My Pets

Many readers will be aware of Ollie, my dog. He is the star of this blog, and my constant companion, since 2012.

But long before Ollie, I had many other pets. I think of them as typical ‘childhood pets’, though one was owned when I was much older.

When I was around 8 years old, I volunteered to take the class hamster home, and to look after it during the summer holidays. It was a lot smellier than I expected it to be, but I enjoyed watching it spin around in its wheel. Of course, my Mum ended up being the one who cleaned it out. I just enjoyed holding it, feeding it, and watching it scuttle around. But I had forgotten about our usual two-week holiday in Cornwall, so we had to enlist the help of my Mum’s sister to feed it and care for it while we were gone. After school started again, I took it back, but it died the following day. I didn’t know how short-lived they were, and was convinced that I had somehow hastened its demise by neglect.

My next pets were some goldfish in a bowl. It didn’t occur to me that it was rather cruel to keep two good-sized fish in a small bowl, and I soon became very bored with watching them constantly swimming in circles. My only interaction with them was to feed them, and so I overfed them, unintentionally. One day, they were both dead, floating on the top of the water, which was not much more than a cloudy soup of nutrition by that time. My Dad flushed them down the toilet.

Dad decided to get a ‘feature tank’ instead. I chose the tank ornaments, including a large clam shell, a pirates’ treasure chest, and an arch that they could swim through. My Dad bought plants to help aerate the water, and we had six fish of different sizes. But they constantly attacked each other, and took chunks out of each other’s tails and fins. Before long, three of them were found dead, and the rest lasted less than a year.

Everyone had a tortoise in those days. They often had their names painted on the shell, and some owners drilled a small hole in the shell too, to tether the poor thing to a long string, so it didn’t escape. I loved to feed our tortoise, and would also stroke its head when it popped out for food. It didn’t die in our care, but we had to move to a place with no garden, so it was given to a relative. It lived for a very long time after that, but once we moved again, I lost touch with it.

When I was 15, we moved to a house with a big garden. My Mum got a dog, and she also acquired two angora rabbits. They lived in hutches outside, and she would brush them carefully, saving the soft hair that came off. She later used this fur to knit things, and produced some incredibly soft knitwear. My job was to feed them, and clean them out. I adored being able to stroke them, as they were unbelievably soft. But the big male was very aggressive, and managed to injure all three of us at one time or another. They lived less than four years, and we never replaced them.

In 1978, I was 26 years old, and had just moved to Wimbledon. I didn’t want to be tied down with a dog, but thought it would be nice to have a pet. I got a long-haired guinea pig, called a ‘Sheltie’. I named him Oskar, and my uncle built me a pine hutch for him to live in, in the garden. During the winter, he came inside, and stayed in a huge old fish-tank, in the dining room. I looked after him really well, fed him all the best things, and brushed him every day. When we went on holiday, my sister-in-law looked after him. He lived for over five years, until one morning I found him dead in his fish-tank. He is buried in that south-London garden.

But there is no doubt that Ollie has been the best pet I have ever had.

Enriching Ollie’s Walks

At this time of year when so many people are on holiday, it is not so easy for Ollie to come across many of his regular doggy pals when we are out walking. So it is up to me to try to do something to make his long walks in the heat more enjoyable.

One word he learned a long time ago is ‘Hiding’. He usually checks out regular spots where he has seen cats or squirrels in the past, and when he is upset that they are not there, I generally say that they are ‘hiding’. I adopt a hushed tone when saying the word, and imply that he might have to find them. This makes him rush around looking for whatever he was expecting to find.

This not only gives him more exercise, it also provides him with some sense of purpose to his walks, besides sniffing and marking.

The recent hot and humid weather has made Ollie reluctant to do much. He has been lagging behind me, and spending too much time just standing in the river. So when we got over onto Hoe Rough today, I took him to the spot where he had last seen a deer, and pointed into the undergrowth. I hissed ‘hiding’, and off he went, understanding completely what I was on about. For a good fifteen minutes, he scanned up and down looking for the non-existent hiding animals.

When he returned looking hot and bothered, I let him go down into the river, to cool off.

The things we do for our pets…

Ollie and his medical history


Ollie’s eyes are stitched in the photo.

Ollie’s recent trip to the Vet got me thinking. The unfortunate dog has had so many things wrong with him, from a very young age. I have written about them all separately on this blog, over the years.

But this post is by way of collecting together the whole medical history of my very brave dog.

It started with a condition called Entropion. This is where a dog’s (or human’s) lower eyelids and lashes grow into the eye, instead of around it. It is unfortunately common with Ollie’s breed, and we were worried he might get it. And he did. At a few months old, his eyes were streaming with tears, and they were causing wet sore patches down both sides of his face.
Off to the Vet he went.

