Monday, 18 August 2014

Going Wild in Wales

A 9 day dog holiday with Caesar in Llandeilo.

Holidays are expensive. Spending a lot of money is stressful!  But it's ok because holidays distress us. Right?  So it was all worth it in the end wasn't it?  Or that's what I hoped as I made the bank transfer of £580 and cringed.  The problem or at least potential problem was that this year, for the first time, our major holiday of the year would be taken with Caesar.  A very relaxing 7 days in Wales with a hotel stop-off on both ends to break up the 7 hour car ride (for all of us!)

Day 1 - Oldham
We were running very late.  Very very late.  It was almost three and we hadn't set off yet, despite making plans to meet family in Manchester for dinner.  Caesar always knows when something is amiss and danced around our legs as we attempted to load the car.  I had chosen him a special new collar off the rail for his holidays; Spongebob Squarepants in a bright yellow with lots of funny faces.  Car finally packed with; dog food, dog treats, dog toys, dog towel, dog deodorant, dog chews, whistle, extension leads, spare collar, dog coat, dog bed, dog bowls, water and finally the actual dog, we were ready to go.  And we set off three hours late for hour journey to Oldham.

Apart from finding myself circling the ring road like a roundabout with Caesar screeching 'it's past my tea time!' in the boot at rush hour, the journey went fairly well. And 3 hours after beginning our journey, we pulled up outside the 247 Hotel in Manchester.  The room rate was very reasonable at £35 per night with a small charge for dogs added - I had prebooked it a few weeks ago on Late Rooms.  And the staff were sweet about the dog.  Inside, I managed to tackle the stairs with Caesar and two bags!  Luckily there were only 2 floors.  And then find my way to an immaculately clean, spacious room with the biggest bed I had ever seen!  Damien pulled the huge cage upstairs and we put it up next to the window with room to spare.

Where are we going this time?

Then we headed out.  We met my aunt and uncle at their flat in Salford and managed to negotiate tea for five in a flat for two with Caesar running between everyone's legs. And, as a bonus, the flat was still completely in tact when we left. Then, we visited 'The Star', a pub that is owned by over 60 members of the community in Salford!  As it was a warm night, we sat outside with Caesar and he was made a fuss of by almost everyone who passed him.  What'd great about The Star is its warm atmosphere and sense of community - almost everyone greets you as a friend and being small and at least a little furry, Caesae was receiving VIP attention.  By the end of the night, he was sitting at the bench practically joining in with the cheery conversation.  It was almost midnight when we all bundled back into the car and headed the 20 minutes back to the hotel.

Exhausted from the journey and a constant stream of admirers, Caesar slept soundly all night, barking only occasionally at customers choosing to take advantage of the hotel's 24 check in.  But, by the time he'd woken anyone, he was fast asleep again.  We didn't eat at the hotel, but 2 advantages (in addition to the room prices and dog friendliness) were the price of food on the menu and check out time of 12 o'clock.  

For more information about the 247 hotel in Oldham:  http://www.247hotel.com
For more information about The Star in Salford:  http://www.staronthecliff.co.uk

Day 2 - Oldham --> Llandeilo
Caesar was unsettled as we climbed back into the car at 11 the following day.  He bobbed around in the boot squealing; not exactly what you need when you're trying to unparallell park your car which someone has kindly parked very close to the back of and someone else has kindly parked very close to the front of and your SatNav is telling you to 'make a uturn where possible' over and over.  Damien, a non driver himself, kindly told me I can be short tempered when driving but I think having a screeching dog whose noise makes you wince behind you while trying to do a turn in the road between tightly parked cars is enough to test anyone's patience to the limit.

Finally, almost 10 minutes after leaving the hotel, we were on our way. The journey took over five hours and, with the start of a migraine bubbling after the first 2, I pulled over and gave Caesar a rest.  It was hot in the car and, with the temperamental fans that only work on your fourth setting, I did feel sorry for the furry guy.  We both had a rest, a drink and I had some ibuprofen to soothe the pain which was partly brought in by three separate idiots with caravans all of whom almost ended our journey and possibly our lives at different points and one of whom had me throwing my car into a bush as he took a 30mph bend at no less than 50, almost turning the caravan over and, as it rocked, causing me to swerve into the shrubbery on the outside of my lane.  Caesar, thank goodness, was not phased by this.  But he did begin to grow tired of travelling as we hit the 3 hour mark.

We pulled into the tiny road at around 4pm.  And immediately drove straight past the cottage, onto a farm track, over an ungated railway crossing at the top of a mound, finally ending up on the bank of a river where I had to manoeuvre a turn in the road between a ditch and a fast moving river. Incidentally, I am glad that I don't own or tow a caravan. Particularly as, inevitably, Caesar chose this as his time to start howling and jumping up at the windows in the boot.

As we pulled up, Caesar screeching loudly in the boot, the owner of the cottage came to greet us.  I grimaced inside knowing that if I didn't take Caesar out of the boot he would simply get louder and louder.  And knowing that, if I did, he would fling himself at the man with every second of pent up excitement that he had collected over the last five hours.  The latter happened.  But the owner seemed very understanding and we'd later see that he had two large Irish Wolfhounds of his own. 

He gave us a tour of the house and showed us, the part we had all been waiting for, the 2 acre dog excercise field that was exclusively ours at certain parts of the day.  The field was beautiful and I couldn't wait to get Caesar onto it for a run.  But first we had all of our belongings to fetch from the car.   At 7 we headed for the field which was through a gate in the garden of our cottage.  Given Caesars reputation for being a fence bouncer, I didn't want to let him off his lead as the field had a fence leading directly to an enclosure where the owners kept their dogs. Even at almost 8ft I had visions of Caesar lunging over and chasing the dogs around.
Caesar loved the owner's field
He loved running in the field.  And we had hoped that he would sleep all night but his separation anxiety/attachment disorder reared it's ugly head again and, by the morning, we were both exhausted from his all nighter.  I resolved to ask the owners for special measures the following day.

