The Day My Dog Got Heat Stroke

Whenever the weather is unseasonably warm, my Facebook news feed fills up with what can only be called rants about “stupid” people leaving their dogs in hot cars, or walking them in the heat of the day and other tales of woe, including the death of dogs from heat stroke. The last few days have been no exception.

To counteract the slightly hysterical, it-would-never-happen-to-me nature of these posts, I thought I would share my experience because actually, if you don’t know the warning signs, or realise that heat stroke can be fatal, then it can catch anybody out.

Last summer, I spent a week in Pembrokeshire with my kids, my friend, Anna, and her daughter. We were blessed with a few warm, sunny days and decided to spend them on the beach to make the most of the unexpected weather. On this particular day we chose our favourite place, Broadhaven, part of the huge Stackpole Estate owned by the National Trust.

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Broadhaven beach

We loaded the car up with the stove, a big cooler box of food, lots of water, swimming gear and beach mats. Everyone was looking forward to some fun at the end of the school year.

As we were going to carry so much heavy gear, we decided to park at the top of the cliff and take the short but steep flight of steps down to the sand, rather than do the mile-long walk from the church, through the lily pools. The sky was cloudless and the temperature a pleasant 20ºC.

Once we’d made our way down we didn’t walk far before setting up camp underneath the dunes on an empty patch of sand. Normally, we would choose the other side of the beach with its little shady nooks in among the rocks but it’s a wide bay and we had too much stuff to haul all the way over to the other side.

I fired up the camping stove and we were soon enjoying strips of beef teriyaki and couscous, cucumber and watermelon, to the envy of all the other holiday makers sitting nearby.

Lunch over, we headed down to the waves, the kids trying to push one another in and Callum, my cross breed swimming after tennis balls, barking at Anna excitedly to throw him another one. Penny the Podengo has to stay on the lead otherwise she’ll vanish all day hunting rabbits. She followed reluctantly and lingered on the edge not wanting to get her feet wet, fully living up to her reputation as a bit of a princess.

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Callum loves chasing a ball.

And so the afternoon wore on. The kids played football and tennis, went rock climbing and jumped the waves. Anna and I chatted and read our books. Penny curled up next to me and went to sleep, Callum alternated between staying with the kids when they played in the sea and sitting with us. If he was bored of that, he sniffed out other peoples’ picnics and raided them!


Anna with Callum


It was around 4 o’clock when I began to realise something was wrong with Callum. He was sitting with me panting excessively and drooling.

“Callum’s too hot,” I said to Joe, my eldest, who was 14 at the time.

He jumped up, always eager to help with the dogs, attached Callum’s lead and jogged him down to the sea. I was alarmed to see Callum staggering slightly and reluctant to go with him. In an instant, my mind recalled all those social media posts I’d seen about heat stroke and how putting dogs in very cold water is the wrong thing to do. I realised then what was wrong with him and jumped up panicked.

“Come back, Joe!” I called but he didn’t hear me, my voice floating away uselessly in the wind.

I walked after him, cursing my inability to run after a recent knee operation, but was too late to stop him submerging Callum in the sea. As I reached them the poor dog was standing on the sand shaking violently and as I looked more closely I could see his eyes were blinking rapidly. Fear started to seep in now…

“Joe, I think Callum has heat stroke. Putting him in the sea won’t help. We need to get him out of the sun now.”

“Ok. I was only trying to help,” he said.

“Of course you were. You didn’t realise,” I replied in a conciliatory tone.

We returned slowly to our beach towels, Callum’s condition worsening by the minute and I said to Anna as calmly as I could: “There is something very wrong with Callum and I think it’s heat stroke. We need to go home now.”


heat stroke graphic

The symptoms of heat stroke

In five minutes we’d packed up and were heading towards the car. The kids were anxious and I did my best to tell them he would be fine once I’d got him somewhere cooler. The truth was, I didn’t know how quickly he would recover; I’ve watched my pale-skinned, blonde husband struggle with heat stroke several times and I know how serious it is.

“You’re going to have to carry him up the cliff Joe. He’s too heavy for me with my sore knee,” I said to Joe.

