Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

2011 is almost over and I can't say I'm sorry. I don't know whether it was the Year of the Pig or not, but it certainly was a pig of a year for me. Too many deaths too close for comfort. Too many changes forced upon me by circumstances outside my control. A house that won't sell and no house on the horizon to buy. Bring on 2012. I really cringe when I say that because the years seem to be flying by and I'd be a fool to wish for time to speed up.

Time waits for no man  has never sounded truer. And so my New Year's resolution is  to  deliberately     s  l  o  w       d  o   w  n.  To make significant moments last longer by taking the time to linger over them rather than rushing on to the next thing. And to linger with people too. I know we live in a fast-paced world, but I want to set aside time for chatting with friends. Yes, chatting. A telephone call rather than a text. A note-card in the post now and then. A conversation on a park bench.

I'm also participating in the January 2012 A River of Stones challenge. I did the 2011 one and surprised myself. This event asks you to observe something closely, every day of January, and to write a few words about it in a blog post. The idea is that the written pieces should be short and cut through to the essence of the thing. Small, like river pebbles. I found it quite amazing how this daily task, which initially seemed daunting, became a very positive and soothing thing in my life. Click on the River of Stones badge at the side of this page in order to find out more.

Kristal enjoyed her first Christmas and managed NOT to demolish the Christmas tree. Like the good Guide Dog pup that she is, the extra food on view and within reach didn't tempt her. Guide Dog pups don't get to sample human food, so don't look for it.  She had her own gifts, mostly edible, and enjoyed tearing the paper  off them.

A brisk Boxing Day walk was the best part of it all for Kristal. She was fascinated to see so many children
with new scooters,  balloons, bits of tinsel in their  hair. Our local coffee shop was a-buzz with extended family gatherings and excited children clamouring for the attention of...  anyone who would listen. My quiet, calm pup did me proud. She looked a bit shell-shocked. Why doesn't someone get these kids under control?  I reckon the staff were thinking along the same lines.

As the New Year approaches, I wish  you all health and happiness and a lot of creative energy!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Daisy Graduates

So pleased to hear today that Daisy has qualified as a Guide Dog and is now working in Maidstone, Kent, with a lady who has a child, a Corgi and a cat. So she's part of a family and is much appreciated and loved. That's just great. I'm sure she'll help her owner come to terms with her deteriorating eyesight with greater confidence, and she'll be a lot of fun to live with. Well done Daisy and lots of love to you.

Kristal, on the other hand, is going through the equivalent of her teens. Questioning commands...'do you really expect me to do that?' ... and throwing her weight around a bit.

This is her Winston Churchill impersonation. Actually, she's holding the rolled up instructions to a new household gadget. You can see by the look in her eye that she's not going to give them up easily. This is her 'what's in it for me?' expression.

However, she's maturing into a very good looking dog, now eight months old, and showing that she really 'has what it takes'.

Despite her strong will, when she's out on a training exercise she knows what's expected of her. She has a high energy level and will appreciate being kept on the go, therefore benefiting someone with a busy lifestyle. Her time-keeping is amazingly accurate. You can set your watch by her. She knows what happens when and lets you know about it. She also has a really good memory for routes she's walked previously and can sniff out Cafe Nero even when we're in an unfamiliar town.

In restaurants and cafes she's very well behaved and settles beneath the table for a snooze. She's quiet and unobtrusive, which is often more than can be said for some of the children we encounter. (However, this morning, she was so quiet and unobtrusive, snoozing beneath the table in a coffee shop, that I didn't notice she'd chewed right through her lead. There was I, standing up to leave, holding a lead with no dog on the end of it.)

In John Lewis she likes to preen in front of the big mirrors in the fashion department. In the Ladies Toilets, she's suitably coy and just sits quietly in a corner of the cubicle trying to avert her eyes while I struggle with multiple layers of winter clothing, a scarf that threatens to either choke me or dangle where it shouldn't, a shoulder bag looped around my neck, gloves that keep falling out of my pockets, a wonky hat that heads southward when I bend over, and several carrier bags of shopping. When I emerge, red faced and puffed, she is the one who is calm and collected.