Demoted to crate sleeping - one sulky pooch.

Day 3 - Llandeilo
Despite hardly sleeping all night, kept awake by Caesars barking and howling and whimpering, I refused to admit defeat until almost 9:30.  My eyes ached a little and I felt frustrated with Caesar for crying all night.  'It was supposed to be a nice break for us all,' I reminded Damien irritably as he donned my wellies and called Caesar outside. The ginger monster jogged past as if he were cool as a cucumber.  I narrowed my eyes and flopped onto the sofa.

Weather forecast for today; rain, then thunder, then a bit more rain, topped with a bit more thunder. The silver lining was that the thunderstorm had come early - my iPad weather forecast had predicted it on Wednesday and I'd hoped it might break the weather.  Despite this, we made a short trip into Llandeilo.  Everything was shut apart from a supermarket which boasted a grade 2 hygiene rating (!!).  From which, in desperation, we bought some cream cakes (!!!!!). And which sold Fajita packs but nit the other ingredients to go with them.  I stood outside with Caesar. And a nice Polish family pulled up and asked me for directions to Issac Newton's house. Less than helpfully I answered 'I didn't know he lived here' then he complemented Caesar, saying 'hiya boys,' and told me he liked him very much before driving off up a side road.  

We returned to the house after finding a nice round walk from the station in Llandeilo up to a promenade with benches and picnic tables looking out to a scenic countryside view. I made a mental note that, on a warm day, it looked like a nice place for a picnic. We were home by two and just in time for the second storm to begin. Caesar had some field time at 3 but kept being told off for crashing into my legs. Then we returned to the cottage and felt warm and cosy as we watched the rain dribble down the bay window and bounce off the roof of the car.

Luckily I managed to catch the owner who nipped in to check we were ok and ask about my plan. I explained about Caesars mental state and asked if, slightly breaking the bedroom rule, I could put up a small cage at the foot of the bed and allow Caesar to sleep inside. She agreed and in turn apologised for her dogs barking.  She explained one was in heat.  I couldn't have been happier to say 'it's fine!' Usually I'm the one apologising for caesar's behaviour.  I told her as much and said its nice that she had dogs that acted like dogs and not robotic shadows or stuffed animals.  She smiled.

Day 4 - Dinefwr Castle and Park
Although the weather forecast constantly threatened bad weather for the week, the sun shone through the curtains when I turned over this morning. Caesar was in a cage at the side of the bed that was rather smaller than I would have liked but all the same did get us all a good nights sleep.

After a good hearty breakfast, we set out in search of adventure and found, a short few miles away, Dinefwr Park and Castle.  The castle is owned by the National Trust so those with memberships will benefit from free parking.  However it cost us £6 to park the car if you're not a member - ouch!  We then took a path towards the castle which took around 40 minutes at a leisurely pace.  For us, it was relieving that the park had an 'all dogs on lead' policy that meant we didn't have any unwanted visitors heading for Caesar. In fact, the only other dog that we saw on the walk seemed to be of a similarly reactive state to Caesar. It's owner wrestled it past, never looking up to see Caesar reacting in almost exactly the same way.  



Dogs seemed to be welcome in the castle area and we climbed the steps with Caesar to get a good look at the view.  I'd like to think he enjoyed it trying to climb up on the wall to get a look at the huge drop and giving me a tiny panic attack.  The weather, although changeable, did stay fair for 90% of the day and I treated myself to a much deserved ice cream after we climbed down.  However, reviews suggest that's its a good place to visit come rain or shine.  We wandered back through the fields on our return to the car and found ourselves in a field of sheep.  There were lots of paths heading off in different directions and I'm sure we missed lots of interesting tracks and trails to explore!  For those wanting to visit, there is only the tea van at the bottom of the hill so get a drink before you go up if it's going to be a hot day.  Caesar seemed to enjoy the walk and was quiet for at least some of the way home!  

For those interested in visiting Dinefwr Park and Castle, details can be found here:  http://cadw.wales.gov.uk/daysout/dinefwrcastle/?lang=en

In other news: I threw the only dog toy we had over a farmers fence! Since it's next to our cottage they're bound to know it was us.  I found myself wondering, what's the etiquette here? I don't even know who owns the field.  But I bet the owners of the cottage do.  I don't feel right bothering them with such a menial matter though although I'm certain they wouldn't mind.  And the fence is far too high to be able to retrieve it myself.  I don't mind losing the toy.  I suppose it's like kicking a football over a fence, they'll either throw it back boer or chuck it away.  I just hope it doesn't cause any problems!



Day 5 - Carmarthen
Last night, Caesar fell asleep in the crate the front room.  So we left him to see if he would see the night out.  He must've been exhausted because we didn't hear from him until seven in the morning.  



The weather wasn't great today so we decided to take a trip over to Carmarthen, a place where I had seen there was at least one pet shop where I could replace Caesar's AWOL toy.  Although, he did eventually settle, Caesar was a little rowdy in the car when we set off.  I'm not sure if it was the heavy rain that calmed him or simply tiring himself of crying.  

There weren't many people with dogs walking the streets of Carmarthen but we did see a few.  We wandered around and I went in the occasional shop, some of whom kindly invited the dogs in.  The best find of the day had to be a little pet shop backing onto the indoor market.  'Pets corner,' although fairly small was stuffed with everything you could dream of for your pets; chews, toys, food, treats, harnesses, collars AND Dogmatic head collars!  I've been wanting another for Caesar for some time but I'm not a good internet shopper.  Every time I see one online I convince myself the one he has, though stinky and fraying somewhat, is fine and we don't need another.  Faced with a smart new one in a shop though I couldn't help myself! I bought a few new toys for much less than they would cost at a more major retailer and bought a black Dogmatic; £23.99.  I wasn't keen on black, but when I tried it on him, I felt he looked the bees knees so I had to treat him.  I'm sure he really appreciated it.  We had a good walk around the shops and found a castle too.