“I can manage,” he said, picking Callum up.

I went ahead of him, anxious to get to the car, turn on the air conditioning and cool it down. Loaded up with bags, I could hear Joe struggling to carry Callum up the steep steps but couldn’t help him.

Finally, we made it to the top and Joe sat on the shady bank while I cooled down the car and we loaded everything in.

I drove home, asking Joe how Callum was at regular intervals.

“He’s not shaking anymore. He’s put his head on my lap and I’m giving him a stroke,” he said.

“Keep an eye on him and tell me if he’s sick, as we’ll have to take him straight to the vet,” I said.

After half an hour, we were home and Callum walked normally, if a little slowly into the house and spent the rest of the evening asleep, with me monitoring him closely and giving him a small meal and a drink.

In the morning he scoffed his breakfast and ran outside to bark at the birds with Penny. I knew then that he was none the worse for his experience but if we’d stayed on the beach much longer I could be telling you a very different tale.


I’ve never told anyone this before because I still feel very guilty over what happened. As someone who’s always lived with a dog, I really should have known better but that very fact had made me dangerously complacent. It’s been a hard lesson but never again will I let my dog run around in the sun for too long. 





Five Go On a New Year’s Adventure

Five Go On a New Year’s Adventure

As a writer, I usually find that life provides me with all the inspiration I need. New Year’s Eve was no exception …


It is time to get the train to Milton Keynes for New Year’s Eve with Uncle Quentin and Aunt Fanny.

“Have you got everything children?” asks Mother.

“Yes I think so,” replies Georgie, the eldest daughter, and contrary to literary expectation, the Sensible One.

“Would you like to have a name for this adventure?” asks Georgie. “You must be bored of ‘Mother’ after 20 or so books.”

“Oh darling! That would be super. Any ideas?” replies Mother.

“Maman! Nobody says ‘super’ anymore. That’s really old-fashioned,” exclaims Anne, the younger daughter.

Mother frowns. “Well what should I say then, I’m really out-of-touch as I’ve lived in France so long?”

Anne smooths her chestnut hair back into its bun. ” Well David says people his age describe things that are really great as “sick”. But I don’t understand. Les Anglais sont fous!” she replies reverting to her native French.

Mother ‘s eyebrows shoot up. “Really! Well they must be crazy. Come on then, what names do you like?”

“I like flower names,” says Georgie. “How about Rose? That’s really pretty.”

“Rose it is then,” says Mother happily

Four suitcases and four bulging backpacks are lined up in their grandparents’ hall. They are staying several days and have Christmas presents to deliver too, which they have brought all the way from their house in deepest rural France.

“Let’s go then,” says Rose, picking up the bag with the sandwiches and ginger beer and leading the way down the village street to the tiny station.

Her three children, Georgie, Anne and Little Timmy follow. They are excited at the prospect of seeing their cousins Julian and David, as they haven’t met up since Fanny brought them out for a visit in May. (Are you wondering what’s happened to Dick? Just remember it’s 2018…)

Fanny’s friend Darrell will also be there and her daughter Felicity who they haven’t seen since that crazy week in Wales two and a half years earlier. Felicity is now a demi-god, in other words A Teen, and Georgie and Anne are hoping for some make-up tips and a go on that most hallowed of objects: The Mobile.

Rose has decreed that such gadgets are bad for children and so far they haven’t managed to persuade her otherwise. Fanny admires her sister Rose’s principles and wishes she had stuck to her guns as The Rot has definitely taken root in her house.

Darrell is far too mature for her old Mallory Towers chum’s japes now she has reached her half century and accepted Fanny’s invitation a fortnight ago to join the fun and games in Milton Keynes. She does wish that dear Fanny would stop winding her up at every opportunity about How Old She Is though. What fun she will have in 18 months when it is Fanny’s turn!

“Fanny is allowing us to stay up until midnight and drink champagne,” Anne says as they board the slow train chugging its way through the Kent countryside and up to London. “What fun we are going to have.”

