Category Archives: Chris Dignam’s Rescued Greyhound Blogs

A Word from the Managing Director

Crafty Dog, Penny Dignam, The Penster
Lady Penelope Dignam, Managing Director of Crafty Dog Cymru

A message from our Managing Director, Miss Penny Dignam;
“I’d like to thank my staff for carrying the Crafty Dog Cymru flag and representing us at the #Cywain Meet the Producers event at Port Talbot last Thursday, hosted by Tourism Swansea Bay. Apparently people were surprised to hear that I am a rescued greyhound but here I am! I look forward to meeting our new customers at future events and hope that you enjoy our wonderful jams, chutneys and marmalades. They are very good, you know.”

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.

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

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.

Greyt Expectations 8 – This Weeks South Wales Evening Post Blog – How the Largest Rabbit Escaped into Print!

Getting it Write – from a Rescued Greyhound to the Largest Rabbit

Last week I wrote about how we got our first book to the printers. We pick up the story after the first boxes arrived and we realised we had to sell them to make our money back.

We plugged the book on our Facebook pages which helped, and then we went round the bookshops with bundles of books. Bookshops these days are either massive conglomerates or small shops that are often living hand to mouth. One bookshop purchased some copies outright but most would only take them on a sale or return basis. The large conglomerates were not easy to approach as their local outlets all told us to contact their central office or go through their main buyers. The same applied to pet stores where small ones took copies but the large ones had to refer us to head office which proved to be a roadblock. Either way, being a small publisher is hard. We had no money to advertise the books yet we still needed to get our name out there.

Penny, Armelle and I - Copyright South Wales Evening Post.

Penny, Armelle and I – Copyright South Wales Evening Post.

Animal – especially Greyhound – charities were really helpful, especially Greyhound Rescue Wales, who all sell the book and get a donation themselves, so it benefits everyone. As before, the larger animal charities (whose catalogues are managed by external sales and marketing companies, usually the same one) were very polite but nothing panned out that way. As our name got out, more people approached us about the book and so the number of outlets grew. We offered copies as raffle/competition prize, which was again publicity which also helped charities. We were even approached by an Irish dog charity from Donegal for copies. All reasonable requests accepted!

The book sold at craft fairs, and at library readings too. Local libraries were keen to have a local author visit but neighbouring local authorities were a dead end. Swansea Libraries even purchased copies for their stock. Gradually the books began to sell as our name and reputation grew.

Collecting the money from some of the bookshops proved difficult; one sold them on e-bay then refused to pay us (and never did) and others require a fair bit of prompting. (I must say that Cover to Cover in Oystermouth have been brilliant and an example of how things should be done). Part of the problem is that your books are swallowed up in a sea of other books and without any publicity material or, better still, a book signing/meet and greet your books will be almost invisible.

On the way home from work one evening I had an idea for a character and a new book, this time for children. It had a few twists in the plot to keep it fresh, so within a few days I had sketched out the story and began writing it. The Largest Rabbit just flew off the page. I needed a specific character to fill a role and there was a fabulous deerhound called Finn owned by a friend of ours in Ireland who I thought would fit the bill. So, with Kate’s approval, the Mighty Finn went into the book. I also added a heroic comic character called Jeffrey, an ancient marmalade cat who was my favourite and the most fun to write. After discussions with my business manager, we stumped up the cash and decided to put the book out again ourselves, under the Crafty Dog Books Cymru label. Once more, Jackie did our illustrations, but extra this time as we needed drawings for inside the book.

How did we know that the children it was aimed at would like it? A friend of ours is a deputy head at a primary school so I asked her if some of the guys there would like to read it. Jill replied by asking whether I would like to go and read excerpts at the school. It was a great idea – take Penny, introduce the children to a rescue greyhound, and read some of the book to see what they thought of the characters and the story. We need not have worried, the kids thought it was fabulous and it went down a storm. They were really entranced and it was great to see the way in which they really enjoyed the story and loved the characters. That convinced us that it was worth printing the book, and we could even include some illustrations the children had drawn after the reading.

Brindle Greyhound, Largest Rabbit, Greyhound,

The Adventures of the Strangest Rabbit You Ever Did See!

We were even more excited when we collected the boxes of The Largest Rabbit from the printers in Pontypool. Honestly, the books really took off. Facebook interest was great, and many who had ordered the first book ordered the new one too. Kate Clarke did an article about us and The Largest Rabbit in the South Wales Evening Post and the next week someone shared the link with a greyhound rescue site in the U.S.. We suddenly had orders coming in from across the states! For a week things went nuts – we thought the Crafty-Dog-Cymru.Co UK website would melt – but eventually calmed down again.

