Tuesday, 31 July 2007

The sound of silence

Only two more days before BT say they'll get the phones and the Internet on at our new office. The old office is almost dry, it's taken that long for BT to almost 'spring' into action.
I used to work for BT in my 20s. I helped produce their in-house magazines at their swanky head office - I have to say it was even duller than it sounds! But there was opportunity for distraction and I grasped it.
They were bringing in Total Quality Management (TQM) while I was there. It was so much more fun than my real job and I was always volunteering to take part in special projects where we'd have a TQM facilitator and lots of games to help us solve an imagined problem.
The idea was to get everyone to feel empowered - to question the way you did everything - to aim to 'get it right the first time'.
Cynical members of staff saw it for what it was - a thinly veiled attempt to make thousands of people redundant. Anyone who wouldn't embrace TQM's values was for the chop.
I learned all the buzz words and was a proper little swot - anything to get me out of writing boring stories I didn't understand for 'Technical Review"!
(My favourite memo from that era was one encouraging us to stop using TLAs. And what are TLAs? Three letter abbreviations of course!).
Anyway, the point of my story is. They didn't get it right the first, second or third time with our recent emergency office relocation.
There was no TQM on our project. I was tempted to recite some of the mantra to those on the phones... but perhaps they have a new religion now. Perhaps it's the 'get it right the fourth time' era.
So there, I've had a little go at one of my old employers - wonder if it'll elicit a random, weird nasty email like the one I received earlier today?
Dropping into my inbox when I got home from the phone-less office was an email from someone called "not Beverley Cuddy".
Someone, who I could easily identify, had gone to all the bother of creating a special email account just to send me abuse!
Their main gripe appeared to be that I once worked for the Kennel Club but still had the audacity to criticise them!
But what did I really do to upset "Not Beverley Cuddy" (let's call her NBC)?
NBC revealed in her email that when I was a child I apparently insulted her dog.
I have no memory of it - but if I did I'm really sorry. I could have sworn that I'd never even said hello to this woman.
But she's obviously been brooding about this imagined slight for 30 plus years.
Hmmm - wonder if she works for BT these days? Might explain a lot!
I admit, it's not the first time I've upset someone.
I used to receive up to 20 identical letters a day in separate envelopes from a chap in Wales. His handwriting was terrible - but the postmen got lots of practise deciphering the address.
Every letter started with the same words, "Dear Dunce Editor, Bruce Fogle is a dunce vet...."
We never did get to the bottom of quite why he had it in for Bruce, but he must have really, really annoyed him as the letters kept coming for years. And as I didn't sack Bruce, I was just as bad in his eyes.
I wrote back quite a few times, but it didn't seem to much alter the wording of the letters I got back and sadly I never lost my 'dunce' prefix. But I felt he warmed to us slightly over the years.
He's even on my Christmas card list - we're on his, too.
Perhaps I'll send NBC a Christmas card, too. I'm an optimist - I'll win her over eventually.
Perhaps I'm naive - I even believe BT when they say the phones will be working on Thursday...

Sunday, 29 July 2007

Goodbye Prince

I've just heard the very sad news that Prince has lost his battle with cancer. Here's an extract from Graham's blog of yesterday:

"Prince was put to sleep earlier today. He'd had enough. He was so uncomfortable because of his cystitis that he couldn't lie down or sleep properly. He was terribly lame. He'd also started to get some unpleasant side effects from the Epirubicin that he had on Wednesday - he was depressed, and the most significant message of all - he wouldn't eat.

Yes, he could have been hospitalised and fed via a drip. He's been through enough though, and I knew he didn't want to go through any more.

I feel like my heart has been ripped from my body. I'm scared of life without him physically being here. But I know he'll always be with me on a higher level, and I get a huge amount of comfort from that."

Why not leave Graham a message of condolence - click here to go to their blog.
He dedicated himself to Prince's battle, giving up his job - the void that Prince now leaves is almost unimaginable.
I'm sure Prince knew how much he was loved and how hard it was for Graham to take the brave decision to let him go.
He couldn't have fought any harder to save him.

