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Posts Tagged ‘companionship’

It has been a hard few weeks: poor Minstrel has left a huge void.

Three weeks ago I scattered his ashes along with those of Spot, his earlier amd most beloved companion.  We had planted a tree for Spot in a place where he loved to rest and I scattered the joint ashes around this tree in the little spinney.

But we now have little Chester/Jester who has come to keep lonely Saxon company: from the same animal sanctuary.

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As you can see he is a Shetland.  He came on trial but has fitted in well and is a very amenable chap although not backward in coming forward!  As our vet said, “He is a leader isn’t he?”  And that is just what Saxon needed: they got on well from the beginning.  As Chester/Jester was unloaded and came into the field he just took off and inspected everything with no qualms, basically saying, “Come with me or not, it’s up to you but I’m going this way.”  Saxon looked bemused at first but then followed on behind and now they are inseparable.

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We prefer the name Jester but as we have not yet been given his Passport we can do nothing about that.  He is a rescue from the Shetland Isles, as yet we do not know his full back story.  He is 12 years old and 35 inches at the shoulder, only 2/3rd the size of Saxon.  In fact when he stands in front of Saxon he looks as though he could almost stand under Saxon’s tum!

The temptation is to treat him like a large dog but we need to remember that he is in fact a large horse, just in a small body.  He now whinnies at me when I go out to the field and seems very sweet but it is important that he knows who is boss.

We had the vet out last week to file down Saxon’s teeth which were giving him trouble.  Our vet, Chris, has had Shetlands for many years.  At Easter he had to have his two put down, they were 34 and 36 years old respectively.  He was heartbroken.  He said they used to wander wherever they wanted, often coming into the kitchen.

So he went and adopted seven Shetlands from the Sanctuary that Chester/Jester and Saxon come from.  Chris and his wife began taking the ponies into Old Peoples’ Homes and to Schools for children with special needs.  But because of Health and Safety rules the ponies have to wear socks and horse nappies.  Two of the ponies did not enjoy this so they were left at home to graze peacefully, but the others loved it.  One old lady spent her last months knitting socks for the ponies: when she died Chris asked her family if they would like her favourite pony to come to the funeral.  They were overjoyed, said yes at once, and the pony led the cortège.

One particular incident which moved Chris profoundly was when a boy of 8 who was deaf and blind was shown one of the ponies. The lad felt it all over and then just leaned over the pony’s back with his arms around its neck, feeling it breathing and stayed there for ages, at least forty minutes.  The pony remained still the whole time.

Chris confirmed that, unlike most horses, Shetlands can live out in the worst weather because they have two coats of hair, rather like water birds have with down and feathers.  The base coat is very dense and soft like down, with the longer coarser hairs making up the top coat.  So we have bought Saxon a new, very thick, padded winter coat with a cover which goes all the way up his neck to his ears and fits round his neck so that he can stay outside more in winter with Chester/Jester.  But Jester will just have to come in and spend the night in the stable if the weather is too bad for Saxon, even though Jester gets bored and wants to be out and about.

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(This is not Saxon’s new coat, but gives the idea.  His is navy blue with green edging.  This photo comes from Google images.)

So there we are, the continuous circle of life moving onwards.  Sometimes comforting, sometimes feeling rather cruel when we might rather get off and take time out.

But it is a great blessing to have two happy ponies once more grazing in the field behind the house: to look out at empty fields would be desolate.

 

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I’m shattered.  No other words to say.  I had to go to bed for the afternoon and slept for four hours straight.  And what got me that way?

Today the Appraisal officer from German Shepherd Dog Rescue came to our house to check us out.  A very friendly woman with years of experience.  But, boy, was she thorough!

Within two minutes Onyx our rescue dog was lying at her feet and did not move from her side the whole time, not even when the Postman came, which usually makes him bark like mad.  She knows what she is doing with dogs.

Husband had to go out so, apart from a quick chat, it was me on my own.  There followed a three hour interview: she asked lots of questions about our dog owning in the past, our views on dogs, what I wanted from my relationship with a GSD, our management of two dogs, where I would walk the dog, what kind of walks I would take it on, what kind of activities and play I would give it,  how did I manage on my ‘off days’, if it proved necessary was I prepared to attend dog training sessions, and then drew various scenarios and asked me how I would handle them.  For example, how would I handle separation anxiety: how would I handle food or toy aggression: how did I handle pack position: how would I handle feeding two dogs: which areas would each dog have to call its own: how did I handle people coming to the house: how much dog language did I understand: etc. etc.

She was testing me out to see what situations would frighten me, how much of GSD temperament I understood, whether ours would be a ‘forever’ home whatever might happen in the future.

