fond memory.  In her old age Milly was absolutely set in her ways.  To the point of walking on the same exact bit of pavement, crossing the roads in the exact same places, completely oblivious of where anyone else was.  Little ears flapping and a smile on her face, she was just doing her thing.  The number of times people have politely “stood back” at the bus stop to let us pass, only to have Milly dive through the tiny gap behind them, pulling me with her, because that is “where she walks”.  She did it once to a guy trimming a hedge – thankfully he wasn’t up a ladder otherwise with between me and her lead we’d have wiped him out!  In a person you would call it rude, but in Milly it was just cute and part of her charm.  She was exactly the same on Christmas day, getting in front, then stopping to sniff and being overtaken, then charging back through the middle of my mum and my aunt to get back in front and carry on her way.  It really made us all smile.

Yesterday was Mother’s Day so most of the family were here and it felt a bit like Christmas Day, but without the Harvey’s Bristol Cream and ill-fitting paper hats.  It therefore seemed the right thing to do to go for a walk after lunch, and I finally felt ready to trace those familiar steps.  Armed with Milly’s collar (that hasn’t left my person), a handful of tissues, and my lovely mum, I set off to try and put myself back on the map.

because Milly…


Something to focus on… ECR

Beyond the initial crippling shock of the first few days – when you can barely think straight, every other thing you say is “i just can’t believe it”, and you use all your energy either crying or trying not to cry – you briefly look up and into the future and think WHAT DO I EVEN DO NOW?

I’ll think I’ll explore that thought in a later post – it will probably only make more sense after I have shared a little bit more about Milly.

In the interim, however, we have a plan.  A purpose.  A focus.

Matt (my amazing husband) and I are going to turn our pain into som ething positive, and raise funds for Epsom Canine Rescue… and for the friends that Milly could never have.  We’ve had a whole bucket of “free-time” thrown at us now so we are going to use that time to train for a half marathon.  Although we are both pretty fit  – we cycle and train weights – running is not on our current agenda (our Strava accounts show half a dozen short runs between us) so this is going to be big challenge.


We have chosen the Run Reigate Half Marathon on 16th September 2018.  It is a race we support every year as it comes past our front door – literally! – so it feels like the right one to sign up to in Milly’s memory.  Her “world” was very small – 90% of what she knew beyond our home was a circuit started by coming out of the bungalow and turning right – it therefore feels fitting to me to be following in a few of her paw prints as we take on our run in her memory.

ECR are a local dog rescue charity who I got to know indirectly through Milly a few years ago.  Milly needed help, I needed help to help her, the amazing Penel & Laura at Dog Comm were there to help me, and through them I found ECR.  Social Media did the rest and they became my preferred charity.  I’ve made donations (cash and piles of stuff), visited them at events, baked for their cake sales and in 2016 I started walking the kennel dogs at the weekends.  It wasn’t her fault but Milly didn’t cope well with this.. she could not understand why I came home looking muddy and smelling of dog.. where had I been without her?  Who were these dogs??  She used to just look confused and a little bit betrayed and that hurt my heart. It was a sad by-product of my weekend activity, and I just couldn’t explain it to her or make it ok 😦  On one occasion when I had been hugged and kissed particularly hard by the loveable but boisterous Ben I took my clothes off in the front hallway and threw them all out of the front door, before dashing through the house into the shower before Milly could even realise I was home.  I know she still knew!  Of course you can’t trick a dog’s nose with a fancy body wash, but it was the best I could manage to take the edge off.  I know the lovely Tracey from ECR goes through the same attempt at trickery every time she walks at the kennels too.. like Milly, her darling Cassie also needs to be the only dog on the planet, or, at the very least, in the postcode.

Anyhow, I digress.  ECR.  So over the last few years I have got to know ECR very well and count them as my friends and, luckily for me, part of my all important support network.  Being a long established registered local dog rescue charity doesn’t mean a rescue centre, a shop premises, office staff manning the phone, an enormous army of volunteers, corporate support, secured funding, a CEO on the payroll, a fundraising manager, an advertising/marketing team…  ECR is a handful of truly dedicated (frankly truly wonderful) individuals who make it their life’s purpose to rescue & rehabilitate ill, unwanted & neglected canines and give them a second chance.  ECR HQ is someone’s home, the dogs in their care are either in kennels or foster, most of the volunteers juggle their families, their own dogs and their day jobs, holidays are few and far between, vets bills are huge, days are long – cleaning out the kennels, feeding & walking the dogs, vet runs, training/behaviourist appointments, and fundraising is just a constant wheel that has to be spun.. and all whilst LOVING and CARING and WORRYING for the dogs.

They amaze me, and I don’t know how they do what they do… which is why we are taking the chance to support them in a different way this year (noting that Matt’s famous coffee cake & scones will still be made for the Pets at Home cake sale).

I’m a bit of a believer in “things” and “signs” and “connections”.  Not quite as much as my wonderful mum (worthy of a whole post) but everything about this challenge seems to fit.  So once the speck of thought came into my head on Monday it was an unwavering yes from me.

Our fundraising target is probably a bit unrealistic, but my options were:

31/03/03 – Milly’s birthday,  31/10/09 – Her gotcha day or  3029 – The number of days she shared with us

So, as you see, 15th February 18… £1,502.18 is what it has to be!! If I have to make it up to the total myself I’m fine with that….

Like everything, it is because Milly

Our fundraising page is here, thank you in advance for reading:


You can read more about ECR and other ways to help here:


And in case anyone wants a Half Marathon challenge of their own: