Thursday 25 June 2020

Laura Hamilton celebrates a special birthday when Lily, her one on a million, turns 6

Lily: Part 1 of 2  by Laura Hamilton

Every dog’s birthday is surely worth celebrating. But on 5 May, when my Golden Retriever, Lily, became six years old, we had four fantastically worthy reasons to celebrate, considering she has survived not just once but twice when we honestly wondered if she would.

The first reason for a celebration is that she actually made it to her first birthday. Born with an extremely rare swallowing disorder (cricopharyngeal asynchrony), Lily couldn’t get enough of her mother’s milk into her tummy to thrive. Though a perfect birth weight at 406g, she was quickly left behind in her development by her littermates. By Day 19 of their lives, they were three times bigger. Lily was hanging onto life by her little nails. And she was losing.

 Lily, one third of the size of her two littermates 

So at noon on Day 19, I began having her lick puppy mousse from my finger, a little at a time. She still choked and risked aspirating food into her lungs as she licked. She couldn’t even lap water. But hand-feeding saw a big improvement.

The gripping and heart-warming story of how I have kept finding ways to keep Lily alive during and since that first year is not overstated in Hubble & Hattie’s book Lily: One in a Million, A Miracle of Survival.

She still has to be hand-fed every mouthful and hydrated no more than a tablespoon at a time every day.

The second reason to celebrate is that Lily has had two books published about her. That’s pretty impressive in itself! The first was Lily: One in a Million, A Miracle of Survival in 2018, followed by the children’s book, also published by Hubble & Hattie, The Adventures of Lily and the Little Lost Doggie in 2019. It tells, with 53 illustrations that I drew, what happened when Lily found a lost toy doggie under my hedge as we left to go to school where she regularly worked as a Pets As Therapy dog.

Laura's books about Lily, published by Hubble & Hattie

The third reason for celebrating Lily’s birthday is her impressive work as a Pets As Therapy (PAT) dog. The earliest age at which PAT will assess a dog is 9 months, and Lily was just 9 months old when she passed each of the 15 stringent tests with the best possible results. Within days, she began helping children and adults. Lily had worked an astonishing 235 assignments before she had to stop last autumn.

Lily in April 2019, ready to work as a 'Pets as Therapy' dog

The fourth reason we’re absolutely thrilled to celebrate her birthday is that on 5 May 2020 she had her sixth birthday, which we had hardly dared to hope she would see, because the previous October she was diagnosed with an extremely aggressive cancer. Without emergency treatment, she had months, possibly only weeks, to live.

Lily after her 6th chemotherapy treatment

We had never given any thought to what it would be like to have a dog with cancer. Now we were to find out, as the next Animal Magic will reflect ...

Caring for a golden oldie - how to say goodbye in a good way

Those who read our books live all over the world, and we love to hear from them when they get in touch with us. Carolyn Walters is based in Australia, and here she writes about how our book Older dog? No worries! has helped her to care for her Golden Oldie, Hugo, improving quality of life for them both. 

Me and my Golden Oldie

I recently received from my good friend Robyn Youl a copy of Older Dog? No Worries! as she knows that my old companion, Hugo, and I had begun going through some rough times due to his advancing years.

                                                  Young Hugo

Hugo – who's thirteen-and-a-half – had always been healthy until about a year ago when his health deteriorated very quickly, which, mentally, I struggled with as I hadn't prepared myself for the particular challenges of an ageing dog.

                                                                      Hugo at 13

The physical pain that Hugo was suffering resulted in a decline in his mental health. I wasn’t sure what to do to help him, but Older Dog? No worries! has helped me understand what's happening to Hugo, and how to make his transition through old age easier.

Amongst other things the book illustrates different approaches to enhancing a dog’s senses, which I’ve found very effective due to the fact that Hugo is almost completely deaf. I have incorporated some interactive and sensory activities into Hugo's life, who has learned to trust his other senses in his everyday life, and his confidence has increased because of this. 

