Holly’s story – from a puppy farm to a loving home

You can help dogs like holly by not contributing to the demand for puppy farm puppies.

Something a bit different today, but anyone who has been reading this blog for a while will know that dogs are close to my heart!

Meet my friend Holly! She’s an eight-year-old yellow Labrador and she lives with my partner’s grandparents.

I met her nearly two years ago one evening after work. S had suggested going to visit his grandparents. It was a bit unusual going after work, but it would be good to see them, and of course they had the dogs – a greyhound and a saluki, who had both come through a rescue organisation.

When we got there, I was ushered into the front room where, dozing on a duvet, was the newest addition to the family – Holly.

S’s grandma had seen Holly on a dog rehoming website and she knew immediately that she wanted to help.

Holly had been living on a farm in Ireland, where she was being used for breeding. In her six short years, she had already had several litters of puppies, and she was unlikely to have had a break between each litter. Her teats were swollen, she was terribly overweight, and she didn’t seem to understand the concept of going for a walk. This combined with the worn patches on her elbows suggested that she had spent a lot of time just lying on a hard floor throughout the cycle of mating, pregnancy, and giving birth to puppies. The puppies would be sold and then the cycle would start again. This is no life for a smart, young Labrador.

Fortunately for her, Holly was rescued from this life of puppy production and she was brought to her new forever home around two years ago. She now goes out for regular walks with the boys (Perry the Saluki and Gwyn the greyhound). She can’t run as fast as them, but she has lost several kilos already which makes it easier for her to move around. Like all Labradors, she loves her food, but her new diet is helping to bring her weight down to where it should be, and of course going for walks helps with that too.

Holly is a typical Labrador in that she likes to be patted. She is very calm, and I often sit on the floor stroking her when we go round to visit. She has perked up a lot in the time I’ve known her, and although people haven’t always treated her well, she likes people. When I first met her, she had her lovely, kind nature, but she seemed so tired. Not the kind of tiredness that goes when you’ve had a good night’s sleep, but weary because life had been tough for her, and somehow lacking enthusiasm.

Now she often trots out behind the boys to greet us at the door, and there’s nothing like a tasty treat to awaken Labrador enthusiasm!

Her legs aren’t strong enough to allow her to jump up into the car like the others, but she has learned how to use the ramp.

I’m so glad that she now has a life with a soft bed, the chance to have a good diet, people to give her hugs, and interesting places to explore.

Some months later, Holly was spayed, so there’s no risk that she will have to go through another pregnancy. She’s had enough of that to last a lifetime!

There are plenty of good reasons not to buy from a puppy farm (also known as puppy mills in the US). These are essentially irresponsible breeders who run factories for producing puppies with little concern for the puppies or the mothers. The dogs are often not well-cared for, there is little or no medical history, basic medical care and immunisations are not given, there is insufficient information about the parents (including any hereditary health problems), and the dogs are often taken away from their mother too early, which is bad for their social development. If you get a dog from somewhere like this, you could end up with a sick puppy, or one with behavioural issues. Temperament can be inherited, so if you’re not allowed to see the parents, or the mother has behavioural issues that go beyond the normal protectiveness towards her puppies, the puppies could have issues too.

Some people go to puppy farms because they don’t like the fact that good breeders and animal rescue organisations will want to vet potential new homes first, but if it were your puppy, wouldn’t you want to make sure that it was going to a good home?

I can understand why people who genuinely want to help would buy a puppy from a place like this and give it a better start in life, but even if you do help that one puppy, it’s contributing to the wider problem. As long as people think there is money to be made in this way, and as long as there is a demand for puppies, people will try to meet that demand. This means they need dogs like Holly to be mothers – again and again and again. In the UK, it’s illegal to breed from a bitch more than six times in her lifetime, but that doesn’t mean that people don’t do it.

So if you really want to help dogs like Holly, it would be better to go to a rescue organisation, or if not, a registered and responsible breeder, than to support the puppy farm trade.

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My friend Cindy – the golden guiding girl

Four paws, 10 happy years together, and a big, waggy tail. I’d like to tell you about my friend Cindy the golden retriever!

