Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Bleep and Booster

This morning I was back up to the vet with Bingley, but on this occasion it was for a more routine consultation. With all the allergy related issues over the past few months and mainly because he’s been on long courses of Atopica which doesn’t mix well with other medication, his annual health check & vaccination has had to be repeatedly delayed.

Given the number of vet visits we’ve made over the past year it seems ironic to say that he’s missed his annual health check, but that’s one of the many worrying side effects of his allergies along with the medication which we’ve been using to control the symptoms.

In fact there was some concern that his annual booster was so late that we might have to start from the beginning and engage in yet another series of injections. But he’s just been through that process with the allergy jabs and it would have been horrid to have had to put him through it again with his annual inoculations.

It’s also looking increasingly likely that he’ll be back on Atopica before too long; his condition has gradually worsened since we finished the last course of tablets and until the allergy jabs start having an effect we want Bingley to be as comfortable as an 18 month old dog should be.

Atopica doesn’t combine well with other medication so if we did have to restart his inoculations from the beginning we’d been facing a dilemma: itchy dog or vaccinated dog? I hate him being so itchy, but the annual vaccination is an important inoculation and given where he pushes his muzzle (as well as what he sometimes finds to eat) I had visions of Bingley contracting some exotic and unpleasant illness if he missed his annual booster!

Thankfully though, it turns out that there’s few months leeway and Bing’s just within that window. Another month and we’d have had to start again, but as it is we can continue as normal. Or at least we can continue with what counts as normal for Bingley. His next annual health check is (quite reasonably!) next December. How nice, I found myself thinking as I paid the bill, if that really was going to be our next planned visit to the vet.

Not that I don’t enjoy visiting our vet, it’s a terrific practice and we always have fun. Today we enjoyed talking with someone whose 14 year old dog barked at everyone who came close: he’s been this way since he lost his older brother, she explained. There was also a man who’d brought in two budgies for a check up, which sounds like the beginning of a joke. He wasn’t a dog lover but he liked Bingley.

I had a nice chat with a woman who was having her 10 week old puppy checked over. At home she had a 7 year old Westie who, like Bingley, enjoyed jumping up at people. The thing is, I explained, when 5 kilos of dog jumps up its funny; when 38 kilos of dog leaps up it can be hard to laugh. I know what you mean, she replied, I used to have 2 German Shepherds who enjoyed jumping up at my mum. She was very slight and when they’d knocked her over and were sitting on her she was the only one who never saw the funny side of it.

I love our vet practice!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Tears of a clown

Bingley has always had gummy eyes and he needs to have then wiped regularly throughout the day. In fact he’s become so accustomed to this that we only have to say the word 'eyes' and he’ll lift his head back and wait for one of us to clean away the gunk.

This lunchtime as I went into the kitchen, he yawned and struggled off the sofa to greet me with two sleepy tear-like smears running down from his eyes: he looked just like a clown! That of course got me singing The Tears Of A Clown, surely one of the best songs ever?

Bingley likes it when I sing (which is another thing that sets him apart from everybody else I know); when I start to dance around though he thinks I’m playing, so I have to be careful or he’ll go bring me a toy.

Anyway one thing led to another and I ended up listening to Motown classics all afternoon. The Four Tops, Martha and the Vandellas, Jr. Walker & the All Stars, The Supremes, the incomparable Marvin Gaye, and of course Smokey Robinson.

There isn’t a really a reason to this post; it’s just that sometimes these are the highlights.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

The Bing and I

Jane was away visiting her mum in North Wales last weekend, so it was another episode of the Bing & Bob show here at Fireside Park. Not that we went on the road to anywhere, it was just a cosy bit of boys world.

Bingley and I are used to being left alone: Jane’s usually out at work all day, and I’m not. Still, four days is longer than eight hours so I had plenty of distractions lined up for Bing. Could he be aware of ‘four days’? I don’t think so: as far as he was concerned Jane was just out at work for longer than usual; though I’m pretty certain that Jane’s glad that her workdays don’t last four times as long (even though they sometimes feel that way!).

The weather was cold, but very bright and sunny and I had a couple of long rambles planned. And for the time indoors I had some new drive-me-mad squeaky bones from Wilkinsons in stock, as well as a new ball. Perfect.

Or at least it would have been if I hadn’t managed to twist my back out of kilter on the first day. I do this every now and again; not deliberately, but often enough to know that it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Saturday wasn’t too bad. The Bing & I went for a nice long walk and we even managed a bit of Bingball along the way; and in the evening I let him wear the squeak out of his drive-me-mad squeaky bone.