Saturday, 28 July 2007

Another pet food recall

There's just been a product recall of a range of dog foods and human foods because they have found botulism.
They are manufactured in the US, but I think I may have seen the human hot dog chilli sauce before over here, but it doesn't say if they are exported.
Click here to go to the link for more details.
It's an expansion of a previous warning issued about a week ago that thought it was only some batches that were affected. The company is Castleberry Food Products and Dog Food and the warning now says not to eat any of the things listed and tells you to dispose of them safely.
Click here for more details for eg the signs of botulism in dogs and people.
The dog products are:
Natural Balance Eatables dog food varieties:
Irish Stew with Beef Dog Food 15 OZ 23633-59860
Chinese Take Out with Sauce with Vegetables and Chicken Dog Food 15 OZ 23633-59861
Southern Style Dumplings with Gravy with Chicken and Vegetables
Dog Food 15 OZ 23633-59862
Hobo Chili with Chicken Pasta Dog Food 15 OZ 23633-59863
The firm has now ceased processing and distribution.
I wonder how long people and dogs had been dying of 'strokes', being misdiagnosed with myasthenia gravis and Guillain-Barré syndrome before that one was spotted. And if it was to happen here - would we ever notice?
To check out my earlier blog about botulism click here

Friday, 27 July 2007

My vaccine reaction was "How much?"

We've just taken Tess and Oscar to the vets for boosters. We've lost their vaccination certificates and couldn't remember exactly when they were due.
As they're off to kennels for two weeks later in the summer I wanted to make sure we weren't going to get caught out as they do check these things.
Both needed the kennel cough up the nose thingey, only Oscar needed a normal jab and I thought I'd stock up on three months Frontline for them both, while I was there - even though its cheaper on line (you still have to remember to order it!)
Guess what the bill was?
Imagine if two had been boosted!
Do I have the most expensive vet in Britain? I was given no bill to take away other than a credit card receipt so I've no idea of how that breaks down.
If there is a meaty profit margin in there he obviously doesn't spend it on the surgery infrastructure - the surgery appears to be held in a very elderly Portacabin!
The bill could have been even larger.
Oscar was a couple of months late for his booster and there was talk of starting his vaccinations again from scratch. Also as Tess wasn't due for her booster till November there was the suggestion of bringing hers forward so both dogs were on the same calendar.
As she had a vaccine site reaction last time I certainly wasn't having her done early!
Off I go much the poorer to the phone and broadband free zone that we call our new office.
BT were saying it'll be Thursday before they can get everything working. Much pleading got it improved to Wednesday. I will embarrass myself again later by begging in the hope of getting them to move it another day forward.
Apparently BT have cancelled all overtime in our area - so that the engineers can be called on to work in areas affected by the floods! I did point out that we were indeed one of their customers affected by the floods and that's how I got them to move to one day quicker! (They had promised us Monday when we first reported the problem - but that was another department of course.)
Stress, ugh - where are the jaffa cakes? I really must find more entertaining ways of dealing with a crisis. Cakes just don't seem a very grown up vice.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

How far would you go to save your dog's life?

Many years ago I had a very precious Beardie called Sally. She was timid as a wild deer due to a complete lack of socialisation caused by contracting the often deadly parvo as a pup. ( It was in the days when the vaccines weren't that great).
At eight she lost all her weight, her coat fell out and she was provisionally diagnosed with liver cancer. It was inoperable and untreatable in those days.
I was devastated. It wasn't just her that had separation anxiety - I couldn't leave her for a minute, either. (I didn't turn up to a party at 10 Downing Street because I didn't like the look of the dog sitter - never did get invited again!)
I tried the only thing I could think of - the famous Mr John Carter, a very alternative vet in Harrow having amazing results with all kinds of cancers. I made many pilgrimages to his bulging waiting room and spent hours waiting around for his magic CV247 formula and words of wisdom about Sally's diet.
And for the next 8 years I followed his regime religiously - sourcing raw NZ lamb's liver and organic carrots even when we were staying in hotels. But it was well worth it - we got eight more years of quality life that no one expected her to have!
Up to now I thought I was the sort of dog owner who'd go that extra yard to save my best friend...
But it was nothing really compared to Graham and Prince.
Graham has given up his job to look after his faithful terrier Prince while he undergoes chemo. The pair are featured in the next issue of Dogs Today where we have a six page cancer special.
I have to say I was quite prejudiced against canine chemo before we did this piece and I now concede I was out of touch. I'd previously considered it far too invasive, basing my observations of what chemo has done to human friends and how ineffective it often proved to be for them.
But it seems chemo works very much better for dogs and because of the lower doses it's much less stressful. I've heard of 75% success rates - amazing compared to human cases!
Graham and Prince's blogs make addictive reading - so please do follow them and let us all send them messages of support.
Click here to go to their blog.

An Inspector calls... eventually

In the last email from Jill, she was feeling slightly more positive. The police inspector had actually returned one of their calls!

He said that the police didn't give out the Crow's ex-directory number and mobile to the farmer's solicitor.... and they didn't have a clue where the info had come from that was revealed in the paper.

I have to say that generally the Sussex police force's detection skills aren't exactly impressing me!

But the Inspector is 'looking into' getting the dogs out so let's not be too rude about them.

Jill's MP has have written a second letter, too.