I’d like to tell you about my friend. She isn’t around any more, but you can see her picture on both of my websites. Many of my friends met her, but for anyone who hasn’t, this is the story of Cindy, my golden guiding girl.

If you asked me about my favourite dog breed, I’d tell you it’s the golden retriever. This is because I spent 9 happy years with one – firstly as my guide dog, and then as a friend and companion because she stayed with me when she was too old to work.

Cindy was not my first guide dog. The first one was a crazy Labrador who had some behavioural issues and after a year it was decided that she was not suitable to guide. She retired early and became a family pet. I knew I could make it work with a guide dog. I saw how much happiness and freedom they brought to other visually impaired friends. I have loved dogs since I was a small child. We always had them when I was growing up because my grandparents loved dogs as well.

When I was 4, we got a new dog, who was also called Cindy. I grew up with her, and she was my childhood friend. When I was 5, I thought she was smart enough to learn to read. “Wag your tail if this word says cat”! That didn’t work out so well, but she was a smart girl and we had a lot of fun together, in our garden, on holiday, on walks, or just chilling out. The first Cindy died when I was 15.

Cindy the retriever bounced into my life when I was in my early twenties. You don’t get to choose the name of a guide dog, so it felt quite special that this girl shared her name with my childhood friend. Each litter of puppies is given names beginning with the same letter – so all of Cindy’s brothers and sisters had names beginning with C.

We trained out of a hotel in Greenwich, London, which meant that we were close to a nice big park for walks after the training sessions.

During the next years, we did everything together! Cindy sat under my desk in my various offices, helped me to negotiate two of my least favourite obstacles on London streets – roadworks, because they are never in the same place twice and completely change the landscape that was otherwise so familiar to us, and tourists, because many of them are so intent on taking their pictures and completely oblivious to the fact that there are other people on the streets who might actually need to get somewhere, such as to work!

I had a lot of dog-loving friends, many of whom worked long hours, so they couldn’t have a dog of their own. We all went for long walks together, mostly in the Surrey countryside, and sometimes we went for long weekends to visit a friend on the Isle of Wight, where the golden girl could swim in the sea.

This is something I wrote on her 4th birthday and it sums up a lot of the happy memories we had together:

Four years – where have they gone?

The golden wagging bundle of fun
Who bounded in to my house one day in November In preparation for our December class.

Something about you got my attention
Your love for life and sense of fun
Your ability to keep calm and wag whatever happens.
I loved the golden puppy girl straight away!

I’d been so disappointed with a failed match
Willing to put my trust in a new guide But feeling under ridiculous pressure to make it work.
Pressure of my own making – but still it was there.

Class was fun in the training centre.
We learned together.

A few months in, you were naughty
Not wanting to walk past the vets
Because you’d been in there for ear treatment.
Not wanting to go home
If you didn’t think our walk had been long enough!

But somehow along the way things fell in to place And we became a team, and good friends.
I think we’d always been friends
But were just getting to know each other.
You learned I don’t like mornings
I learned you love to run and chase after sticks And bark at them if they are too big!
You love to sing and do headstands when you’re happy
And can pick up if I’m annoyed or upset,
Coming over to make sure I’m ok,
Laying your head on my lap And not leaving till you’ve made me smile.

So many happy memories
Chasing in the park after your ball
Diving in to the forbidden muddy pond
When we were supposed to be going out for lunch.

I was so proud when we did our first walks together
And you remembered the places we’d been before.
You soon got the name Singing Cindy
Because of your happy songs!

We explored our new area together
When we moved house, under a year after we met.
Would you find our door again? Would we get lost?
Only once did you try to have me break in to another house with my key
But that was months in to our time there and I wasn’t paying attention!

The time when you were so ill after eating a firework
I was so worried because you couldn’t breathe.
Rushing you to the vets to get you cared for.

Then moving jobs to a brand new office and company
You looking out for men as you always do Unaware of their place on the talent scale!

How many secrets do you know about me?
It’s a good thing you can’t talk!!