By Sunday however I could hardly bend over, so our morning ramble was more of a hobble as far as I was concerned. A couple of Bugsy McTugsy moments, along with some very icy footpaths, didn’t help my back and by Monday I could barely reach down to clip on his lead.

The return of Nurse Jane was therefore eagerly awaited. But her prescription turned out to be a bit of a shock: absolutely no dog walking until my back was feeling better! Good advice, I’m sure; but I’ve walked Bingley every day for over a year. More to the point, Bingley has been walked by me every day for over a year and I was unsure about how he might react to this sudden change in our routine.

But I needn’t have worried: he’s been an absolute sweetheart. I’ve been told that dogs will pick up on our feelings and respond accordingly, and I really do think that there must something in that. On the first day when I hobbled downstairs and gingerly lowered myself into the armchair with a groan, Bingley just stood there and watched me with, I have to say, a very serious expression on his face. Then instead of bumping my knees with an assortment of toys (something which he usually continues to do until I give in) he came over and gave me one of his intense looks.

I don’t think that I’ve mentioned these ‘looks’ before, but every now and again Bingley will come and stand in front of me and look me in the eyes with such striking directness that it’s almost unsettling. I thought that animals were always meant to be the first to break eye contact; but Bing & I will gaze at each other in this way for a long time before one of us moves. I wish he could talk.

However, on the day when I was sitting in the armchair with a sore back Bingley was the first to move. He came over, lay down by my feet and, with one paw and his chin on one of my slippers, simply went to sleep.

In fact, and this is very unusual, he hasn’t pestered me to take him out for a walk all week. He’s watched me when I’ve gone downstairs, but he really has appeared to understand that I can’t play with him and that he won’t be going out until Jane returns home from work. Instead he’s been quite happy to spend most of the time quietly sleeping on the kitchen sofa; he hasn’t even fallen off!

Today Jane’s gone down to London with her good friend Wendy; she left the house very early, won’t be back until late this evening and won’t be able to take Bingley for a walk. But thankfully my back is less painful and I’m feeling more like my usual self. Bingley of course picked up on this change immediately and, abandoning all of his sympathy, switched into take me for a walk mode.

Unfortunately the weather is awful, both in London and here; I was happy to go for a walk but by the time I returned home I was very wet, very muddy and very cold.

The next time it's raining and Bingley's demanding a walk, I’m tempted to try putting a hand on the small of my back and groaning. I’ll let you know what happens!

Thursday, 11 December 2008

A spoonful of sugar

Today we gave Bingley his first home inoculation.

Thanks to some wonderful training from Julie Henfrey, and the excellent staff at Sheriff Hill, I knew just what to do (though, rather like a driving test, when the time finally arrived I found that I wasn’t looking forward to it at all).

The medication lives in the vegetable compartment of the fridge. Stored in its own plastic box it sits there with the grapes and sprouts and parsnips. The plastic box is one of the few things I like about this new routine with which we have to live: I’m organised and I like things that help me to stay organised. The box is a nice shade of green and has little compartments for the needles, the log-book, and the medication itself.

As well as the green box in the fridge we also have a bright yellow box for the ‘sharps’: the used syringes which I’ll return to the vet for safe disposal. I’ve also got another box to hold a selection of spare syringes. It holds enough syringes to last a year. Then I’ll go get some more.

These, and the wonderful support we’ve been getting from his vet, are the only positive things I can think of to say about a system which is necessary but heartbreaking.

I was reminded on my last visit to the surgery that we’re still in the early stages of treating Bingley’s allergies. It’s too soon to see any improvement.

That’s kind of reassuring because at the moment I can’t see any improvement at all. The only thing which has been holding his condition in check has been a long course of the frighteningly expensive, and foul smelling, Atopica. He was given the final tablet from the latest batch 10 days ago and not surprisingly his condition is immediately getting worse. I reckon that Atopica will be back on the menu by January.

The long term view is more uplifting: 70% of dogs respond well to this treatment and all being well we should, at some point, start to see signs of improvement.

It’s also a relief that Bingley doesn’t seem to mind having a needle stuck into him. In fact he’s even given in to having to take the Atopica: initially he’d run and hide when he heard me popping the tablets out of their case; more recently though he’s taken to standing still with an ‘ok, let’s get it over with’ expression.

Today’s injection wasn’t his first but it somehow feels like just the beginning. Let’s hope that it isn’t long before he starts to feel better.

Meanwhile, it’s big spoonfuls of dog treats for this little lad.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Bings that go bump in the night

I’m not sure if I’ve told you but Bingley’s got a recessive gene.

Don’t worry though, I’m not going to recount some kind of midnight horror story; all chocolate Labs have this dodgy bit of biology which can give rise to all kinds of potential issues. In fact it’s so well established that at one time breeders regarded chocolate Labs as faulty produce and disposed of them at birth.