“And there will be fireworks!” exclaims Little Timmy bouncing in his seat.

“Mother, how tall is Julian now?” asks Georgie.

“I don’t know exactly,” Rose replies, “But Fanny says he is much taller than her and he has a very deep voice.” Julian is also A Teen and has grown so much in the last year he is always wearing trousers that are too short for him and being clumsy.

“He must be huge!” thinks Little Timmy. He can’t really understand how Julian can be so large and still be a child. As long as his cousin plays with him though, that’s all that matters. Timmy can’t wait to use Julian and David’s vast collection of nerf guns so he can terrorise his sisters even more. As the youngest and a boy, it is his solemn duty.

Little Timmy is also looking forward to seeing his aunt and uncle’s dogs, Callum and Princess Penny. After all in these adventures he usually is a dog, so he has a special affinity towards them and is going to make sure they have lots of kisses and cuddles.

Cal & Pen nose to nose

Princess Penny & Callum

“Now children, the train takes an hour to get to London. What are you going to do?” enquires Rose.

“Let’s play cards,” says Georgie getting a pack out.

After a brief negotiation, the children decide on a game and Rose gets out her book with a sigh of relief.


Rose is worried about negotiating the Underground with the children and all their luggage but everything goes smoothly and they arrive at Euston for the next stage of their journey. They decide to get an inter-city train going to Manchester as the first stop is Milton Keynes and the journey will be short.

After a tedious 30-minute delay, the train pulls out of the station and the children settle down to another game of cards.


The train arrives at Milton Keynes and some passengers begin to get off. But Rose is engrossed in her book and at first doesn’t realise what is happening. When she does, it is nearly too late and panic sets in.

“Quick children, we’ve arrived. Grab your cases and get off the train!” she shrieks.

She hurries towards the exit just as the door is closing and rams her case in the gap to stop it. A guard gives her a disapproving look but she ignores him.

Everyone gets off and Rose turns to go up the stairs.

“Mother, where is Little Timmy?” asks Georgie worriedly.

Rose looks around wildly and to her horror realises he is still on the train.

“Timmy, get off the train now!” she yells at him.

Little Timmy leaps off the train just as the doors are closing for the second time. Seeing he is trying not to cry, Rose gives him a big hug.

“Timmy where is your bag with your robot in?” Anne asks earnestly.

“I don’t know,” says Little Timmy his bottom lip trembling.

Rose realises with a sinking feeling that he has left it on the train, which has disappeared into the distance.

Hearing the consternation in the children’s voices, the guard turns to Rose and says rather archly, “What’s the matter? Have you left someone else on the train?”

Rose resists the urge to give him the finger and instead paints on a smile and says it is only a bag this time.

Poor Timmy is forlorn. Mother spent all morning constructing the robot for him and now he has left it on the train. He wipes away a tear and follows everyone up the stairs.

There is Quentin at the barrier and Rose explains about the lost present and asks if he thinks they can get it back. Quentin points her in the direction of one of the station staff who kindly says he radio the guard on the train and ask him to look for it and return it to Milton Keynes station so Rose can collect it. All they can do is hope for the best.


Soon they arrive at Quentin and Fanny’s house. The children greet one another joyously and decide that what they need to do right now is have a riotous game of Forty Forty In, followed by Sardines. After all, the grown-ups won’t mind and it would be simply rude not to in such a large house. They pound upstairs with the dogs bouncing after them barking excitedly.

Thoroughly traumatised by the events at the station, Quentin retreats to his favourite chair in the living room. He decides this is to be a Three Screen Night and promptly switches on the TV, opens his laptop and turns on his mobile. Fanny wisely says nothing and gives him a bottle of his favourite cider. It is New Year’s Eve after all and she has the company of two women who love to chat.

She returns to the kitchen where Darrell and Rose are already deep in conversation.

Giving her younger sister a hug, she offers her a glass of wine.

“Yes I think I need one after that,” says Rose accepting a large one gratefully.

Darrell, Fanny and Rose settle round the kitchen table for a good chinwag and the conversation grows steadily louder and the laughter more frequent as everyone relaxes.