What colours, build, age did I prefer?  Had I seen any on the web that I really liked? Was I happy to call for and accept advice if necessary? What about holidays? What about going in the car? What family did we have, did they visit, were they used to large dogs, ages of any children likely to visit? Pets belonging to neighbours? Other pets belonging to us? What animals were in the fields that the dog would be likely to meet?  How did I handle cows, horses, sheep, bulls and my dogs?

I tell you, I was like a wet rag and beginning to wonder what kind of dog she was going to suggest we had: all these scenarios sounded to be more of what we have already had with Onyx and I was honest that this time around we need a dog which is comparatively easy to handle.  But she said that she was just checking to make sure I could handle something if by any chance it occurred later down the line.  When a rescue GSD was new it would behave wonderfully, like a guest, but weeks, even months later, once it felt secure, hidden or underlying problems might emerge from a background that had not been fully explained to them.  Which was honest if a little daunting to consider all in one session.

Anyway, we passed!  She said she was in no doubt that we would give an excellent home to a deserving dog.  And she went away to look up on the web the dog I had mentioned, Morgan,  so that she could gain a good impression of what appealed to me, which I thought was very kind of her.  The dog remains the property of the Rescue for its whole life, so that if anything happens to us, it will have a home to go to while its future is secured.  And, barring accidents, we have to have their permission to have it put down.  Of course we must have it neutered and spayed and must not think of breeding.  They do follow-up visits several times after the adoption and are always on the end of a phone for chats or queries.

She had lots of good advice, hints and tips – like special dog appeasing pheromones to help settle a nervy dog, special dog harnesses, a safe,  secure, local field in which to practice recall, local training classes etc. She also explained how they would arrange for us and Onyx to meet the new dog, a lengthy process on neutral territory, during the course of a serious dog walk.  I was extremely impressed by her thoroughness, knowledge and patience.  Some time over the next few weeks or months she will be in touch if she thinks she has a doggy match for us.

I have to admit there were some tears when she asked what Ulf had meant to me and what our relationship had been.  But she said that was typical of a GSD relationship: they may like the whole family, but they always develop particular relationships with different people.  A complex type of dog, much misunderstood, and frequently referred to as an ‘attack dog’, or a ‘land shark’ apparently.  She said because of police and army dogs  many people confuse the guarding disposition which is essentially watchful and passive unless confronted or ordered to intervene, with an attack disposition, but they are completely different.

During such a long and personal talk various pieces of both my and her own history came out.  And, separately from the dog issues, I must record how much I admire this woman herself.  She is now just forty years old, and when she was twenty six was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  She had eight years of chemo, has permanent sciatica, arthritis in her hips, an extra ‘process’ on one of her lumber vertebrae which means she walks lop-sided and has just had another massive tumour removed from her right shoulder and is on chemo. again at the moment.  She can barely move her right arm. She has had to forego children and a career.  But she and her partner foster stray cats, bring up stray kittens, and she is the Appraising Officer for cats and dogs for all the animal charities in Sheffield, except for the RSPCA.  I asked her how she managed to do all this with fitting in her twice weekly chemo and other treatments.  She said that she spent most of her days  in a reclining chair from where she was constantly on the computer and telephone  keeping on top of things, and she managed her ‘well’ time very carefully. She has, by trial and error, discovered what exercises she can do without harm and so goes to the gym and to yoga twice a week.   She does not know the result of her present chemo. but lives one day at a time.  She is in constant pain and will be taking painkillers four times a day for the rest of her life.  But as she said, what do you do?  Lie down and give up, give in, or decide to fill every possible moment with something positive. And she says it helps the pain to keep her mind focussed and occupied.  She has to fight depression and despair, but keeps on fighting it, since she does not fancy the alternative.  When I think of the good she does, the suffering she mitigates, and the love she spreads I feel very humble.

Because she does it for both the humans and the animals.  When a lonely or bereaved person loses their lifelong dog or cat companion she finds them another partner:  when a marriage breaks down and a woman can only feed her dogs or her children, she counsels the woman and comforts her with the knowledge that her beloved dogs will be looked after for life, in a good, loving home.  It may not ease the pain of separation, but gives some hope.  She mentioned several such cases, and it opened my eyes.

I heard tales of unmitigated cruelty and heart-breaking pain but also of  selfless love and tireless efforts: happy endings and hope renewed.  What a roller-coaster of a day.  What a woman.

No wonder I was exhausted.

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River of Stones: today’s pebble –

“Melting brown eyes, long sensitive nose,  intelligent forehead, pretty ears,  GSH, likes country walks and outings, seeks partner for companionship and fun.  Replies . . . . please!”

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