After 10 wonderful years we had to put my beloved dog Billy to sleep and to say I’m devastated doesn’t come close to describing how I feel. I’ve been to more funerals of family and friends than I can count but the pain of loss I feel without him goes way beyond any grief I’ve ever felt before. It’s been over a month yet I shed tears every day.
Friends I’ve spoken to who’ve had and lost dogs understand and until I had Billy I never realised just how they worm their way into your heart and soul. Unlike humans, dogs are totally honest creatures – they hold nothing back in terms of who they are. They don’t try to be anything other than themselves and they love you with every fibre of their being. You do the same in return and it made me realise I could never love a human as much as I loved (and will always love) him. A friend told me:
“There’s something about their unconditional love for you that really tears you apart when they pass.”
Added to that he was the perfect companion. Well behaved, fun, endlessly happy to see me, playful, sociable, calm, lazy, a good traveller and without a doubt my happiest times were with him over the last decade. I got him just as I started working remotely and sat here typing out these words alone in my home office I realise his company kept me sane through countless meetings, late night coding sessions, pandemics, stressful software releases and everything else in between.
I trusted him completely and he trusted me completely. He knew what I was going to do before I did, we were completely in sync without having to say a word. He knew when I was stressed or down or if I needed a break and was sure to tell me! My entire life was built around him and I wouldn’t have had it any other way – the house I rent is far larger than I need but I’m here because the landlord allowed dogs (not common enough in the UK) and that was the only thing that mattered to me.
There are a thousand little routines we did together. For example when I’d go to bed at night I’d grab the fleecy throw that lived on my sofa and put it on my bed. Billy would then sleep the night there (right in the middle of course). So as soon as I got up and went to grab the throw, he knew exactly what was coming next, he knew it was time for bed. He’d either jump down (if he was on the sofa) or get up (if he was on his bed in my lounge) and start heading towards the bedroom. I’d put the throw on the bed then go and brush my teeth. Since he knew I’d do that he’d have stopped in the hall to stare at the bathroom, waiting for me to go in and then come out to bed. As he got older I’d lift him onto the bed rather than him jump up so he’d wait for me to do that. Then he’d sit and stare at me, waiting for me to get into my pyjamas and go under the covers so he could cuddle into me and instantly go to sleep, snoring away while hogging the bed. Heaven.
Now, every time I go to bed, I do so alone. I feel his presence, but I look around and he’s not there.
I still go on the same walks around where I live. I have memories of every tree he peed on, every place he’d run, that time he bumped into one of his mates and they chased each other around, him barking like a lunatic. And despite walking alone it brings me closer to him to relive those moments. I have videos of walking him and can wander along the same spots holding my phone in front of me and it’s like he’s there. It helps, but it’ll never be the same without him.
I know the best bet is to get another dog, and I’m sure I’ll have another one at some point since they are such magical creatures and I am most certainly a dog person. But while it’ll replace the lifestyle of having a dog and give me a new companion, it’ll never replace him. The person Billy was. Knowing I have to live the rest of my life without him is a tough prospect and while I have thousands of photos and videos of my time with him, I’d give anything just to have him resting his chin on my leg and snoozing away peacefully with me. Even just for a minute.
Or watch him running in the park, blissfully lost in the moment of running, something that dog was born to do and did right up until the end.
I like to think that somewhere on some other plane Billy is running around a park barking away. And then he’ll stop, look around and sprint straight towards me. We’ll walk off together, just him and me. Both of us totally content with our lot. I miss you boy. 💔
I’ve always been a cat person. I used to like the fact that they were independently minded, did their own thing, were cute, furry and tough when they wanted to be. When I lived at home we had a few cats over the years and I never once wanted a dog.
That changed over the course of a few holidays with friends and their dog. It soon became clear to me that there really is no comparison between dogs and cats – they’re furry but the similarities end there. Early last year we acquired a rescued Lhasa Apso after a long period of time thinking about getting a dog, doing the research, watching endless episodes of The Dog Whisperer and looking at Google image search results for ‘lhasa apso puppies‘ (if there’s anything cuter than a puppy I haven’t seen it). Nine months later and I wouldn’t swap Billy for the world.
So here is my list, in no particular order, of the things I love about having a dog, and if you’re half tempted to get one, they’ll hopefully tip you over the edge.
1. Dog packs accept both dogs, humans and you
Dogs are, at their core, pack animals. Whereas we humans might live in a house, a caravan or boat, dogs live in a pack. It’s the essence of their being and while their distant relatives wolves only accept other wolves into their pack (and treat everything else as food), dog packs can contain both dogs and humans. Which is great as dogs are incredibly social animals that will treat you as family, want to be with you at all times, will protect you with their life and do whatever they can to keep the peace and keep you all happy (which may involve licking you).