I have high hopes for her.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Alien Invasion

Dear Everyone, 

What have I been doing today? Well, I've been trying to persuade a host of unwanted visitors that they should find alternative lodgings for the winter. In this, I'm referring to the hundreds of Ladybirds (ladybugs) that have taken up residence in the window frame and around the blind thingy in an upstairs bedroom. 

A TV programme some time ago forewarned of this alien invasion. Evidently these critters are Spanish in origin and almost twice the size of our native British Ladybird. Just as the infiltration of Spanish Bluebells are overpowering our more delicate native variety, so these Spanish bugs are eating our native ones out of house and home. 

'Ladybird, Ladybird fly away home...' goes the nursery song we grew up with, but when she gets there, her Spanish cousins have eaten every greenfly in sight.... the cupboard is bare. So what should I do to these creatures? They're difficult to dislodge and persistant in their efforts to return to the snuggled warmth of their bedfellows in the cosy crevices they've found at both ends of a window blind and around the window frame. It's a dilemma, to be sure. For these tiny spotted creatures are part of our childhood folklore and often our first introduction the up-close-and-personal scrutiny of bug life. We're not afraid of them. We love them. We've spent happy days counting their spots. We've sung songs to them and shared with them our concerns for their offspring: '...fly away home, your house is on fire and your children are alone...'

I know they're one of the 'goodies' in the garden. They eat their way through tons of greenfly (still not enough in my opinion) but that does not entitle them to house-room for the winter. We just DON'T WANT THEM IN OUR BEDROOMS. Oh they're very well behaved. They don't run around or anything. Apart from poo-ing and discarding bits of legs here and there, you wouldn't know they were in residence. But I'm afraid, somehow, they've just got to go. I can't bring myself to spray them. This might be a job for the vacuum cleaner... oh dear. (cough, splutter!!)
Not decided what to do yet. Watch this space. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sunday, October 2, 2011

To keep, or not to keep? Thoughts on de-cluttering.

Don't you just hate it when you see a bargain and circumstances prevent you from taking advantage of it? Various airlines are offering some good flight deals for long haul departures after Christmas. Normally, I would already have booked by now for our escape-the-winter trip, but we're in the midst of a protracted house buying/selling saga that is dragging on and on, preventing any form of forward planning. We don't do summer hols... we do winter escapes.  But it's not working out this year. In fact, I'm looking to experience my first full winter for eight years.  HELP!  Where did I store all those hand-knitted gloves and scarves my mother made?

Meanwhile I'm in de-cluttering mode. Husband is not taking this seriously yet. Everything I put into the charity shop pile he picks up and says, 'You're not giving this away are you? I like this.' Oh yeah? He likes it so much that he's not seen it for years because it's been up in the loft or buried in the bottom of a drawer.

Not normally given to nostalgia, it's amazing how much de-cluttering time is spent reminiscing - re-living the time that this dress or suit (yes, once upon a time I was a 'suit' person) was a favourite. Unwrapping lovingly wrapped odds and ends from years ago only to wonder what it was you ever saw in it. Finding bundles of old letters and cards that just have to be read from start to finish... largely because they're in grown up hand-writing, fashioned with real pen and ink, and so the personality of the writer... just a little bit of that long lost person... remains in the lift and swoop of the letter formations.

As a child of the fifties UK to Australasia government assisted migration programme I've always been a compulsive letter writer. Writing to the folks back home was part of colonial life. Letters just for the fun of keeping in touch, but, because of their hand crafted nature and extended length,  saying so much more than an email or text.  I also had pen-friends in several exotic countries and loved the look and feel of an envelope arriving in my letterbox that had been passed from hand to hand; transported, I imagined, by donkey, ship, aeroplane and bicycle, and bearing that tiny piece of art work in the top right hand corner that had actually been licked by my friend. Mmmm. I could almost smell the dust of India or the spices of Hong Kong when I held the envelopes up to my nose.

When I came to live in England in the swinging sixties I corresponded regularly with my mother back in New Zealand and collected, over many many years, a huge number of stamps off her letters. I still keep them in clear glass ornamental jars.

New Zealand has always produced exciting pictorial stamps. But what's special about the stamps I collect is that they're taken from the corners of the blue aerogrammes that kept families in touch with each other before the days of emails and skype. And so, on the back of each tiny square or rectangle, there's a snippet of my mother's handwriting.