The peace is rudely shattered by Little Timmy’s cries from upstairs and Rose climbs up to the attic to investigate.

Shortly afterwards, she arrives in the kitchen clutching two cream duvet covers.

“I’m afraid Little Timmy got Princess Penny too excited and she peed all over the beds,” she says apologetically.

“Never mind,” replies Fanny more brightly than she feels and puts them straight in the washing machine. She prises Quentin out of his chair and commands him to find two fresh covers. He gets up obediently and heads upstairs followed by Rose who is hoping to get the stains out of the duvets with some wet wipes.

“Fat chance” thinks Fanny.

Sure enough, Quentin comes back down with them and shows her the bright yellow stains.

“Just add it to the pile,” instructs Fanny. Sure she has nothing better to do on New Year’s Eve than wash piles of pee-sodden items. It’s not like this is supposed to be a party or anything!


Despite imbibing several glasses of wine, the women manage to put all the party food successfully on the table and the children descend and devour large quantities of it and pull all the party poppers. The floor is littered with brightly coloured stars but Fanny is surprised to find that her neat freak tendencies have been dulled by the alcohol and for once has no urge to brush them up, thinking instead that they look really pretty.

Quentin decides it is time for the children to Calm Down and suggests they watch a film together. He patiently finds one they all agree on and then continues watching YouTube and playing Clash of Clans on his mobile.

Grateful for the peace, Fanny pours herself another glass of red wine and then promptly knocks it all over the tablecloth and down the wall.

“Shit!” she giggles drunkenly and shoves a dog towel underneath to soak it up.

She realises she is in no fit state to change the cloth and leaves it for the morning. Besides, the dirty washing pile barely fits in the utility room anymore and is sneaking into the kitchen. What is the point in adding to it?

Rose and Darrell obliging clean the floor and the three women decide they should have a game of Scrabble.


The board is laid and the friends choose their tiles. Fanny puts hers on the rack and dissolves into giggles. She has managed to pick up 6 vowels and an L.

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Fanny’s disastrous Scrabble tiles

Now Darrell happens to be a Demon Scrabble Player and after losing countless times, Fanny thinks it is time to even up the odds. She glances over and sees that Darrell has the Q, Z, V, Y, two other consonants and one vowel.

“That is so typical,” she thinks.

It would be rude to take the highest scoring tiles, so she takes the V and Y before Darrell can stop her and gives her an E and U instead.

“Look, I’ll take these tiles and I’ll give you these instead,” says Fanny naughtily.

“I don’t really want an E can I have an A?” asks Darrell meekly, so shocked by her friend’s behaviour she can’t think of a suitable retort.

Fanny obliges and play begins.

Despite playing well and scoring 51 on a triple word score, Fanny still loses. She would have come even further behind but Darrell has been undone by the superior racks with their pegs for scoring like cribbage. She keeps moving the units peg forward instead of the twenties and has therefore lost a great deal of points.

Fanny can’t help but wind her up about this and vaguely wonders what form Darrell’s revenge will take.

At long last midnight arrives, the champagne corks pop and they all look at the fireworks out of the bedroom windows. Very soon after that everyone is asleep.



Well not quite everyone. Fanny is still awake because Quentin is lying flat on his back and snoring loudly as if his life depended on it.

“Fuck!” mumbles Fanny under her breath.

She tries to get him to turn over. No luck. Resisting the urge to slap him, she strokes his face instead. He barely pauses for breath.

Gloomily Fanny runs through her options. Usually she would retreat to the peace of the spare room but Rose is using it and Little Timmy is asleep on the floor on a futon.

The office then? Nope. Georgie and Anne are occupying both beds.

David is sleeping in his bedroom and so is Julian, with the addition of Felicity who is curled up on a futon on his floor.

The playroom is also out of bounds because Darrell is in there on her blow-up bed.

Fanny contemplates the sofa but instantly dismisses the idea. Nobody ever sleeps comfortably on one and anyway she has completely run out of covers thanks to Princess Penny.

