Children’s Halloween Story – The Wychwood

Here is the new Halloween Story 2016 with characters from The Largest Rabbit book.  Tom, the youngest but bravest rabbit in the warren, is walking through the deepest and darkest part of the forest.  He knows he’s alone yet feels that someone is watching him.   Why is he there?   Who is cutting down trees?   Who’s living in the pretty cottage in the middle of the forest?  And what’s that overwhelming pong of pilchards and garlic?

The Wychwood

As Tom wandered further and deeper into the ancient wood it seemed to get darker and darker.  He stopped and turned, looking back along the path he had walked and it seemed to him that the brambles had started to grow across it.  It was ok, he told himself, he was a brave rabbit.  He couldn’t go back – he would have to go on.  Forward he trotted, whistling a tune to keep his spirits up….perhaps spirits was the wrong word, considering he was in the old Wychwood and it was All Hallows Eve.  But, he told himself firmly, he was not afraid.           

The Wychwood Tree

There was a scream which made the little rabbit’s blood freeze and stopped him  in his tracks – it sounded like a Barn Owl!  They love to eat rabbits.  He held his breath – nothing happened.  He whistled a little bit quieter when he started again.  The path weaved between the trees, their creaking, scratching aged branches meeting overhead like brown bony arms.  He swore that he could almost make out faces in the bark of some of the older, gnarlier trunks.

The autumn storm that had blown through the woods a few days before must have blasted most of the leaves off, which left twiggy sticks that looked like talons – they reminded him of the owl.  Tom halted again and listened.  It was odd – there was not a sound, as if he was the only thing alive in the forest.  The air despite the seasonal cold was heavy and oppressive, like being smothered in a thick woollen blanket.

Something moved.  He was sure of it – away to his left.  He peered into the woody gloom.  No, it was nothing.  He told himself again that he was not afraid…..but he was a little bit wary.  Tom walked faster; the path must come out somewhere.  He tried to whistle again but his lips had gone dry.

There it was again!  Something was definitely over there to his left.  “Hello?” he called.  There was no reply.  He drew his torch out and shone it towards where he had seen the movement.   There was nothing apart from trees, brambles and a green hat.  What?  The hat was gone.  OK, the rabbit thought, I can either run away….or see what it is.  Is it safe to step off the path?  Tom drew himself to his full height (still only as big as a tiny rabbit on tip-toes) and strode firmly into the bushes.  He pushed through to where he thought he’d seen the hat.  When he got there he looked down – Tom was sure that he could make out footprints.  They were people prints but smaller.  He grinned to himself – there was someone here.  “OK, I know you’re here,” he announced, “You can show yourself.”

It remained still and silent for a while, then a clear voice said, “Good day young Master Rabbit.”  It came from behind him.  Tom turned slowly and there in front of him was a man but he was the size of a small human – a child he thought they were called.  He wore a green jacket, trousers and floppy hat, all trimmed with what looked like oak leaves.  His belt had an acorn on its buckle – even his long boots were the colour of autumn acorns.  His face was dark, and wrinkled, like it had seen many summers and winters, almost like the bark of a tree.  He smiled a kindly smile, as he bowed and took of his hat. “My name is Derwen,” he said.

Tom blushed (as he did not know how to bow) and he mumbled a “How do you do” adding, “My name’s Tom.”

“What are you doing here in the middle of the Wychwood on All Hallow’s Eve?” Derwen asked.

“I was following a butterfly along a path but the butterfly disappeared and there was no path behind me, only in front of me.  I’ kept walking as I think all paths that go into a wood have to come out somewhere.”

Derwen grinned, “A very logical thought, young sir.”

Tom couldn’t help it, “If you don’t mind me asking, Mr Derwen – what are you?”

“I am one of the woodland folk, what you would call a Jack in the Green.  It is our responsibility to look after all things that grow, especially in the forests and hedgerows.  I am here because I am concerned about something going on in the middle of the forest.  Someone has been chopping down trees or parts of trees.”

“That’s terrible,” the little rabbit replied.

“I am going there to put a stop to it – or at least find out what is going on,” he looked at Tom, “You’re a very brave rabbit – would you help?”

“Certainly,” he answered, unsure as to how much help he could be, but determined to do what he could.

“Come on then,” the Green Man said and they strode off down the path into the trees.  He was also whistling and though Tom didn’t know the tune, he found himself joining in.  Derwen drew a little silver flute from his pocket and played the tune that he had been whistling and as he did, the branches that had seemed to be leaning low over them in a rather threatening way lifted by a few metres, and let more light in – where they walked, the oppressive feeling of the forest seemed to change.

They continued for a while (Tom thought it was all really happy and exciting) until suddenly Derwen stopped playing, raised his finger to his lips for Tom to be quiet, and popping the flute in his pocket, slowly crept into the undergrowth.  Tom followed him, keeping close.  The jolly atmosphere had changed as they had reached the edge of a clearing in the trees.  From where they stood they could see that some trees had been hacked at and their lower branches ripped away.  There were piles of twigs and leaves scattered along the edge of the clearing.  In front of them were at least six large tree stumps, and the remains of what had once been oak, elm and ash trees, now just leaves, twigs, wood chips and sawdust.  Beyond that was a cottage.  A strange cottage of pink, blue black and green with a brown roof – Tom could swear that it looked like it was made of…sweets? (He remembered Bob bringing some into the warren once – he had found a bag of them dropped by a human child, which he shared round the young rabbits.)          

The strange cottage

   “Careful, wee rabbit.  This could be dangerous,” Derwen whispered.

As he spoke, the door to the cottage opened, and a human came out.  It was a grey-haired old lady in a cloak, so stooped over that she looked like a hoop.  She appeared ever so sweet and gentle.  Tom could feel himself smiling, and he even felt his feet lifting and starting to take him towards the lady.  Derwen held him by the shoulder, “Careful!” he hissed.  Tom stopped – what had made him move?  The Old woman stared across the clearing, over the fallen trees, into the gloomy undergrowth straight to where they were hiding.

“Is there anyone out there?” she called in a frail, crackling voice.  “I won’t hurt you.  Come into my lovely warm kitchen.”  She peered towards the rabbit and the Jack in the Green.  Could she see them?

She turned on her heel – very quickly, Tom thought, for someone so elderly, “No-one there.” The voice did not sound so crackly or frail either.  She unwound her stoop, standing straighter and taller as she stomped towards the doorway which closed behind her.

Derwen breathed out, as did Tom.  “Who’s that?” he asked.

“I thought as much.  We truly are in a dangerous spot.  That’s not a dear old lady, but one of the dark spirits from the caves to the north.  She is one of the winter witches.  It’s she that’s been cutting down the trees for firewood, probably for her cauldron.  They always have cauldrons,” he grinned at the rabbit.

“Why?” asked Tom, unsure as to what a cauldron was.

“To make up foul smelling potions – or else to cook their lunch in.”

Tom felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickling as he asked, “What do they eat?”