Hugo recently lost his lifetime companion – Zeph, the dog he grew up with – and I was concerned that this may cause him to become anxious and depressed, but, instead, the reverse appears to have happened, and Hugo seems to be thriving as his mental and physical health have greatly improved.

                                                  Hugo and Zeph

Now, Hugo is extremely absorbed in his new lifestyle, is more animated than ever before, and seems to enjoy a considerably improved quality of life, being confident, comfortable, relaxed and happy. 

I could not ask for anything more. 

Older dog? No worries! has opened my eyes, and shown me that although Hugo is an old dog, there are little things I can do to improve the quality of his final years. It has also shown me how to prepare mentally for the different stages that Hugo will experience and, of course, for the final stage. 

If I was to say in just a few words what my understanding of the book is, and what I have learned from it, they would be: How to say goodbye in a good way …

Carolyn Walters

Thursday 4 June 2020

Adopting pets during lockdown - is it the right thing to do?

Whilst most of the world’s population is in lockdown due to the COVID-19 epidemic, there has been a lot of coverage in the media about adopting a pet. But is this enforced confinement really an ideal time to welcome a new cat or dog into the household?
In theory it could be – when else would we be confined to our homes for such a long period of time, and so be there throughout the day to help settle a new family member into their new home?

Some people may be feeling isolated and lonely, cut off from their friends, family and colleagues, and longing for the company that an animal companion would undoubtedly bring during self-isolation.
These are worthy reasons to consider adoption, and without doubt there are thousands of pets looking for their ‘forever home’ and the love of a new owner.
However, adopting a pet is a huge undertaking, and many prospective owners don’t consider the full implications first. The lifetime cost of owning a dog is calculated at anything between £5,000 – 15,000 depending on the breed (source PDSA and that may be without factoring in vet’s fees and insurance!     
When the pandemic finally ends and life begins to return to some sort of normality, many people will return to work and study, leaving homes empty for much of the day. Dogs can’t be left for more than a few hours, so unless you are lucky enough to have a dog-friendly workplace or the option to continue to regularly work from home, think very carefully before adopting, as it will be hard to adjust back to a different pattern once a dog is part of the household. Dogs need regular daily exercise so time for walks should be factored in.
Moreover, many dogs have come to be in a centre because their previous owner could not (or would not) adapt to having a dog and had to give them up. What could be more distressing for the dog who is returned to a shelter, having had a taste of being part of a loving household?    

Cats are by nature more adaptable, but considerable thought is still required before adoption. Whilst they are naturally more independent than dogs, many cats are especially loyal to their owners and miss them when they are away. If you plan to keep a cat indoors, he will need stimulation in the form of toys, a comfortable place to sleep, a litter tray, and fresh water and regular feeding. Two cats can be company for one another, if they get along. Consider whether it is safe to install a cat flap, allowing access to the outdoors. It may be fine if you live in a quiet area away from busy roads, but, sadly, many cats lose their lives to cars each year so this may not be the best option.
Animal adoption organisations and sanctuaries have taken different approaches during lockdown. Battersea’s adoption centres are closed during the COVID 19 epidemic. Cat’s Protection is limiting adoption through its centres for the safety of  staff and volunteers. Dog’s Trust is  rehoming only an exceedingly small number of animals, and its rehoming centres are closed for th duration of the pandemic in the interests of both staff and animals. Remember that once the pandemic is over, the dogs and cats will still be there, needing homes more than ever, and adoption decisions can be made in the light of the situation people find themselves in then, which may be very different to how it used to be, pre-lockdown.
Think very carefully about animal adoption, particularly in this unsettling time. Undoubtedly, welcoming a canine or feline companion into your life can be one of the best things you can do, and giving a home to a previously homeless animal is to be commended.
But it may be better to wait until ‘normal’ life has resumed before taking that big step ...