It was raining again when we came back so we played tug for a bit and waited for our field time.



Day 6 - Swansea, Pembrey and Carmarthen
What I learnt today: never attempt to go to Swansea with dogs.  We ended up going round the ring road looking for parking only to discover dead end rows of parking spaces and having to reverse out into heavy traffic.  The more I tried to find a car park, the further away from the place I seemed to get!  Caesar was starting to get restless so I told my phones sat nav to take us to Swansea Bay instead. It looked like a nice place when I'd googled it the previous night.  I found it much easier to park at the bay among hot dog vans and lifeguard services. And, I was just about to pay, when I noticed a sign telling me that dogs were not allowed on the beach at this time of year.  In one sense, I was pleased that the car park sign told us this before we had paid to park and headed down the beach.  However I was equally unhappy that I had woken up early and driven for over an hour to find that digs weren't welcome at the bay and all of the car parks were immensely hard to navigate around and then, inevitably, full.  If you do decide to ever visit Swansea, the park and ride might be a better option.  I didn't check it see if it was dog friendly.

I gave up on Swansea shortly after 11 and brought my phone's map up. As we were on the coast, I remembered I had read something about Pembrey beach in the visitors guide. As we live on a beach ourselves, I never find beaches too exciting.  However, I do like coastal villages, so I set the sat nav to take us to Pembrey. It took another hour, despite only being 18 miles from Swansea.

When we arrived, we were charged £5 before entering the car park.  Damien and I frowned at each other as we passed through, £5 lighter!  Then we drove for what seemed like quite some time.   It was not evident where we should be parking, it seemed to be some kind of forest.  I told Damien we'd probably come to the wrong place as it didn't look as if there was a beach here but noted that we'd have to make the most of it since we had paid a not insignificant amount to come in.  We passed a riding school, caravan park and Segway track all within the confines of the parking I'd just paid to enter.  Each attraction was separated by rolling grassy slopes and forestry walkways.



We parked up near to the Segway track and wandered in the direction that other people seemed to be heading, finally finding a sign that read 'beach for dogs'.  The path took us directly to a wonderful beach which stretched out for miles.  The tide was out too and everybody was able to keep a good distance from each other.  After a lovely walk and a chance for Caesar to wear his Doggles, we headed for food.  Everywhere at Pembrey seems to be dog friendly and dogs were even allowed in parts of the ice cream parlour/bar/restaurant.  In fact, looking around there were lots of dogs and owners.  It was a truly peaceful and beautiful place with lots of things to keep everyone occupied.  And, it did occur to me that not so long ago, we would not have so peacefully enjoyed lunch with other dogs in the vicinity.  However, we sat in the beautiful surroundings go the park with dogs at either side and behind and Caesar never so much as batted an eyelid.  Pembrey was a beautiful place with lots to do and I have a feeling that I will find myself back there at some point.  

Caesar was so good while we had lunch, despite several other dogs at surrounding tables, that I let him eat the rest of my burger.  He sat looking very proudly around the surrounding area and some children called their mum to come and see his Doggles.  

After we had eaten, mainly because we hadn't dressed or packed appropriately for this sort of day (much to my disappointment), we bundled back in the car and headed back to Carmathen to buy something for tea and so that I could exchange some walking clothes I'd bought the previous day.  While I was in a shop, Damien observed how different reactions to Caesar could be; one man shepherded his wife away from Caesar saying 'he looks like a real fighter, him' (hilarious when you actually know him) where as two old dears sat and talked to him telling him not to cry as his mummy (who was listening from inside the shop) would be back soon.  Another old lady also stopped to tell Damien how beautiful he was (the dog - not Damien!). I suppose people see what they want to.  

If you are interested in visiting Pembrey Park and beach (which we give 5 doggie stars) go to: http://www.discovercarmarthenshire.com/parks/index.html

I think we succeeded in exhausting him.  He had much more fun than he would have in Swansea so I suppose my parking crisis turned out to be a happy accident!

Day 7 - The day of nothing...
Today the weather forecast looked more promising.  However, after getting up, we soon learnt that the weather forecast here is not always to be trusted.  In fact, looking at the guest book, the weather forecast can rarely be trusted.  You need to live on the edge a bit.  And, above all, dress for all weathers!  The kind of rain was falling that makes you cringe to think about going out in it - heavy downpours that warrant the use of the highest setting of windscreen wipers.  Thankfully, Caesar seemed exhausted from the previous day and was as enthusiastic about leaving the cottage as us.  We even struggled to get him to go to the garden for a wee!  We decided to go back to Llandeilo if it calmed and then out to a dog friendly eatery for tea.  I wanted to try a shop in Llandeilo called 'Heavenly' which sold chocolate and ice cream; I'd seen it recommended in the visitors book as well as a magazine.

Actually, what happened was odd, it did turn out to be sunny on the evening.  However, Damien, the dogs and I were equally shattered.  And, because I sometimes have to remind myself that I'm supposed to relax on holiday, we allowed ourselves the day (which we were supposed to be having tomorrow) to recuperate before the long drive back.