I was so proud as you took in each new place with ease
Learning routes and following other dogs without going crazy!

It’s fun to see you out on walks
Loving the feeling of freedom
Running like a crazy horse
And carrying logs twice your size!
Rolling in the dry grass
And telling off any log which is too big for you to carry!

With you I can stroll around town confidently!
Not feeling clumsy or dependent,
But travelling quickly and freely because I know you’re looking out for things in our way.

The time that the knife-wielding men fled at the sight of you
After trying to terrorise the train carriage.
Meanwhile you were sleeping – oblivious to the whole thing!
The time we accidentally got on the TV news,
Because I thought the live reporters outside our building were a bunch of tourists
And urged you forward so we could go inside!

How many people say how beautiful you are
And want to stroke that golden head!
Sometimes it’s annoying
But I’m proud to know you’re so stunning

Sometimes people try to deny you access
And that makes me really angry.
I’ll take on the argument, and usually win
But how embarrassing and degrading is that?
We just want to have a meal or a drink with friends in peace
And don’t always have the energy to make people aware of the law.

We’ve done so much together!
The long trips we’ve taken
The new people we’ve met.
Apart from your tendency to want to be everyone’s best friend
I know I can take you anywhere And that you will behave impeccably.

And the Cindy hugs,
When you jump up on your back legs And give me a hug.

And the times when it’s all got too much
And you let me cry in to that silky fur!
Staying with me, no words necessary!

I asked for a speedy dog, and I got one
Happy to trot along when I’m late
Quickly but carefully!
Trying to stop at the taxi rank
To see if I’ll pay for a ride home
And in doing so give you the evening off!

We’ve had so much fun over the last four years
And I look forward to the next years together with you My golden guiding girl.

Well, We had more than four more years together after that. As Cindy grew older, she had a number of health issues and we later discovered it was pancreatitis. This meant various types of medication before and with her food, and that I had to be so careful that she didn’t get anything other than the special prescribed diet. Otherwise she could get very sick.

This became easier when I changed my job and set up my own business. No more 3 hour commutes into London! That was wonderful and although we’d both had good times with our colleagues in London, in the end we were glad not to have to travel any more.

I was so relieved when I got permission to keep Cindy when she retired. This doesn’t happen automatically and if you can’t find an approved home for your guide dog, the Guide Dogs Association will rehome your dog, but the new owners are not obliged to stay in touch with the original guide dog owner. After we’d been through so much together, I could not imagine anyone else looking after her but me. After all, we’d worked together as a team for so many years. She’d looked out for me, and I wanted to do the same for her in her old age.

It all worked out well in the end. I worked from home, and Cindy stayed with me. At first I thought about applying for a new guide dog straight away, but then I moved house again and decided that I didn’t want to put Cindy through the stress of having a young dog bouncing around.

When Cindy was 12, she developed a tumour. At first nothing happened, but then it began to spread quickly. I had to make the hardest decision that any animal owner has to make, but I didn’t want her to suffer, or to keep her alive just because I couldn’t bear to say goodbye. The vet came to our house to make it less traumatic and Cindy fell asleep for the last time in my arms.

I don’t plan to get another guide dog at the moment and this is not the place to ask about that. This post is to celebrate my friendship with a wonderful golden retriever who brought so much happiness to my life. She wasn’t perfect – anyone who has lived with a golden retriever knows just how stubborn they can be – but I certainly wasn’t perfect either, and that’s what makes a friendship real.

If you’ve written a post about your dog, please drop the link in the comments. I would love to read it!

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Visit to the small breeds farm and owl centre

After surprising my partner with a trip to the wolf sanctuary, he surprised me with a trip to the owl centre!

The owl centre is in Herefordshire, and it is home to a wide variety of owls, as well as a number of small animals.

The owls live in the owl garden, and here you can see the five native British owls, as well as owls from all around the world. Some of these owl species are not on public display anywhere else in Europe.

The five owl species that you’ll find in Britain are the British Barn owl, the Tawny owl, the Little owl, the Short-eared owl, and the Long-eared owl. My favourite is the barn owl!