“Anything with meat in, usually but I believe they like rabbits best of all.”

Tom had the sudden urge to run away though he managed to resist it.

Derwen nudged the rabbit and grinned again, “Come on, I’m sure you’re up for an adventure!”  He stepped out of the bushes and keeping as low and as quiet as he could, he crept towards the cottage.  When he got to the building he looked for Tom; the rabbit was right behind him, also pressed tight against the wall.  Above them was the kitchen window – too high for either of them to see through.  “Climb on my shoulders and have a look,” Derwen told him so the rabbit scrambled up.  He peered through the Glass.  What he saw made him gasp.

In the middle of the kitchen was a huge fireplace, on which there stood a large black and greasy-looking cooking pot which he assumed was the cauldron Derwen had mentioned.  It was enormous – large enough for fifty rabbits!  Under it there were twigs, sticks and coal – obviously the makings of a fire to heat it up.  The witch was filling the cauldron with buckets of water which she carried from a large hand-pump on the far side of the kitchen.  In the centre of the floor was an equally enormous wooden table and it was this that had made him gasp; lying across the table, on his side, was a great hairy dog, fast asleep.  It was Finn!  He just lay there sleeping as around him the witch was heating water.  From a drawer she took out some boxes, from which she tipped some plants which she mixed, appeared to talk to, then throw into the cooking pot.  Magic herbs maybe?  She collected a bundle of carrots from a shelf and threw them into the pot too.  All the while she was singing and chanting (Tom couldn’t hear what).  The rabbit scanned around the rest of the room before he climbed down to tell the Jack in the Green.

Derwen shook his head slowly and asked the rabbit some further questions; “Did you see anyone else?  Any signs of other witches?  Was there a cat?”

Tom thought.” I couldn’t see anyone but the far side of the room was hidden by a large chair.  There wasn’t any sign of another witch.”

“We’ll need a diversion,” the Green Man mused.  “How much noise can you make?” He looked the rabbit up and….well, not up very far as he was a very short rabbit.

“More than you think,” Tom answered.

“OK, then here’s my plan,” he whispered his ideas.  As they conferred there was a rustle in the bushes.  Tom felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle and Derwen reached for the small wooden club that he carried in his jacket.  From the undergrowth there was mumbling and some rude words and …the overpowering smell of fish – and garlic.  “It’s ok – I know who that is!” Tom beamed.  Out of the bushes fell a short fat ginger shape.  “Jeffrey!” Tom whispered.  The old marmalade cat stood up and waved. “Keep quiet!  There’s a witch!”

Jeffrey performed a silent “Aha!” and slinked (as slinky as a round cat could do) over to the low wall behind which the rabbit and the Jack in the Green were hiding.  Derwen looked at the strange figure that was shaking his hand enthusiastically though quietly.  Here stood a round ginger tom cat with an incredibly toothy smile, practically as broad as he was tall, wearing an old leather flying helmet goggles resting on his round head.  On his back he had a rucksack with various odd things poking out.  What Tom could not get over was the incredible smell of garlic that surrounded the old moggie almost like a cloud.  “How did you find us?” Tom asked.

The cat shook his head, “I wasn’t looking for you chaps – I’m looking for Finn.  It’s been a very strange day.”

Jeffrey outlined to the others what had happened that morning.  Finn had been a bit twitchy since breakfast and actually left some (unheard of).  He was really restless.  He said he had had some strange dreams in the night about an old lady in trouble.  After breakfast they had gone for a walk on the edge of the great wood and when they were walking they saw an old lady gathering kindling.  Finn had run over, and Jeffrey and Rubbish the greyhound had gone too.  The lady was ever so friendly and had offered the three friends a lovely breakfast in her cottage in the woods, if only they would help her carry the sticks that she was gathering for her fire.  Jeffrey was not built to carry, and Rubbish was too slight but Finn being Finn had offered to help.  They had walked into the woods together but as they walked the path got narrower and narrower so that they ended up walking single file.  At one point the undergrowth overhung the path.  The lady led Finn through this almost tunnel, and when Rubbish and Jeffrey went through – there was no-one on the other side.  Finn and the old woman had vanished!  The greyhound and the cat searched briefly but of Finn or the lady there was no sign.  Rubbish and Jeffrey had rushed home and told the Butler who told them that his father had spoken to him when he was a boy about an old lady in the woods who stole young animals that were never seen again.  She was a witch who visited the forest around Halloween every few years.  The Butler had thought it was a fairy story but realised now that it must have been true!  He had taken out the old Landrover and with Rubbish, Flower and some of the other animals they were searching the woods.  However, Jeffrey knew that he was facing something magical and evil so he had come prepared.  Creaking as he turned around, he untied the rucksack and showed the Green Man and the rabbit what he had brought with him,

“Have to be prepared, you know, never know what sort of evil you might encounter!”  Out of the rucksack came some sharpened bits of wood “Stakes in case of vampires,” he muttered, then a large crucifix “Ditto” he said.  From the pockets in his fur (they always amazed everyone) he pulled out handfuls of garlic bulbs “Ditto again”.  There was also a small slingshot and a pair of silver earrings, “In case of werewolves”, he explained.  “I’ve also got a small bottle of Holy Water.  That’s pretty good against most things.”

“Anything specifically for witches?” Derwen asked.

“Hmmm,” came the reply from Jeffrey, rummaging through the rucksack. “A Bible?”

“Should work,” confirmed the Green Man.

“Righto!  So, what do we do – a frontal assault?  Like El Alamein?” Jeffrey enquired enthusiastically.

“I did have a plan, but I think I now have a better one.  But it depends on how brave Tom can be,” Derwen and Jeffrey turned towards the little rabbit.

The Witch tested the water in the great cauldron; Yes, coming to the right temperature.  The carrots and the herbs (thyme, sage and parsley) were smelling nicely – really rustic.  All she needed now was some nice doggy meat to cook slowly in the stew.  She looked down at the enormous deerhound who lay snoring across the wooden table.  She couldn’t believe how gullible he’d been; she’d cast a spell in the night to find a likely dinner date and in her seeing-bowl she had found Finn.  He was so noble and kind – so easy to snare!  The witch gave him a poke in his thigh – oh, he was very meaty but also very soft and tender.  Lovely!  Now she would only need to cut him into chunks to drop into the pot.

Walking over towards the sink, she slid a large meat knife out of the knife-block.  It was heavy, and had obviously seen a lot of action over the years.  She slipped her calloused thumb along its 12 inches of cold metal.  Blast!  It was blunt!  She went in the drawer to take out a sharpening steel.  She began to draw the edge of the blade over the sharpener, and could see it getting sharper and sharper, keener and keener with every drag.  She raised it over the slumbering hound.  No, she told herself, don’t spoil the ship for a happor’th of tar…take time and make sure the knife is properly sharp.  Finn stirred slightly – the witch lifted the knife – but he slept on.  She whistled to herself and continued sharpening.  She stood to her full height now – she had looked like a bent over old woman outside but here in reality she was tall, strong, with thick silver grey hair that hung down her back.  She did have the usual witchly hooked nose with warts, and deep black eyes, as cold as the darkest night.  The water in the cooking pot popped – it was just coming to the boil.  Excellent! And just in time – the knife was now sharp enough too.

