Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Half term - half awake - half-hearted blogging

First of all sorry for not blogging for so long. It's a struggle to fit everything in at the moment as you might imagine, what with the show being so close, it being half term - oh and little things like running a monthly magazine!
A few random thoughts - my brain isn't capable of anything ordered, it's just overloaded at the moment.
Britain's Got Talent, isn't it great to see a dog act in the final - but isn't it a miracle? The production crew couldn't be much less sympathetic to animals. All the bangs, slippy surfaces etc. The little dog is obviously bomb proof - and the relationship between dog and owner is brilliant. But what an ordeal - how do you prepare a dog to cope with all of this?
It's our big Cold Wet Nose photoshoot tomorrow, it's for all the amazing award winners. It's been such an honour talking to these wonderful people over the phone, it'll be great to meet them in person.
One of the problems in organising this sort of shoot is that many of the people involved have such busy lives that you can't factor in the unpredictable. I've just heard that one of our award winners is having to cancel tomorrow as the she runs a small Yorkie and Toy Dog rescue organisation and in the last few days she's had a heavily pregnant Yorkie handed in. This morning she went off her food - a fairly good sign that she's about to give birth. So sadly, Amber's five minutes of fame is going to have to be postponed.
However. there's nothing to stop me sharing her story with you lot!

Amber – Yorkshire Terrier and Sue Harrowell
A small miracle she survived

When Amber, a tiny, fragile, almost bald Yorkie, was tied up and thrown into the River Mersey, it could so easily have been the end of the story.
Luckily, some young boys fishing saw her drowning and found an adult to help rescue her. Amber was then handed to the Wirral Dog Pound, where she spent seven days on death row, waiting to be claimed or rehomed. But nobody came for her.
Yorkshire Terrier and Toy Breed Rescue were her only hope.
Sue Harrowell travelled from Lincolnshire to Liverpool to get her. Amber was in a terrible state: she had to have a cancerous lump removed immediately and eight rotten teeth; her nails were overgrown, and what little hair she had was just a matted mass that smelt vile. She was very scared and confused, but she allowed Sue to cut away the hair that couldn’t be saved. She was very weak.
Brilliant vets discovered that Amber’s hair loss was a symptom of Cushing’s disease (a serious hormonal disorder), and, as if Amber hadn’t been through enough, she also needed an emergency life-saving hysterectomy operation to save her from pyometra (a life-threatening womb infection).
Yorkshire Terrier and Toy Breed Rescue is a very small rescue and it does not have insurance to cover vet bills. Amber has already cost a small fortune to put back together, so there is an appeal to help Amber and other dogs like her.
Amber has learned to trust Sue and will never be rehomed now. She is gradually getting better each day and is starting to play with toys.
Sue said, “She is a true fighter and we cannot thank her enough for allowing us to be in her life.”

When (if?) I recover from tomorrow's shoot I'll try to blog about some of the other amazing stories.

One other person couldn't make it, half term meant Jordan was away on holidays. Here's Jordan and Rupert's stories:

Jordan (aged 8) and Rupert (Cocker Spaniel)
The show might have been made for them!

Jordan, was born profoundly deaf. His mum is deaf, too. Jordan had started talking and everyone was pleased with his progress. His dad was hearing and always spoke with him. When Jordan’s dad died suddenly and unexpectedly Jordan became mute. His father had been his access to spoken language. Over night Jordan stopped talking and signing and stopped making eye contact. He rejected his hearing aids. His mother Kerena was devastated by the double blow.
When Jordan’s grandmother gave him a pup suddenly life got much brighter. Jordan really wanted a dog and decided to help with Rupert’s care.
Kerena, his mum told us: “We went to dog training initially Jordan and Rupert were both so naughty!
“Since getting Rupert a happier, more confident child emerged. But with the start of the dog obedience classes Jordan’s progress has accelerated.”
Jordan started to speak again!
Kerena says getting Rupert made her live again, too and start to hope.
Jordan and Rupert are in training to take part in many areas of the Cold Wet Nose Show. One of their favourite events is Dock Dogs – a new canine sport from America. Dogs get to leap off a dock into a huge pool and the dog jumping the longest or the highest wins.
They will also be competing in the BAA agility competition and even the augmented look-alikes if there’s time!
Rupert’s love of swimming was first discovered when he saw Jordan sailing in a lake. The bond between the dog and his master is obviously very strong and the little dog was most concerned that Jordan might need his help. The plucky little dog jumped into the lake and swam an amazing 1,000 metres or more. His zeal to rescue his master almost capsized the boat and Rupert was the one that ended up needing rescuing as he was so exhausted.
“It’s as if this show has been designed for Jordan personally,” said Kerena.