All of these owls are facing challenges at the moment due to changes in farming practices (better pest control means less rodents to feed upon), new roads, and fewer suitable feeding sites. These challenges are particularly intense in the winter time, especially when snowy conditions make it harder to find food. There are a number of charities that work to help the owls to thrive and survive, particularly as falling population numbers have been a cause for concern in recent years.

I’ve been collecting owls for years, but I think Harry Potter contributed to an increased interest in all things with owls on them! Products with owl designs are everywhere in the shops, and I hope this increased interest in them will also translate into people learning more about them and supporting them. A good way to do this is to visit the owl centre. There is information outside every cage about the species, where it’s from, and more general information about its appearance, feeding habits and preferred nesting sites.

If you want to see more owl pictures, visit the owl page on the owl sanctuary’s website.

It was probably a good time to visit because there were lots of tiny animals. We went in the pen with some lambs. They were rather cautious, but as soon as one headed over, the others dared to come a bit closer.
The farm encourages petting and stroking of the animals, so it’s a good experience for visually impaired people too. We didn’t ask about handling any of the owls, apart from the one that greeted people at the entrance, but my partner read the information to me so I could imagine how the different species looked. In any event, it was daytime, so some of them probably wanted to sleep!

There are a number of different types of goat, including pygmies, boer goats, and Golden Guernsey Goats, all of which were eager to chomp anything they could find, and not just the food that was offered to them. One larger goat tried to munch my hair, and one of the tiny kids, that were the size of small cats, tried to nibble the bottom of my dress.

The miniature horses and donkeys have often been featured on TV.

The farm would not be complete without the farm dogs! When my boyfriend said “I’ve seen someone whom you’ll want to meet,” I wasn’t expecting a Labrador, in fact there were two of them, but I was very happy to give them a pat!

Other animals that you can visit are reindeer, alpaca, pigs, cows (including the miniature zebu, the world’s smallest breed of cow), sheep, horses, and donkeys.

This is where you can see some pictures of the other animals on the Owl Centre’s website.

There is also a house for small animals. I stroked some floppy bunny ears, but there weren’t so many opportunities for interaction here. Still you could see the guinea pigs, mice, chipmunks and chinchillas.

After our visit, we had lunch in the gift shop, where I also bought an owl necklace, an owl bracelet and a little bag with an owl face on it to add to my ever-growing owl collection.

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Walking with wolves

As you may have already noticed, I’m a big fan of wolves. I’ve always loved dogs, and my interest in wolves really came about through my partner, who had been interested in them long before I was.

I really think they get a raw deal – often portrayed as the big bad wolf, or bad guys in fairytales, which gives people the idea that they are something to be feared. They are definitely something to be respected, but rather than seeing them as the villain, as I started to read and find out more about them, I understood that there is a lot we can learn from their behaviour, ways of communicating and pack structures.

I wanted to do something with my partner that would allow us to learn more about these wonderful creatures. As the charities and organisations in the UK work with captive wolves, I began to wonder whether I would actually be able to touch one. The first place that I tried said that none of their wolves were accustomed enough to people for interaction to be possible, so I tried further afield and came across Wolfwatch UK, a non-profit organisation that works with displaced captive wolves. According to their website:

“Wolf Watch UK is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the rescue, welfare, and conservation of displaced wolves from captive situations across Europe. Aiming to set the standard for the care of captive wolves, and provide them with as close to natural a habitat as is possible. Whilst providing the opportunity to study, educate, and offer factual information to our visitors, allowing them to form their own opinions regarding this magnificent animal, and hopefully expel some of the myths and misconceptions that still exists around them.”

As visiting Wolfwatch would be quite a long drive, I organised a two-night stay in the cottage, a renovated barn close to the main house, and a private visit with two of the wolves. I was very excited. Initially it was going to be a surprise for my partner, but as it would involve him driving quite a long way, I let him in on it before we booked! I thought this would be better than just producing the postcode on the day and telling the sat nav to get us there.