Watch this space and please think very positive thoughts!

Next blog is about Prince, honest. It'll be worth waiting for!

In sickness and in health

As two nice people made references to my health in the comments on the last blog I thought I'd better bring new readers up to speed.
It is hard to believe that I'd be able to actively participate in an office move when only a couple of months before I was banged up in hospital seemingly on my last legs.
My symptoms were strange and alarming. It was all so very quick!
First my mouth went a bit numb - like I'd drunk tea that was too hot. A few says later I couldn't speak properly - I sounded like I was deaf. I was very nasal and there were some sounds I could no longer form. I couldn't whistle.
If I drank quickly it came out of my nose.
My vision became so badly double that there was a foot between the images.
I became very weak and easily fatigued.
My breathing was the bit that frightened me, my ribcage went rigid and patches of me were becoming numb.
Random bits of me seemed to be shutting down and I was terrified that the next bit to go would be something essential - like the bits of my brain that made me 'me'.
I felt I had to contemplate my life without me being active in it. No one knew why this was happening and that meant no one at that time knew how to stop it.
Having a six year old son probably made me fast forward through much of the self pity and focus on planning for him. It was desperately upsetting imagining him growing up without a mum. I also put plans together for Dogs Today to continue, where the dogs would end up - I am one of those people that has to sort out a mess and in the middle of the night I was making plans, assuming that in the morning I was going into hospital and I might not come out again.
Trying to give my son a last hug without showing I was upset was hard.
The doctors started narrowing the possibilities, but the conditions they bandied about were all still horrible. I had every test - MRI, Ct scan you name it.
Then one day in hospital, I just started getting better spontaneously.
There had been three things that broadly fitted my symptoms. Myasthenia Gravis (MG) a rare and incurable autoimmune disease that is rarely fatal but can leave you like a rag doll; a strain of Motor Neuron which is rare and incurable and usually fatal within 3 months to 2 years and an encounter with botulism, the most deadly substance on the planet.
MG was considered the most likely. And I was put on the grotty drugs while all the tests were done to confirm it. It's hard to diagnose, and it took ages. I experimented with coming off the drugs and felt better. I never got a positive MG test, but some people just don't. The neurologist said MG had been his main hunch - when I got better he was left scratching his head.
The Motor Neuron - Bulbar Palsy - would have been rapidly progressive. So getting better didn't fit with that one. Plus I had ocular symptoms that didn't really fit, either.
I was, however, I thought a perfect fit for botulism - a mild dose with relatively slow onset symptoms is much more survivable than you'd imagine. But I guess the only cases that make the headlines are the ones that kill loads of people.
But, I was to discover, retrospective tests for botulism aren't possible.
Being an excellent googler and close watcher of TV progs like CSI, ER, Greys Anatomy etc I did mention botulism was a possible to consider as I was being assessed in A&E. But it was dismissed at the time by a Dr who had misremembered the incubation period.
In his defence, he'd probably not read up botulism since he was at medical school. But statisitically botulism wasn't any rarer than MG or Motor Neuron - so perhaps he should have investigated my hunch. The text books say to treat anyone who has the symptoms - not to wait for the tests to come back. And no one can deny - I had all the symptoms.
I suspect that any hospital ever saying, "well you were probably right after all - good job you didn't die - perhaps we should have given you the antitoxin," is a highly unlikely scenario!
(I do have a surprising track record in diagnositics. I spotted my mother had a very rare condition when she had some odd symptoms, which stunned her specialist who agreed with me 100%, so I must be quite good at looking stuff up. Sadly had my mother's GP been as good as me with the search engines, my Mum might still be alive today as sadly I was too late with my diagnosis for her to be treated. Mum had SVC syndrome, one of the only true cancer emergencies.)
It is my belief that many more people in this country have probably died of botulism than we know about.
In New York, when one person was diagnosed with botulism it was traced back to a home-made salad dressing served in a small restaurant. They had made a dressing out of oil and garlic and sealed the bottle but not kept it in the fridge.
Four more victims who had all eaten the same salad at that restaurant were traced, all had been incorrectly diagnosed with either MG (like me) or strokes (my slurred speech could easily have led people to assume I'd had a bleed).
If only one in five of those people initially got a correct botulism diagnosis - how many other people are missed before a cluster is spotted?
All of those people survived long enough to outlive the initial wrong diagnosis - but as the symptoms of botulism can often be very rapid and deadly - if you stopped breathing, I wonder how many autopsies would spot the underlying cause of the respiratory failure was botulism?
I doubt it is something that is ever routinely screened for. You have to give a sample of the suspect substance to a rat or mouse and wait and see what happens - there appears to be no simple quick test - even on something as high-tec as CSI!
How many home-made salad dressings are incorrectly stored? And how many people reheat jacket potatoes wrapped in silver foil - a perfect botulism factory would you believe!
Prior to all this, I never knew you could get botulism from anything other than canned goods - and worryingly - neither did the A&E doctors I encountered!
So - it seems I either got better spontaneously from a brush with the most deadly substance on the planet - or there's just been some sort of miracle that's happened and I've got better from something you don't normally recover from.
My neurologist speculated if this all could just have been the most enormous stress reaction - as I had been under so much pressure - what with the Wag and Bone Show fiasco, our first flood etc etc! But he was struggling to see how I developed the nasal regurgitation aspect - he said that was just too weird!
But the fact I seemed to have coped with the recent stress of this latest flood without the same dramatic negative effect on my health kind of rules the stress theory out, too! And besides, I work in magazines - stress is part of the job description.
Either way, I'm just very, very happy to be alive and able to move heavy boxes!
My next blog will be about Prince and his owner. I had intended it to be this one, but I got sidetracked!
If anyone else out there was provisionally diagnosed with MG - but then got better - please do get in touch. I would love to discover if we do have a botulism cluster. What freaks me out is the possibility that one of the restaurants I still visit is serving up a Caesar salad with something deadly on the side.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Tired but moved

