Only friends in the world

So you’d be completely forgiven for thinking that I’d given up on this blogging game, or, perhaps not even had the time in your own life to give us much more than a fleeting thought.  2019 was ridiculous, among other adjectives, and has flown by with an unbelievable speed.

*First up – could you please pretend that this is being written in 2019 at least – because this is what I had planned to do, and actually promised someone I would do (sorry Schwest).
The reason for the slippage into 2020 is totally justified I feel and I am shortly going to totally hijack Milly’s page to write a whole story about my final days of 2019, because they really were INCREDIBLE (in a GOOD way).

For the majority of the previous 355 days of 2019 I did not feel in control in the slightest. Whilst I had every intention of continuing Milly’s story months and months ago, life just took over. I had very few “spare” moments, and during those that I did enjoy I was either sleeping or just paralysed by writers’ block. Over the past few months I absolutely have had enough time to write a story, but not all in one go , and as you may recall from my earlier posts, I like to start and finish, and re-read and re-finish, each of my stories in one sitting, often burning some very late oil in the process. Add to that the ongoing confidence crisis and the fear that nobody even cares, or worse thinks that I am ridiculous, and so here we are at the end (see above*) of 2019 with no more of Milly’s story shared with the world.

I have thought a LOT about how I can summarise 2019 into a mildy interesting nutshell. And I’m not sure I can achieve “interesting”, but hopefully can give a whistle-stop tour of my year.

January to March was WORK, and nothing but work. No joke. For the first three months of the year I was completely consumed in a Project (hereafter known as “Project A”) with an intensity that I have never known, and can barely describe. Anyone who has known me personally for more than a few hours will have worked out that I am both a can-do person and an all-or-nothing type. I generally say “yes, sure I can do that” (regardless of whether I already know what I am doing or not) and then proceed to give whatever “that” is the absolute full force of my being to make sure that I live up to my word. After 20 years of working life I was already fully aware of my work ethic and my ability to take 100% personal accountability, but I genuinely did NOT have a realistic grasp of my capacity to deploy that work ethic and apply that accountability… and turns out that capacity is HUGE.
“Project A” was described by someone as the biggest undertaking bar none, EVER, for the regional business. I can’t disagree with that, and I am sure Matt wouldn’t either!
I was working at my 100%, for weeks and weeks and weeks on end.
In “real” terms.. there were days(/nights!) that I worked 18/19 hours straight, slid into bed in my clothes around 4am, only to back at my desk by 8am.
I clocked up 8 weeks of extra hours in 8 weeks….

Full disclosure – there was NO expectation or pressure from the company to work in this fashion.  This was ALL on me. And I am totally happy to own that.

My commitment enabled us to deliver something that was (and may always be) the best and biggest achievement of my career.

But what enabled my commitment was (and always is) the unquestioning and unwavering support of Matt… who did everything (literally everything) at home so that I had nothing else to worry or think about, and who never ONCE complained about my endless evenings and weekends shut in my office here at home. I could not do any of the things I do without Matt beside me.

And, who is us.. ? I know you noticed! Well through the delights of Project A I have well and truly met my match. Someone I have known in a work capacity for a few years, but whom I have never had the privilege of working alongside. My (new) leader calls us the “terrible twins” but I know that he means this with huge affection, and that actually he is in awe of the unstoppable force that we are…. I won’t name names but my fiery Polish redhead colleague is OFF THE SCALE on so many levels. Mrs R I truly salute you for your incredibleness and am thankful every single day for everything I learnt from you and, more importantly, for your friendship.

After the mayhem of Q1 April was all about recovery.. sort of.
I took a few weeks off, Matt had a big birthday, we recharged… a tiny bit… and just enough to launch ourselves into the next big Project – this time a personal one of the refurbishment kind – Number 1. That is a whole story but to be honest it is not one that I have the energy to tell… it’s emotional, it’s exhausting, and it’s taking everything that we have, and plenty that we don’t. I know it will end – we will finish it – but the relentlessness of it wears you down. Really cannot wait to have our life back.

So that one started in April and continues into the foreseeable – that’s the personal life. The work life kicked back off in May and ramped up again in June with another big Project due to wrap up for me in a few weeks time… pretty sure I’ll be due some leave then!

Anyhow – you’re here for Milly – not for me, so I should stop rambling some.

Despite all of the franticity (my own word apparently) of 2019 I HAVE continued to post daily on Milly’s instagram page, sharing hundreds of new memories, and making many new friends, albeit virtual ones – but still lovely kind friends all the same.

Friends. The topic of the day.