Last Friday, , we drove to Wolfwatch and were greeted at the door by Tony, who runs the sanctuary, and his two very friendly dogs. After deerhound and spaniel hugs, we were shown to the cottage, where we would stay for the next two nights. It does have a kitchen with a fridge, hob, and microwave, so you could cook there if you wanted. We just bought snacks for lunchtime and went out to a local town for our evening meals.

The cottage is surrounded by beautiful hills and countryside and it’s an ideal place to get away from it all. If you’re lucky, you hear the wolves howling. I made this recording whilst leaning as far as I could out of an upstairs window, so the birds and background noise are quite loud, but I didn’t want to miss the howls all together by running downstairs to go outside! I think this is Anja howling:

On Saturday morning, we met Tony, and Helen, who also works at Wolfwatch, and went to the enclose where Madadh and Kgosi live. They are Canadian wolves, brother and sister, and both in their senior years. I had already adopted Madadh on the website (see below for ways that you can help the wolves), and I was very keen to meet her. There was also a special link with visual impairment, because as Kgosi lost his sight, Madadh helped him out, both in terms of getting around the enclosure and finding food. So in a way, she was his guide wolf, and later that day, she became mine, too.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I went in (apart from a lot of mud because it had been raining!) I didn’t know how big they would be, what their fur would be like, how keen they would be on interacting with people or how they would respond to us. I imagined them to be something like very big German Shepherds, which wasn’t far wrong, but as they live outside and still had their thick winter coats, it wasn’t like the German Shepherd coats I’d felt before. I felt really privileged to have the opportunity to get so clos to what, despite the familiarity with people that these two wolves have developed after being hand-reared as puppies, is still a wild animal.

Madadh (also known as Maddy) was the first to the gate and she was definitely interested in the dog kibble that we’d brought for her. The first part I felt of her was the big, gentle snout coming in for the biscuits. I was amazed how gently she took them. She then allowed me to stroke her head, her pointy ears, her silky (if a bit wet) coat, and to feel the length of her body. After she had sussed us out, her brother Kgosi came to join us as well. He is much bigger, like a stately old man, and he too was partial to the scooby snacks! He let me touch his strong body, his massive paws and his thick, powerful tail. If he dropped a snack, Maddy was quick to help tidy up!

We spent the next hour or so with them – walking around their enclosure, taking photos, giving them treats and learning about their history, their lives and about the other wolves who live at Wolfwatch. Kgosi couldn’t see the treats, but his keen sense of smell didn’t let him down. He usually allows his sister to go and check out new sights and sounds, but if she needs him, he is ready to defend her.

Madadh is accustomed to being on a lead when she needs to be moved somewhere, and when we took her into the field, I held her lead and she led me along. The sighted members of the party were there to make sure that she didn’t guide mi into the lake, but there was something magical about being guided along by a wolf!

I felt a sense of awe that these powerful, independent animals had developed such trust for Tony, and as we came in with him, they accepted us as well. I was very grateful to have the opportunity to get close to these fascinating creatures.

As I was lying in bed on the morning that we left, I woke to the sounds of howls. I was in no state to be leaning out of windows, so I just stayed there and listened. Du to the direction of the howls, it was unlikely to be Maddy and Kgosi, but even though the other wolves are not socialized and would not welcome us in their enclosures, mainly due to less than positive experiences with humans, they still need our help.

What can you do to help?

There are a number of ways that you can help wolves like Maddy and Kgosi. Buying any of the products on the Wolfwatch website supports the wolves directly – they need to be fed, vet bills need to be paid and their enclosures need to be kept in good condition. Things that you can do include arranging a visit, as we did, adopting a wolf, which gives you access to additional information and resources on the website, visiting the cottage, or gifting membership to someone else. If you can’t afford to do any of these things, you can still learn about them, or share social media updates from organisations that help wolves, and in doing so convey the message that they are not some terrible enemy to be feared, but a smart and intelligent wild animal that deserves our help and respect.

Some of the stories I have heard about the conditions in which wolves have been kept are truly awful. Despite the similarities to dogs, they are not pets. They are not dogs. They are wild animals and need to be kept in an environment that is appropriate for them.