There are some very weary bodies tonight. We moved only a few hundred yards down the road, but we're all getting a bit too old for all this manual labour - and one of us is only 18 and 11/12ths! Total relocation twice within a year is a bit much for any business to take in its stride - but we were pretty spritely this time around. We all knew what had to be done. We'd had practise!

We've moved to Number 2 the Barns, Pennypot Lane, Pennypot, Chobham. GU24 8DJ. It sounds cute and it is. And it's dry!

We have moved physically but not yet telephonicaly. BT it seems make no allowance of floods and still say a sluggish 5-10 days for flicking a switch at the exchange to make the lines in our new office come to life and pressing the button to connect our life support system - Broadband.

A nice man called Angelo took us in when we were homeless. He has a Labrador that smiles. His dog Thorn and my son buddied up on first meeting and I suspect it was the dog that does all the checking out of prospective tenants. No BT-style stuffy protocols with Angelo - he just handed us keys on a handshake and we were moving our first desks in 10 mins later.

So don't expect us to be up to speed until August 1st at the earliest. Assistant Editor Karen works from home in Norfolk and all the calls are diverted to her until BT gets into gear. We are all on mobiles and some of us are working from home to get the net - so emails stand a better chance of being actioned than telephone calls.

We were relatively lucky, the whole country is taking a battering.

Bedtime can't come too quickly though tonight, suspect all the staff feel the same way!

Sunday, 22 July 2007

A prison visit for the martyrs

Just got this update from Jill, I'll leave it in her own words as time is short and there's a small boy needs putting to bed:

"Well some good news, in the fact that Peter, and Peter alone, has been allowed to see the girls. More of that later.

Firstly, they have been up to the vet, and checked over. The head nurse said that they appeared to have adjusted, which is something, but Minki (brown girlie) had ear problems, and had to have her ears cleaned out and some drops. Jenni has a tick, which is being treated. They took photos of them, and I am going to check with the Bulldog ( solicitor) if we should get a vet's report now. I some how feel that it would be wise to anyway.

They then went to the clippers on two seperate days. Minki went first, and my dear old mum, who has been desperate to do something, was hanging around the shop, and once Minki had been dropped off, she went in with the clipper, and gave her big cuddles. The groomer, is lovely, and was getting everyone in the shop to come and give them lots of cuddles and hugs. She said that they were in a filthy state, and rather matted. Not surprising really! She did a super job, and I think that they will both be feeling better now!

Peter was allowed to see the girls for 45 mins in the exercise area at Gatwick Airport. They were delighted to see him. He took some doggie treats, and a couple of pig's ears for them to have. They were running around like mad things, and kept coming and rubbing themselves against him. The traumatic thing was having to say goodbye. Peter said that they were making an awful noise, and he is very down about it. At least we have seen them. Peter took a couple of videos on his phone, and a photo, so we could all see how they were.

We have received a letter from our MP saying that he has written, again, to the Police, and will let us know his reply. Once we have heard what they have to say, we are debating going to the National press.

Our solicitor has written to the Police Solicitor requesting return of 'evidence' ie our girls, and is still waiting to hear."

Fingers crossed this gets resolved soon.
The dogs and the family have been through so much already.

Further on in Jill's email she reveals:
"The best bit is the latest article in the Mid-Sussex Times. Some other facts appear in a follow up article that were in Peter's statement, but that the farmer didn't know....... wonder how the paper got the information?