Our Crafty Dog Cymru website and webshop have proved very successful; as have the greyhound charities again – Greyhound Rescue Wales even have Chris Dignam Books as a category on their shop! Within 4 months we have even had to begin planning a reprint and the Largest Rabbit has already paid for itself.

If anyone wants a book reading at a school or Library or other group, pop us an e-mail. The only stipulation is that you have to purchase a copy of the book and Penny usually comes along! She is very well behaved though I can’t comment about the rest of us Crafty Dogs…

Chris Dignam’s Latest Blog – Jammin’ With the Crafty Dog – How Greyhound Rescue led to Sweet (and Savoury) Success!

We have often been asked how we started making jams, chutneys and glassware and it’s something we have also often pondered, here at Crafty Dog Castle.  Like most good stories, it’s a rather convoluted one. 

Our involvement with rescued Greyhounds has led us in some strange directions over the years and we’ve learned lots of things along the way.  When we took Sally our first greyhound home we decided that any support we gave to the rescue charity Greyhound Rescue Wales would be financial and not physical.  The odd donation but that would be all; we were very quiet people and happy to remain in the background.

Dragon 1

Welsh Dragon Pint Glass

However, we somehow (can’t remember exactly how) got involved in helping out at a Greyhound Rescue street collection.  This meant taking Sally into the town centre to meet the public and talk to people about greyhounds and, hopefully, they would put money in the collection pot.  It was very informative both for us and for them.  People back then did not know that much about greyhounds, how gentle they were and how lazy; they did not know then as we do now, that they are 40mph couch potatoes!  People were both interested and generous, we found it enjoyable (though surprisingly hard work) and Sally really enjoyed it.  She was great with adults but especially loved children. She would have kids hanging round her neck, patting her and stroking her coat the wrong way but she just soaked it all up. 

Fundraising then led us to help out at jumble sales where even my Mum got involved making tea and selling Welsh cakes.  It was a real family affair with everyone from Sally to her Nana taking part.  After the jumble sales stopped we missed meeting people so we started attending a local Craft Market in Clydach selling painted glass items and donating some of the profits (when there were any!) to greyhounds rescue. 

Hot Chilli Jam

The Original!

We learned to glass paint and made suncatchers, lanterns and painted drinking glasses.  Looking back we can see how far we have actually come in terms of quality and finish.  One autumn our little greenhouse produced a bumper crop of chillies which Armelle decided we were not going to waste.  Looking round for recipes she found one for a hot chilli jam so that’s what she made; 12 jars which all sold within a week and we never even tasted any ourselves.  The feedback however was that it was fantastic!.  Needing a name for our newly fledged Craft and Jam business which was about Crafts and helping the dogs, the name Crafty Dog sprung to mind.  The logo was a greyhound in an artist’s beret, originally holding a brush but we dropped that.  Crafty Dog Designs Cymru was born!

We trotted the jam around local craft fairs, looked for new recipes – and even made some up. 

Hot Chilli Extra Hot Jam

Extra Hot Chilli Jam – Phew!

Scrumped apples meant we could make Apple Chutney, Damsons from the hedgerow made Plum and Damson jam.  It took a while before we plucked up the courage to go to a shop and ask whether they would be interested in selling Crafty Dog jam but shops were really keen.  Our local butcher was the first to stock our chutneys (thanks Andrew!), then the Tourist Information Centre in Swansea, and a farm shop in Herefordshire (after a chance encounter helping a charity bike ride).  Today we even supply the shop at Aberglasney Gardens. 

It’s amazing the skills you can discover you never knew you had; we both learned to glass paint and our work has grown in complexity over the years.  Where we used to sell glass lanterns at the craft fairs we now make individual bespoke hand painted pieces of glassware and have even exported a set of Welsh Dragon pint glasses to Toronto!  All this was helped by setting up a web-shop which is another thing we have to try and keep updated.  Look out for www.crafty-dog-cymru.co.uk.

Luxury Apple Chutney Calvados

Luxury Apple Chutney with Apple Brandy

If anyone would like us to attend their Craft or Country Fair, or wants to stock any Crafty Dog Jams, Chutneys or Glassware, pop us an e-mail via the website above. 

As someone asked us recently, how do you have time to fit this all in – the answer is, we haven’t a clue, we just do it.  And, on top of that, we have to walk Penny as well.  It’s a busy life being a two person industrial combo….

jams, crafty dog, preserves

Crafty Dog Jams

And then there are the books… but that, as they say, is another story!

 

New Blog – How Penny became the Crafty Dog!