Then there was a knock on the door.  She growled, put the knife down and stooped down as she went to the door.  Turning the brass door handle, it creaked open and she peered out.  There was no-one there.  She was about to close the door when a voice below her made her look down, “Hello” said a little rabbit.  “Have you seen a big hairy dog called Finn?”  Tom smiled back up at her.

The Witch returned the smile to the lovely little, tender, sweet chunk of rabbit meat.  “Hello, little one, and what is your name?”

“My name’s Tom.  Please lady, have you seen Finn?”

“Why yes, he’s inside waiting for you.  He is my guest for dinner – maybe you would like to join him?”

“Yes please,” beamed the little rabbit.  All Tom could think was – blimey, isn’t she tall – and what an enormous warty nose!

“Please Miss, my friends are here too,” he said. “Can we wait for them?”

The Witch scowled.  More rabbits – ah well, they’d pack out the stew, “Where are they, my dear?”

“Outside – over there in the woods. They’re a bit shy.  Would you come over and say hello?”

The Witch was now growing to like the idea of rabbit as a starter so she allowed herself to follow him out across the grass.  As she walked she uncurled and got taller and taller until she got to the wall, where she stood and rose to her full height.  She glowered down at the little rabbit.

“I do hope that you’ve not been wasting my time, young Coney!”

As Tom had led the witch across the lawn, Derwen was creeping through the open doorway into the kitchen.  He found the sleeping Finn and climbed up onto the table where he stood over him and began to speak a spell to act against the Witch’s evil enchantment.  The Green Man is a woodland spirit, and has deep and ancient magic of his own.  He tried the first spell, but it didn’t raise Finn.  A second spell made the hound’s eyes quiver, so Derwen knew he was on the right track.  As he chanted the third spell, and crumbled a handful of oak leaves over Finn’s head two things happened.  He heard a scream from outside, and Finn opened his eyes wide.  “Hello,” the Lord of the Glen said.  “And to whom do I owe this honour?”

 

As the Witch grew to her height a ginger figure leapt upon the wall and faced her.  “Not so fast!” shouted the marmalade mousketeer.  The Witch took a step backwards in shock as she stared at Jeffrey.  She was astonished and was for the first time in her life, totally, speechless.  There in front of her stood a round ginger cat in a flying helmet, who peered back at her through goggles.  “Whatever are you?” she asked.

“I am your nemesis!” he replied.

“Fine words for a fat cat! “ she cackled.  “Well be quick – that smell of garlic is making my eyes water!”

“I have everything to defeat your evil ways!” Jeffrey announced as he reached into the rucksack that he’d placed by his feet.  Out came a crucifix which he waved in the Witch’s face.

“Sorry, that does nothing,” she replied.

“Ah, OK,” he rummaged in the bag again and brought out a stake and a mallet.

“I’d have to stand very still and even then, I don’t think that’d work – do you?”  She shook her head,

“Fair enough,” back in the rucksack he went.  “Bible?” he offered.  The Witch shook her head again.  “Silver earrings?”

“I usually wear gold, thank you,” she replied.

“Aha!  Holy Water!” Jeffrey declared.

The Witch stepped back.  “What?”  She looked worried.

Jeffrey was jubilant.  He pulled the glass bottle from the sack and waved it in front of her.  “Holy…” he stopped for a moment.

Tom was tapping him on the leg.  “It’s not Holy Water,” he whispered.

Jeffrey looked.  “Oh dear…” the cat read the bottle, “Wart Remover!”

The Witch screamed loudly with laughter and leaned forward with her long clawed fingers scrabbling to grab the Professor.  Jeffrey said to himself, “Ah well, here goes nothing,” and flung the bottle of wart remover into the Witch’s face.  She screamed and stopped for a second, then screeched with glee as the warts on her nose disappeared.

The Witch shrieked with laughter.  “Thank you, cat, I had been wanting to something about those!  Now cat – how would you prefer to die?”  She moved towards Jeffrey whose eyes closed inside his goggles.  He tensed for a moment.

The Witch screamed a scream of someone in indescribable pain.  Jeffrey opened an eyelid and was amazed at what he saw; the Witch was starting to smoke as the chemical in the wart remover got into her bloodstream.  She stood stock still, her arms dropped to her side and then she started shaking.  As Finn and Derwen ran out of the cottage towards them the Witch suddenly went “BANG!” – And vanished!  She was gone.

“Well bless my soul!” he said.

“Jeffrey to the rescue again, old friend!” Finn smiled as he got to Jeffrey.  The Lord of the Glen bowed to the cat, as did the Green Man.

Jeffrey beamed back, “Of course, had it all worked out!”

“What got her?” asked Derwen.  “Bible?”

Jeffrey blushed deep under his ginger fur, “I thought it was Holy Water – but I’d picked up the wrong bottle.  It was Wart Remover!”

Finn and the Green man laughed.  “As the Witch was made up of so much warty matter, it must have gone into her bloodstream and dissolved all of her.  Amazing!”

Tom clambered over the wall. “But we owe it all to the hero – step forward, Tom!” Derwen cried.  The rabbit smiled a huge smile which stretched from ear to ear.  He felt so proud.  “Young sir, I owe you my life,” Finn told him.  Tom blushed even more.

“Right! “Jeffrey smiled,  “Theres a cauldron in that kitchen with herbs in.  I wonder if anyone fancies some garlic stew?”

Tom held up a sharpened wooden spike, “What goes well with stake?”

Faces in the Bark
Faces in the Bark

Characters and story copyright Chris Dignam/Crafty Dog Cymru 2016.

Help the Galgos & Podencos

Everyone who knows us knows we help rescued greyhounds in the UK, many of whom get raced and dumped like our Penny (or even worse). We also do a bit to help the Galgos, Spanish greyhounds, and podencos. These are not so much used for racing as for hunting. The hunters use them during the season and then at the end lof the year large numbers of them are taken to killing stations to be euthanised as they hunters can’t or won’t keep them over the winter. Others are just abandoned, like the one on my FB page.

algos del Sol, GDS, Galgos, Spanish Galgos, Galgo rescue,

There are a number of Galgo charities that try and rescue, treat and then home the Spanish hounds. We have done work for Galgos del Sol, and are making some pieces for them at the moment. They regularly hold auctions to raise funds and we make things for them to auction. Pop over and look at the Galgos del Sol Website or FB pages and maybe bid on something. Debbie Harry from Blondie donated some pieces in their last auction

largest rabbit, marmalade cat, mighty Finn, Lord of the Glen, The Largest Rabbit, greyhound rescue, Chris Dignam

Greyt Expectations – Rescued Greyhounds and Marmalade Cats

A Marmalade Cat?