Which I think really is a horror story.

When I first saw an on-line discussion debating the inherent differences between black, yellow, and chocolate Labs I thought the participants were joking: surely a Labrador is a Labrador, regardless of colour. But, not for the first time, I was wrong!

I’m only just beginning to understand this subject, so I’ll come back to it in more detail later. But Bingley’s genes certainly play a part in his allergies. That pesky gene may even account for some of his (mis)behaviour.

There’s a special camaraderie between Labrador owners; an understanding of just what it is that we’re living with! The first Lab owners we met were enthusiastic about the joy of Labradors; then, thinking that we’d sympathise, added the caveat: ‘but aren’t the chocolate ones daft?’

Initially I was shocked and very defensive: how dare you imply that Bingley’s daft! He’s a wonderful dog and bright as a button. But you know what? They might have had a point.

Bing spends most of the day sleeping on the kitchen sofa. Sigh, I’m reminded of the time when I declared that no dog of mine would ever be allowed to sleep on the furniture. Remember the time when I first found him sleeping there? He looked so comfy that I couldn’t bear to move him. Then when his allergies began to seriously develop I reckoned that he deserved plenty of consolations, and as a consequence the kitchen sofa has become his favourite bed.

He’s always enjoyed sleeping on his back, especially if there’s someone around to rub his tummy. If I go into the kitchen and he’s just curled up, he’ll often roll onto his back so that I can pamper my hands with that soft fur. But usually when I walk in he’s already in that position: body stretched at surprising angles with rear legs akimbo and everything on full display. It’s like seeing a cross between a Matisse nude and a canine porn star. (Jane’s censored these photos, but they’re available to premium members on request!!)

Obviously he likes the sofa and he finds sleeping like this very comfortable. In fact everything would be hunky dory if it wasn’t for one small problem: he keeps falling off!

The first time it happened I was sitting alongside him enjoying my morning coffee. Bing was curled up asleep, but gradually he became aware that I’d joined him and thought that his tummy could do with some attention. Unfortunately in his somnambulistic state he rolled the wrong way and landed on the floor with a thump.

Dogs, it turns out, aren’t as agile as cats; so his attempt to land on his paws ended in humiliation. He stood there for a moment with a mixture of surprise and embarrassment on his face, before clambering back onto the sofa and curling up again. I’m sure I heard him muttering under his breath.

Sadly, that isn’t the only time it’s happened. Only yesterday I was working at my computer when I heard a loud thud from the lounge. Padding downstairs I discovered a very dazed looking Bing standing there swaying in front of the lounge sofa. You’re not meant to sleep on there, I told him, but if you’re going to do it at least don’t fall off.

Even when he’s not lying on the furniture I think he might be having problems. Bingley’s dog house is immediately below the bathroom and fortunately doesn’t have a sofa from which he can fall. But on a visit to the toilet last night I heard his cage clattering. I suppose that it’s possible that he was sneaking back in after a journey to the Midnight Garden, but I have a feeling that he was just falling out of bed!

Maybe that recessive gene has gone to his head, I don’t know; but I’ve come to the conclusion that the other Labrador owners could be right: this little pooch might be bright as a button, but he’s also daft as a brush.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Saturday, 29 November 2008


If Bingley had slogan it would definitely be: let’s play!

A typical Bingday consists of three main elements, possibly four:
sleep, lots of that;
eat, just two meals a day, but plenty of (healthy!) treats in between;
and play, which he does whenever he’s not eating or sleeping.

The fourth element would be mischief making which can take place at anytime, even when he’s asleep (but that’s something I’ll tell you about next time).

He usually has three walks a day and we try to make at least one of them a good long ramble. Realistically, of course, the weather or unavoidable demands on our timetable sometimes disrupts that routine; but even without that disruption Bingley’s energy levels are set to high and he wants to have fun.

But that’s ok, he’s just a little boy (and a little boy with allergies, at that) so I’m happy to play with him and between us we’ve come up with some great games. The best of these and long-time favourite now, is our variation of pinball: Bingball!

For this we need a kong, a ball and a Bing. The basic play involves Bingley holding the Kong in his mouth and standing across the floor, I gently puck the tennis ball towards him and using the Kong he stops and holds it with all the skill of a pro hockey player before batting it back in my direction.

He’s a natural but sometimes the ball gets whacked the wrong way and ricochets off the furniture or skirting board, banging haphazardly all over the place.