Off home for an early night and a load of vitamins - our photoshoots are always great fun - but so tiring! And after a day in the studio, I'm meeting lovely Liz Nuttall from Organipets for the first time. Perhaps she'll mistake my inevitably dog-hair covered clothing for mohair!
No matter how well behaved the dogs, I always seem to end up rolling around the floor at shoots wrestling with dogs. It's the most exercise I ever get! If the allowed dogs in gyms I'd be a lot more keen.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Better than meeting Elvis

It's been so hectic recently that there's been so little time to blog, but one of the most interesting things that happened last week was meeting up with Chris Evans and his lovely GSD Enzo at Noel Fitzpatrick's amazing orthopedic and neurology referral centre near Goldalming.
We featured Chris and wife Natasha in the mag a few issues ago but had no idea that just a little while later there'd be a terrible emergency and that poor Enzo would need pretty much a miracle to keep him going. Luckily they live close by to probably the best vet for spinal problems in Europe if not the world.
It was to prove an amazing day in many ways. The devotion shared by Chris and Enzo is obvious to all. Enzo's eyes follow his master at all times, he is trying so hard to get better. It's only a week since his second major spinal op in a month but already he's perky and there's signs of movement in both back legs in the therapy pool. Everyone has fingers firmly crossed the improvements will continue and he'll start to regain the movement again on land. It's still a very delicate time - and it was very brave of Chris to invite us in. But he was keen for us to meet his vet.
Meeting the pioneering vet Noel who performed the surgery - the first of its kind anywhere in the world - was a bit like meeting Elvis.
Getting any time with Noel Fitzpatrick - who literally has no time to himself - is almost as unlikely as meeting the king of rock and roll.
He works such long hours he often sleeps at the centre, we grabbed a few minutes with him between operations and consultations - it was meant to be his lunch break, but the phone kept going with anxious owners waiting on updates - he needed no notes. The centre was full of dogs that had had complex surgery but he had total recall of human and canine names and status updates. He confessed he was seldom home in daylight and was married to his Border Terrier Kiera and that he was even a bad husband to her as he was always so busy.
I was so surprised by the show around of his new centre. If only hospitals were this hi-tech, clean but above all compassionate! This is somewhere where science and humanity are regarded as equally important. This man is a genius in many fields. His pioneering surgery shows he is a vet in a million, but his ability in inspire people and involve them in his quest for excellence is equally amazing. He needed 10 million pounds of investment to make this state-of-the art haven for pets needing putting back together. Just getting this glimpse convinced me how he persuaded the bankers to believe in his vision. He's a man on a mission and he's certainly not finished yet!
The last time I was so inspired by a vet was when I discovered the late great pioneering cancer vet John Carter. Noel and he share many similarities, if your going to change the world you have to have a strong character. But what Noel has that I've never seen before is a brilliant scientific brain but he's capable of the most profound observations about fundamental human values that he might have been a poet or an artist if he'd taken a different path.
It is such an honour to meet people who will change the world for the better. The stuff that Noel is doing obviously saves individual dogs and cats from suffering who often otherwise would have had no chance of survival or any quality of life at all - but the wider applications of the strides he's making will change lots of humans lives, too.
Forget the clever surgery for a minute, by showing people that one person can make a difference he leads by example. When he was just a boy in Ireland his destiny was framed. At nine years old he was helping out at lambing. When in the middle of the night he'd found a sheep about to give birth in a water filled ditch he didn't have the strength to pull the sheep to safety or to keep the twin lambs heads above water. He looked up into the stars that night and decided he never wanted to feel so helpless again.
If you are pleased that Noel grew up to follow his dreams and he's helped you, please get in touch. I think it's time for him to feel as hugged as his patients undoubtedly have.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Is there anyone there? 2