Sure enough, Entropion was diagnosed. They suggested stitching down his lower eyelids, in the hope of correcting the way they were growing. The poor young dog had to endure a general anaesthetic, and then walk around with his bottom eyelids stitched to his face for weeks. He stood it all very well, and didn’t let it bother him too much.

But when the stitches were removed, nothing had changed. The local Vet recommended specialist treatment, at the famous Animal Health Trust Hospital, near Newmarket. We took him off for the 90-minute journey by car, and he was seen by a canine eye specialist. Little Ollie had to endure having test-strip papers inserted in his eyelids, and sit there until they changed colour. But he didn’t complain at all. Not once. They told us he would have to come back for surgery, to have a section of the lower eyelid cut away.

Not long after, we took him back there, and watched as he trustingly walked off with one of the nurses. He would be staying for three nights, after surgery that morning. They telephoned to say it had gone well, and that he was recovering. The next night, they even took the phone into the recovery kennels, so he could hear our voices over it. When we picked him up, he had to wear a ‘cape’, to stop him being able to use his back legs to scratch the wounds. But he was pleased to see us, and didn’t seem too bothered about the experience.

He had to go back for a post-op check, and the news wasn’t good. The eye tissue was growing back rapidly, and into the eyes again. He would have to endure more surgery, this time to remove much more of the lower eyelid, and the eyelashes too. Once again we had to leave him to face surgery, and another three day stay. He was still no trouble, and the staff loved him, as he never complained at all. After this third operation, his eyes were literally ‘wide open’, and he had no recurrence of the condition. That was a relief.

Then his skin started to flare up. There was a redness under his body, and between his back legs. Very soon, large patches of his fur fell out in perfect circles, leaving bald skin with a large crusty sore at the centre. It was obviously causing him some distress too, as he wasn’t eating, or wanting to play. Off to the Vet once more. They diagnosed a bacterial skin infection, and told us is was associated with certain breeds, including Ollie’s. It was a yeast-based infection, and not something that could easily be cured. He came home with a special shampoo, and assorted tablets for the irritation.

That slowly cleared up, but we then found that the infection had spread into his ears, something that would come back to haunt both us and our dog. More tablets, and now ear-drops too. His little ears were so swollen inside, he would cry out when I put the long spout of the applicator down deep into them. The medication eventually did the job, but we were to learn that this was going to be a lifelong problem for him, at least twice a year. And it has been, right up to last week.

Once I thought I was on top of everything that was wrong with him, I considered that I could at least cope with knowing what to expect. Then one day over The Meadows, Ollie tried to dominate a small feisty terrier, and the tiny dog turned and bit off the end of my dog’s curly tail. Not only did he scream with pain, he wouldn’t let me look at it. For the first time, he turned on me as I tried to examine the wound. When I got him home, I noticed the small injury wouldn’t stop bleeding, so had no option but to take him to the Vet.

They gave him an anaesthetic, cleaned out the wound, and bandaged it. But when I picked him up, it was apparent the bandage irritated him too much, and he wouldn’t stop shaking, until it fell off. I went back in, and they re-bandaged with an adhesive option, adding the bad news that this could be very serious, as it was at the tip of his spinal column. If infected, it would kill him very quickly. So surgery was the only option once more, with the top of his tail being amputated, so they would have enough skin left to close over the wound. Ollie had to go under the knife for yet another procedure.

Now with a slightly shorter tail, perfect eyes, and me having a handle on the continuing skin infections, I finally hoped that all the trauma was over for Ollie. Then in the summer of 2017, he was chewing on one of his favourite plastic ‘bones’, when he yelped, and jumped up. When he wouldn’t eat his dinner that night, I knew something was wrong. I carefully lifted his jowls, and inspected his teeth. I knew he must be in pain, but he let me do it with no complaint. I found an otherwise perfectly good large molar cracked in two, and was able to move it with my fingers.

Back to the Vet for Ollie. Another anaesthetic, and no option but to remove the damaged tooth.

This post is now well over 1,000 words, and all about the treatment one dog has had to endure, over just seven years.

It is frankly amazing to me how he has remained so docile, and such a loyal friend.

The Beetley Ferret

An early encounter with the different ways of country living, from 2012.

beetleypete

Ferret

This morning, Julie and I were sleeping in, after a late night . At 8.45am, We were awakened by the sound of the doorbell. This may not sound like a big deal, but this is Beetley. There are no Jehovah Witnesses visiting on a regular basis, and we were not expecting a parcel, so the doorbell is always a surprise. I donned my dressing gown, and went to the front door.

There was a neighbour, from the ‘back’ (Spinney Close), accompanied by his grand daughter. I recognised him from a brief meeting, whilst walking Ollie in the nearby meadows. His opening line was, “Have you lost a ferret?”. Now in my former flat in London, this would have been answered with a guffaw, so I had to remember that I was now in Norfolk. ” We have just seen a ferret in our garden, heading your way. It was…

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Ollie goes out in the car


Ollie, when he is ‘not happy’. Tail down, and panting.