Here’s Our Latest Posting in the South Wales Evening Post

greyhound, Penny, Crafty Dog

You can teach a greyhound to retrieve!

When the Crafty Dog wagon takes to the road with our jams, chutneys, glassware or books and people come to meet us at Craft Fairs, or at Book Readings they see Penny and see what a well-rounded hound she is, calm, gentle and polite. Some of this is down to our work with her in terms of training, both house-wise and obedience training. However, a large part is down to her breeding and some to her own nature.

Greyhounds are generally easy-going and gentle by nature. They are pack animals, and love being part of a family. They bond well and once you have a connection they will walk over hot coals for you! They are very independent minded, so to train them you really have to make them see the benefit of what you are asking them to do – they are very reward driven. You’ll never train them easily by force but with a bag full of chopped up frankfurters you can get a greyhound to tapdance!

Penny and Sam had neither of them been in a house before, so simple things like stairs were major hurdles. Sammy went up and down within a day or so and could find her way around the house. Penny ran up the stairs on the second day with us but was terrified about getting back down. We had to walk her down, me guiding her front legs and Armelle her back legs. The next day we started to teach her, building her confidence slowly. A piece of sausage on each step and she came down, tenderly, picking her way, treat by treat and step by step. The next time it was a treat every other step, then every third step, fourth step until only one treat on the bottom step. By the end of the week she was going up and down like a natural.

She had to learn a routine, starting with toilet first thing, breakfast, a walk, then me off to work. Penny soon got the hang of all of that, especially the breakfast bit. She had the same cornflakes and yoghurt that Sammy and Sally had. After breakfast it was walkies around the cricket pitch and then back home. I then went off to work leaving Penny in the kitchen until Armelle came downstairs for breakfast.

In the evening, I would come home from work, we would all have tea then afterwards go to visit my

Low flying greyhound!

Low flying greyhound!

Mum in the local nursing home. Within a few weeks Penny got set into the routine so much that at 6.45 in the evening Penny would get excited as she knew it was time to go to the Home and if we weren’t ready in time she would start to bark at us. Once home, Penny began by sleeping in the kitchen but after a few weeks she started to scratch the kitchen door, so she moved to sleeping on her bed in the living room. That was fine but after a few weeks more she wanted to sleep on the settee on her blanket; she was such a well-behaved girl we gave her a fair bit of leeway. She was no bother at all. However, after taking her to Belgium and sharing a double bed in the motorhome she decided that she did not want to sleep on her own anymore so we now share a double bed with a greyhound every night. Fine except for when she breaks wind, or decides to run in her sleep and you end up being pummelled by her feet or wagging tail.

Penny has set up other little routines as the months rolled past; if the weather was wet, she would run straight back to bed after breakfast. Tea time (originally 5p.m. like Sal’s) began to creep forward until it merged with Armelle’s crusts after lunch. Now she gets a small lunch dinner time and her main meal with us teatime.

Penny has her foibles too – many rescue dogs have some demons. When we first had her she would freeze when walking onto the cricket pitch, a result of being abandoned in a field I guessed. Two weeks after she arrived it was Guy Fawkes night and as we walked into the Nursing Home a rocket went off about twenty feet over our heads. Penny was terrified and has been scared of thunder and fireworks ever since (maybe even before). Loud noises send her to her cwtch, an area behind my chair where she feels secure.

Recently she has become frightened of rain on the roof of the motorhome, a result of being caught on a campsite in a terrible thunder storm. She now associates noise on the roof with rain, which to her then means a thunderstorm is coming. She gets herself really wound up, not aggressive at all, just panting and shaking and there’s no room for a “den” in a 20 foot motorhome! It was so bad on our last trip that she even went off her food – unheard of for Penny. So, we are now going to have to go back to basics to break her cycle of fear of the van. We will start by building up positives; short trips to the park with a nice walk at the end, feed her in the van, get her used to the van without any rain noises. Then, gradually, start introducing a recording of rain noise, quietly at first, and slowly increase the volume over time. Again, this is not a quick fix and it will take a while and though there will undoubtedly be some hiccoughs we’ll get there. In the meantime we have calmex, and Valium in case the calmex does not work. And this week its Guy Fawkes Night – oh joy of joys!

It’s like everything in life, if you want anything to be perfect you have to put the time and effort in. Penny can be fixed, like we got Sam used to travelling. Though the Vet has given us some medication as a backup there’s no substitute for work, patience and lots of cwtches along the way! At the end of the day, our little hound is worth every penny!.

PS – By the way, I forgot to mention that this week was Penny’s Second “Gotcha” Day, the second anniversary of us bringing her home.

greyhound, Penny, rescued hound

Penny cross-country