Although, since we hadn't eaten out much since arriving, I did decided we should have a meal out.  We drove over to the nearest pub, 'The Plough Inn' and, feeling immensely guilty for leaving the dogs in the car, we asked for a table.  They had none and were completely booked up.  So, we began driving around the Welsh countryside looking for somewhere to eat.  I'd have preferred somewhere dog friendly.  But the problem with that, for us, is that there could be other dogs there.  I'll never forget the dreaded time when I took Caesar into a pub at lunch time.  Of course, as we were waiting for our desserts, a person turned up with a really yappy terrier.  Caesar immediately started jumping around and squealing and squirming and brought the whole pub to silence.  We had to drag him past the terrier to get him out of the door.  How embarassing.  Needless to say, Damien ended up outside in the rain while I gulped down a boiling how apple crumble.  Anyway, I digress.  We drove for almost an hour, our stomachs gradually getting more and more hungry.  Eventually, we gave up and ordered a Chinese takeaway from a local Chinese in Llandeilo.  

We got home and sat hungrily munching our spare ribs, prawn toasts and noodles.  When we had finished, Damien asked if I could help him work out the washing machine.  I left to go to the kitchen and, by the time we'd realised that no one was manning the left over Chinese, Caesar had already guzzled down a plate of noodles and eaten the spare rib bones!!  I'm sure this stealing food behaviour will be the end of him one day!  I was quite relieved he hadn't choked on fragments of the rib bone - he probably swallowed it whole!

Day 8 - Llandeilo (when it's open) and the river
I had vowed not to do much on Friday as I had a long drive ahead of me and didn't want to tire myself out.  We parked up in Llandeilo and set about looking for 'Heavenly', the little confectionary shop that I'd heard so much about.  We walked past on four different occasions without noticing and I'd just about decided that it had gone!  However, when I found it, it was very much there and doing very well too.  It's not particularly a dog friendly thing to do although the kind shop keeper did invite the dogs in - I refused of course, imagining how much damage Caesar could do to the delicate chocolate displays - but I did think Heavenly was worth a mention.  In fact, we decided to visit again the next day because it was so nice!  If you're ever in that neck of the woods, I do recommend a visit - and the delicious ice cream is worth a taste. http://www.heavenlychoc.co.uk/

Llandeilo itself wasn't exactly a great place for dogs and with it's very narrow footpaths, it did make it hard to squeeze a larger dog such as Caesar past.  However, I will say this for all areas that we visited; most of them were extremely dog friendly and even chocolate shops and cafes were more than happy to allow dogs to enter; something that I found a stark contrast with in the North East of England.

Not sure I love the water...

We finished the day with a walk down to the river which was about 10 minutes away from our cottage.  It was warm and I'd hoped Caesar might have enjoyed a little swim (on flexi lead of course) as the river was quite fast moving).  However he avoided the water like the plague, not even wanting to get his feet wet - typical!  



During our river walk we had time to take in the beauty of the welsh countryside.  We had seen so many rolling green hills and farms and rivers on the way to the cottage but standing by the flowing water and looking up to green fields on the other side, I had time to take in the beauty of the place.  There was a longer field walk following a footpath and crossing over a bridge but we decided not to take it in favour of returning to the field for a run.  Particularly because the water seemed to be making Caesar nervous and, instead of running around and enjoying himself, he chose to hide behind my legs.



Day 9 - Runcorn
We left the beautiful cottage at 10, bidding goodbye to the owners.  Caesar was surprisingly quiet in the car.  As my uncle and aunt were away for the weekend, we decided to split our journey into two parts and stay the night in Runcorn.  The reasons for this were three fold; firstly because Runcorn was not far off the beaten track, secondly because it split our journey into two neat halves and thirdly because it was cheap - if you've ever holidayed in Runcorn you may understand why.

At the same price as the Oldham 247 Hotel, the Campenile Hotel in Runcorn set us back £50 for the night.  It was dog friendly.  More like a motel than a hotel, it spanned over 3 floors and access to all rooms was on the exterior of the hotel.  We found ourselves situated on the top floor, which did make it difficult to toilet Caesar.  And also to carry all of our belongings up two flights of stairs as well as being yanked along by our lovely mutt.  

So am I allowed on this bed then?

I asked at the counter if the restaurant/bar, which was empty, was also dog friendly but was told no but we could sit outside if we liked.  I looked at the graying sky and thought of the long journey.  Finally, I negotiated taking food from the restaurant back to our room and the staff agreed.  They seemed eager to help and I was fairly stuck as there didn't look to be too many other places to eat in the local area.  Particularly given the fact that we found The Campenile by following a sign that simply said 'hotel'.  I'm guessing it was the only one.  The room was pretty simple, it had one towel (which was one towel not enough) and there was a slight blood stain on the quilt (I gave Damien that side of the bed).  When the hot water was on in the bathroom, a rude message appeared on the mirror.  This told me that perhaps the hotel wasn't as clean as it could have been.  But, for ease more than goodwill, I decided to leave it.  I was tired and aching and not in the mood for a room change or having someone visit and Caesar make a huge fuss.  After all, it was only a one night thing and Caesar didn't seem to mind.

However, of the two hotel stop overs we made, I would recommend the 247 Hotel in Oldham over the Campenile in Runcorn.  The former was clean, well looked after and the rooms were large.  For a budget hotel that allowed dogs, it was great.

Never the less, if you're interested in staying at the Campenile Hotel, the link can be found here:  http://www.campanile.com/en/hotels/campanile-runcorn

Details of Afallon Cottage, South Wales
Our beautiful cottage was set in a rural location but with easy access from a main road.  It had a dog walking field of 2 acres and space for 4 persons + 2 dogs.  And, it seems, that many visitors are so pleased with the cottage that they return time and time again - I don't think you could get better credentials than that.  In true cottage form, the place is cosy.  It has a large front room/dining room.  The kitchen is quite small but the use of the space available maximises it's potential and we didn't struggle to cook anything.  What impressed me most about the place is how well equipped it was.  Everything had been thought through from fresh, clean towels and handwash in the bathroom to salt and pepper in the dining room.  We even arrived to find freshly made Welsh cake, a jug of milk and a box of teabags - what more could you ask for? 