This is a chapter from the new book just being tidied up for release in September.  It’s called “Greyt Expectations – From Rescued Greyhounds to Marmalade Cats” and is a collection of the blog posts from here and the South Wales Evening Post pages, along with some other pieces about writing, music – and a marmalade cat called Jeffrey.  I hope that you enjoy it and feel free to tweet, reblog or share.

greyhound, Penny, Crafty Dog

What a Crafty Dog does on her day off.

If reading to children is the best fun you can have, making them laugh, making them gasp or even hide behind their hands in fear of the wicked fox or nasty hunter with his gun, the next best thing is sitting with a pen and paper, or a computer keyboard and dreaming up the characters themselves. Ideas for stories seem to come at the strangest times, usually when lying in bed at night, or out walking the dog when you have the space and time to empty your mind and let it ramble. Someone has said there are only three or four stories; everything else is just a variation on that. That might be true, but there is a heck of a lot of scope for that variation.

One evening driving home from work at local authority council offices I was stuck in a jam queuing on the slip road off the M4. As I listened to music I began to run some ideas around in my head. I wanted to write a book about a recued greyhound that would appeal to children but it needed a twist. The idea then changed to an abandoned puppy being left and brought up by other animals – I guess from the Tarzan idea, or even the Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen. Rabbits – who had never seen a puppy, and a puppy who had never seen rabbits seemed to work. I started roughing up some ideas that evening, and from the first lines about the speeding car and the flying sack I was away.

Greyhound, Rubbish, The Largest Rabbit, Rabbit hound

The Largest Rabbit

 

Within a day or so I had the first rabbit characters and that of the little hound but I did not have a name. It was a few days into the book when the little character told the rabbits that the humans said he was rubbish and that’s where his name came from – the little puppy named himself! So Rubbish the rabbit hound was born.
I was sketching ideas for a plot, something simple with a villain – a fox fitted naturally into this – and also a hero. Someone needed to be able to tell the little confused rabbit into the great secret, that he was not a rabbit at all but a dog, but it had to be done by a special character that everyone in the book could look up to, but especially the little Rubbish. A noble beast, a great hound was obviously the person we needed and just as the character was forming in the story, the idea of it being The Mighty Finn popped into my head.

How could they meet? Where? I remember reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and also seeing Tom’s Midnight Garden when I was a kid on children’s TV. Looking back now, I guess there was also The Herbs, an animated children’s programme which used to be on Watch with Mother, where there was a wall, and a door which opened into a mysterious garden. The red brick wall and green wooden door were here.

I had a hero, mentor, villain – even weasel henchmen for the villain – but no comic character. This was going to be interesting. Who would be a heroic but comic figure? This was a challenge and I mulled this over for a few days. I was sitting in the office, looking round the room and there, sitting on the exercise bike was an old cuddly toy I had bought for Armelle years ago when I had been in university – a dusty old Garfield. That was it – a dusty old ginger-marmalade cat sprang to life. A well-bred and distinguished moggie, I christened him Jeffrey. He was going to be heroic but flawed – courageous and devil-may-care, he was also very vain and self opinionated, His age meant that he would be a bit creaky – arthritic with a dodgy back, few teeth and bad breath. I now realise that Jeffrey had a lot in common with Tiger, a ginger moggie that Armelle had when I first met her. She too had few teeth, some bald patches, hayfever and was a very good age. I think there was more Tiger than Garfield in our Jeffrey.

marmalade cat, mighty Finn, Lord of the Glen, The Largest Rabbit

The Mighty Finn and Jeffrey the ancient marmalade cat

 

Of all the characters, I love writing for Jeffrey. He is wonderful and things just happen to him; he is the reason that cat-slide roofs exist, was made for flying goggles and a woolly scarf and is crying out for a book of his own. When it came to the Hallowe’en story, Jeffrey was now known as “The Professor” and it was his genius that helped turn the tables on the ghosts. When I do book readings, the kids all love to hear about Jeffrey, and when I gave him his voice, those wonderful rounded vowels of this cat, owned by a retired Colonel who lives next door, it was very easy for him to take over.
The story wrote itself once I had the cast. I just followed where Rubbish, Finn and Jeffrey led, to be ambushed by the Fox but through the bravery of a little rabbit the tables are turned and the good guys win (as they always should in a children’s book).

The next book, The Winter Hare, was going to be a bit darker. Not intentionally, it just wrote itself that way. The influence of the Green Man, the Celtic Hare and the powers of nature were going to be the main elements here. The hunters chasing the hare hark back I guess to the hunters of Peter and the Wolf, but far, far darker. There they are trying to catch the hare – but why? In the dark shed we find out – a shelf full of animal bits, wood shavings and glass domes – taxidermy!
The darker the villains, the brighter the heroes have to become. Finn is probably his most noble in this story, and Rubbish is…just himself, but even more humorous, curious and wide-eyed.

Other cast members are the hunters dogs; two equally evil and terrible lurcher dogs with huge teeth and vicious appetites and tempers to match, and the third hound, a reluctant hunter called Flower. Her role – well, you’ll have to read the book to find out what transpires.

The final set of characters are the army of black and white that is marching towards climax of the book – the great showdown. They are an army of badgers. They might hark back to my days working for the National Trust in the 1980’s at Dinefwr Parc in South Wales. There were a number of badger setts in the deer park and I was lucky enough on a number of occasions to have sat and watched them playing outside in the warm red dusk of a summer’s evening. I was roped into taking part in the local village quiz tournament in the National Trust team. We eventually won the contest and the trophy still sits on our mantelpiece after all these years. The quiz-master for the series was Aeron Clement, a self-confessed Badger-nut who loved the black and white beasts – so much that he wrote a book about them, called “The Cold Moons”. It came out a few years afterwards and became a best seller. There may be a passing nod to Aeron in my characters. He was a lovely chap but unfortunately he did not enjoy his success for long as he passed away soon after it came out. He had written a sequel which was finished by his wife and daughter and it was also successful.

The Largest Rabbit is available digitally, as is the Christmas short story.  The Hallowe’en story “The Haunted Castle or Rubbish and the Hound of the Basquet de Villes” is also available on the blog pages here, and will be out again ready for this Hallowe’en.

Hi Fidelity – The Vinyl Countdown?

Hi Fidelity?

 

            As those of you that read my occasional Friday night music posting will know, music is very important to me.  Whilst contemplating what I will be listening to this evening I began to think about my music collection generally.  There has been such a revival in Vinyl that I have been re-evaluating the wonders of vinyl versus digital.  I can remember as a teenager going by bus into town and visiting the record stores to see what they had; this divided into a number of categories, so that if it was a new release off to HMV or WH Smiths, or if a general pot-luck search, in which case it would be Derricks.  There was something magical about thumbing through the racks of plastic and cardboard, then pulling out the large square package with its inevitably well-crafted sleeve artwork, whether single or (hopefully) gatefold sleeve, and even better with loads of photos and the lyrics too.  That moment when you pulled the LP out of the outer sleeve and held the crinkly paper sleeve to read the circular label in the centre.  There was even a particular smell to the LP when you took it out for the first time.  When I got home I would rush upstairs, switch on my Sharp turntable, push the buttons on my Sony amplifier and listen to the thump of the Wharfedale speakers kicking in.  I’d lift the turntable lid, put the disc on, close the lid and press the button and as the red strobe wheel glittered, watch the arm lazily glide up and over the (usually) black vinyl to drop into the lead-in groove. 