Once Billy got used to the fact that he was in my pack and that he wasn’t the pack leader, he completely relaxed, put his trust in me to make the decisions about what we do, feed him, shelter him and generally take care of him. That trust he has in me swings both ways so I trust him – I almost never put him on a lead since if I call him he’ll come to me and behave himself with other dogs – he knows it’s my job to protect him from bad dogs so he lets me do it and shows me by cowering behind me or barking that he needs my support. Likewise if I see a dog I’m scared of I can cower behind Billy and he’ll take care of the big hairy beast!
2. Dogs live in the moment
We humans tend to live in the past, often a slave to previous experiences and letting that cloud the present. It can cause repeated arguments over and over again, the last time you walked along that path you sprained your ankle so you tread more carefully (which ironically makes you more likely to sprain it again) and so on. Whereas dogs live in the here and the now. Take my dog.
When he was rescued he’d spent 10 days out on the moors in the depth of Winter, lost a lot of weight and most likely been, cold, wet and miserable for that whole time. When my friends parents let him in the house did he jump for joy? Collapse in a heap and cry? Sit looking longingly out the window and ponder the last 10 days? No, he jumped into their lap and didn’t give it a second thought. Dogs that have had tough lives aren’t defined by that. It’s usually us humans who project that onto them by being edgy in situations we know they’ve suffered in and dogs tend to mirror our emotions.
Dogs don’t hold grudges. If you tell one-off for misbehaving they instantly let it go because that was in the past and this is now. They make the most of every moment they have in their lives and that’s something that, to a certain degree, we should all do. It’s certainly something I try to do and is the perfect excuse when I misbehave and am being told off – I can simply reply with “live in the moment, the past is gone!”. It doesn’t always work.
3. Cute dogs turn you into a babe magnet
I’ve never had much luck with women. I partly put it down to the fact that I’m too nice and women generally go for guys who treat them badly (I stand by that assessment and should probably write about it some time). I also put it down to my lack of boyish good looks and “on day release from a lunatic asylum” look when I have my hair cut short. Then there’s my irritating sense of humour. The list goes on.
Anyway, since getting cute little Billy things have changed. Suddenly I’ve gone from being the sort of person women cross the street to avoid to being completely approachable and any stunningly attractive woman I walk past will stop and speak to me, usually noting how sweet my dog is. If only I realised this when I was single… Anyway, I’m happily married now but if you’re single and struggle to meet women then I’d highly recommend a Lhasa Apso.
4. Going for a walk is fun, dogs know this already
I’ve always been a highly active person. I’d go mountain biking, hiking, footballing, running, snowboarding, oh the list goes on. But on a normal sunny day if I didn’t have some kind of action activity planned I’d just sit around and do nothing in particular. This changed when I got a dog.
Since walking a dog is an essential part of having a happy dog, you really have to walk your dog at least a couple of times a day. And that’s great! Now if it’s a sunny weekend afternoon or evening I’ll put the earphones in, listen to some podcasts and go walking along the local canal with Billy and just keep going. Sometimes for a good couple of hours.
It’s not just going for a walk, it’s going for a walk with my little mate. We’re a team. He could run off if he wanted to but he never does, he wants to be with me and I want to be with him. It’s hard to describe what a fulfilling thing taking a dog for a walk is, but trust me, no matter how frustrating a day I’ve had, it melts into insignificance a few minutes into a walk with Billy. And that’s even if we don’t bump into any attractive women.
5. You can train a dog to annoy your friends (or “why bark when your dog can bark for you?”)
While Billy got used to us he spent the first two nights barking for several hours non-stop. I wanted to kill him but fortunately managed to avoid it. And that was it, he wouldn’t bark any more. This was troubling because I wanted to get him to bark on command as a way to annoy people (particularly my wife) and any instructions you read about training a dog to bark on command starts with:
“First get your dog barking, then repeat the command you wish to use over and over…”
And since I could never get him to bark under any circumstance I was stumped. Eventually I realised that on a long walk he’d have mad turns where he’d run around in large figure of eights barking away. And then he’d snap out of it. It took many of these episodes and me saying “speak” to him (then later at home looking at him and repeating “speak” while being met with a blank expression) before he finally realised what I meant. When he got it and barked it was truly an amazing moment! They don’t speak English but dogs are pretty damn clever when you consider that us humans are incapable of understanding any non-human animal on the entire planet. We’re a lot more stupid than we realise.