Noteworthy points:  With a dog like Caesar one thing did cross my mind when booking the cottage; was the dog exercise area secure and away from other animals (having a reactive dog)?  Yes and no.  The owners have some beautiful Irish Wolfhounds whose enclosure does border the field.  They do bark if you pass close by their enclosure, which is understandable.  For dogs like Caesar (who can jump high fences) and reacted to the barking, I didn't feel right about letting him off his lead.  He may have done nothing but I was afraid he would damage the wired enclosure fence or try to jump to get to the other dogs (a bad habit he showed off when he was in kennels).  



Overall:  I would recommend the cottage to anyone wishing to visit this part of Wales.  The owners were very friendly and, although living on the same site, were keen to allow privacy which was lovely.  We had a beautiful outdoor space that was all ours and access to the owners' private field that is brilliant for those whose dogs perhaps can't come off the lead in wide open spaces (although do remember the dogs can see other animals including other dogs and sheep).  It is brilliantly situated for main roads and also for countryside walks.  Who could ask for more?

Also, we booked through Dogs Trust Cottages.  This meant that 10% of the fee went to Dogs Trust which is great because the price was the same as other booking sites for the same cottage.  Details of Afallon Cottage can be found here:  http://www.chooseacottage.co.uk/DGP/afallon-cottage-23879

If you've been on a holiday with dogs that you think is worth a mention, why not share it with everyone by leaving a comment?

Thanks for reading!  Please share with your doggy friends! 

Thursday, 7 August 2014

But dogs are so 'tying'...

Since I can remember, I've known that I wanted to own a dog.  When you tell this to people they have one of a limited number of reactions.  Here are the most common:

1.  I love dogs!
2.  I don't like dogs...
3. "But they can be so 'tying'"

For those who don't know what I mean when I say 'tying'.  These people simply believe that although having a dog might be nice it means a limited amount of:

1.  Day trips
2.  Mini breaks
3.  Holiday's (abroad or otherwise)

'Tying? Me? Never!  Now...please don't move, I'm comfy!'


There are several reasons for the above.  Firstly, not all places allow you to take dogs.  You may find a perfect place to take a mini-break with your dogs but then find that you cannot eat anywhere for lack of 'pet friendly' eateries.  And you certainly can't take them to the spa with you!  In addition, if you fancy a summer holiday with your canine companions, then that's fine but your holiday rental will have rules.  Mostly these include:

1.  Not leaving your pets unattended in the cottage/lodge/room.  This means that you are often forced to take your dogs with you to the supermarket.  And we all know the advert that says 'don't leave dogs in hot cars - ever - even with the windows down - ever ever ever!'  So that leaves you a) shopping alone or b) sprinting around the supermarket like an Olympic athlete.

Caesar, please let me back in the drivers seat!!


2.  Not allowing your dogs within certain areas.  We recently visited a wonderful dog friendly set of lodges that had the following noticed nailed to every door 'no dogs in the bedrooms'.  Fine.  Except for if your dog usually sleeps in the bedroom and, finding himself in a strange place, decides to howl all night.  I can understand that owners may not want a dog on the beds, however having a crated dog in a bedroom shouldn't present too much of a problem.

No more morning lie ins then!

3.  The unwritten rule - keeping your dog quiet, particularly at night time.  Which, now they are sitting in an icy lounge alone in a crate instead of tucked up in bed with you, isn't quite so simple any more.  And, while it's unfortunate that neighbours may hear the pathetic, lonely howl of your beloved pet, you are within the confines of the same small space and looking at the ceiling deciding; do I break all rules and go to him simply to stop the dreadful noise.  Or will that make it worse and, in fact, the best thing to do is to lie here wincing every time a howl starts.  

Caesar is an excitable dog at the best of times.  And, when on a recent camping excursion, he decided to show everyone just how excited he was by 'talking' to them and the rest of the campsite.  Our closest neighbours, a few metres away, had the kind of dog that probably no longer has a lead and pottered around their tent all day looking like it had no desire to go anywhere else.  The type of dog you see sitting outside a shop with no lead on waiting patiently for its owner to return - looking past everyone it sees.  Do you know what would happen if I even accidentally dropped my lead?  All hell would break loose!  Caesar would be speeding around the campsite stealing food and charging clumsily into everyone's dogs.  However, Mr and Mrs Perfect Dog did not see this.  They saw that their mini-break was being spoiled by howling and I spent the two days trying not to accidentally make eye contact with them.



The question, then, is why do it?  'They're tying though aren't they?' someone commented to me recently after complimenting Caesar on his good looks.  I nodded, mainly out of politeness.  You see, I don't think they are.  OK, so you have to be a little more organised with your schedule and, occasionally ask for a hand with letting them out.  But, actually, dogs are rewarding.  And, I think for every one of the handful of things I can no longer do because of Caesar, there is a new opportunity available to me; walking with friends, training sessions, agility, crufts and other dog shows (even when we're not competing!) and simply chatting with other dog owners in the park.  These are just a few of the windows opened since I have owned Caesar.  And, perhaps for a while I will miss my holidays abroad but, if truth be told, a holiday in England isn't so bad when the weather is good and at least then I know where he is at every second.  And don't spend my holiday hoping he's OK!

Right, I'm ready to go!

So, with all this in mind, I recently booked a holiday cottage and the owner contacted me to give me the arrival drill I was mortified to hear that they 'pop round' to check you've settled in!  I can only imagine what might happen - it's enough to give me sleepless nights!  