No not more spookiness, just got so much work to do at the moment and really could do with an extra pair of hands in the run up to Cold Wet Nose.
It's Chobham office-based stuff at the moment that's most acute - but there'll be other jobs and loads of stuff on the day, too if you're further afield. Anyone looking for office experience to flesh out a CV or just would like a bit work before the summer? Please do email me -

It may take me a bit of time to answer as I'll be juggling!

Is there anybody there?

It's now a couple of years or so since my Mum died. I think about her often and my little boy talks about her all the time. But something a little unusual happened at the weekend, that I wanted to put down in words.
When my mum was ill, she was in a hospital nearby. In the next bed was an older gentleman and after a very long wait one day for results we all started talking. He was from a very old gypsy family. His wife came into visit and they told me they had a touring fair. They were very interesting but Mum got much worse and we moved to a ward where there was no one to talk to and things got worse and worse for us.
This weekend we saw some hand painted signs for a small fair in our village. We took the kids along and being such a hot day not many other people had ventured out - so the small fair was pretty much deserted apart from us.
Kieran wanted to have a go on the side stall where you can pick any bag with a long stick with a hook on it. The woman serving us looked familiar and when the gentleman came up I recognised him from the next bed to my mum's. He didn't recognise me.
Kieran picked a bag at random. When he pulled out his prize I nearly burst into tears. It was an exact replica of the Winnie the Pooh soft toy my mother had bought in probably the 1980s - her favourite dog was called Winnie. When I cleared her house after she had died the toy was there in pride of place next to her bed.
Coincidences. The toy will be treasured, whatever.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Jungle Telegraph - very uncivilised journalism

Last week I was far too busy to blog. In fact, I was too busy to get off my chair and go to the kitchen in the office and put my lunch in the microwave - in fact come to think about it, it's still in the fridge. There wasn't any fast food fast enough.
But when a journo called Jasper from the Sunday Telegraph phoned to ask for help with an article on dog health, I dropped everything and gave him an hour or so of telephone support. He later followed it up with sending me his first draft by email so I could tweak it and make sure he didn't screw up.
I was guessing he was young and new to the job. We've all been there. I saved him from making an arse of himself with this sentence... "while Labradors are increasingly prone to infections associated with longer ears, which are seen as a popular characteristic." There were a couple of other howlers - but I'll get to them later.
He dug out my article from a few years ago in the Telegraph and took some facts out of that. Still I don't mind - so long as the story gets told and we educate people to only buy from tested dogs it's got to be a good thing.
I told him about Dial-a-dog, about our Little Black Book. I even got our designer to email him all the pdfs of this incredibly detailed definitive guide to doggie health tests.
So today I get the email version of the paper. Thankfully no more mentions of long-eared Labs or indeed the other one he had in the first draft -"King Charles Cavalier Spaniels are now prone to a painful condition that involves the growth of a cyst at the back of their necks, because their skulls are too small."
But not a single mention of Dial-a-dog, Little Black Book or indeed us at all. Nothing to point people to our website - to get the info they need. No attributed quotes despite most of the facts coming from me! Astonishing behaviour.
But what he does do is direct people to a brand new website - a very recent venture that so far as I can see mentions nothing at all about pet health and certainly gives no one an ounce of information on health tests.
I have to say sometimes my patience is tried. You work so hard to change things, give people all the time in the world that you don't have - and they still cock things up!
But better to have something about health in the paper than nothing I guess!
I've emailed the journo. I was pretty nice, I didn't bite. I just explained how he could have given the readers a website that could have actually informed and educated them - that might have changed things. It's closing the stable door, but in 20 years I've never before been an unpaid sub editor for a national newspaper that then forgets to mention us in the story! If we're a good enough source to check the facts with - shouldn't we have been quoted? An evil part of me says I should have let him go to print on his ridiculous long-eared Labs angle and dogs getting cysts because their skulls are too small!
Will I still take the next call from a fledgling journo stumbling into the complex world of dogs and give them hours of unpaid advice? Of course I will - I'm like a Beardie at heart. I don't hold grudges, or could that be I don't learn from experience?
Here's the Telegraph article. And for those among you who are not Emma Milne fans - perhaps best to to take your tablets now if you are going to press that link. But I have to say I am very pleased that she's bringing up this topic at the vet conference. She may have written a really duff Greyhound article, but I'm with her 100% on this one.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Lights camera action....