So as if to prove it, I can now annoy my friends by getting Billy to bark on command. Dogs rock!
6. Dogs teach you empathy
Dogs think differently to humans. When a child gets overly stressed (perhaps those monsters under the bed are sharpening their claws) the human reaction is to provide comfort, often with the act of cuddling. In humans that calms the child down and everything is right with the world again.
With a dog, cuddling is read very differently. So if you come home and your dog is stressed as a result of you being away, bouncing off the walls and urinating on your shoes and you do the human thing and cuddle it, the dog actually reads it as “ah, so my human master is happy with the way I’m behaving, I’ll continue to be this way EVERY time they come home, particularly the part where I pee on his shoes”. So by treating a dog like a human you’re causing unwanted behaviour. (And no, fortunately my dog’s never done this, although I’m sure he’s been tempted).
Instead you have to remember that a dog thinks differently to you and it makes you see the world through their eyes rather than your own. You empathise with them. If more humans displayed empathy towards each other I’m pretty sure it would be a better place. That’s what dogs do for the human race. Or me.
7. As Cesar Millan says: “When a dog is balanced, you are going to enjoy a true friend”
Dogs never judge you. They never get bored of you. They never fall out with you. They never decide that they don’t like you any more and don’t want to be your friend. When I got Billy I assumed I’d want to leave him at home when I do some things to have a break from him. But now that I have him I want to have him with me all the time. If my company allowed dogs at work I’d spend a lot more time in the office and a lot less time working from home! I’m much more relaxed and productive knowing that he’s laid around on the sofa in my home office. And if I have a tricky problem to solve, I take him for a walk and come back with renewed vigour.
All I have to do is feed him, shelter him, walk him and in return he gives me everything he is. If you ask me, you’ll never see a better deal than that!
It all started with an email. No wait, it started a while before that. A friend has a Lhasa Apso called Cindy that my good lady and I have looked after a couple of times. Lhasa Apsos are small dogs and the way I describe them is that they’re bigger than the sort of handbag dogs Paris Hilton has, can be dragged up mountains (because they’re tough), but are not exactly what you’d call macho dogs. They are, however, cute.
So we’ve looked after this dog a couple of times and because she’s such an easy going pooch we started thinking that some time we should get one (as you may remember me writing about here). Then Cindy’s owner sent her dog off to the stud farm to get pregnant, and a little while later she gave birth to 3 gorgeous pups. These little beasties:
We were very tempted to get one of them but in the end decided not to. My good lady was between jobs, I was office based and we just weren’t ready to go through puppy training yet so decided that the next time Cindy had puppies we’d get one. And then I got an email. You know, the one I mentioned earlier.
My good friend Ben emailed to tell me that his parents (who live in the middle of nowhere in the Yorkshire Dales) had came across a lost dog that had appeared at their door wet, skinny and in need of help. Oh, and he was a Lhasa Apso. They were going off on holiday so dropped him off with friends who have a couple of other dogs. They took this little lad in, fed him up and cleaned him up. It turned out he belonged to a local elderly lady who had quite a few dogs and couldn’t really take good care of them. Her children were trying to re-home some of her dogs and apparently a couple of them had run away, one of which was this little Lhasa. He was impeccably well behaved, very chilled out and adorable by all accounts. She signed over ownership “to whom it may concern” and it was time to find a home for this unfortunate little pooch. Which was where Ben’s email came in.
His parents had fallen in love with the little guy but travel a lot so weren’t sure they’d be the best people to take ownership of him but didn’t want him to end up at a rescue centre. Since Ben knew we liked Lhasa Apsos and had been tempted to get a dog he asked if maybe, possibly, we might be tempted to give him a home. My good lady had just found a job, I’d just changed roles meaning I’d be working from home a lot more and the planets seemed to be aligning so I say “yes”. Ben said there was no pressure to take him, however just a few days later we found ourselves driving into to the middle of nowhere in the Yorkshire Dales (it really was the middle of nowhere) to see this dog and I’d already bought the bare essentials: a dog bed, lead, collar, shampoo, brush and some bowls:
I’d also ordered a dog tag with his name and my mobile number on it. So you can tell we were feeling pretty positive. Turns out our optimism was justified. Little “Billy” turned out to be the most chilled out, well behaved dog I’ve ever met. Gorgeous and most definitely coming home with us!