Cursing, she stomps angrily to the bathroom and shoves some toilet roll in both ears. It dulls the sound just enough so she can fall asleep.


The next morning, after everyone has eaten breakfast and drunk too much coffee, the grown-ups decide they should get some fresh air and take the dogs for a walk.

Trying to organise six children to get dressed and ready, never mind persuading them to come along is too much to contemplate, especially for Fanny, who is still hungover.  Instead, The Teens are given strict instructions about looking after the younger ones.

“Where shall we go?” says Quentin.

“The farmhouse,” replies Fanny firmly.

“Are you sure it isn’t too muddy?” asks Quentin doubtfully.

“I went up there the other day, it was fine,” Fanny says reassuringly.

They  put on their wellies, wrap themselves in coats, hats and scarves and set off, Callum and Princess Penny pulling eagerly at their leads. After ten minutes, they arrive at the track on the edge of the woods: it has disappeared under a sea of mud.

“Bugger, this was a mistake,” thinks Fanny but it is too late to turn back now.


The muddy track

They flounder along the muddy track sliding all over the place, stumble along the edge of an uneven field and through the abandoned farmhouse gate which leads to many more fields and some woods. Thankfully the going gets easier and Fanny breathes a sigh of relief: the worst part is over.

She doesn’t notice the rain beginning to fall or the massive black cloud heading rapidly towards them because she is too busy chatting to Darrell and Rose. Quentin is striding ahead as he always does and is soon out of earshot.

By the time they get to the grassy path that heads in the direction of home, it is raining hard and the wind is flinging it in their faces.

Fanny yells at Quentin and indicates that the women are going to loop back home. He raises his thumb and disappears into the distance, Callum and Princess Penny trotting alongside him.

“I can’t believe he’s going on,” says Fanny. “Let’s get home girls.”

As they head along the hedgerow, the weather gets worse. Hail stings their faces as they battle against the wind, getting wetter and wetter by the second.

Once they reach the edge of the wood, they have a choice: to climb steeply up the big cornfield to the track or head into the woods and wind their way around the edge and end up on the same path.

They decide to go through the woods, as it will be far less muddy and maybe give them a bit of shelter. By now everyone is cold. Their trousers are clinging to their legs making them cold and uncomfortable. Hair that isn’t under a hat is stuck to their cheeks and the rain is starting to seep through their coats.

Rose leads the way and silence falls as the three women concentrate on negotiating the maze of brambles and fallen branches that litter the floor of the wood. After 15 minutes of concerted effort they finally push through the trees and onto the track.

“Thank God we haven’t got the kids with us,” says Darrell. “Can you imagine the complaints?”

“We’d never hear the end of it,” Fanny says, laughing slightly hysterically.

“Mine would have moaned all the way round!” Rose exclaims.

Glad to be back on flat ground the friends walk quickly towards home.

When they are almost back, Fanny rings Julian and tells him they are all soaking wet and the children must help on their return by providing dry clothes and hot drinks. Julian promises to organise them and Fanny, Darrell and Rose are cheered by the thought of sitting by the fire and drying off.

Just as the women approach the house, they are astonished to see Quentin’s red raincoat disappearing through the door.

“How the hell did he beat us to it?” asks Darrell. “He went a much longer route than us!”

“You know he walks twice as fast as everyone else,” Fanny replies.

“Even so…” says Darrell shaking her head.

The children rush to the door with towels to wrap around the dogs and dry trousers and socks for their mothers. The women strip right there in the hall they are so chilled and the children obligingly drape all the wet clothes over the radiators and on the backs of chairs.

Nobody thought to ask Quentin if he wanted dry clothes, so he slopes upstairs to change and gets his revenge by dumping all his wet stuff in the washing basket where it ferments merrily for a few days.

David proudly makes four cups of coffee for the grown-ups and pokes his tongue out at Julian because he told everyone his brother had no idea how to make it, in that supercilious tone that teenagers worldwide have perfected


After the women spend a couple of hours of relaxing in front of the fire, thawing out their legs and feet, Darrell rouses herself and announces that she really ought to drive home as she has the dreaded work the next day.