            However, this was often when the frustration began.  You would listen to the first few tracks and, more often than not, your heart would stop at the sound of the first click, crackle or worse still, skip.  The whole vinyl experience could be ruined by poor production, a poor mix or even worse poor handling at the factory so you would end up with a scratched piece of virgin plastic.  I can feel that bitter disappointment and annoyance even now after all these years.  The quality of the record itself varied too, from nice thick heavy flat vinyl with a great mix (Head On by BTO, a Canadian import) to mass produced UK or European albums that were so thin that they were warped even before they started. 

            I was really pleased when I heard my fist compact disc; cool clear sound – and no scratches!  I was an instant convert, I must admit.  There has been a lot of snobbery about “analogue” vs “digital” and some of the points are true; I do miss the fabulous artwork, the physicality of opening the record.  I don’t miss the tinny sound and scratches.  I can now download music and albums I had only read about before – even the deleted ones long out of print.  Admittedly, the quality of cd’s can vary but this is often due to the bit sample rate and the mix.  Some are crystal clear – Deep Purple’s Made in Japan is so good a mix that you can even hear the hum of the amplifiers.  Others are not so good.  A lot depends on your listening device – I have a new pair of Pioneer headphones which are leaps ahead of my old Akai ones, and I had thought they were amazing in their time.  I could never listen to clicks and hissing LPs through headphones!

            My Record memories? Like getting off the bus in Ynystawe with my copy of Deep Purple’s Fireball clutched under my arm and colliding with a friend on his bike so that the record in its bag leapt nine feet in the air and landed on its corner.  Despite its creased sleeve it still played perfectly!  Lifting up a turntable with Caroline Morris’s copy of Seconds Out on it and wincing as the arm bounced across the record.  Still can’t remember why I did that.  Ooops.  My first real album – Who’s Next by the Who, still one of my favourites.  Or listening to Neil Young for the first time in the Sixth Form area in school. 

            I have been gradually rebuilding my collection in CD format and many of these have now been remastered and remixed to achieve sound definition not previously thought possible – Made in Japan is a case in point.  Anyway, whether you love analogue – warts and all – or digital (soulless though it could be) the important thing is the music and that you enjoy it.  And my choice for tonight? Hmmm, still working on that one.

bto 2

Greyt Expectations – Your Hound in Their House or How a Crafty Dog Learned to Break all the Rules!

 

We all read about how people should treat their dogs, what they should eat, how they should be kept, and where they should sleep.  Before we had our hounds I had very firm ideas where dogs should or should not be, and most definitely not on the furniture.  I read so much about people who put their dog’s beds in their bedrooms or even shared their beds with them, and that was definitely a no-go for me.  However, Penny has taught us how important it is to adapt your living style around your hound, and that they should have a degree of say in how they live.  After all, it’s their home too.

Sally, greyhound, A Hound in the House,

Sally – our first greyhound.

          When we had our Sally, the first greyhound we had ever taken home, we soon found that we were on a steep learning curve.  The family dog when I was a kid was a Shetland sheepdog who ate tinned dogfood, slept in a plastic basket in the kitchen, rarely went upstairs and never on the furniture.  Before Sally arrived we had spoken to Greyhound Rescue Wales colleagues who had greyhounds, and to the people who had done our home check.  Their greyhound had liked Weetabix for breakfast, and dried food at tea-time, so this is what we followed.  Sally was pretty relaxed and this suited her.  Over the years we tweaked things as she got bored of Weetabix, so would ring the changes with cut cornflakes, or frosties, or porridge, and add plain yoghurt.  Sal would have s light snack dinnertime (crusts or leftovers if we were home) and then a main meal at 5 o’clock – and woe betide if we were late, as Sally’s stomach was more accurate than the atomic clock at Harwell!  She would raise the roof with barking to remind us.  Dried food was supplemented with scraps, and eventually became a mix of dried food and our food.  She thrived on it.  When Sammy arrived, she went on the same diet, two meals and light scraps/food if we were there lunchtime.

          Just like my first dog, Sally was not allowed on the chairs or settee in the house.  On the first evening she climbed up on a chair and I tipped her (gently I might add!) onto the floor.  She never climbed on the chairs again.  When she conquered the stairs (very quickly, I might add!) she was allowed up on our bed, but only when there was a cover on and we were there.  Sally used to get bored lying upstairs on her own and always wanted to be where I was.  I can remember working on the pc in the back bedroom (grandly called “The Office”!) with her lying right under the chair, terrifying me in case I rolled the castors over her ears.  Sammy loved to sneak upstairs and would love to lie in the sunshine on our bed and would sleep there all day given the chance.  After lunch she would cry by the living room door for Armelle to let her go upstairs, where she would stay until she either;

a) Demanded a walk

b) I got home from work

          Sally loved her bed in the kitchen.  From her first evening, she would go out to that bed in the evening usually before we went up to our own bed.  Shew slept through the night until I got up the next morning when she would go out the garden for a toilet stop whilst I prepared her breakfast.  Sammy, on the other hand, liked to come up to bed with us for a short cwtch, and then would come downstairs when I called her for a piece of cheese or a treat, when she would then go to the garden and then to her kitchen bed for the night.

Sammy having a doze

Sammy having a doze

          In some respects we were quite strict about this.  Even after Sammy had shared the bed in the motorhome with Armelle and I on her holidays she would still want her own kitchen bed when we were in the house.  When we had our fosters we changed a bit; Queenie was badly abused by her owner and within days of being with us she tried to tear the kitchen door down at night.  We let her sleep in the living room as she was more comfortable there.  With her toileting issues too, she would only mess at night on a carpet and not on a hard floor – a legacy of her being locked in a concrete-floored shed.  Rhys also decided that the kitchen was not for him so we had to patch up the kitchen door again!  He liked to sleep on the settee in the living room, so for the first few weeks we assessed him that’s where he slept, until he discovered the upstairs bed, and for his last fortnight with us he slept on his blanket in between us. 

          Lizzie never left the kitchen for the first three weeks we fostered her and always saw the kitchen bed as her safe place.  She was the very least adventurous of all her dogs, so quiet and scared of the world, and rarely went into the living room and never ever upstairs.  And then there was The Penster.

          We had learned over the years with experience that some things are more important than others.  The rules we had strictly enforced with the other dogs were somewhat relaxed by Penny.