But that’s alright, we then engage in on the move Bingball and pass the ball backwards and forwards as we run around the sofa. Alternatively, and depending on how breathless I am, I make him dribble the ball back to where I’m slumped in the armchair. He’s got a good sense of direction and usually gets the ball back to my feet, but the ball has a mind of its own and sometimes rolls in the opposite direction; that gives me time to sit still as I watch him dribble the ball every which way except back towards me.

OK, I admit it isn’t quiditch! But we do have good fun and Bingley loves it, especially if we swap the tennis ball for one of the brightly coloured drive-me-mad squeaky balls from Wilkinsons. Those balls are a bit of a distraction though because he’s just as likely to pick them up and run around the house squeaking like a banshee.

In one of the first pet shops I visited I was told that dogs like to play with toys which make a noise. They do! But it can be a real challenge to play with a dog that’s playing with a toy which makes a noise.

The only things that makes more racket than a drive-me-mad squeaky ball from Wilkinsons is a drive-me-mad squeaky bone. These brightly coloured toys are great fun, but sometimes the Kong is dropped in favour of the bone and we have squeaky ball and squeaky bone together: a real recipe for madness!

Bingball isn’t the only game we play but it’s our favourite and the variations can keep us going for a long while, both inside the house and outside. But once ‘we’ve had enough’ there’s never any complaint as I pick up the toys and put them away. And the headache, the pains from pulled muscles, and the breathlessness eventually pass and mean that I can enjoy an hour or so quietly reading whilst Bingley sleeps. Though sometimes I too have to go for a lie down.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Prince Caspian

Some of you have seen our Privet Hedge but for those who haven’t let me explain why it deserves those capital letters. It’s a whopper of a beast: twelve feet high and eight feet thick, it runs round the two outer borders of the garden. Keeping it in check requires strategic planning, a good head for heights, and a lot of energy. But it’s worth it and it now provides a home for a whole variety of wildlife, from hedgehogs to just about every variety of garden bird you can name. It also sets up a Bingley secure perimeter and prevents him from leaving the garden.

Or so I thought!

During what we might optimistically call our summer, Jane enjoyed Bingley’s company whilst she pottered around the garden. She’d be doing the borders; he’d be exploring the smells. He’d enjoy pushing his muzzle into the hedge, but it was way too dense for him to get through. All was well, and safe, and secure: there was nowhere for him to go.

Imagine then Jane’s surprise when one day she looked up from her perennials and found herself alone.

He must have gone for a drink of water, she thought as she padded through the house to check. No Bingley. The house was empty!

Dashing back to the garden, she double checked but he definitely wasn’t there.

Now, the side road is quiet but it is used and cars can come along quite quickly. Charging down the path Jane ran out to the side of the house, heart pounding. But still no sign of Bingley, and as she looked up and down the road calling for him she began to wonder how on earth she was going to be able to find him.

I remember once, a couple of years ago, we were out walking in some woodland down by Durham when we came across a dog (a Labrador, of course) wandering along by himself and obviously on a mission. About twenty minutes later we were accosted by an exhausted and distraught looking woman who asked if we’d seen her dog. He’s back there a couple of miles, we told her. I can still hear the way she moaned as she resignedly trotted off in the direction we were pointing.

Now it was Jane’s turn, but before starting the search she thought she’d double check the garden and house. There was still no sign of him however, and once back on the street Jane desperately tried to decide which direction she should start walking.

But as she was doing that she happened to notice a movement at the far end of the hedge. Then, as she watched, a muzzle gradually appeared; slowly followed by the rest of Bingley. He stood there blinking in the sunlight then, spotting Jane, he leapt towards her like a deer, bunny-hopping around and licking her fingers. ‘Did you miss me?’ he seemed to be saying, ‘I’ve been to such a strange place’.

Daft pooch, he must have pushed himself into the hedge and then realised that he couldn’t reverse or turn around, but only push forward through tightly packed branches full of birds nests.

You’d think that he wouldn’t want to do it again, but a few days later he was at it once more. This time I was waving Jane off to work and I thought that it’d be nice to let Bing have a romp around the garden. He likes to go on a morning treasure hunt and track down the latest gifts left for him by his feline friends. It’s disgusting but there you are! But just as I was about to go and put an end to his truffling he disappeared into the hedge. I’m not sure about Narnia, this was more like Field of Dreams where the baseball players simply disappear into the corn.

Rushing out of the garden I was just in time to catch him as he began to wander off. Like the Pevensie children he clearly can’t wait to get back through that hedge, explore that other world and encounter all the adventures that await.

But this isn’t Narnia and until I get some fencing put up around the bottom of the hedge the garden is out of bounds. Bingley doesn’t seem to mind though; inside the house is like Green Knowe to him and there are plenty of adventures to be had indoors.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Sunday, 26 October 2008