And – let’s be honest – not a word you would probably associate with dear Milly. The most reactive anti-dog kinda dog you could ever find.

In 2012, when we were many long, hard, slow months into Milly’s rehabilitation programme, under the expert guidance of Jon we were allowed to turn to Phase 2.
As a reminder, Phase 1 was just getting Milly to be “ok” with her place in space. Medication & training. Controlled and safe exposure to the wide scary world outside the garden gate, with loads of positive reinforcement. Desensitise her to “going out”.
It’s SO hard to describe what that means for a dog like Milly, so I’ll give you an example.
One weekend we “went out” no less than a dozen times. Each and every time required complete calmness before we left – no anticipation, no excitement – just a low-key harness and lead on, and slip out of the back door.
Each time we were “out” in the world for less than 10 minutes.
The remit was “go out, be ok, get treats, feel good, come home”.
Over and over again, for months and months and months.
Not really your traditional dog walk…

BUT – we did it – and it (mostly) worked. Which patience and resilience we were able to dial down her hyper-vigilance and extreme angst. If memory serves correctly we then underwent a change of medication. Off the Prozac and onto the Selgian..

“Selgian 10mg Film-Coated Tablets are indicated for the treatment of behavioural disorders of purely emotional origin such as depression or anxiety in dogs.  Selgian Tablets can also be used in association with behaviour therapy and for the treatment of signs of emotional origin observed in behaviour conditions such as overactivity, separation problems, generalised phobia and unsocial behaviour”

Little did we know at the time that Milly would never be able to come off of this drug. Perhaps I would’ve claimed from her insurance had I known.. I mean they put the premium up every year regardless of the fact I never once made a claim. £1 a day was a small price to pay for her wellbeing.. I’d have happily paid ten times that if it was what she needed. Money was no object.

The transfer from Prozac to Selgian was very carefully managed. The interactions between the two drugs was so severe that we weren’t even given the prescription for the second until she was well off the first.
In addition to the drug break we also had to enforce a walking ban… HUH?
But don’t we all think that “dogs MUST be walked every day”?  Another MYTH completely dispelled.
We were banned from walking Milly for 3 weeks.
THREE WEEKS – does not compute right?
But it was SO imperative that Milly did not have ANY negative experiences with other dogs whilst she was changing meds. The minute we went outside the garden the chance of seeing a dog changed from zero to not zero, and as that was not an acceptable probability we didn’t leave the garden.

Once Phase 2 began in earnest we were in full dog-desensitisation mode.
New rules. New objectives.
“See dog, don’t react, get treat, nothing bad happened, feel good, remember dog means treat, dog means good”
With this kind of training DISTANCE is your friend, as are the old faithful hotdogs.

Our agenda was to see dogs as often as possible, but to maintain distance and keep Milly under reactivity threshold. Paramount to this was ENSURING that there was ZERO CHANCE of an actual bad interaction. This therefore meant NO potential dog offlead situations. Parks, fields or any open spaces where 90% of people don’t think twice about letting their dogs roam free regardless of their ability to “recall” them still remained out of bounds. Suited me. My anxiety levels couldn’t handle it, let alone Milly’s.

In black and white, this training sounds so straighforward. And when someone is telling you what you need to do it sounds totally doable.

Being blunt however, the reality is quite different with a billion things that you cannot control.

Some of the challenges include:
Location – where do you go if you want to see dogs ON LEAD, at safe distance, and for more than a split second? No idea. 10 years later I’m still failing at this. But that is another story again.
Stimulus – supposing you succeed in your dog-spotting efforts, you have no clue how said spotted-dog is going to behave.. maybe it is a reactive dog and it barks first! (Unlikely – I grant you – but taking her to try and chalk up a “good experience” when actually her “fictional” foe is hell bent on proving that they are a force to be reckoned with probably isn’t doing to leave your dog feeling safe)
Other external factors – are there loud cars/traffic? People? Maybe there is a lonely carrier bag blowing along? Have you got eyes in the back of your head to make sure that nobody runs up behind you with their headphones in and their bounding dalmatian bobbing along behind where they can’t see it, cutting past you with barely an inch to spare?? That happened to us once… how that dalmatian still had all his spots I’ll never know. Ignorant, idiot man.
Milly – what sort of day is it? What sort of day was it yesterday? How did she sleep? What mood is she in? What subtle triggers (probably invisible to the untrained eye) have already put her on a path to reactivity?
Logistics – you’ve got to be in exactly the right spot at the right time and able to focus on the job in hand. Not frantically trying to scoop a poop and avoid tipping your entire supply of hotdog pieces in heap on the floor. That has happened to me too. Milly thought it was excellent… like winning at slots.