Hope this finds you     sunny day today...           Dad went to...    sorry to hear...                                         
          You'll never believe...

And this brings me to what turned out to be a disastrous spate of de-cluttering over 20 years ago. My sister-in-law had been visiting and pointed out to me that I really ought to de-clutter the end of my kitchen work surface where I keep mail and such like. Pens, telephone, note pads, rubber bands, appointment cards and lots and lots of the blue aerogrammes that arrived, sometimes two or three times a week from my mother.  So, with another spate of visitors due, I threw myself into de-cluttering mode,  tidied up and threw out lots of letters, perhaps the previous few weeksworth, that had been cluttering up my kitchen.  I didn't know that within a few months my mother would no longer be with us. After her death, when I searched the house, I couldn't find any of her letters... such was the extent of my tidying up. So now I only have snippets of her handwriting on the backs of the used stamps.

Sometimes I spread them out on the carpet and read them one by one. This brings back vivid images of my mother. I hear her voice and and sense her gestures -  the twinkle in her eye or the
worried frown. Now and then an expression of despair, but mostly an assurance that everything was fine, when often I knew it wasn't.

'When in doubt, chuck it out,' we're urged. But hang on a minute... what about giving a thought to that old Yorkshire saying, 'When in doubt, do now't'.  With that in mind I think I'll give the de-cluttering a rest for a while. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Seeing Eye - Guiding Light

Today I started my day by sitting on the station platform with my Guide Dog puppy, Kristal, watching trains go by and people embarking and disembarking. I'm a puppy walker for Guide Dogs and today is the start of Guide Dogs Week. A celebration of 80 years of providing guide dogs for people in Britain who are blind or partially sighted.

The idea that dogs could be used, on a large scale, to guide blind people sprang from the experiences of German soldiers trying to locate their blinded comrades in the trench warfare of the First World War, where, like British soldiers, many were blinded by mustard gas. However, there are several much earlier indications and documented evidence of individuals having trained pet dogs as guides going back to the first century AD... in fact there is a depiction of a blind man being guided by a dog in a fresco in Roman Herculaneum. Dogs were being trained to guide blind people at Les Quinze-Vingts hospital for blind people in Paris in 1780. In 1788 Josef Riesinger, a blind seive maker from Vienna, trained his pet dog to guide him so successfully that people doubted he was blind. In 1847, a Swiss man, Jakob Birrer, wrote about his experience of being guided, over a five year period, by a dog he'd trained himself. However, it's from experiences that sprang from mustard gas and the blinding of soldiers in the trenches during World War I that the modern Guide Dog story begins. A German doctor, Gerhard Stalling, treating blinded soldiers at a re-habilitation hospital, observed his own pet dog, untrained and working purely on instinct, clearly guiding a blinded patient. From this, in 1916, sprang the first formal training programme. Soon, there were nine major training centres in Germany providing 600 trained dogs a year for clients in many countries.

In 1927, a wealthy American lady, Mrs Dorothy Harrison Eustis, living in Switzerland, heard of the German successes and went to observe their methods, following this up with an article for the Saturday Evening Post magazine (November 1927). Considering that this might be an answer to his prayers, a blind American man, Morris Frank, wrote to Dorothy encouraging her to think of introducing guide dogs to America. Dorothy Eustis saw this as an opening and trained a dog for Mr Frank who journeyed to Switzerland to work with the dog. Training completed, he returned to America with his guide dog, Buddy. The pair were followed by reporters and photographers convinced that an accident was bound to happen... but no, the partnership was a huge success. Frank was reported as saying that the 5 cents he'd spent on purchasing that magazine was worth a million dollars to him. The Seeing Eye organization was launched in America and encouraged two British women, Muriel Crooke and Rosamund Bond to embark upon their own training programme. This was the origin of guide dog training in Britain. In 1931, the first four British dogs completed their training.

