Blog, Pets

Alex the Wonderdog

ALEX_8_WEEKS_ON_DRIVEOur son Jeffrey wanted a dog from the moment he could say the words. We were dead against the idea. After six years of the same appeals from his older sister, we thought we were immune. You know that old line about avoiding clichés like the plague? Let me tell you, the old saying about dripping water wearing away stone is a cliché because it’s true. One child appealing for a dog is almost impossible to resist. When varmints join forces, the intermittent question becomes an endless loop.
It was time to compromise, without being seen to back down. We got a cat—purely to deal with the bank voles and wood mice attacking my seedlings and bulbs, you understand. It worked, but only on the divide and rule principle. Our daughter became the Norwegian Forest Cat’s willing slave. Jeffrey wasn’t so easily distracted. He soon got fed up with watching our cat’s neat trick of running headfirst down trees. When he found out cats don’t chase sticks, or come when called Jeff found a better use for our first furry fiend friend.
‘You say you always treat us alike. But now she’s got a pet and I haven’t,’
There’s only so much of that any parent can take. We tried kicking the can down the lane (confident that cat wouldn’t chase it).
When you’ve grown up and have your own house, then you can have a dog.
As time went on and the chances of anyone of Jeff’s generation becoming a home-owner evaporated, we had to rethink.JeffAndAlex.20160401.064116

Finally, with Jeffrey’s sixteenth birthday on the horizon, he wore us down. He could have a dog—as long as he paid for, and looked after, it himself.
Never has a dog been more carefully researched or anticipated. He was already Mastermind material on the subject of dogs, their variety, care and use. After years of being interrupted at all hours of the day and night with some new nugget of obscure dog-lore, he brought out the big guns.
A spreadsheet.

With a mother’s desperation, I tried using this crisis as an opportunity. When it comes to money, Jeff has inherited my family’s genes. We are all as tight as a duck’s behind (and that’s watertight).
‘You’d have to pay all that yourself, understand?’ I said, expecting a horrified silence.
‘All right,’ he said.
It was my turn to go quiet.

Jeff had decided on a golden retriever. He found a Kennel Club approved breeder. You’ll be wondering why we didn’t suggest a rescue dog, when there are thousands of lovely animals looking for a second chance. My sister had not one, but two, dogs from a reputable rehoming source. She was checked, vetted and passed as 100% fit to home a dog. Within a very short time of taking them on, each of the dogs she adopted turned out to have big problems hard-wired into their systems. I’m sure 99.9% of rescue dogs are perfect, but I didn’t want Jeff, as a novice dog owner, faced with unkinking any quirks already embedded in his new pet.
The breeder interviewed Jeff thoroughly, to make sure he was the right person to adopt one of her dog’s puppies. He was asked lots of questions, ranging from how big our garden was and how well it was fenced, to whether there would be someone at home all day, our holidaying habits, and how much time he could give to his pet once school and homework were taken into account. One he passed the test, the waiting began. The breeder’s golden retriever bitch was expected to have puppies in the autumn. Sadly, she didn’t come into season when expected. Jeff faced waiting another year for his puppy. To get so close to dog ownership after years of waiting was a big disappointment.
He was resigned to another long wait. A couple of months later, we got an unexpected call from the breeder. As well as pure-bred Golden Retrievers, she also bred retriever/lab crosses, which are highly prized as assistance dogs. With a litter due knowing how disappointed Jeff had been at missing out, she offered him first choice if he was willing to accept a cross-breed. He couldn’t agree fast enough!

Four months after that, we brought Alex home.

It wasn’t exactly an easy transition. Despite being given a soft toy impregnated with the smell of his mum and litter mates, Alex screamed all the way home in the car!


#puppylove, Alex, Pets

Pupdate! A Puppy Update…

Alex at 7 weeks old…

I knew becoming novice dog-owners would be tough, but I didn’t realise we’d be riding such a roller-coaster for a lifetime (sorry, nine weeks).

First, Alex didn’t sleep through the night until he’d been here for four days.  It was harrowing to hear him scream for hours on end. He’d eventually drop off to sleep, exhausted, only to wake half an hour or so later and start howling again. 

Soon we were all —Alex included—shattered from lack of sleep. OH moved into his office in town  and  cancelled the week’s holiday he’d booked to catch up on chores around the house. Our son, who has wanted a dog all his life, did all the research into breeds and breeders and paid for Alex out of his savings, was pretty disillusioned by the racket and sheer, unending misery of it all. 

We racked our brains. What was the puppy so unhappy? He was well fed, had water, toys, a comfy bed, the radio  and a nightlight. We turned the heating off overnight, in case he was upset by the sound of the boiler firing. All that did was to make us all freezing cold, as well as miserable.   

…what a difference 8 weeks makes!