The first couple of nights were tough as we wanted him to sleep in the kitchen and he barked for both nights. Eventually he’s settled down though and has been an absolute joy ever since. He’s 2 years and 9 months old and the nice thing about not getting a puppy is he was already house trained. He’d not been taught the usual dog commands like “sit”, “stay”, “roll over” or even responding to his own name (the latter which he now is – he’s a fast learner) but he does what we want him to do and Cesar Millan (the Dog Whisperer) wouldn’t even be interested – Billy’s already a calm submissive, well behaved dog that most certainly doesn’t need Cesar’s help!
Anyway, as well as giving us endless fun and companionship he’s also extremely photogenic so I expect he’ll be making an appearance in most things I post here from now on!
I’ve always been a cat person. Maybe I liked to think of a cat as the animal equivalent of me. Sleek, lean, athletic, an independent thinker, a ruthless killing machine – no wait, that’s not right. OK, the real reason is that I like the fact that cats look after themselves, they’re low maintenance with maximum reward. So you can sit in your mountain-top fortress scheming and planning while stroking your cat on your lap, getting all that relaxation and concentration you need to outwit the good guys. And when you’re done you can throw the cat away, get one of your minions to feed it and then it’ll walk itself – low maintenance!
But over the past couple of years I’ve started to change my mind about cats and dogs. The more I’ve interacted with friends dogs the more I’ve started to see the benefits in having one. They’re lots of fun, give unconditional love, they encourage you to get out and exercise, they’re like a member of the family and best of all, unlike a wife you get to tell them what to do and they do it! 😉
Anyway, the more dogs I saw the more I started to like them and when another friend brought their very cute and well behaved Lhasa Apso to the house (pictured right) I really started to think that maybe we should get a dog. Around this time we started watching The Dog Whisperer. For those of you who’ve never seen it, the premise is that people with problem dogs (aggressive, out of control, etc) call in dog expert Cesar Millan who comes along and very quickly sorts everything out. But the most interesting thing to me is that in all cases it’s not the dog that’s the problem, it’s always the owner.
Every few years in the UK there’s a horror story about a pit bull attacking a child, causing hideous damage and the press (and Government) bang home the point that certain breed of dogs are dangerous and should be exterminated. Indeed if you own a pit bull in the UK it’ll be destroyed under the Dangerous Dogs Act. But you know what? It’s all complete bullshit. The only reason dogs like pit bulls become aggressive is because the owners, unwittingly or otherwise, let them behave that way. The problem is that humans instinctively humanise dogs, treating them like they’re children and expect them to respond in the same way that children do.
What The Dog Whisperer demonstrates episode after episode is that dogs are instinctively followers, and when they are they’re calm and submissive and easy to live with. But if they feel that there’s not a pack leader (to a dog you and it are members of a pack) then they’ll step up to the role which means they’ll be more aggressive since defending and disciplining the pack is the job of the pack leader. If they see another dog they’ll impose their authority and try to dominate that dog too. However if you’re the pack leader the dog will hold back and look to you because it’s your job to decide if another dog is OK or not. But the real problem is that a dog only sees the world through a dog’s eyes and if you don’t assert yourself as pack leader in a dog-understandable way then you won’t be the pack leader in its eyes.
People will often shout at dogs to try and get them to do what they want. But really to communicate to a dog you don’t need to say a word, it’s all about your posture and body language. If you watch how dogs interact with each other you’ll notice they do it silently. A touch in the right place at the right time with the right intensity communicates in a far more meaningful way to a dog than a thousand words can. Dogs also mirror your emotions – so if you’re tense and nervous then the dog will be tense and nervous. If a nervous dog meets a couple of relaxed dogs you’ll notice that in most cases the relaxed dogs will pick up on the other dog’s nervousness and then you’ve got 3 fidgety dogs!
If you’re hesitant or not assertive when you instruct your dog to stop eating your shoes then your dog will take that hesitancy as a sign of weakness, look down on you as a lower pack member and carry on chewing. But if you prod it to switch its attention and “own” the shoes by standing over them in a confident way, the dog will get the message and back away. At least, that’s the overly simplified summary. Cesar has a complete understanding of dog psychology and can read situations before they occur and correct a dog before it gets into an excited state.
I guess that’s the thing us mere mortals can’t do so easily but it’s fun to see it done properly. And it shows me that with a bit of work and understanding of a dog’s point of view you can have a happy, calm, submissive dog and a happy life. And with the right owner a pit bull can be a far nicer, safer dog around children than an overly-pampered, humanised chihuahua. It’s not about the dog, it’s always about the owner.
My good lady has a bunch of big plant pots in our garden and something kept digging up the bulbs she planted. I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye and started taking pictures and the culprit was revealed…
…because there’s a duck nesting in my garden again!