Fanny and Rose are downcast until they remember that somehow in all the mayhem last night, they got out their diaries and agreed that in August, Fanny, Darrell and the children would take the train all the way down to Rose’s house in the south of France for a week.

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View from Rose’s village

“Hurrah!” they cry. “We’ll have another week of jolly japes and unexpected mishaps.”

“Sunshine and swimming!”

“Canoeing down the river!”

“Olives at the market and walking up Les Trois Becs!”

“Card games and Scrabble!”

“Lots of wine!”

But we promise not leave anyone on the train!

For the Love of a Dog

A friend of mine lost her beloved dog yesterday.

“Why are animals such an important part of our lives?” she asked me.

“They become part of the family, give us unconditional love and de-stress us,” I replied.

I got to thinking about the death of my little dog nearly three years ago and sat down and wrote something about it. 


You lie on your bed sleeping peacefully, wrapped in a blanket for warmth, only your little black and grey head peeping out. The door bells rings and I answer with a heavy heart; it’s better you don’t know that these are your last moments on earth.

The final two years of your life have been hard as you’ve slowly declined and we’ve become your carers, nursing you from this day to the next. One afternoon, not long after Christmas, you started being sick and kept falling over. I thought you’d had a stroke but no it was vestibular syndrome, which affects your balance. Once you’d recovered, your little grizzled head had a slight tilt to it but otherwise no-one could tell you’d been ill.

I asked the vet straight out what your prognosis was; it’s better to know the truth about such things, even if they’re hard to hear. He was direct, “eventually it will kill her, from now on it’s about her quality of life.” It was sobering news.

Long walks were replaced with short ones and then disappeared altogether as your arthritis got worse and worse and you panted in pain. We visited the vet again and he adjusted your medication. Your circulation became poor and you would often shiver uncontrollably. When that happened I’d wrap you in a blanket and sit you on my lap until you stopped.

The next symptom of increasing age was senility: always a very clean dog, you started forgetting that you had to go outside to go to the toilet and would poo on the floor instead. If I told you off you just looked bemused, so after the first few times, I just quietly cleaned up the mess and worried that it would get worse.

Of course it did and after several stressful weeks of you weeing everywhere we started putting dog nappies on you and I moved your bed downstairs into the kitchen, where the tiled floor was much easier to clean than carpet.

And all the while vestibular syndrome lurked in the background, waiting to pounce whenever it had the opportunity. You had frequent mini episodes and with every one declined that little bit more. Sometimes, you would fall over flat on your side and I would pick you up and cradle you until you could stand again. One attack left you with the inability to walk straight; instead you had a strange crab-like gait from then on.

Visits to the vet became more and more frequent as I agonised over your quality of life and wondered whether I was being cruel or kind. Dogs are far more stoic than humans and despite all you medical problems you still enjoyed a little sniff round the garden and a cuddle on the sofa and two years after the first vestibular attack you were still with us.

But one morning you couldn’t get out of bed; during the night, one of your back legs had become paralyzed. It hung uselessly at a strange angle and you couldn’t stand up. My husband and I looked at one another: enough was enough. “I’ll call the vet,” I said sadly “and ask him to come over.”

So this morning, two vets in maroon uniform have come quietly to our house to end your suffering. I move your bed into the living room and keep you comfortable. We all sit round stroking you while the vet inserts a needle into you paw. Within seconds the chemicals have stopped your heart and you’re no more.

“She’s gone,” the vet says solemnly checking for a pulse. My eldest son bursts into tears and I wrap him in my arms, my tears mingling with his. The vet picks you up, your little head flopping peacefully out of the blanket, and leaves. Tension and worry swap places with sadness and relief.

We let the puppy out of the kitchen, put on some shoes and take him for a walk in the woods. Your long life with us is finally over but ours must continue.


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Beautiful Sophie who lived until she was 16

A Dog’s Redemption: Callum’s Tale

As a puppy

As a puppy

Back in the summer, we left our little dog, Callum, at home while we visited friends for the afternoon in London. Two and a half years ago, this would have been absolutely impossible, for our dog suffers from separation anxiety and in his distress would’ve chewed up anything that smelled of us and barked continuously. This is the tale of his redemption.