          Firstly, we discovered that Penny really loved her food.  And then some.  Breakfast was fine but a light snack soon became insufficient and she would come and stare at you, or even bark for a bit more.  Within a few months Penny had initiated a cereal breakfast with yoghurt, a light lunch – Armelle’s scraps but with kibble or later with a pack of pate dog food, and then a dinner just about 5 o’clock.  She started to try it on a bit, and began demanding lunch earlier than 1 o’clock (sometimes as early as 11.15!), and the same for tea time (4 o’clock seemed right for her).  Tea time she does now (mostly) wait for me to come home from work.  She loves a mix of dried kibble with human food, usually 50/50 or even 30/70.   Her favourite lunch is a deconstructed sardine sandwich (very Heston Blumenthal!), which consists of broken up bread (preferably wholemeal), and sardines (again, preferably with tomato sauce).

          Penny is also not a walkies dog.  Sally and Sam would nag if they did not have a walk.  Penny, on the other hand, is happy to go out the garden and very reluctantly go for a walk round the block.  She has never been keen to go out in the rain, or in the dark, and if she decides she does not want to walk, she splays her legs open and you won’t shift her.  Even with bribery of her favourite treats.  She has learnt to ask to go to the toilet so if she wants to go out, she asks.  If we go out in the car then she will take a walk (preferably with another dog for company) and sometimes this is the only way we can get her to toilet if the garden is too wet and muddy.   

          The first evening Penny was with us she wandered into the living room and sat on the grey bed that had originally belonged to Sammy.  This was on the floor next to my chair.  For a few weeks this was sufficient.    Then one evening Penny came in after scouring her food bowl and slipped onto the settee next to Armelle, on a fleece blanket we had initially put on for Rhys.  This has become a regular and she will often walk up to me and either nudge me or walk past a couple of times until I go and sit on the settee too and she will lie on the cushion next to me, head in my lap.

She has also developed a love of the area behind my chair which has two walls and a cabinet on three sides and is quite sheltered.  This is her cwtch where she goes when she feels insecure or just for some quiet.  She has her second living room bed in there.

          For the first few weeks Penny was happy to sleep in the kitchen but then she started banging the kitchen door and even started to chew it.  So, we left the door into the living room open.  This proved satisfactory and Penny would sleep there on her grey bed.  Once the settee had been claimed she decided that this would be her night-time bed and so she slept there instead.  She was a good dog, obedient, non-destructive, so we decided to cut her some slack and let her sleep where she was comfortable and quiet.  However, when we went to Belgium in the motorhome with Penny she got to enjoy sleeping on the double bed with us.  She would get really excited at 9 o’clock when it was time to put the bed out – Armelle would have to hold her back with all her strength whilst I put the bed together, and then Penny would be the first one on it.  When we came home from Belgium the settee was no longer good enough and so we broke the last taboo of all and she began to come up and share the bed with us.  Fortunately it’s a king-size but she does have a habit of trying to push Armelle out of bed if she gets the right angle and leverage.

Penny Dignam, Penny the Crafty Dog, Crafty Dog

Penny the Crafty Dog in her finery.

          This has actually become quite relaxing, having the whole pack together.  It’s no coincidence that since Penny started coming up with us we have all slept better.  She has started to vary her habits by sometimes sleeping downstairs and sometimes with us, which is again fine.  Penny has taught us a lot, but we have also learned from the fosters with their issues.    

          I guess that’s what this article is all about; greyhounds need ground rules, a routine, so they know what the basics of the household are.  With time, they might push the envelope a bit, and in return for them being well-behaved, I think it is fair to give them a bit of leeway.  Penny is a real star; at the end of the day, she is a healthy, well-balanced and relaxed hound in the house who loves her home.  Love your greyhound – and give them a break!

(for more  on our rescued hounds, look up the book  “A Hound in the House” available on this website here.

What’s After the Rainbow Bridge?

Greyt Expectations – What’s After the Rainbow Bridge?

          Have you ever had that feeling when you are alone that you feel there is someone watching you?  Sometimes you may even hear or think you hear something. Zoologists would explain it as those primeval nerves and peripheral senses that once protected early humans when they first came down from the trees. These can in part explain the supernatural and superstitions many of us believe in.  However, sometimes we see things that are not so easy to explain. 

          Our pets are our companions and they invest so much emotion in us as we do in them.   They can be our constant companions, and they miss us when we are gone, and get so excited and happy when we return.  It is not surprising that when they pass on they can leave ripples in the atmosphere, emotional recording so to speak. 

          Sally was our first greyhound and she was a wonderful character, so popular, and was loved by many people.  She was particularly close to my Mum.  Sal had arrived only a month after my Mum’s best friend had passed away and in many ways she filled that need for friendship that had been created.  The routine of dog-sitting on a Tuesday and Thursday became important in helping my Mum through the grieving process and getting her back in the swing.  Sally was so very affectionate and she and I became inseparable; wherever I went, so did Sally.  She would wait patiently for me to come home from work or, on a Thursday, for 2 o’clock when my Mum would arrive with a milky way and let her out the garden.  If I worked upstairs on the pc, Sal would lie at my feet, often so close to the chair that I had to watch that I did not roll over her ears with the castors.  When my appendix burst, I spent 2 months off at home with her and we had some real quality time together.  Then, two years later when I broke my leg whilst walking her, I had three months at home with her.  At this time Armelle still worked 4 days a week so Sally and I were literally on our own from morning to tea-time.  It was great being with her, and on days when I was depressed or worried, she was there to sit and listen to me, not complaining or offering any reproach.  When Sally headed towards 13, Armelle was off work for a while, and I also as I had had the metal plates taken out of my leg, so we again had some quality time together.  Fate had given the three of us a month together, and it was only a few days after we both returned to work that on a Tuesday evening she was taken ill and in the early morning passed away.  I was in the room with her at the time.

         

Sally Greyhound, Greyhound Rescue, Crafty Dog Cymru

Sally our first hound in the house

It was a year or so before we had Sammy, our next greyhound.  She was very sensitive soul herself, and within a few weeks had also grown very close to my mum.  We had only had her a few months when she started a very strange habit; she would sit or lie down and look into space, about 18 inches up, as if listening intently.  She would not just stare blindly but she was really watching something (or someone).  You could read her facial expressions as she would (usually) lie there looking and listening.  Jokingly I said she was listening to orders from The White Dog – our Sally.  This went on all the time we had Sammy. 

          Sammy grew close to our next door neighbour Betty.   Sammy began to stop by her garden gate to go and see her.  We found out that Betty had become very ill with cancer, and Sammy seemed to realise this and became more and more insistent that Armelle should call.  She would go in and sit at Betty’s feet and watch over her, and she would wait patiently as Betty fussed her.  In the September we were going on holiday and the day before we left, Sam as had become usual, insisted on seeing Betty.  They sat with each other, and as Armelle made to leave, Betty spoke to Sam, telling her that they would probably not meet again.  Sam had to be practically dragged out of the house – she even sat down in the hallway and refused to go.   True enough, Betty passed away when we were on holidays, they never did see each other again.  When we came home, Sam would walk past the gate, but never stopped to call in; she knew Betty had gone.