The question is, with a dog like Caesar, do you make apologies before he inevitably starts squealing and knocking things over and you can't speak loud enough to be heard over the din.  Do you make apologies for him before he even arrives?  In which case, you risk the owners saying 'not in our lovely rural cottage thanks very much!'  It's a conundrum.  But recently I was proven wrong when I took Caesar swimming.  I decided that the fairest option was to do the latter and make my apologies before I even brought Caesar.  I explained that Caesar was a rescue dog who was 'noisy, excitable and not great with other dogs'.  Thankfully, this seemed acceptable in this forum and all other dogs were moved back but still within a closer proximity than would be ideal (in the same room!).  I waited until the last second to introduce Caesar to the room, explaining that if everyone valued their ear drums, it would be best to leave him outside.  I also feared that he may jump straight out of the pool and onto another dog as would be 'Caesarish' behaviour.  You can imagine my surprise when, on entering the room, Caesar walked through the door in silence, stood by the pool in silence and swam around in silence.  He was then taken from the pool, placed within a couple of metres of dogs who were running around an enclosure playing and blow dried with a hair dryer-type device (something he runs away from at home).  And, the whole time, he never batted an eyelid!

So I've concluded that I will not tell the owners of Caesar's ....Caesarishness.... and, knowing they have their own dogs, hope they're not the type that sit outside supermarkets without their leads on!  

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

My nasty ugly dog...

People have split views on Caesar.  Some people will tell you he is a well-built, muscular and handsome dog.  Others think he's scary.  I have moved from feeling a lot of the latter to thinking that he's the most gorgeous dog I've ever seen and actively seeking dogs that look like him.  But, I'd forgive those who feel that he's a scary looking dog because I know how I felt when I first saw him....



I'd gone to the rescue centre to look at a Jack Russell.



Now that I know and love Caesar though, I can see nothing scary about him; only his adorableness.  Well, at least while we're in the house.  What does get on my wick, though, is when I walk him and he runs around the park/beach/field/forest/... like an idiot making a ridiculous racket and having nearly everyone stare at us and think he's mental.  And me even more so for owning him!



I've never been a person that likes being the centre of attention.  And even less so for negative reasons such as having a screaming banshee of a dog dragging me along the road.  However, my saving grace is that I do know that Caesar, despite what people may think, is a nice dog.  The unfortunate thing is that I am unable to tell this to any of the people who stare at him as we struggle past; me fighting to pull him back and him wrestling with the lead to go forwards.  Our energies are opposing each other so much that we appear to be having a tug of war in the street.  I pray each time we leave the house that this lead is as strong as I'd hoped.



I don't disagree with the people that cross the road.  Or the people that move out of the way.  Or the people that stare in disbelief as I smile at them and dig my heels into the ground.  I don't disagree with people asking 'is he aggressive?' or with those who assume he is and simply move away.  I'd probably have been the same a few years ago - although it saddens me to think it.  However, as humans, we have a need to protect ourselves and Caesar, however harmless he is, does appear to be a bit bonkers when he's squealing away to himself in the park.  What, I have discovered he's actually saying is, 'OH MYYYYYYY....I'M SOOOOO EXCITED! PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE LET ME GO AND MEET THAT DOG/PERSON/SHEEP SO WE CAN PLAAAAY!'   It did take me a good few years to finally realise that this is what he was trying to communicate.  And it finally clicked when I made the connection between the noise he makes at tea time and the noise he makes on a walk; pure, uncontrollable, hysterical excitement!



He also makes it when we go to the vets.  But once we get into the consultation room he's fine and so calm that, last time, I took off his lead and collar to show them something and he stood there for a good few minutes as good as gold.  The problem is the part of the visit that involves making it from the door of the surgery to the consulting room without disrupting everyone in the whole building.  I hate it.  I cringe even thinking about it!  People stare, stupefied by this horrific noise which is amplified by the bare walls.  Once, another vet came out of the room and stared at me as I struggled through.  I was completely mortified!  But it's OK because my vet understands and she knows that inside Caesar has a heart of gold.  Plus, by the time he gets to her he's pretty calm!


One day, though, I was walking Caesar through the surgery.  I now wait outside the front door until the vet finds me   I had entered in through the front door and my destination was a door to the left, just through the waiting room.  I grimaced and hurried through with Caesar's lead as short as I could make it.  As we walked through the door, a woman commented 'What a nasty ugly looking dog..."  She had a small fluffy dog which she had lifted off the floor at the sight of Caesar.



I'm not sure I processed the comment until I entered into the consultation room.  Nasty?  Ugly?  I looked at Caesar who was whining pathetically.  He is 22kg of muscle and noise - I'll allow her that.  He is irritating - I'd give her that too.  But to judge him as nasty?  Is his squealing really so much worse than her own Shih tzu's yapping and growling?  I felt hurt for Caesar who is the most loving dog I've ever come across.  And, I would say this because he's mine and I love him very much.  But, to be fair to him, Caesar has never done anything to prove otherwise.  And, until he does, I will continue to believe it.



Comments like this come with the territory of owning a dog like Caesar.  And, it hurts to think that, no matter how nice he is at home, people will always think he's a 'nasty' or 'ugly' dog.  I am having to accept this.  I suppose I better develop a thick skin.  Part of me feels angry at her for her ignorance.  But another part of me feels sorry for them because, while they continue to close their minds, they will forever close their minds to bull breed dogs like Caesar.  And that is very very sad.


Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Two and a half years ago...

Two and a half years ago, the name Caesar meant a Roman Emperor who I knew little about.  If you'd asked me what I thought about it as the name for a dog, I'd have said I hated it.  I'd much have preferred 'Fluffy' or 'Snoopy' or 'Star'.  But Caesar isn't a 'Fluffy', he's not a 'Snoopy' and I can say, in no uncertain terms, that he is certainly not a 'Star'.  He just isn't.  In fact, he's a 'Caesar'.  And, now that I have him I can think of no other name that would suit him as well.