This article states that we have not offered the farmer any compensation.......I wonder why........lack of evidence perhaps??? It also states that the owner - ie Peter - has ordered the destruction of the dogs!!! I don't think so!! When a friend pointed the article out to Peter, he was straight on the phone to the Inspector, but had to leave a message, as of course, they don't work weekends. He also contacted the Police officer who is looking after the dogs, who said that it was news to him. It also asks any witnesses to come forward. Sounds like they are having a hard time proving the case to me."

Perhaps we should contact the Mid-Sussex Times and point out there are two sides to this story? And since when did police statements get issued to the press?

Saturday, 21 July 2007

The morning after

Graham (my husband) has just ventured into Chobham. It seems the water thankfully didn't go any higher than the skirting boards. So we didn't lose stuff in the cupboards this time - but the carpet is soggy and smelly, so we've going to need to relocate on Monday morning until the carpet is replaced and the building dried out.

The disruption on a monthly magazine is just as great though be it six inches or six feet. But we've not lost any of our precious things - well that is we haven't lost any of those we still had left after we lost everything last year!

I'm looking for an office on a hill, could anyone give a home to a very well-behaved homeless dog magazine?

Friday, 20 July 2007

Six inches

It's six inches and rising inside the office. The Environment agency says there's another hour of rising to go.

Well what a day...

We're homeless again.

Four posts in one day...

We just phoned the guys in the neighbouring office. They are normally two very jolly South Africans and we had chatted earlier about the water situation. Pierre had said with confidence it wouldn't flood, that he wasn't going to panic. Stuart was looking a little more concerned.

Seems I was right to be pessimistic.

The water has just started coming into their office.

My fear is the water will go even higher again this year. It was a foot deep inside last time. I worry if it goes over desk height we'll lose a lot more again. We've lifted most things off the floor - but will it be high enough?

It took from August to February for us to get the repairs done last time. It seems just any flood water means knocking stuff down, replastering and all new electrics - ugh!

My husband has ventured off to have a look.

I think we'll be homeless again on Monday by the sounds of it. Sounds like taking the computers home was a very smart move. Good job we put the next edition to bed this morning! If this happened in the middle of an edition how would we cope?

My perfect day

Our driveway, we left at this point. Our South African neighbours left it too late and had to abandon their cars at the office

Under that brown yucky stuff is the busy Windsor Rd, the main road between Chobham and Sunningdale. Pix by Jen

We've just evacuated the offices. Hopefully all the staff will all get home OK - some have long journeys. I had the shortest, but roads were closing all around us, roads that didn't close in last year's flood that so devastated us. There's now a stream outside our gate at home - and we're a long way from the river here.

We had 60mm of rain in Chobham this morning according to the Environment agency.

The rain had stopped but the water was still rising as we left. We sandbagged, loaded computers and files into cars and raised everything as high as possible. The water is approaching from the road, the field - we were gradually being surrounded.

Surely it can't happen again, we haven't got our insurance claim in from the last flood yet....

It's weather like this that make you realise why people like their 4x4s. Although it's almost too deep for those too now.

Good idea to close and go home early before anything else can happen!

Do you want a dog or £26,000?

Oscar as a puppy - shortly after a grooming session

I've just heard the replacement doing my bit on the TV show didn't bother to use our figures! The Battersea expert said the costs of owning a dog was very much cheaper than we calculated - £1,000 a year.
Perhaps at 10.30pm it was difficult for the Battersea expert to phone a reasonable sample of vets, insurance companies etc?
When we were doing our research, I have to say my preconception of how much dog ownership cost was very, very wrong - and I discovered I wasn't alone.
A survey by Churchill Pet insurance showed most owners imagined having a dog cost them £5k over the dog's lifetime. Churchill calculated it as being nearer the price of a nice, new, shiny Mercedes.
Becoming more aware of my exact canine expenditure did nothing to make my day any less depressing!
If you have proper pet insurance, don't feed your dog rubbish, go on holiday occasionally and either use a kennels or a sitter, worm and de-flea as often as it says on the packet, boost, buy the odd bed, pig's ear, collar and lead - we reckon you're spending £2k a year.
Over a dog's lifetime... your best friend will cost you more than most weddings. Enough for a deposit on a new house.
But in our case, it's obviously a lot more than that.
There's also the grooming bill for our Beardie, Oscar. I have to admit it's a little bit extreme. It's more than we spend on dog food. It's probably more than we spend on human food come to think of it!
Twice a month he has a full wash and brush up with the former International Groomer of the Year.
It's worth every penny.
I work, I have kids, I write a blog. When do I realistically have time to even breathe deeply - never mind groom the hairiest dog in Britain?
I do get a lot of pleasure from seeing him looking so very gorgeous ... often for a good 10 minutes if there's only been light rain.
And our personal total also includes the £6k it cost to fence the garden to make it dog proof (it was meant to be rabbit proof, too ... yes, right!).
Plus we had to upgrade to a big estate car that cost a lot more to run.
Then there's children's shoe replacements (some have never been found) and the bill for all the garden furniture Oscar mistook for chew toys - and the fact a vacuum cleaner doesn't last much longer than a loaf when you're living with Beardie hair.
Tess is much. much cheaper to run, however - but then she's a Dogs Trust girl.
Perhaps they're almost as cheap to keep as a Battersea dog!