Now, 80 years later, the Guide Dogs Association produces about 1,300 puppies a year. They have just over 5000 working guide dogs. Many more are required. There are over a million people in Great Britain registered blind or partially sighted and of these, over 250,000 would benefit from a guide dog partnership. However, Guide Dogs is a charity and receives no government funding so can only produce the number of working dogs it can support. (Support being in the form of breeding, training, veterinary costs, feeding, equipment etc.) Under the guidance of the 900 or so staff, Guide Dogs is supported by over 11,000 volunteers who take on a wide range of roles such as fundraising, puppy walking, assisting kennel staff, speaking at functions, driving dogs from one end of the country to the other and many more.   

Although training dogs is Guide Dogs main role, many people will be unaware that the organization also contributes a large amount of its funds towards research into eye disease and it is second only to the RNIB as providers of mobility and independence training for blind and partially sighted people with or without a dog.

You never know when you might need the services of an organization like Guide Dogs. We're told we can expect to live longer these days. The problem is that our bits and pieces are wearing out at different rates...  

That said... I think it's walkies time!

   For further information: www.guidedogs.org.uk  

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Good Day to Die

Hearing that someone you love is about to die is never easy. It's even more difficult when you're 12,000 miles away and can't get there to say goodbye. There's an overwhelming desire to just see that person one more time.  You cast your mind back to when you last saw them. What did you talk about? Was there laughter? Laughter's good. Did you leave on good terms? Did you wave? A wave is treasured.

Nellie is my aunt. A very close aunt, despite the fact that we live 12,000 miles apart for much of the year. She has no children of her own but lots of nephews and nieces whom she always spoilt rotten when we were little. She's just coming up to her 90th birthday, but I don't think she's going to make it. Last night I received a phone call from my cousin to say that the doctors thought Nellie might only have 24 hours left. They were just going to make her comfortable. Nellie is frightened of dying. I know she is. And especially of dying alone. She's not very good with pain either. I need to tell them this. I need them to know that she won't like it if they close the curtains. That she'll like the television on, even if the sound is off. And she likes her hair brushed... get someone to do that for her. Hold her hand. And let her keep her teeth in, because she hates to be seen without them. She'll want to look presentable. She was always very clothes conscious. And remember, hold her hand.

All my cousins will be with her. She won't be alone, I'm sure. But I should be there. Instead I'm here, 12,000 miles from where I'm needed. I should be the one holding her hand. I'm the oldest niece. I was four when I went to her wedding. She was the aunt who was always laughing. And nothing made her happier than to be surrounded by nieces and nephews. She loved us all.

So now I'm just waiting for another phone call. I can't do anything else from this distance. I'm hoping she'll just drift away... isn't that what we all want? I hope the sun will shine; that she'll gaze out of the window at the clouds floating by and think to herself, yes... this is a good day to die. But I know from experience that it doesn't always work out that way. So now I'm just sitting. Looking at old photographs, remembering happy times. And waiting for the phone call...


Monday, September 5, 2011


Out walking at the weekend I came across a... well, would you believe it... a Push-Me-Pull-You. There it was, as plain as day, doing much the same as I was, if the truth be known. Just taking advantage of what might well turn out to be the last summery weekend we see this year.  It sat there, minding its own business, soaking up the sun, not knowing quite which way to look under such close scrutiny.

Kristal didn't know what to make of it. Which head should she address? Which way would it run if she dared to spook it?  One small pup could cause havoc in a paddock of Push-Me's if given the chance, so we moved on to bother some badgers. Well, they would have been bothered if they'd been home. Evidence suggested that they'd recently been evicted.

Up in the field, the crop had been harvested and so we were able to stand in the midst of nothingness and soak up the sense of  S  P  A  C  E .  Kristal didn't know which way to run first.

She had a lovely time charging up and down the tracks made by the huge harvester and leaping over the stubble. Whenever I'm in a field like this I'm reminded of the harvesting episodes in Tess of the d'Urbervilles - the back-breaking work; the long hours. And I think of the many paintings of villagers gleaning what they can from the fields once harvest is over. I bend down to assess just how much useful grain I might be able to salvage... and then I wonder what I'd have to do to it before it was any use to me...  and how long would that take me? Yes, there is something to be said for progress... I'm so glad I can just pop down to Waitrose.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Does my bum look big in this?

                             Go on, tell me....  does my bum look big in this?