Staggering outside in the half-light at 4am for Alex’s first toilet break of the day, while he was busy I bagged up the usual mess left behind by the deer that somehow manage to break in each night.  Then it struck me—to get from the northern boundary of the garden to wreck our fruit trees, they had to walk across the terrace, only inches from where Alex was (supposed be) sleeping inside, under the window in the living room. 

It only took minutes to shift the puppy’s crate into the kitchen, well away from any route the deer might take on their way to the orchard. That night, Alex had his first experience of unbroken sleep since leaving his breeder, and so did we!

If only transporting Alex by car was so easy to solve. We started off by feeding him in the stationery vehicle then taking short drives to the end of the lane, then to a friend’s house, gradually increasing the distance each time. It doesn’t seem to have any effect. He spends the whole journey yodelling fit to burst.

The cat is another hot topic. Alex was brought up with cats, so he thinks our huge and ancient pest control officer is bound to love him as much as he wants to love the cat. The cat has other ideas. For the first few days, he refused to come into the house. He’s gradually been coaxed back in, but won’t share any space with Alex. Whenever they meet he swells up to twice his already impressive size, hisses and spits. Alex assumes this is a friendly gesture. He advances, and gets firmly cuffed by the cat for his trouble. It’s as though the Archbishop of Canterbury and Richard Dawkins stumble upon each other several times a day. Unconditional love meets immoveable obstacle… 

Have you got any solutions for our puppy problems?

Alex, Care and Connect, cats and dogs, Ellie and Freddie, Labrador, Pets, puppy, Spring

Puppy Power!

Dogs have owners, cats have servants.

DD always wanted a puppy. We said no, as they’re such a responsibility and the whole family has to be committed to the idea as dogs are so dependent on humans. Eventually, we gave in and let her have a tiny kitten instead, as cats are more able to fend for themselves. Jynx the Norwegian Forest Cat grew into an enormous hunter of four-legged furry creatures. He’s an old timer now, but although he’ll catch anything from shrews to squirrels, he’s terrified of everything else. This includes our neighbour, who fed him on the couple of occasions our family has all been away from home together.

Son No. 1 started asking for a dog the second he could talk, arguing that the cat belonged to his sister and he didn’t have a pet of his own. We held out for years, but so did Son. Nothing would put him off. We told him he could open an animal sanctuary once he owned his own house. He kept on. Once he was fifteen and thinking about working with animals, it seemed like more than just a phase. We told him to do all the research, hoping the costs and work involved would deter him.  It turned out that was the worst thing we could have said. He attacked the task with the zeal of a Dr Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. Breeds were narrowed down, and he decided he wanted a male golden retriever puppy. He even decided on a name for it—Alex.

Once Son No. 1 saved up enough money, he tracked down Kennel Club approved golden retriever breeder Gaynor Vines.  Some of Gaynor’s puppies have gone to be companions and assistance dogs for autistic children, so it sounded like a partnership made in heaven. Son No. 1 still had to convince Gaynor that he (and the rest of our family) were fit and proper people to take on the big responsibility of owning a golden retriever for anything up to fifteen years. He passed the test, paid his deposit, was

Alex on viewing day

put at the top of the waiting list, and we settled down to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Nature is unpredictable. Before any purebred golden retrievers became available, a lovely litter of retriever/labrador cross puppies arrived, and our son fell in love.

There were ten babies, seven girls and three boys. A viewing day was arranged so potential owners on the waiting list could pick which puppy they wanted. As Jeff was top of the list, his appointment was first, at 10:30am one Saturday morning. Armed with his list of things to look out for, we went to view the puppies. First we met their mum and dad, Ellie and Freddie. You can see a lovely picture of Freddie on the banner of the Care and Connect Facebook Page. Both parents were quiet, friendly and most importantly, their whole canine family had been home reared in company with several cats. We wanted to be sure of this, so our new arrival wouldn’t bother with Jynx.

The puppies were only five weeks old, and their resistance to the outside world was still low. We had to go through a disinfectant footpath and weren’t allowed to touch the puppies ourselves, only look at them as they played around on the other side of a low partition.  It was impossible to choose between between the three little dog puppies. They were all beautiful (of course!) but more importantly they were equally well grown, lively and inquisitive. We asked the breeder loads of questions, and watched the puppies playing with each other, and with her. They had the run of most of a large room, with lots of toys. There were unusual things, too—a collection of metal ladles and spoons, and  tunnels made from short lengths of wide plastic pipe. Their environment was designed to make sure they grew up accustomed to all sorts of unexpected sounds and experiences. It would be our job to carry on this work of socialising Alex to people, places, and things after we brought him home.

When you’re getting ready to welcome a new puppy into your home, there’s as much to do as when you’re waiting for a human baby. And the similarities don’t stop there! Next time, there are tears at bedtime and sleepless nights, so make sure you don’t miss the next episode.

For more news about  Alex, life here at Tottering Towers and (with luck) a recipe for Orange Polenta cake, drop me an email at christinahollis(at) with the words “Spring Newsletter” in the subject line.