Could something nice happen please?

I’m afraid I need to vent. Yesterday a very nice TV researcher phoned. Could I help? They were doing something the next day on the true cost of keeping a dog. We always try to help and even though we had a magazine to finish, most of us downed tools and got on the phones getting fresh, up-to-date information.
They phoned back an hour later. They asked if I could go on as an ‘industry expert’ to deliver the figures. I had a think – and a juggle and said ok I could do it. Live TV is always a gamble, though. I’ve been on live shows before that have gone wrong and overran and later planned items have been axed. But we’d put the research work in, so it was probably worth the risk.
Late afternoon the emails started arriving with scripts that needed tweaking so they could make up the bits that would flash across the screen as we talked. Last minute facts needed checking – so I got on the phone with pet insurers and vets.
Then at 6pm the call came that said – could I bring Oscar with me, my pale cream Bearded Collie. I said yes. Then I called him in from the garden.
I don’t know what the weather is like where you are… but only about 10% of Oscar’s fur was cream at that point. So I had two hours of bathing, blow-drying and grooming ahead of me.
My normal Thursday night routine was completely destroyed. No reading ‘just one more’ story to my little boy and tragically no lovely Grey’s Anatomy. But it was all going to be for a good cause – wasn’t it?
At 10.30pm – as I was packing the bag for the 7am pick up – my mobile rang.
It’s never good news at that time is it?
It was Animal Rescue Live. Not the lovely person I had helped all day for no financial reward. Probably her boss. Someone had to draw the short straw.
“We’re really sorry, but we’ve had to make a change. Someone from Battersea Dogs Home is going to read out your bit. But at least you’ll have a lie in.”
I was nice. I didn’t bite.
Maybe it’s the Bearded Collie in me that has trouble with displaying aggression.
No it’s obviously perfectly alright that me and my staff have researched your item for no fee, you’ve ruined my evening and now someone else is going to be attributed with our endeavours.
And guess what? At 7am my mobile went off. The car to take me to London was outside. They hadn’t bothered to cancel it.
So no lie in either!
Oscar is black again. The flood water in rising outside the office window.
Even a chocolate eclair didn't cheer me up!

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Siege mentality

Jill has emailed an update on the two Poodle martyrs...
"The farmer's solicitor has been phoning us at home, and contacted Peter on his mobile (one wonders where he got the numbers from). This is intimidation according to our solicitor. The farmer's solicitor said that his client didn't want anything to happen to the dogs, and wanted to get together 'over a cup of tea' and discuss things! Like Hell!! Apologies for the language! Peter just told him to contact our solicitor! This has gone too far now."
How did he get the phone numbers? I have to say I can't see the police behaving like this in any other case. So much for innocent until proven guilty.
Would they have put the victim of any other crime in touch with a suspect and encouraged them to extort a payment in exchange for all the charges being dropped?
There appears to be no evidence to link these two dogs with the crime and no reason for the police to continue to hold the dogs.
It sounds like negotiating a ransom rather than paying compensation.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Can you insure against your insurer going bust?