Anyhow, I think I’ve made my point. There are just too many variables and uncontrollables to make these training exercises plain sailing. I have vivid recollections of middle school Science class and writing the word Variables, underlining it twice in my favourite pen before proceeding to list out all of the variables that could interfere with the outcome of my meticulously planned experiment.

Whilst I TOTALLY get and buy-in to the theory and whole-heartedly believe that it works…. achieving those optimal conditions just isn’t practical, not whilst working full time and trying to keep your sanity.  It is tougher than tough, and downright exhausting.

And – being candid – whilst the gold medal was always to try and have that good experience, and tick all those boxes, if I had already sussed out my variables and determined that the odds were stacked against me for success then yes, I would choose to hide in a large Rhododendron whilst body blocking anything from view, singing to drown out the jingle of the dog collar on the other side of the road and chain-feeding Milly hotdogs like I used to hoover up penny sweets.
Judge if you must – and roll your eyes at my “failures” – but unless you’ve lived (and walked) with a severely reactive dog, and been through what we have then I’d really rather you didn’t. Back in the early days I genuinely felt like the ONLY PERSON on the planet trying to deal with these issues. Many of the other walkers I came across did NOTHING to help me – which can be as simple as stopping and waiting for 15 seconds whilst I get out a visibly distressed Milly out of the way rather than marching straight towards me when I have nowhere to go. I guess I used to feel embarrassed, or ashamed, or inferior and totally “judged”.. you know “oh my goodness look at that woman she can’t control her dog, her dog is so badly behaved”. And in that moment, when all hell is breaking loose, you actually can’t do the whole “well hold your horses there luvvy, you have NO IDEA what I am dealing with so could you please just BACK OFF a minute”… so you scurry away, holding back tears of frustration/despair and maybe throwing a few choice words over your shoulder.. which they might’ve been able to hear if it wasn’t for Milly having a barky meltdown.
I am now familiar with an entire Facebook community who must be Just Like Me. Although I haven’t joined it, my favourite group is called “Emotional support & tips for reactive dog owners”… because if we need ANYTHING it is emotional support.

Anyhow, I digress.

Milly. Dog-spotting. De-sensitisation. We did it, as best we could, and tried to make progress.
I say tried, because honestly it felt like one step forward and two steps back, and with all of the “variables” in play it is frankly impossible to determine if something is progress or not.. was she better or worse.
Giving progress updates to Jon was extremely hard, and in turn I think it was really hard for him to tell me what to do next.
You can hear the dialogue..
Jon “How has she been this week?”
Me “Er, ok ish”
Jon “Any better than last week?”
Me “Er, well last week she didn’t bark at that spaniel at 30m, but this week she lunged towards the partially-sighted elderly greyhound 50m away, but I guess it was raining and the hound was wearing a coat..”

How on earth do you debrief that? And on an ongoing basis…?

Data. That’s how.

Jon and I designed an online survey that I would use to capture all relevant information, so that we could review the weekly reports look for patterns, trends and triggers.

Questions included:

Time of day
Single dog / Small group 2-6 / Large Group 6+
How noisy/active were the dogs (Scale 1-10)
Length of incident
How much control did you feel you had over Milly (1-10)
How agitated did you feel Milly was (1-10)
How did this compare to similar incidents (1-10)
Did Milly display
Attempts to bite, Snapping/Lunging, Barking, Snarling, Growling, Body tension, Staring, None of the above
Did the behaviour stop before the dog had gone away
How quickly did Milly completely recover

As you can imagine this added another level of complexity to our training walks… trying to assess each of these attributes real-time and firmly hold every dog-spot in my mind until I could get home and log the data in the survey.
We did this for MONTHS. And at the end of each week I’d get a link to a summarised report, with lovely stats and charts, so I could do the all-important data analysis. I have some of the weekly report print outs in front of me – something else I will probably never be able to throw away…

Through this exercise – through recording the data – it became apparent that Milly’s reaction was different to familiar dogs versus unfamiliar dogs. Her behaviour was mostly the same – staring, barking & whining – but the severity was definitely lower.

Unfortunately (or – at more trying times in our training – fortunately) there were not many dogs where we live, or at least not many dogs who were walked consistently, routinely, and at the same ungodly hour that we needed to walk to achieve our optimal conditions. It was very challenging to balance out our requirements..
Chance of dog-spot; medium to high
Chance of close range dalmatian-dodging: zero to low

Cue Angela, and her clockwork walking!