Since he started the summer moult, Ollie has been scratching his legs and biting his ‘undercarriage’. These are sure signs of irritation caused by the usual skin infection he gets a few times a year. Rushing through nettles and brambles doesn’t help, nor does standing for long periods up to his neck in the river. That might cool him down, but it allows who knows what in the river to get into his system too.

So I bowed to the inevitable, and booked him in for a Vet appointment today. Then on Wednesday, he went to the groomer to have the loose fur stripped, and a nice bath. He came back looking sleek, and smelling a whole lot better too.

Taking Ollie to the Vet has to be done by car, as it is twelve miles away, in Swaffham. It makes me feel guilty to see how excited he gets to be going for a drive to some exciting new place, when I know where we are actually going. In the familiar car park, he emerges from his place at the back with a worried look. Having spent so much of his life to and from one Vet or another, he recognises the location immediately.

Once through the door, he begins panting and placing his paws on my knees, looking concerned, and turning in circles on his lead. I always try to see the same Vet, but he was doing surgery today, so I had to see a young lady instead. Meanwhile, a nervous Spaniel in the waiting room was whining and crying, which upset Ollie even more. He kept going over to check on the dog, to make sure he was alright.

By the time we were called in to the examination room, Ollie was trying to head for the door. Fortunately, his condition is well-known, so he only had to be weighed, and suffer a brief investigation with an ear-scope. He tolerates Vet treatment very well as a rule, and as long as I am there, they can do more or less anything to him. After a quick once-over, the lady Vet agreed that he should have the usual doses of ear-drops, antibiotics, and steroids for the inflammation and itchiness. When she got up to go and get the medicines, Ollie tried to exit through the closed door, keen to get back out to the car.

Still feeling guilty, I took him straight up to Milennium Wood in North Elmham, where he came across a group of Labradors and Terriers to sniff and play with.

By the time we were heading back to the car, he appeared to have forgotten his distressing trip.

Until the next time.

Ollie’s Nose

Ollie is a dog driven by the need to sniff things and smell them carefully. His nose can seemingly detect almost anything long before he can see it with his eyes. And because he has never been neutered, his main obsession is to leave his own scent everywhere, to let every other dog and animal around know that he is in the ‘Hood’. The short walk to Beetley Meadows, with the entrance visible from our house, begins with Ollie sniffing our front hedge. He then marks a few leaves of that hedge, just in case any other dogs are in doubt that he lives here.

Next, every road sign, wheelie bin, front gate, and back fence has to be marked, in a walk of less than one hundred yards that can take a good few minutes. Then his lead is removed, and he is free to mark the sign telling everyone about Beetley Meadows, before dealing with the four corners of the fences surrounding the children’s playground, followed by the basketball court. The first big Oak tree always gets a cursory splash, prior to the serious work of marking the nettles and other plants fringing the pathways.

Once he is satisfied with that, he lifts his head, nose twitching. He is trying to get the smell of any other local dogs, or a squirrel or deer in the vicinity. I am usually well ahead of him by the time he catches me up, after he has been checking under the blackberry bushes for any evidence of much smaller dogs who might have peed up them. Once we get to the bend in the river, Ollie goes into overdrive. There is the rubbish bin to deal with, the dog-waste bin, and the assorted picnic tables and benches.

By now, his ‘marking tanks’ have almost run dry, so he is straight into the river to refill them with a very big drink. Cooled and replenished, he trots off to sort out half a dozen molehills, and the reeds at the side of the riverbank. All this, and we have only been out for ten minutes. Once we are under the trees, every tree and overhanging branch must be inspected. As those trees are home to lots of squirrels, this takes a considerable amount of time. So I carry on walking, and let him catch me up later.

If he arrives with his jowls covered in froth, looking like he has just downed an exceptionally milky cappuccino, then I can be sure he has detected some ‘lady-dog pee’. And if that dog was in season, he will have enough foam around his mouth to make any passerby think he had Rabies.

We have now arrived at the bridge, on the way across to Hoe Rough.

The bridge has to be inspected carefully by Ollie. So many dogs cross it in a day, that he has to mark at least three spots, sometimes five. And woe betide I try to pull him away using his lead. He will stand his ground, suddenly becoming dead weight, refusing to budge until the sniffing is complete. Getting through the gate at Hoe Rough is a mission in itself. Every wooden bar and post of the large gate has to be examined in minute detail, and ‘precision pees’ delivered onto the smallest areas. Any dog coming onto the small nature reserve must be left in no doubt that Ollie has entered before them.

Then I let him off again, for the majority of his daily walk. Off he goes, tracking overnight deer, dogs from earlier that day, and any other smell of any sort he can detect. Once the long walk is over, you can guarantee that he will repeat the process as we retrace our steps on the way home.

Just in case.