It's not just Poodles that are experiencing injustice.
We recently ran a two part article in the magazine on how to avoid total disaster with your pet insurance. But the email I received today was much more shocking than I'd ever imagined possible.
Michelle bought a pup, Copper, and got a very good deal on her pet insurance via Dogs Today's Insurance Doctor. It was with the second oldest pet insurance company who had a very good track record - well at least they did up to that point.
Michelle was pleased she had pet insurance as Copper needed an expensive MRI scan when Copper started having mild fits. Fortunately, no treatment was needed and with some diet changes things became much more manageable - even though Copper's pupils still dilated unevenly.
Unfortunately, the insurance company had obviously set its premiums far too low. It turns out that for seven years the company had been making a loss and in its last year of trading its losses were 151%!
It stopped doing pet insurance and its 'book' of clients was taken over by another company.
The premium went up to £24.99 a month, it was a bit of a shock.
However, when the premium rocketed to £62 a month it just got far too much to cope with! Michelle said in her email:
"I cannot afford to pay this and feel extremely upset and let down. I don't have any reserves of money or savings but thought it would be all right as I had Copper insured, now I face the prospect of having to sell the my car (the only thing I have of any monetary value) if she needs any expensive treatment relating to any existing conditions. I really thought that insurance was a good idea and never thought I would feel as let down as this."
The pet insurance market is getting ever more volatile with new players coming in with too-good-to-be-true prices to entice new business. But be warned, the insurer you start out with may not be the one you end up with. Big names are dropping out as quickly as they are jumping in.
Michelle, believe it or not, was actually quite lucky.
Previously when major insurers have gone bust (or just decided to stop selling pet insurance), some of those who have made heavy claims historically have simply been left without any insurance cover at all when their insurance came up for renewal. The new insurers only took over the more profitable customers and left the rest with no cover.
Getting new insurance elsewhere with a dog with a chunky medical history is almost impossible - at any price.
I have asked the new insurance company to review this as a special case and our insurance doctor is also doing his best to negotiate a better rate for Michelle and Copper.
Michelle is understandably upset that the Dogs Today Insurance Doctor recommended a firm that subsequently went out of the business, but it seems pet insurance is now the riskiest area of insurance and almost anyone can get burned. Those who insured with the same company direct didn't have anyone fighting their corner - at least Michelle has had a middle man to try and make things better.
Apart from employing a clairvoyant, who could have predicted the second oldest insurance company in the market might go to the wall?
Fingers crossed that the new insurer will review this case favourably. I'll let you know how it goes. Let's hope we can help get a good result for Michelle and Copper.
Our in-depth insurance feature was in the June and July editions should you wish to read it. It is written with the benefit of considerable hindsight.
Poor Michelle and Copper did all the right things and don't deserve to be left without cover. Let's hope there's a bit more justice for them than for the Two Poodle Martyrs.

Friday, 13 July 2007


At last, here is a photo of the two Poodle martyrs. This is how they looked before their 12 weeks in clink. To look at them I wouldn't think them capable of worrying anything, they look gentle souls to me!

Thursday, 12 July 2007

The Two Poodle Martyrs

Twelve weeks on, the two Standard Poodles remain ungroomed, unvaccinated and imprisoned.

Jill their owner says, “It is police assisted kidnap and blackmail.”

She meets with her MP on Friday. This saga needs a happy ending soon!

Friday, 6 July 2007

Labradoodles, Puggles and Weirdies

I've just been asked to rate the relative popularity of the designer crossbreed - and as the Kennel Club has no interest in recognising them, there's no one doing any formal counting.
I'm going to ask you to start counting 'oodles' and other Hot crosses.
Do you see more designer crosses than unplanned mutts? I think I do. I suspect the archetypal mongrel is fast becoming the rarest dog in Britain. And are there now more Labradoodles than Poodles?
Over to you - I certainly meet more designer dogs than Beardies in my travels.
Or is it that everyone with a shaggy mutt has now amusingly given it an expensive sounding breed name?
We often have rescue dogs come to our photoshoots and we often play 'guess the parentage' and then give the 'breed' a funny name.
We had the Collie Dalmatian cross (Dollie) - what a high-energy combo that is! The Beardie and West Highland mixture (the Weirdie) - surprisingly gorgeous.
Our monthly Cross question competition in the mag (where you have to guess the parentage of a dog) - has been running for the last 17 years, so crosses are certainly not just a new concept.
Do you have an unusual first cross? Are you a fan of one of these new 'breeds'?
Do get in touch, someone else is doing a piece for a national paper and this is your chance to influence or be part of it.

Latest of the Two-Poodle martyrs - or terriorists (depending on where you stand)

The farmer has asked for loads of money (in excess of £5k) for the problem to go away. Jill and her partner don't have loads of money and they don't think it's at all fair.
The saga continues... surely sanity and fair play will be restored to Sussex soon!

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Twist in the tail...

The only eyewitness of the sheep attack now says that the black dog he saw (in the middle of the night, from a great distance, through a bush, in the rain…) “had a curly tail”.
The owners of the Poodles have asked me to come up with a list of blackish dogs that might fit this description.
I’ve included dogs that can come in black (or appear to be predominantly black when seen at night) and can have tails that might curl. (I’ve seen very unlikely tails curl when very excited.)
On current form there’s every chance Sussex police will start doing a house-to-house on this case and decide to bring all dogs of these breeds in for questioning.
If so, the Poodles’ long-suffering owners can now recommend a very good lawyer….
The two dogs currently held by the police don't have 'curly tails'. But perhaps the police suspect the dogs were wearing cunning disguises? Perhaps complete dog suits that also prevented them picking up any forensic traces of dead sheep on their very absorbent coats?
Or perhaps the two Poodles, now locked up for over a month without grooming, boosters, flea control or worming, could just be innocent…