Don't you just love a dog in uniform? Kristal has her blue and gold Guide Dogs jacket now. I had to shorten it by an inch all along the back to hoist it up a bit. Reminded me of my mother putting HUGE hems on my gymslip and saying, 'Don't worry, you'll grow into it.' I was always conscious of that deep hem. It seemed to signify a particular socio-economic bracket wherein you have to make things last. This trait has stayed with me. I never throw away a garment made from good fabric because one day I'll re-style it into something more up to date. Consequently,  I have a wardrobe full of clothes awaiting renovation and can't find anything that's fit to go.

The jackets the pups wear help to identify them to shop owners and the public. They don't guarantee us entry into places.... that's at the discretion of the owner or manager as only fully qualified Assistance Dogs are legally allowed to enter areas otherwise closed to dogs. We've rarely ever been been refused entry. Most people recognize this important aspect of the training but, occasionally, we have to fight our corner and sometimes accept defeat, despite our best PR efforts. The jackets help to identify the pup as a working dog in training and the public generally know not to disturb the pup. When I give talks in schools I emphasise the point that when the dog is wearing a jacket it's working or training.... the children catch on to this quickly. I liken it to their school uniform. When they're in uniform, they're in learning mode. I sometimes hear children in the street explaining to their mums... 'no, Mummy, it's wearing a jacket so you're not supposed to disturb it.'

Jackets go through various design stages and are constantly being assessed. Some pups don't like anything passed over their heads. Some, especially those with curly hair, sometimes find that the jacket tickles them. Some fabrics or fasteners irritate. If a pup is unhappy wearing a jacket it doesn't bode well for its future when asked to wear a harness, so we have to handle this stage sensitively.

Kristal is now four and a bit months old and showing definite signs of her ability to anticipate and grasp what is required of her in certain situations. When she sees me putting on lipstick or combing my hair... she knows I'm off out somewhere and she definitely wants to be included. The other day I'd put on my lippy and popped upstairs to get something. When I returned, she was sitting on the doormat with my shoe in readiness and her lead in her mouth! Admirable, except for the fact that both these items had been up on the kitchen worktop, supposedly well out of her reach.

Come on.... I'm waiting for you!

We're free running now and Kristal loves it. I take a whistle with me and every now and then practise the RECALL. She's very good. Soon I'll have to free run her in places where there are more distractions. That's always a testing time. I try to stay relaxed, but usually I'm on pins, hoping whichever dog I've got is not going to embarrass me or make me run a mile in order to catch up.

On free runs, Kristal supplements her diet with rabbit droppings which look exactly like her Royal Canin kibble. Probably taste the same as well. So far she's not been tempted by horse poo, but that will come. It always does. When out walking a bridle track, if I see a pile of horse poo ahead, it turns into a bit of a race between me and the dog to get to it first. Shouting 'LEAVE IT', from a distance, has no effect at all. I wish horse riders would give a thought to the mess they leave behind along country roads. I appreciate it's not likely they're ever going to be persuaded to carry poo-bags as dog walkers do, but they could be a little more considerate about where they allow the horse to drop it, surely.
We've not had many sunny days this summer, but now that Kristal is bigger it's a real pleasure taking her on a longer walk. Not too far, because young dogs have tender bones and joints and damage can be done by over-doing exercise. But she enjoys a walk in the park or cross-country, and chilling out is essential when so much of her training takes place in the busy High Street or station or in shops surrounded by lots of people.

Chilling out.

This is one of the perks of puppy walking. A walk in the sunshine with a young dog who is beginning to respond well -  who enjoys being with you just as much as you enjoy being with her. This is the essential basis of the teamwork that will be required for her future role.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Sequence of Events.

Kristal is now 17 weeks old and asserting herself in many directions... most of which incur a reprimand of one sort or another. She is, however, occasionally demonstrating an acute memory for places (she knows all the local coffee shops) and the names of several toys and will now SIT, STAY, WAIT, DOWN and LEAVE. All of this assumes you've got her to COME in the first place, and this is the stumbling block. Oh, she will come, but in her own good time. And when she does, she flies at you and almost bowls you over.