Those who read the previous post about and thought, "interesting" but were put off by the £50, read on!
Mike the boss has read your comments and heard what's been going on in various doggie forums and has heard what we've been saying and taken it to heart.
He can see that we're not the same as the people putting their car on the site - or themselves if they're an actor. For most of us this isn't really about money, for example if you owned a cherished car and someone offered you a good price, you might sell it and buy another one.
Our relationship with our cherished pets is very different and being up on a site isn't going to have any other commercial advantages. For example, if we want to network there are thousands of other forums and blogs that don't charge.
So the good news, he's letting 20 blog readers register on the site completely free of charge.

If this appeals you need to:-
  • Provide good photos of your dog (up to three)
  • Name, breed, brief description and age (eg six years old in July the directors can work out the actual age of you dog when they view) - remember people viewing may have no idea what size a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is so spell it out!
  • Any detail of special talents (if relevant)
  • Owner's address & contact details (this information is NOT made public)
Email them to me ( and I will forward the first 20 on to Mike. Have a read of the last but one blog for more details...

And while you're here - have a last go at the caption competition (previous blog). We're judging it today at 1pm. Does your dog need a lovely new bed? Go on, have a go!

Friday, 2 May 2008

Competition time!

Can you think up an amusing caption for this pic? Please email your best efforts to before May 8th to win 1st prize a lovely dog bed from Rosewood - the exclusive 40winks collection. Five runners up get Dazzling Ducks Toys from the Twister range.

Any ideas who Jack's parents are? No one has guessed this one correctly yet. Will start to give clues as we get nearer the closing date!
Winner gets a breed or general dog book from Interpet.

Good luck! And don't forget to read the previous blog - who knows it could be the start of a new hobby!

Hollywood calling... well, Effingham actually!