The first year we had ducks nesting we were like concerned parents. We’d be constantly checking to see if she was OK, wondering if we should put water and food out, on the look-out for cats all the time, panicking if she’d left the nest and hoping she was coming back and just generally worrying. Since this is the third year now we’re a lot more laid back about the process. We just leave her to get on with it. She knows what she’s doing and she doesn’t need us to do anything other than stay out of her way.
In fact the only thing we need to do is keep an eye out for when the chicks hatch since there’s no way for them to get out of the garden unless we leave the gate open! Shouldn’t be long now. 🙂
That’s not a question I ever thought I’d find myself asking but from just after I got out of bed this morning I’ve been wondering exactly that. It seems that a not-quite-fully-matured swan has decided to call my front lawn its home for the time being and has been splitting its time between cleaning itself, sleeping and flapping it’s impressively large wings at my good lady when she came back from the shops!
I was planning on cleaning and vaccing my car today but I’m not entirely sure our new visitor would be happy about that:
Since I don’t get very close to swans all that much I forget just how big the things are – that neck’s about as thick as my arm! According to our neighbours it’s been there since at least 8am this morning so I’m expecting it to wander off and get some food / drink at some point (according to the advice I’ve read you shouldn’t feed swans on land as it encourages them to seek out food from people which brings them into contact with dogs and other tricky situations). Still, it doesn’t seem too bothered about me and was happy to demonstrate swan yoga to me with my camera pointing:
I’m not sure what it is about my garden but it really does seem to attract all sorts of interesting animals such as the ducklings we had last year and long may it continue. But I don’t fancy having to battle my way past an angry swan every time I want to go out to the garage or head off to work!
My dad has had a cat named Sparkie for the last five years, since just after my mother died. Sparkie’s been his constant companion and given him purpose, routine and been someone to talk to who never talks back (only meowing back which is much nicer) for all that time.
We’ve had a few cats over the years but Sparkie was originally brought up on a farm before my dad got him from the cat protection league so was a bit of a wildie, fighting off the local cats, bringing in mice from time to time and jumping up on every surface in the house. Whereas my dad’s getting on a bit Sparkie’s always been full of youthful exuberance in the way that only a young cat is, which I’m sure has been good for my dad. I took the following picture of him a couple of weeks ago when I was home and he was just his usual lovely, entertaining self and being very friendly:
Unfortunately a few days ago little Sparkie died. Cut down in the prime of his life at the age of around 8 it all happened very quickly in the end. It’s such a shame as he was a wonderful cat with a fantastic personality and he did my dad no end of good – I don’t know how my dad would have coped over that last few years without him. But the real shame is that I could never thank him for being there for my dad when he needed him because he was a cat and wouldn’t have understood the positive impact he had – he was just being himself. So thank you Sparkie, you will be sorely missed.
Fresh from watching our duck taking her chicks away we continued our weekend by attending the annual Skipton Sheep Day. This event is held on the first Sunday of July every year and it took us several years to actually attend. Every year since I moved to Yorkshire I’d see the sign a couple of weeks before Sheep Day and realise I was away that weekend and couldn’t make it. Then a couple of years ago we made sure we were around to attend and it was well worth it. From the sheep shearing to the owl demonstrations to the duck herding (yep, you heard it right). It was a wonderful afternoon although I forgot to bring my camera. Not so this time! Cue some more cute duckling photos (I’ve seen more ducklings this weekend than in a year):
Last year we were away on Sheep Day (as usual) but this time our friends were staying with us so we just had to take them along. Since there’s been rather a lot of rain lately it came as no surprise that it torrentially rained most of the day. However the skies cleared as soon as the sheep dogs came out to show us their stuff. Since Sheep Day takes place in the middle of the high street, there isn’t enough room to demonstrate them herding sheep so ducks and geese have to suffice instead.
This was very entertaining as they really didn’t want to play along – they were like naughty children – and the sheep dog had to work twice as hard as it should have!
After the ducks and geese were herded and cajoled into their pens it was time for some good old-fashioned sheep shearing. Instead of using the high-tech electric shears they demonstrated the old-fashioned ones which involved wrestling the sheep to the ground, holding it fast and carefully giving it a short back and sides with a pair of giant scissors. I think it’s one of these things that looks easy but in fact requires a certain knack to do!
What’s surprising is that the average fleece is only worth around 35p which gives you an idea of the fine margins farmers work under these days. Sounds like a tough way to make a living if you ask me. Anyway, there was also a farmers market (where we spent a bit of money) and some sort of show going on but the thunderstorms were coming back and our friends had to head home so we left. But we’ll be back next year for more – and if you’re anywhere near Skipton on the first Sunday in July I suggest you go along too!