She's very distracted by creatures beneath the surface of the lawn which she just has to dig her way to. She's also developed a taste for apples and pears that fall from the trees in various stages of decomposition. Her insides must be cast iron because she shows no ill effects from scoffing all manner of unsavoury looking debris. A close inspection of her surprisingly well-formed stools indicates that a small pebble or two (horror of horrors), various parts of my kitchen chair (wood and cane), plastic plant pots in assorted colours, plumage from a medley of birds, remnants of plastic labels... all pass through unhindered. Well, she is a Labrador. I'm hoping that once her new teeth arrive she will become more selective.

I've been buying her a really hard shin bone from the pet shop and when we go to a coffee shop she will sit happily under the table chewing on this bone until the debris from the next table catches her eye.  These bones are not cheap and inadvertently we've left several under the tables at various coffee shops around town as we gather up our medley of toys, leads, jackets, dog bowl, water bottle etc to leave. I just haven't got the nerve to go around asking if I can have my bone back, please.

                                                       Working dog at work.

Gardening is one of Kristal's favourite activities. Seeing me dig is a license for her to dig. I have to choose plants that will survive an increasingly heavy footfall. She loves it when I rake up a pile of cuttings and leaves ready for picking up... it's an invitation to dive on top of the pile and scatter them everywhere.

                             There was no mention of this in my job description!

Her leadwork is coming along well. She will STEADY when I ask her to, slowing her pace to match mine. But she's just too friendly with passersby. She thinks everyone coming towards us is coming especially to greet her. I have to work on this because as she gets bigger it will be less 'cute' for those being greeted. 28kg of Labrador hurling herself at you is not fun. But trying to persuade the general public that they really will be doing Kristal a big training favour if they just ignore her is proving to be difficult.

Last week Kristal set in motion a sequence of events that was both scary and costly.   In a rare quiet moment, when we should have been alerted to the possibility of something untoward happening, but in all honesty we were so grateful for the fact that she was occupying herself without demanding our interaction, she discovered a sliver of wallpaper projecting from the wall and proceeded to see where it would end if she pulled on it. Well, it ended with us having to re-decorate, and that ended with a visit to hospital.  Read on...

Due to Kristal's innate curiosity, we spent three whole days painting a room, having emptied it of bookshelves, books and furniture beforehand. The last thing to be completed was the ceiling, which much coerced husband spent an entire day painting. At 5pm that day we went to John Lewis to buy some new cushions. On our return home we replaced the bookshelves and books and other pieces of furniture. Happy-to-see-the-end-of-the-job husband went into his office to do something on the computer.... e-Bay I think it was. When he emerged a few minutes later he asked, 'Why is all this stuff all over the place?' I replied to the effect that I had not yet got around to replacing everything in the room we'd painted. He asked, 'What room?' Somewhat irritated I responded, 'The room we've just spent three days painting.'  He went into the newly painted room and looked around completely gob-smacked. 'What... you're saying that I painted this room?'

To cut a long story short, he'd completely lost all memory of the three days of painting and the subsequent visit to John Lewis to buy cushions. There was no physical change in him and he could recall names, places and distant events so I was not really considering that he'd had a mini-stroke, although I was looking out for the crucial F.A.S.T. signs (face, arms, speech, time). He was just confused and kept asking the same questions over and over. 'Did I paint this?' And, 'Have we eaten yet?' After we'd eaten he could not remember what we'd eaten. I questioned and questioned him to try to drag memory back. Knowing how much he hates decorating, I thought he was kidding me, and he thought I was kidding him. When we both realized that neither of us was kidding it became a bit scary. By now it was late and we were considering bed. Next morning, he could recall everything perfectly but could not remember the experience of forgetting.

A trip to the GP resulted in an appointment with a specialist. But meanwhile I'd been on the internet and come up with TRANSIENT GLOBAL AMNESIA. The description given matched somewhat-relieved husband's experience exactly. Nothing to do with strokes. Not dangerous. No medication required. May or may not happen again. Often caused by excessive exertion (sex and swimming in cold water were prime examples given), usually affects people in the 50 to 70 age range.

Subsequently the specialist confirmed this diagnosis. He had had a case the day before of a man and wife who were moving house and the furniture was all in the van. The man went back into the house and re-appeared in shock stating that they'd been burgled. He could not remember the fact that they were moving or the packing up process.