Two and a half years ago, the only things I had to spend my money on were for myself.  I had freedom to spend on holidays, clothes and lovely things for my house.  Nowadays, I spend more money on pets than I do on myself and my wardrobe is starting to reflect this - as is Caesar's!



Two and a half years ago, I knew not what the term 'separation anxiety' meant.  And I knew how to leave the house without a second thought.  Step out, lock door.  Simple.  Now, the routine is much more complex; take Caesar to toilet, scan all of house for anything edible/destroyable/precious, find toys that are durable to leave out, shut kitchen door, throw self against kitchen door to check that it is shut, leave, lock door.  This adds a considerable amount of time to my morning routine not to mention general stress to my life when I'm at work and suddenly realise I've left my designer handbag hanging at the foot of the stairs...


Two and a half years ago, I believed that pets were pets and should never be allowed on furniture or in bedrooms.  They should have pet beds which were theirs and be grateful too!  Now I share my sofa and my bed and my life with a huge ginger mongrel and there's nothing better than snuggling up together on the sofa and watching a film!

Two and half years ago, I had enough space to sleep comfortably on a night.  Now I sleep in an odd shape with my legs over, around, under or balanced on a bundle of fur and muscle.  But, when it's not there, however uncomfortable it may be, I cannot sleep.



Two and a half years ago, I did not know how it felt to be greeted each night by a wagging tail.  That, no matter how bad my day had been, I'd be just as special every time I walked through the door.  I did not know that I could put my worries down with my bags and head out for a walk.



Two and a half years ago, I did not have the same capacity to forgive.  I did not realise how the fears of others can lead them to act in a way which is irresponsible and destructive.  I did not know that this behaviour was much less about me and more about them.  I did not realise that I could watch parts of my world be destroyed and feel sorry for the one who destroyed them.



Two and a half years ago, I went to bed alone when I was hurt, unwell or just tired, unaware of the healing qualities of a furry companion.  The calm constant lying at the end of the bed, cuddling into my legs or back.  The only company I can stand when a migraine takes hold.



Two and a half years ago, I knew that I didn't want a Staffordshire Bull Terrier or any cross breed of this type. I'd heard too much bad news and wasn't willing to listen to reason.  My favourite breed of dog was something small and fluffy, yet today I could not live without my Staffy cross boy - the gentlest natured and most loving dog I have ever come across.




Two and a half years ago, the name Caesar meant nothing to me.  It's strange how two and half years can make such a difference.



Wednesday, 25 June 2014

The worst guard dog in the world...

"How do you think Caesar would react if you were attacked?" asked my sister one afternoon as we sat drinking orange and chatting about a plethora of unrelated things.  Allowing one aimless topic to run seamlessly into another.



If I'm honest, it isn't the first time that I've allowed my mind to ponder the subject.  Caesar himself being 22kg and built like a buffalo would be a deterrent I had thought for almost any thug who might come my way.  But was I sure he would protect me?  I'd like to think he would but if I was being truly honest with myself - I think he'd probably just cry.



Equally, with burglars, I was sure that Caesar would frighten them before they realised what a noisy yet harmless lump of dog he is.  He may scare them by being overly boisterously friendly I thought.  Or by just walking into the room while they were there.

It was odd that a few days later, I noticed a post on a Facebook forum from a lady who had come in to find her back gate and door open.  She assumed she must have been burgled but that they had fled when seeing the dogs as nothing had been taken.  I nodded in agreement.  I should hope that this would be the case should we ever find ourselves in this horrible situation.

A wolf in sheeps clothing?  - probably the other way round!

I felt weird driving home at lunch time.  And annoyed with myself for leaving a file that I needed on my coffee table.  Cursing as I pulled up to the house, I strutted up the front drive praying that the file was where I thought it was so that I could get back to work quickly enough to get a bit of lunch.  I flung open the front door and dashed in quickly to find the house in complete silence.  'Good' I thought, assured that I hadn't been annoying the neighbours with nuisance barking.  After pausing for a second to think, I hurried into the front room.  The file wasn't on the coffee table.  Underneath?  I thought desperately and began unpacking boxes and pulling things out from beneath.  I banged and clattered as folders, notebooks and box files fell to the ground.  Finally, I saw the file and yanked it out.  I stopped to look at it.  Silence.

The house felt eerie.  Usually, I'm followed around everywhere by a ginger shadow.  But there I was...alone.  Sitting surrounded by boxes and paper that I'd rifled through.  And where was Caesar?  Who knows!

Was he knocking out the Zzzzz s?

About fifteen minutes after I'd come, I jumped in the car and drove back to work.  As I mindlessly steered down familiar streets, I began to worry.  What if Caesar was trapped somewhere?  What if he was injured or ill?  Not wanting to disturb him, I'd left him alone wherever he was.  I hadn't even peeped around the door to see where he was.  

I'm pleased to say that, at the end of the day, he was there with his wagging tail waiting for me.  But, where he was that lunch time, I can only guess...




Saturday, 7 June 2014

Fat face...

"I'm going to have an early night..." has been the catchphrase of my week.  I've said it nearly every night and managed it never.  Caesar likes an early night too.  I get my audio book on and we snuggle up under the duvet and I listen and he snores.  Only last night, the usual comforting snores of Caesar's sleep terrified me more by the second...

This is how it happened...

We'd decided on an early tea and I was sitting with my laptop balanced on my knee on the sofa as Damien cooked up a breakfast.  I lifted my hand to close the lid and Caesar, who was half on half of my leg flinched and winced.  I stopped in horror.  "You don't think I'm going to hit you?" I looked at him perplexed.  Caesar's history has always been a giant question mark and I've always wondered if any bad memories carry with him.  But he's been here two years now and I'd hope he knows that I wouldn't allow anything to happen to him.  I went to stroke him a moment later and he flinched again.  I called Damien.