          We did not have Sammy two years when she was attacked by another dog and, despite an emergency operation, she died at the vets.  It was a horrible death, and she was so young – it was the week of her fifth birthday – and it seemed to me that she had never had a chance to live a full and proper life.  She had been cheated.

          I’ve never believed in ghoulies or ghosties, or things that go bump in the night, nor am I particularly superstitious.  However, I have had to change my opinion over the last few years.  It must have been about six months after Sammy died that I was in the kitchen and as I turned towards the fridge freezer I saw a black shape pass from the kitchen into the utility room; I thought it was a black greyhound.  I went out into the utility room – but there was no-one there.  I put it all down to my imagination.  A few months later I was in the downstairs cloakroom early in the morning as I was getting ready for work.  The door was slightly ajar and as I turned to stand up I saw a small black greyhound trot past the door.  I opened the door wide – again there was no-one there.  I began to believe that for some reason Sam was still about, and keeping an eye on us, as Sally had kept an eye on her.  We had no dog at that time as we were in between hounds, but even since Penny has arrived I have still occasionally seen Sam.  It is usually in the kitchen or utility room, never upstairs, and always just a fleeting glance not a good view, and always unexpected.  It has never felt frightening or spooky, just unusual.  I have sometimes even felt her brush against me.

          Since mentioning this, a number of other pet owners have talked of seeing their pets after they have passed on; they have seen them, heard them and even smelt them.  Why does it happen to some and not to others?  I would suggest that in Sam’s case, she was so young that she still wants to share some time with us and is not ready to go yet.  She has only once seemed to talk to Penny.  Armelle has never seen her (or not admitted it!).  Sal was so very close to me yet I have never seen her – why has she not made an appearance?  I guess we’ll never know. 

          At the end of the day, I find it quite comforting to think that Sam is looking over us, and even that it seems to reaffirm the idea of life after death.  As Hamlet said, there are more things in heaven and earth….

Penny, Greyhound,Bluebells, Crafty Dog, Crafty Dog Cymru

Sammy in the bluebell wood

Hallowe’en Story – The Haunted Castle

Ghosties and Ghoulies, Hounds and Hysterics….

Here is the link to the latest adventure for Rubbish the Rabbithound, the Mighty Finn and Jeffrey the ancient marmalade cat.  It’s a free pdf to download and enjoy.  Its not too scary – honest!

Meet the phantom hound that haunts the old castle in the woods along with two ghastly ghostly knights.  

Things are never what they seem…..   Will Rubbish, Finn and the Professor  win the day – or night?

The Haunted Castle pdf

Greyt Expectations – Chris Dignam’s Rescued Greyhounds – Teething Troubles – Good Dental Health

Why our Penny was down in the mouth…

 

          We all know how important it is to look after our teeth and that we need to brush them at least once a day and preferably more.  Animals can’t brush their teeth so have to rely on us in two ways; providing the right type of food, and brushing their teeth for them as required.  This week we saw what a gum infection can lead to as our Penny had to go in for a tooth descale and ended up having teeth out.

          We brushed her teeth at least twice a week with doggie toothpaste, and would give her stick chews and dental chews to help the process.  We did this with all our greyhounds and to some extent this worked.  Sally did have to have a few teeth out, some of which we put down to her never chewing her food.  Crunching hard food is supposed to help shift plaque and debris.  However, this is not really logical; imagine you relied on eating a packet of biscuits instead of brushing your teeth – it just would not work.  Eating carrots or hard fruit or vegetables can help but not all dogs like these.  Sally would sit by the kitchen sink on a Sunday waiting for her carrot when we prepped dinner but if we gave Sammy a carrot she just looked at you as if you were nuts – “What – you want me to cook this myself?”. 

          In the end you have to use a toothbrush and doggy toothpaste.  This is usually meat flavoured (apparently but they hide it well) and you can apply it with a toothbrush or a finger brush (which looks like the finger of a glove with nobbly bits on).  You rub the paste onto the teeth and it is supposed to break down the tartar and debris.  Sally hated the toothbrush, but would allow me to use a battery powered brush (she was a strange dog!).  Sam would sit and almost enjoyed having her teeth cleaned.  Just take it gently, and get the dog used to the brush for short periods and build it up to a rub around the teeth over time.

Sally, greyhound, A Hound in the House,

Sally still had most of her teeth into old age.

Some dog owners swear by feeding their dogs raw food as this is was what nature intended.  It consists of raw meat (hearts, mince, chicken) and the accompanying bones too.  Chewing bones helps keep the teeth clean, and raw bones do not shatter like cooked ones which is why they can be given raw chicken bones.  The argument is that this is what they would eat in the wild and what they evolved to eat.  We were seriously considering this but events overtook us.

          Penny did not have an auspicious start as far teeth were concerned – greyhounds are renowned for having rubbish teeth and gums.  Many dogs have a sloppy diet when they race and due to being fed in batches they are also used to bolting their food as the slow eater will end up hungry.  Less scrupulous trainers or owners will also feed their dog poorly which just compounds the problem.  When we picked Penny up from the rescue centre she had been spayed and her teeth scaled.  In spite of this, she had bad breath which we put down to her digestive system.

          So Penny began each day with cereal and a large couple of dollops of plain yoghurt, which she absolutely loves.  Whereas Sally’s digestive system had been awful (I won’t go into the details but you can imagine the outcome or should I say output!) Penny’s has always been really good.  The outside of her teeth was always pretty good, though they would occasionally go manky so we would start more intensive cleaning.  We even tried changing her food to find one that gave her better breath which was occasionally successful.  Weirdly, she was better with human food. 

          Her breath was still not very fragrant but looking inside her mouth it was not so obvious why.  Last week she went in to have the musk glands in her bottom cleaned (never a nice thing) and in passing we mentioned the bad breath.  The vet took a look and I mean a really good look.  The outsides looked dirty but the insides which we could not see were worse.  She warned us that they needed a clean and that some might have to come out. You could see where her gums had receded due to the gingivitis and plaque and in one spot the was a hole under her roots.  We were shocked and I was mortified that I had let her get into this state.  We consider ourselves to be good and knowledgeable dog owners but even we were caught out.  The toothpaste does not get to all corners of the mouth, dried kibble is not a miracle cleaner and dental chews can’t replace a proper clean.  Maybe I had also been in denial.

          Penny went in on Tuesday.  When I rang after lunch, she was on the operating table, and I was told she was worse than we thought – she would need many teeth taken out.  In fact, most teeth.  In fact nearly all her teeth.  When I rang an hour later, she was still on the table – for nearly three hours it eventually turned out.  Penny had all but her four canines and one molar removed.

       

greyhound, Penny, Dignam,

Penny recovering at home.