So, Kristal's wall-paper stripping sparked a series of events that took us on an emotional roller-coaster. Had we not painted the room, would this have happened? Who knows. Did having his head bent backwards painting the ceiling have any effect on blood flow? The specialist was not convinced of this. So, much to husband's disappointment, he is not let off future painting and decorating chores.

What a strange organ the brain is, and how little we know about it. Wikipedia has a good description of TRANSIENT GLOBAL AMNESIA if you are interested, and there are several case studies retrievable via Google. One of the main features is that, once normal memory has returned, the person affected has no memory of what was said or done during the few hours that this experience lasts.  That means, and the specialist confirmed this, that all cases are reported via a second person. If there is no other person present, the victim/patient may be totally unaware that anything untoward has happened. Which begs the question.... so what if a crime is committed during this period?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Kristal & Marmite

Marmite. You love it or hate it, so they tell us. And Kristal loves it.

Now 11 weeks old, she's just starting to challenge my authority... a bit early for the teenage stuff. I call her indoors and she will sit down at the far end of the lawn looking me directly in the eye... what's in it for me? she's thinking. Well, what's in it for her is a slight smear of Marmite on my finger as a training treat. She loves the stuff. She has her own jar so that I don't find myself double dipping. Yuk! Not too much... just enough so that she thinks she's had something.

Small pups can sometimes choke on a solid treat if they run up to you excited and panting. It goes down the wrong way and can be fatal. Never give a  pup a treat when it's excited or panting. And don't allow it to grab at food. Hold onto the training treat until the pup is composed and calm. Ensure that your pup learns good manners. WAIT is a really useful command for many situations.

In addition to Marmite, Kristal has discovered cobwebs. Yes, she loves them. Licks them up like candy-floss. Someone said cobwebs are made from a protein... must be some flavour in it I guess. It's not something I encourage, but hey, it's difficult to find staff these days.

I know I'm a working dog but gimme a break!


Leadwork is coming along well. She's a bit bouncy and wants to run rather than walk, but she's listening to my voice and is starting to STEADY when I use this command and also to WAIT when I pause. When she lunges forward too much I make her stop and calm down before we proceed. Stroking the shoulder is very calming. Eventually she'll learn that if she doesn't walk in a steady manner she's not going to get very far. This is important with a big dog breed because pups don't stay small for long. And once they've put on some muscle you can be in trouble if you haven't already established some discipline by voice. Leadwork takes time and you sometimes have to get out there just as a lesson rather than a walk.... because you know you're not going to get very far. You'll be stopping and starting over and over until the message gets through. Short 10 minute lessons to start with. It's worth putting in this time and effort very early on before going for a walk becomes a test of strength. A dog constantly straining against its collar will not be having much fun, and nor will you.

Keeping Kristal cool hasn't been much of a challenge because, let's face it, the summer has not really arrived yet. But when it is hot it's important to keep pups cool. Forego the trip to town. Hot pavements are very close to a small pup's tummy and so feel even hotter. Kristal discovered she liked to paddle in the washing up bowl. Next stop the River Lea, although in general, Guide Dogs are discouraged from becoming water dogs. It would  be very inconvenient for a blind person if their dog jumped in the pond in the park during lunch break from the office! For the same reason, we have to discourage a dog from becoming obsessive about balls. Balls are a no, no for Guide Dog pups. They're just too tempting.

I heard some Guide Dog pups get to live with people who have a swimming pool!

Kristal had coffee with Kenna, her sister, once again. And they'll probably meet up this weekend too. They're both growing fast. It will be interesting to see whether they remain so physically alike as they mature.

Now, don't ask me which one is which!


Saturday, July 2, 2011

The River - aros 1

The river has been dry for months.
But now the spring has sprung anew
and soon this tantalizing trickle will
become a torrent... gathered here
on my slightly outdated Dell.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Kristal & Kenna

Kristal met her sister today, for coffee. They are so alike it was a good job we had slightly different leads attached to them. At nine weeks old, both are a bit mouthy... ie. they've discovered they can BARK. I've had pups who got a real fright the first time they produced a proper bark. They nearly jump out of their skins. 'Where'd that come from?'  But not these two. I think they've been vocal from very young as their bark is quite strong and deep. Got to put a STOP to that!!!