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Podcast

Unseen Beauty is also available as a podcast. If you want to listen to it, you can find it on iTunes or Player FM.

The URL for the podcast feed is
https://player.fm/series/unseen-beauty

Discover dogs

Discover dogs – a day out for dog lovers

You may have guessed it by now, but in case you haven’t, I love dogs. My absolute favourite breed is the Golden Retriever, because of my golden guiding girl, who was my faithful companion for 10 years.

I don’t have a dog at the moment, but I never pass up on hug time with the Labrador, Greyhound, Saluki, German Shepherd, Yorkshire Terrier or Chihuahua Cross in our circle of friends. Oh ok then, and the random ones I meet on my adventures.

I’ve been wanting to attend the Discover Dogs event for a number of years and last year we did it. My partner and I travelled to the Excel Centre and entered a temporary world of soft furry snouts and waggy tails.

Of course I paid the Golden Retriever a visit, and checked out all the other types of retriever too, but the main aim for me was to find out what the other breeds look like. I knew about some of them from previous encounters or descriptions that I’d read in books, but some of the breeds, such as the mountain dogs, are more rare and you’re less likely to come across them in the local park. Being able to stroke them and talk about them with their owners gave me a much better mental image than anything I might have read about them.

The stalls are organised alphabetically in terms of dog breeds so you can either hunt out specific breeds if you’re interested in one (whether you are getting a dog from a rescue or a breeder, it’s still good to chat to people who already have that breed), or you can do what we did, which is to go along the line systematically and try to meet as many breeds as possible.

Our favourites were the Maremma Sheepdog, Canadian Eskimo Dog, Canaan Dog, Pyrenean Mastiff, Pyrenean Mountain Dog, Samoyed, Siberian Husky, Finnish Lapphund, Tibetan Mastiff, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Norwegian Bulhund, Newfoundland, Leonberger, Kooikerhondje, Japanese Akita Inu, Japanese Shiba Inu, Belgian Shepherd Dog, Bernese Mountain Dog, Border Collie, Brittany, Deerhound, Entlebucher Mountain Dog, Estrela Mountain Dog, Eurasier, Hovawart, Hungarian Vizsla, Hungarian Kuvasz, Irish Wolfhound, Griffon Fauve de Bretagne and Greenland Dog. As you can see, we tended to prefer the bigger dogs, although the Beagle in the picture was very sweet!

If you have a visual impairment, I would advise finding someone to go with, as it is a large exhibition with a constant flow of people and dogs and it was at times quite noisy. I think I would have struggled to negotiate the conference hall without sighted assistance. Even if I’d managed it with the help of many strangers, I think the idea would have been much more stressful and less enjoyable. As well as explaining which breeds we were approaching, my partner was also able to get me into good stroking positions, as there were often many people standing around each enclosure. It was also good to have someone with whom to share the experience.

There were usually several of each breed, so they could swap them around and it didn’t become too tiring for one dog.

Our main interest was the dogs, although there were other activities going on in the show rings. Classes were being judged, and I believe there were demonstrations too of what working dogs can do and dancing to music demonstrations.

If I had to suggest an improvement, I found the music too loud, especially towards the end of the afternoon. If noise sensitivity is a thing for humans, I’m sure it affects dogs too. Maybe it wouldn’t have been such a big deal outside, but I don’t think the music needed to be as loud as it was. After all, people were trying to talk to each other and the dogs’ hearing is better than ours.

Overall, I really enjoyed my day and I felt that I learned a lot from it. So many different types of fur. Floppy ears, pointy ears, silky ears. I’ve been following the antics of some Tibetan Terriers on Facebook and now I finally know what the breed looks like, as well as many other breeds that I didn’t even know existed. If you love dogs, it’s a really good day out.

This year (2017), Discover dogs is on 21st and 22nd October. If you want to find out more, you can go to the Discover Dogs website.

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Podcast

Unseen Beauty is also available as a podcast. If you want to listen to it, you can find it on iTunes or Player FM.

The URL for the podcast feed is
https://player.fm/series/unseen-beauty