Angela – who lives 3/4 minutes away and whose house we passed every day twice a day – is still one of the most devoted doggie mummas I have ever met. Along with all other local walkers, Angela was very aware of us and our issues, and always helped by avoiding us if she could see that we were going to struggle to avoid her. After explaining our observations of Milly tolerating known dogs “better”, and our hypothesis that we may be able to accelerate her acceptance of those known dogs a little faster than unfamiliar enemies, she very kindly agreed to officially become part of our training team.

Based on her walking schedule, we made a plan for a daily 7am rendezvous at an agreed point on her route. Rendezvous is perhaps a little misleading – we never actually “met” them.. heavens above!!! But we positioned ourselves strategically in a spot where we could watch them coming towards us, pass by us at a very reasonable distance, and then enable us to follow behind them as we headed towards home. I lost count of how many times we did this, but it really was so valuable to Milly. She got used to this new item on our training agenda, and gradually she got more and more used to Bos & Socks. She never sniffed them – but she could stand calmly whilst they walked past on the other side of the road – which may not seem like much but for use, it was HUGE. I can never thank Angela enough for being so accomodating, and providing us with so many opportunities for positive experiences.

Thanks also have to be extended to Bosley and Socks themselves, who put up with Milly’s downright antisocial behaviour towards both of them on numerous occasions over the years.

Bosley was friendly, and wanted to say a very energetic HELLO to most. Much to his disappointment he had to be ignored by me, and shouted at by Milly, but to his credit he never ever shouted back. Socks could be selective with dogs but she too appeared to turn a blind eye to Milly’s antics. I later found out that Angela used to quietly but consistently explain to them Milly was special, and that she just couldn’t cope. No matter what she did and how they may have ordinarily reacted to another dog behaving as she was, they just accepted her.

Bosley had a terrible time a couple of years ago and was desperately ill. He was nursed back to health by Angela & Tony and I am certain that it was their dedication and love as much as the veterinary and medicinal treatment that brought him back from the brink. After his illness he was weaker and older, and his behaviour was different – not unexpectedly at all – but last year I was absolutely thrilled when he and Clover exchanged sniffs after we bumped into them outside their house. Whilst we still see Angela and Tony out often, they now have a very full house of retired greyhounds – not all of whom see eye to eye with Clover – sometimes they shout first, and sometimes she does – but generally for ease we give each other a wide berth. So that Saturday morning when we saw Tony and Bosley on their own it was a rare opportunity for some interaction.

Devastatingly Angela and Tony lost both Bosley and Socks in 2019. Bosley in June, and Socks in November. Whilst they absolutely have their homes and their hands full with their greyhounds, I know that the loss of Bosley and Socks will have hit them very hard. Angela’s soul dog was her Oliver – her beloved white boxer – whom she loved and lost before I even knew her. I have to hope she can take some shred of comfort from the knowledge that Bosley and Socks are running with Oliver.. and all three are happy and free from pain.

In my more optimistic moments I try to think that perhaps Milly is running with them too, also happy and also free from pain. Because I am not with her to protect her I have to believe that as well as being free from pain, she is also free from worry and anxiety, and that she left her deep-rooted fear of creatures of her own kind behind when she left us.

Before I wrap up this story, I should probably disclose that I started writing 3 weeks ago, but didn’t finish. Life ramped up again, and this time rather than keep myself awake into the small hours to get a post finished, I saved a draft for the first time ever. Last week I was in New York for work and was absolutely convinced I would have plenty of downtime to myself to finish and share. Unsurprisingly I had a downtime-fail! And so now here I am, finishing up and about to post, 364 days since I last posted and on the eve of Milly’s anniversary 😦 There will be no post tomorrow. Not because I don’t want to, or I don’t have anything to say, but because I know that there are only 24 hours in a day and realistically I just cannot spend 4 or 5 of them sat at the computer when there are a billion other things I need to be doing tomorrow…. I hope I don’t feel too disappointed in myself come bedtime.

For tonight, at least, I feel ok and proud and thankful.
Milly tried SO very hard and made great progress with Bosley and Socks.
She was never particularly warm towards them, and more often than not she was quite shouty, but they accepted her. They knew she was trying to overcome her past experiences and her fears. They accepted her faults and her flaws. Dare I say that they even “liked her” a little bit? Even if that might be pushing it, there is no doubt that they were her only friends in the world… and for that I will be forever thankful.

because Milly…

PS. You will notice the shortage and randomness of photos in this post. Whilst I have previously always tried to match the photos to the story, I sadly cannot include photos of Milly playing with the friends she never had… so instead I have included some favourites from 2012, and some that show the love that we had. Happy Valentine’s Day ♥  xx

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

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

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….