I got a call yesterday from I ducked the initial call as I presumed that it was probably yet another company interested in finding us an new office. (After being flooded twice in a year we are now perceived as a highly mobile company by estate agents who often cold call us to see if it's been raining heavily or not!)
I checked out their website and soon realised I'd got completely the wrong end of the stick! These guys help TV and film people source everything they want to make their movie, TV programme or commercial. From venues, cars, film extras, props, Champagne - you name it. They've been doing it over the phone for yonks, but the website idea is new.
The boss himself had been calling, Mike Smith, and I checked him out on the site and discovered I had just missed talking to the man who, "discovered Adam and the Ants and launched the Smurfs!"
He's also managed and advised many individuals: David Frost, Rolf Harris, Michael Grade, Hazel O'Connor, Rick Wakeman and Billy Ocean and basically been involved in TV and media most of his life. Oh, and as if that wasn't enough - he's married to the lovely Sally James, from Tiswas!
I phoned him back promptly and we had a great chat. It seems one of the things media types are sometimes looking for is a dog. Often they don't know what type of dog they want for a certain shot, but when they see it they know!
The idea is to build up a database of people who would be delighted to have their dogs featured on TV or on the big screen. It's highly unlikely you'll be able to give up the day job, and there's every chance you may never get a sniff of work, but who knows - maybe your dog could land a part in the next Harry Potter!
Years ago one of my dogs got a walk on part in an ITV drama. It was called "A Kind of Loving" - a period drama set in the 1950s. My old dog Magic was seen for only a few seconds walking with a man in a trilby in the background, but it made me very proud and made me realise that sometimes the look of a dog was all that was wanted by the TV bods, that acting didn't have to always come into it. The doggie equivalent of an 'extra' did exist!
I think we got £50 and the excitement of hanging around a location for a few hours.
At the other end of the scale - the canine equivalent of your Helen Mirrens and Judy Denchs are people like the late great Ann Head who used to command a massive £1,000 a day for her dogs - but as she could control her dogs to such an astonishing degree, there was an endless queue of people wanting to work with her from all over the world. (I once saw her at work with one of her legendary Pippins and I kid you not she was able to give a long sequence of commands in advance that included a very precise instruction as to how much white of the eye the dog needed to show when it put its head on its paw! Remarkable.)
Anyway, if you have a gorgeous dog (aren't they all?) and you'd like to have your dog's photo and brief CV put in front of the casting directors, here's how to get involved.
The cost is £50 per year - less than a pound a week - and the company will negotiate your fee if your dog does get signed up for any work (they know the correct money you should receive so you won't get diddled). Their commission is 15% of any monies you receive direct, so it's in their interest to get you the best fee.
I'd say from my limited experience of dogs and TV studios - make sure you have a confident, well balanced dog with basic training as a minimum as film and TV sets can be odd places. An apparently shy dog may have found a niche role in the latest VW Polo commercial, but a nervous, aggressive or noisy dog probably wouldn't normally ever fit the bill! However, being able to bark on command is one of the talents worth mentioning.
And what if you're not in Surrey? It doesn't matter - if you are happy to travel, then no problem. What is likely to happen is that if someone has decided to set a film in, for example, a sleepy Surrey village they are likely - out of convenience - to source many of the props from the same place they found the dream cottage. So that's how your dog, car (or even your own photo should you choose to register yourself as an extra!) may get chosen. Plus once the website gets known for being strong on dogs, the directors will hopefully use it to browse on other jobs, too.
There's no guarantees though and we know from media-watching that fashions come and go and this month Dachshunds may be all the rage in commercials - but it may be several years, even decades before they return to vogue!

If this appeals you need to:-
  • Provide good photos of your dog (up to three)
  • Name, breed, brief description and age (eg six years old in July the directors can work out the actual age of you dog when they view) - remember people viewing may have no idea what size a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever is so spell it out!
  • Any detail of special talents (if relevant)
  • Owner's address & contact details (this information is NOT made public)

There is a charge of £50 to be on the website for a year - although if you respond via the blog you'll get an extra two months free.

The website is in its pre-launch state at the moment if you check it out - so you'll see there's only one dog on their at the moment. Mike decided to launch the web side as he was already spending so much time on the phone to directors, it made sense to give them something visual to browse through as well.

To be one of the first dogs on the books send a cheque for £50 made out to Ltd together with a stamped addressed envelope to:
Freshwater House
KT24 5QR

Fingers crossed one of the blog readers lands a starring role! Do let me know how you get on. I'm rustling up Tess and Oscar's best pix. Perhaps one shot showing Oscar clean and gorgeous and one of his usual muddy self might be best as he could easily play a stray, too! Maybe Oscar was named Oscar for a reason... I can just see us tripping up the red carpet getting our Academy award now! Best muddy dog in a supporting role...
Who knows, maybe even our garden might be of interest to a director looking for a venue to set the latest post-apocalyptic movie!