She was really groggy and sore when we collected her, and she dribbled and bled all night.  She is on two different painkillers, antibiotics and a mouth rinse, but is making a good recovery.  Like all greyhounds, she can be a bit of a wuss, and she also knows how to play people and milk the sympathy.  It has to be said though that having so many teeth out must be really painful so she is also in real discomfort.  She has been very brave I guess.

          The moral of this tale (tail?) is that you need to keep an eye on your dog’s teeth, brush them at least once a week and watch their diet.  Avoid sugary food and treats (as we would do ourselves).  Apparently there is a powder which can be added to food that helps keep plaque down as well – ask your vet about it.  Learn from our mistakes and Penny’s example.  Good luck, and to paraphrase Frasier Crane – Good Dental Health!

Greyt Expectations – Chris Dignam’s Rescued Greyhounds – Dealing with Bereavement

This week’s piece is about dealing with the loss of a pet, coping, and the question of having a replacement. It’s specifically about losing a dog, but it can be equally true of any pet, be it a cat, horse or goldfish. Anything that you have become very attached to.

You often hear someone say “It’s only a dog” when they hear that people are upset and grieving over the loss of a pet. This is the typical comment of someone who has never had a pet themselves and is unaware of the emotional chasm left by the loss of someone who had become a member of the family. They are not just members of the family; they are members of the pack, the same way that they also see you. Pets are dependent on you, and in that caring and nurturing you invest your time and energy and friendship which they give back in return. Being a dog owner is a two way thing. This is especially so when you have children, as they see the dog as another brother or sister and do not have some of the grown-up’s formal barriers. Every boy (or girl) should have a dog (or cat, or goldfish etc.), as it teaches them responsibility and the importance of the bonds of loyalty and affection.

Sally, greyhound, A Hound in the House,

Sally at 12

It’s inevitable then that as your pet grows old, or becomes ill, that you think of what will happen when they pass on. You know it will be hard emotionally but you have a degree of time to prepare. When they do die, you will still be upset but you have had time to order your thoughts and your future actions. Well, that’s the theory but it does not always work like that. When Sally, our first rescue greyhound grew old she did so gradually, and was still active so we never noticed. One evening she had gone for a walk and sat down for a rest half way round the cricket pitch, but been eager for her food when she got back. Early that evening she started crying, was a bit spaced and evidently in some distress, so we rang the out of hours vet and took her down. At the surgery she was examined and the vet suggested she might have a stomach upset, gave her some painkiller and sent her home with us. We could see her gums were very pale. When she got home she cried a bit, and sat in her bed. I sat up with her until she went to sleep and then sat in the chair to watch over her. Sally drifted away in her sleep that night some time about six o’clock in the morning. Looking back now, Armelle and I could see the signs that she was getting old – the fawn in her face had so much more white in it and she occasionally would stop for a rest on her walks. Even so, we were devastated – Sally was our first hound, and to all intents our child. I am sure that we got the “It’s only a dog” reaction but to us the pain was very real.

Sammy was a week short of her fifth birthday when she was attacked by another dog out walking on the same cricket pitch. She appeared to have come away unscathed, but the next evening she could not eat, the back of her tongue became swollen and we rushed her to the vets. When she tried to run from the dog, the collar had pulled on her throat and it was 24 hours later that the damage became apparent. They carried out a tracheotomy, which she survived, but the internal bleeding from the damage was so bad she bled out and passed away in the surgery. We were totally devastated. The emotions here were really mixed up – grief for Sammy’s death, anger about the cause of her death, and even guilt that I had taken her for a walk that night when I could have stayed at home.
No matter how your pet dies, it’s always distressing and you will be upset. If it’s an accident or sudden death, you too might feel guilty or regret that you took them out – these are natural emotions as you try to come to terms with the loss. You have to blame someone so you end up blaming yourself. What you have to realise is that it was just that – fate – you could not do anything to prevent it otherwise you surely would have.

In one respect an awful decision was already taken for us; we never had to make the call to have our pet put to sleep. When you have a pet that has a terminal illness, injury or even extreme age which means that you have to decide when their quality of life has reached such a critical point that they should be euthanised you will inevitable feel guilt along with your sorrow. You have to be a very special person if you are so certain that you have made the right decision at the right time. It is inevitable that you will question yourself over whether you left it too long, or whether if you had waited they would have been ok to last longer. Again, this is natural.

The next decision you will need to make is what to do with your pet. The option of burial was not feasible; she was a big dog, we had a small garden. If I’d dug a hole we had a choice of either her head or feet sticking out! We had decided to have Sally cremated so we had to get her to the vets from where the cremation company would collect her. The vets sorted everything for us, but we still had to get her down there. Sally weighed nearly 30 kilos and we had to carry her through the house to the car. Fortunately for us she had passed away in her bed so we could lift her in her duvet, holding two corners each and taking her through the living room. Unfortunately, as we passed the settee Sal’s head flopped out in a most undignified manner. We could imagine her looking down and tut-tutting at us. We carried Sal out to the car and at the vet, they helped me carry her in and so I said goodbye to her. Two weeks later I collected a lovely wooden box with her name on a brass plaque. We buried her in the garden near the spot where she liked to sit in the sun. When Sammy died, we decided that we would scatter her ashes in a wood where she loved to walk and we had some wonderful memories of. So instead of a box we had a lovely scatter tube – which when it came was covered in a picture of bluebells! Fate or what?

Penny, Greyhound,Bluubells

Sammy in the bluebell wood

Being without your pet can lead you to either one of two ways; you hurt so much you could never go through it again, or you really need to love another pet so want to get another one. Never think of a new dog as a replacement – they will never be the same, but will be fabulous and funny in their own ways. We always said Sam was Sally’s “understudy” who was filling in for her. Should you rush out and get another or should you waitt? I would always advise to leave a time to grieve, be it only a few days or maybe months – that would be down to you. It’s whatever feels best. Our greyhounds are rescued dogs, so to us it was always a case of “We gave Sally and Sam a great home, there are other dogs out there that deserve a lucky break too.”

Another option is to foster a dog for a time. When a rescue comes into kennels, especially where their background is not known, they are a blank card. They need to be assessed as to their temperament, how they are in a home setting, are they cat or child friendly, all the normal things they might never have seen in their lives. It’s a great way of having a dog to care for and occupy your mind, but you are also doing an unselfish thing by taking that dog out of kennels and allowing them to see what a real home can be like, and there’s no permanent commitment. We had a foster who hated kennels and needed a home where he would eat properly (the stress of kennels put him off eating).  And don’t forget that if you and the dog click, that the home is the right one for the dog, then the foster will never leave. Sam was a foster, as was our Penny, and neither of them ever went back to kennels.

So never be ashamed or embarrassed to cry or be upset when you lose your animal companion. It’s not you that’s at fault but the person who says “It’s only a dog” who is wrong for not understanding. Never blame yourself for anything untoward that happens, or for any decision on euthanasia where it’s the animal’s dignity that comes first. Finally, take as long as you feel its right before you have another pet.