Returning from living in Japan and moving into our own house, I decided we should have a dog. We went along to the local rescue home and returned with Sophie, who settled in within a couple of weeks. A few months later, we decided to get another one and we came home with Larry. He also settled in really easily and we loved their company.

Fourteen years later, we’d moved up to Milton Keynes and now had two young sons. Larry passed away from kidney failure in 2005 and Sophie was 15, half blind, deaf, suffering from vestibular syndrome, arthritic and beginning to become confused. Knowing that her time was coming to an end, we started looking around for another dog to adopt. After a great deal of searching, we found Callum, a 4 month old puppy, in a rescue home in Norfolk. We rang the home to reserve him and arranged to visit the following day.

Once we had arrived at the kennels, we were all introduced. Callum was delighted to be out of the kennel and greeted us excitedly. I could see that he had a lovely friendly temperament and would be great with the boys. I watched Sophie’s reaction to him carefully; she sniffed him and then ignored his attempts to play with her. Much as I expected really; by the time a dog is that old, they just want to be left alone in peace. We took him for a walk around the grounds and decided to adopt him. As I completed the paperwork, I asked about his background and learnt that he’d been taken away from a home with too many dogs, so had been suffering from neglect rather than abuse. Once we’d had a home check done, I would be free to collect him.

I thought it would just be a formality, as I’d stressed to the home that I was an experienced dog owner, so I was unprepared for the barrage of questions and the length of time the home visit took – nearly two hours! We discussed feeding, toilet training, sleeping arrangements, walking, training classes, vets and pet insurance and I had my garden checked to make sure it was secure. I tried to be patient while we discussed all of this but felt slightly offended that they just didn’t trust me to get on with it. In fairness, they have a job to do and need to be thorough, so they don’t have animals returned. Finally, I was given the all clear and arranged when to collect Callum.

I made the long drive over by myself, as the boys were in school. Not long after arriving, I was back on the road, with Callum sitting in his crate, looking scared and not uttering a sound. I talked to him kindly, trying to reassure him that everything would be fine. When we got back, I put a bed for him in the corner, which he lay down on. So far, so good.

The real problems started that evening and I was totally unprepared for what happened. It was time for bed and I wanted Callum to sleep in the kitchen, because he wasn’t house trained, rather than in our bedroom, like Sophie. I put him in his crate and we went upstairs. He instantly started whining and after a few minutes that turned into loud, upset barking, accompanied by the sound of him turning round and round in the crate, scratching at the bottom trying to get out. I went down every few minutes and told him to be quiet in a firm voice; he’d stop barking for a while and then it would start again and got more and more frantic. Eventually, I let him out of his crate but left him in the kitchen, thinking he might settle down on his bed. It didn’t help at all. He carried on barking and started banging and scratching at the door, trying to get out. By this time it was 1.00 a.m. and he’d woken up the kids, so I gave up and let him out of the kitchen. It was a Thursday and my poor husband had to get up at 6.00 a.m. to go to his job in London and the boys had school, so we were all desperate for sleep. I coaxed him upstairs and he went sniffing around the whole room and then promptly peed on the floor. I didn’t shout at him but told him “no” in a firm voice and took him out into the garden and waited until he’d peed again before letting him back in. I made him lie down next to us but he kept jumping into our bed. Eventually, my husband put a firm hand on him to stop him moving and he gave up and went to sleep. Little did I know that this was to be the start of months of stress and anxiety, which contributed to my bout of depression last year.

Everything was fine if I was with Callum. We enjoyed going out for walks, even though he was quite a handful and didn’t respond to any commands yet. He would sit near me when I was in the house, chilling on his bed or the sofa and never pestered us for food when we were eating. House training him was easy and he had it sussed within three weeks. The trouble started when I tried to leave him on his own. He would be besides himself with anxiety and fear; I could hear him barking and howling as soon as I left. Many people, including me, have thought that having another dog in the house would help but no, what a dog wants is his owner above all else. He would always find something to chew up, slippers, trainers,  soft toys, the TV remote, the washing basket, the watering can, the bin, a lead, a harness, a doormat, his Kong. It’s an endless list!