They were very pleased to see each other, but I couldn't say that there was any recognition of a sibling connection. Oh joy! Just my size. Let me at her... sort of thing. Yep, you've got a better toy than me... well, we'll swap, shall we?

Before long our leads were entwined like knitting so we had to bring things to order. Calm and steady, calm and steady. Out of the puppy bag came the distraction chewy toy and peace reigned for a while.

When we got home Kristal insisted on giving me a helping hand with the washing! There's something organic about wet washing. The temptation is just too much. I have to remind her that she's a GUIDE dog not an ASSISTANCE dog.

Oh no! Not my Elle McPherson knickers... please.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Krazy Kristal

Okay... when I first started blogging I told myself that I wasn't going to devote these pages to doggy doings. But what can you do when you have a creature like Kristal in situ? Just a few more photos and then I'll put puppy capers on hold for awhile... but,  whoops.... no, hang on... I sense a wee coming up. Off we go... 'busy busy!'

All credit to her, she's been excellent at lettting me know when she wants to go out. You have to learn to recognize the signs, but the signs are definitely there. She will squeak at me and look up appealingly.  Once outside, and this amazes me, she rushes off around the corner of the house to the designated peeing place. This is at 8 weeks old.

She will now sit and WAIT in front of her dinner bowl until I blow my whistle. This is a conditioning ploy, so that later on when free-running, she will come to the sound of the whistle. It's a useful tool for blind people as they can't see in which direction their dog has run off when free running, or how far away the dog is. When a few of us puppy walkers are in a park together, if one person blows a whistle then ALL the pups will descend upon the whistle-blower and expect a treat. One puppy walker flat on her back, trampled by eager to please pups who all came when called.

Leadwork is coming along well, although Kristal  likes to carry a length of lead in her mouth, something we discourage Guide Dog pups doing, but she'll grow out of that. It's a comfort thing.

She has a natural curiosity about everything, and, in typical Labrador fashion, everything has to submit to the taste test. Shoes, in particular, hold enough scents to drive a dog nuts!

Oh, joy... a cardboard box. Who needs store-bought fancy toys? 

Royal Canin - that means there was food in here. Better check it out.

Can't see anything.

This needs a closer look. I'm going in.

There definitely was food in here.

Let me at it! Let me at it!

You never know who to believe these days.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Kristal's here - seven weeks old.

Guide Dog pup Kristal's arrived... and don't we know it! Two nights of constant barking, objecting to having the door closed on her indoor kennel. But hey, I have my kitchen cupboard knobs to protect. Don't let HER call the shots was the advice from my supervisor. Okay, so husband and I shared what turned out to be our last pair of ear-plugs. One each. It sort of worked. Then last night, night 3, she was fine. No crying no mess. She just needed to establish that when we go out of sight, we do turn up again.

As it happens, Sparky, our 3 year old ex pup, is still with us on his holidays and Kristal has immediately fallen in love, spurning the re-cycled mattress (pillow slip stuffed with old jumpers) I'd prepared for her in favour of snuggling down with him. He is so gentle that he just moves over to make room for her. This arrangement is alright while under supervision, but trustworthy and patient as he is, I'd never leave them unattended. Every dog has its limits, and Kristal's persistant searching for nipples in all Sparky's warm crevices might soon become too much for him. I won't take the risk.

I lost her at one stage on her first day. There she was out in the garden playing football with Sparky and giving him a good run for his money. It was when she started chasing him and hanging onto his tail that I had to step in and stop the game. Bold? Oh yes. I can see we have a little madam here with a mind of her own.

By coincidence, Kristal's sister, Kenna, is being puppy walked in the next village. I'm sure we'll meet up for outings together. It will be fascinating to compare progress and problems.

Kristal's already been out for her first coffee. And husband is confident that she will be a star attraction when I leave him standing outside a shop with her. (I usually emerge to find him surrounded by young women... he loves it.).

So, watch this space. Take note of the new spelling... she arrived minus the Y and with an I in her name... and don't for one minute be fooled by that put-upon expression.