Can you add to Sussex’s most wanted – please post in the comments section any additional possible suspects?
Afghan Hound
Australian Cattle Dog
Australian Shepherd Dog (Undocked)
Basset Bleu De Gascoigne
Bearded Collie
Border Collie
Belgian Shepherd Dog (Groenendael)
Bernese Mountain Dog
Bouvier des Flandres (undocked)
Chihuahua (long and Smooth)
Cocker Spaniel (undocked)
Cane Corso
Collie (Rough)
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Chow Chow
Collie Smooth
Dachshund (all sizes/coat types)
Curly Coated Retriever
Dobermann (undocked)
English Springer (undocked)
Finnish Lapphund
Flat Coated Retriever
German Longhaired Pointer
German Shepherd Dog
German Spitz (Klein and Mittel)
Giant Schnauzer (undocked)
Gordon Setter
Great Dane
Greater Swiss Mountain Dog
Greenland Dog
Japanese Shiba Inu
Large Munsterlander
Patterdale Terrier
Perro de Presa Canario
Polish Lowland Sheepdog (undocked)
Poodle (undocked)
Portuguese Water Dog
Pyrenean Sheepdog (undocked)
Rottweiler (undocked)
Russian Black Terrier (undocked)
Schipperke (undocked)
Shih Tzu
Siberian Husky
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
Swedish Lapphund
Tibetan Mastiff
Tibetan Spaniel
Tibetan Terrier

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Is it because I’m black/brown?

The Sussex serious crime squad have been active again. Would you believe they have had a doggie ID parade – a line-up for their best/only eye-witness who saw ‘something black’ in a field at night.
As the Poodles’ owners or their solicitor were not present they were unable to verify if the police had managed to find similar-enough looking dogs for justice to be done.
For example – picking a black Poodle out of a line-up of West Highland White Terriers is much easier than picking the right two Poodles out of a line-up of eight of the same breed.
Plus you also have hair styles to consider – lamb cut or lion? Shaggy or clipped. Tight curl or relaxed…? Recently groomed – or four weeks of police ‘care’?
And how long did it take the police to track down their line-up of doggie doubles and how did they go about it? Did they hang about in parks saying can I borrow your dog – it looks like a criminal to me?
The police also accused Sussex’s most wanted (sorry I mean the Poodle owners) of tampering with evidence.
They claimed that the dogs had been washed!
Now I’m no expert, but I’ve seen CSI Miami. You slaughter a flock of sheep using only your teeth and paws and you’re not going to be able to wash off all the evidence!
The police took the dogs away for forensic testing and are now complaining that when the dogs were ‘arrested’ they were ‘pristine’.
Compared to being left ungroomed in a cell for a month, they probably were gleaming.
Isn’t there something called the Animal Welfare Bill now – something called Duty of Care.
Shouldn’t the police be questioning themselves?
Jill and Peter have a new lawyer who they have nicknamed 'the Bulldog'. They seem a bit happier and hope some day to stop being criminals - to get back to organising dressage competitions and doing agility with their dogs.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Helping the police with their enquiries

With the country at the highest possible security alert, you’d imagine the police force would be stretched to the limits.
It’s hard to rationalize then why this weekend two dogs escaping from their owner’s garden (four weeks ago and counting) could be perceived by the force as nearing the top of the ‘must solve’ crimes.
Plus, they already know who is to blame.
It was a bunch of fairly mad cows that knocked down the fence that led to two beloved Poodles escaping - causing their owners much worry and heartache.
What the dogs got up to when they were missing is open to speculation – but whatever they did, it was unlikely to be premeditated and now that the fence has been repaired and reinforced they don’t seem to present any clear and present danger to our society.
But a month on, the two pet Poodles are still being held by the police at a secret location. Terrorists can only be held for 28 days. Poodles are obviously much more scary.
This weekend, with the country reeling from car bomb plots, Sussex police decided the most productive thing to do was to bring Peter, the co-owner of the dogs, in for further questioning.
When Peter asked for a specific date and time so that his solicitor could attend, he was allocated today, Monday at 4pm. He was warned if he didn’t show up they’d come to his house and re-arrest him.
The police also called to enquire whether the two Poodles needed a trim! It transpires that in the last month neither dog has been groomed while in police ‘care’.
Will be back when I have more news.
Ironically this same weekend I heard from someone who had found a stray dog. They had attempted to hand it in to the police, but they wouldn’t take it.
Who knows what that dog had been up to! I’m sure extensive forensic tests would have revealed the dog had broken some laws…