I tried to take him with me when I went out but even that didn’t work very well. I could take him to the gate of the school but not into the playground, so I was forced to tie him up outside and listen to him barking. People either complained about the noise, or made a fuss of him; I just felt stressed either way. One time I needed to go to a chiropractic appointment and decided to leave him in the car while I went in. It was a cold March day and wasn’t for a long time, even so I left a window open for him. When I was finished, I was asked if that was my dog in the car by another patient. I told her it was and she promptly told me off, saying she wouldn’t dream of leaving her dog in the car and that he was too hot. I tried to explain that actually he was stressed because he didn’t like to be alone but she wouldn’t listen to me. Mortified, I returned to the car, to find that Callum had chewed up the seat belt and the integral sun blind. I just wanted to cry. Another time, we went into town and tried leaving him in the garden. Huge mistake! We returned to find that he’d badly scratched the back door frames, dug up the gravel on the edge of the patio and damaged the gate trying to escape. I’ve no doubt that he whined and barked too.

Enjoying a walkies

Enjoying a walkies!

A month in, the situation had reached a stalemate. I didn’t want to go out because I dreaded what I would return to and Callum didn’t like me going out either because of my reaction when I returned. I was struggling not to get cross and shout at him, even though I knew that wouldn’t help. Sophie was also starting to become incontinent by this time, so I had the added stress of dealing with that too.

I decided to ask for some professional help and settled on a dog trainer nearby who seemed to have good results. We had a long chat and I was given a plan of action. I was to crate train Callum. The idea was to leave him in there for just 5 minutes at first and then increase this slowly over time, so that he would be happy in there when I was out. Every time he barked, I was to squirt water in his face but not let him out; a kind of aversion therapy. It was a complete and utter failure. He was more stressed than ever; you could tell by his body language and by the fact that he destroyed the bottom of the crate trying to escape. His cortisol levels must have been sky high, poor dog. It was back to square one.

One day, returning from a walk, I picked up a soft muzzle that someone had lost, an idea forming in my head. Next time I went out, I put the muzzle on Callum. I felt mean doing it but I was tired of him destroying my stuff. What a relief it was to return and find nothing had been damaged! Did it stress him out? Yes but by this time I felt like I had no choice and I certainly wasn’t going to return him to the home because that would have made his problem worse in the long term. I just had to be careful not to be out for long because he couldn’t drink with it on. It certainly didn’t feel as bad as the trainer’s method. I think it was around this time that Callum began to calm down and mature into an adult dog and I’m sure it was because my stress levels weren’t sky high anymore.

There were times when we forgot to muzzle him, especially in the rush to get to school in the mornings and occasionally he didn’t chew anything. I heaped praise on him and began to think that there might be hope for him after all. Very gradually, we tried leaving the muzzle off when we went out. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not but we tried above all to be kind and patient, realizing that the trainer’s method, which was pure domination, was totally the wrong approach. If our stuff got chewed, so be it. We tried to be sensible and move certain things before we went out. Our relationship with Callum improved immeasurably; a trust finally developing between us and people began commenting how much he’d calmed down from the crazy puppy he’d been before.

And now? I can finally go out and know that Callum isn’t going to chew something up while he’s alone. That isn’t to say he’s happy being on his own; I’ve realized he never will be, for dogs are descended from pack animals, they haven’t evolved to be solitary like cats, which is why they are so good at living with humans. I also have to lock him out of the kitchen, otherwise he’ll still knock the bin over and chew up the contents.

I make no apology for handling Callum’s problem the way I did and if some of you are offended or upset by it, then so be it. In all honesty, I think he was lucky to be adopted by us, because there aren’t many people who would have put up with his behaviour for two years, as we did and he would have been returned to the rescue, perhaps more than once. He is a gorgeous dog, who adores meeting people and still wants to play with every dog he meets. He is much loved member of our family and we wouldn’t be without him.