Stop press
Mike's just emailed - you get the £50 back when you get your first booking - although they can't guarantee that you'll get work. I fed back that some people on the various doggie forums were a bit put off by the fee, he's offering to register two dogs for £50 as a special blog discount. He also says: "We have nothing to prove and are quite open, we have to be with Council endorsement. We would never push people to join, it's not worth the effort and is far from financially viable to do so! If you're at all worried - just don't sign up."

Thursday, 1 May 2008

A flash of inspiration

A few blogs ago I mentioned a letter from Graham, one of our blind listeners (the magazine is also available in audio form through Talking Newspapers). He was asking if anyone did a light-up collar that used something other than LED.
Rosie and Karen came up with two suggestions, but my emails to both lots of people have so far drawn a blank. So I got surfing and stumbled on a product that looked different. Being a techno-phobe I have to admit I wasn't able to decipher whether or not the technology was different so I emailed the company in Canada direct and told them of Graham's quest.
Almost immediately I got a great email back:

Interesting note. I supply a lot (for me a lot) of collars to the Guide Dogs for the Blind schools across North America. From my understanding and observations it is NOT the brightness but the frequency of light which determines if somebody with degenerative eye disease can see it or not.
The first time I actually saw this was at a big dog show in Toronto where a girl with a cane and walking with friends starting shrieking from about 30M away. "I can see it, I can see it!!!" She came over talked and was in the process of buying a collar for her Guide Dog when she started crying. She said she'd had her dog for six years and just realized that when she got home she'd be able to see her dog for the first time. Of course there was about 60 people standing around watching as a result of her initial shrieks and I'm sure most thought she was a paid actress trying to sell my collars but ... all true.
I found out later that the frequency of light that my EL collars display is one of the very last frequencies of light people who are blind can see. I guess the receptors are down near the base of the cones and the top has all been killed off by whatever disease they have. Kind of interesting concept. You can have a very bright light shining in their eyes and they either see nothing or just a painful glare. A soft blue/green glow and ... Eureka. "I can see it!!!"
I have Search and Rescue & Police K9 teams in Austria, Germany, New Zealand etc etc (most sales are into the US of course) who won't touch any other kind of collar or harness. I get emails from guys who have had my collars on SAR dogs for 8 & 9 years and want to know if I do repairs - the battery wire broke.
Let's try and "see" if this dude gets lucky and can see his dog.
It would make a great story in my testimonials pages.
Check out the auroralites website

What a great bloke! Will let you know if Graham has a Eureka moment. Will also let Guide dogs know, I'm sure lots of other partially sighted people would like to hear about this collar.
Dave's just sent this photo of Katie, Dave's Rottie cross, wearing one of his collars.
"The picture of Katie (my Rottie X) is probably the best I have. She's under a walkway lamp so you can see her too. Normally you can see just the collar at night and if the shot is taken too early you can see the dog but the collar doesn't show at all. I did NOT Photo-Shop enhance the photo. "

It was well worth the couple of hours we spent trying to decipher Graham's original letter!

Additional question!
One of Graham's other questions was if we knew anyone near him that did massage and alternative therapies for dogs - he's a fan of our Richard Allport column. Graham lives in Crosby near Liverpool (coincidentally where I grew up!). As I left the area when I was 13, I'm totally out of touch with the dog scene in the North West, has anyone got any suggestions of therapists or holistic vets he might try? Is there any doggie swimming for eg? Often people who run pools are well connected!

Stop Press
Just heard back from Company of Animals and Graham will also have a Visiglo collar coming his way, too to try out. How nice of them.

Further point!
A late night email from Dave: " ... my collars do not flash. Too many dogs, especially the hi strung working dogs are photo epileptic. Info on my FAQs page regarding that. The only "flash" collar I have has a very slow on/off and is for property patrol, warehouses etc where they need to know where the dog is but the collar does not provide a steady target if there is a bad guy there. Which is precisely why flashing collars are useless for traffic safety. "