"I don't know if something's happened to him but I think he's afraid I'll hit him..." I told him.  Damien shrugged when I showed him and then suddenly his expression changed.  Aghast he reached for Caesar's face.  "His cheek is all swollen he said."  I looked and he was right.  Because I was sitting on his left side, I was unable to see that his left lip and cheek were swollen as if he's been punched by Mike Tyson.  Panic set in as somewhere in my mind I remembered training about anaphylactic shock in children.  One of the things we were told to look for and report as a matter of urgency was swollen lips.


Swelling to the left side of Caesar's face came up suddenly.


Caesar has a habit of waiting until just after closing time at the vets on a weekend before deciding to come down with something potentially life threatening.  The first, and worst thing, I did was googled it.  One good thing about googling is that there's always someone worse.  And in this case, there were quite a few dogs who had seen much worse.  Some had swollen eyes and weeping scabs.  Others looked more like they'd been in a car accident than 'stung by a bee' which seemed to be the most common cause of the swelling.

I had two pieces of advice I was happy with.  A good friend and dog trainer, Chris, had told me to pop a cold compress on his face and perhaps try some Piriton.  I wandered over the the supermarket having pressed a cool towel to Caesar's face - he seemed thankful for the relief.  I had two names; "Benadryl" and "Piriton".  I couldn't find either!  Then, suddenly, I set my eyes on "one a day" by Benadryl.  I snatched them up and took them home.  However, when I got them back, I realised that they contain a drug called centirizine.  I googled it and got no results for whether it was safe for dogs or not - people on forums seemed to be debating it and there were many references to a 'poisoning in dogs' article which I was unable to find.  I decided to leave it.  Another trip to the supermarket would reveal that there was nothing safe to feed dogs.

*Very very useful note:  I cleared this up with the vet on the phone and she told me that centirizine is not safe to give dogs.  So for anyone wondering there's the easy answer that I could have done with last night!

Now it was decision time.  "In case of a GENUINE emergency..." the vets answer phone played.  As a pet owner, it's hard to make a good decision when it comes to this.  I've heard many people slandered for not taking their dog to the vet fast enough yet, at the same time, vets aren't keen on you wasting their time out of hours with non-emergency problems.  I looked at Caesar's face again.  It was really swollen.
Poorly doggy with a swollen face.

This is when it struck me; my insurance company provide a free 'Vetfone' service.  So I decided to ring this.  "I'd like you to ring out of hours..." said the vet on the end of the line.  "Your vet may not necessarily want to see you but I think it's best that they make that judgement..."  At least someone had now told me loudly and clearly what exactly I needed to do.  I called.

At first I felt panicky and spoke quite fast.  "I've had another bee sting today..." the vet told me calmly.  "That's what it sounds like...."  Despite my calling out of hours, she was very understanding.  "You sound worried." She said, "do you want to go over the the surgery and I'll meet you there?  Say 10 oclock?"  She thought that this could be an emergency too.
"So it's an emergency then?"  I couldn't help but blurt out.  Half mortified and half relieved not to have wasted her time.
"Personally.." she paused.  "If it's been like this for a while...I'd be tempted to leave it until the morning.  Keep an eye on him and, if anything changes, call back straight away.  I think it's unlikely to change now."
Poorly sleepy head.

So that's what I did.  I woke up every hour all night to look at him, prod him, call his name and wonder whether he was asleep or unconscious, snoring or struggling to breathe.  I lay awake wondering what would happen if I went in the morning and it was a tumour and nor a bee sting?  What if he needed and operation?

***
With his swollen face, Caesar could not wear his head collar.  This made me nervous.  He's hard to control on a lead and rears up at the dogs that he sees.  But I knew there was no choice.  

I love Caesar dearly and it's hard to explain to people who see the standing on his hind-legs barking Caesar that actually he's a massive wimp and would not hurt anyone.  It's hard to believe that myself sometimes, despite seeing evidence of it all of the time.  I left Caesar outside with Damien and checked us in.  Another two dogless ladies sat beside me and we giggled about why we don't bring our dogs into the waiting room.  "Just wait..." I told them.  Another lady sat by the door with a shaking, barking ball of fluff and made comments about another persons doberman.  "He's harmless!" the man said as the huge dog lolloped in but she just rolled her eyes.  I dreaded bringing Caesar past her and crossed my fingers, hoping that she'd gone in by the time it was our turn, but we had no such luck.  "Caesar..."  called a voice and I opened the door to allow the whimpering, squealing mongrel in.  The woman grabbed her dog and swore.  "That looks like a nasty dog," she said.  Less than quietly.  She was still passing comments when we came back out with 2 bags of medication and a better understanding of how much pain our pet was in.

**Impromptu rant:  I do feel that it was extremely unfair of said dog owner to pass comments about other peoples pets and I was upset that this was going on in a vet clinic waiting room.  For her sake, I'm quite glad that what Caesar had didn't turn out to be extremely serious or I might have gone and given her a piece of my mind.  It's a very good job that no one was bringing a larger dog in with a serious medical condition or that had reached the end of it's life.  I can understand that some people are not keen on larger and stronger breeds and I can see why but it is completely unnecessary to say things about people's dogs in a vet where they might be really ill!  ...I'm finished now.

So what was actually wrong with Caesar?  He has an abscess.  The vet is hopeful that it might go away with antibiotics (something I was not aware could happen).  However, should the medication fail to work, he will need to be operated on.  So all of our fingers, toes and paws are crossed hoping that he will recover.  The vet is unsure what has caused it as it is on the inside of his cheek but it looks as though it has been pierced by something and become infected.  The fact that it had come up so quickly suggests that it was pierced rather than just developing over time.  He also has a strong dosage pain killer to help him get back on his feet.

Caesar after some pain killers.  Feeling a bit better.

If you liked it, bark about it!