Sunday, 12 July 2015

The first draft is done!

Exciting times! The first draft of 'Saving Caesar' the book is complete and, thanks to my new £20 laser printer from eBay, it's printed too!  So here's to me sitting and reading the 201 (exactly the number of sheets of paper I had left) pages and completing the second draft.  

Are there any Caesar moments you'd like to see in the book? Or any things about Caesar that you'd like to find out? If so, let me know in the comments section. 

Monday, 23 March 2015

What's the solution?

Dear the me of 2012,

Please stop tearing your hair out for a second and take the time to read this letter.  It might just help you out.  

I can't imagine how you must be feeling right now.  Frustration and worry, like pain, is a shadowy memory.  And, I can look back in humour at some of the things you are suffering now.  I can laugh when I think about the time Caesar destroyed the kitchen and ate a whole pack of Nutrigrain bars.  What I do remember is desperation and this is what has prompted me to write to you.

Time and time again I read on forums and groups about anxious dogs.  You may not realise it just yet, but this is what you have.  I know you don't want to sit back and let time pass by where you're not trying to 'cure' this but there is something you need to know; you can't.

Let me tell you that in three years time, you will come home from work one night to find a Tupperware container exploded into sharp shards of plastic all over your bed.  You will spend a week of your life picking these shards from your feet and body and searching for them on the bedroom floor.  These are symptoms of anxiety, prompted by a change in environment or routine.

You musn't blame yourself.  You have not made the dog any worse.  Nor have you caused him to relive any kind of mental trauma.  What you need is time.  Time is the most important thing.

Therefore, when you see quick fixes, try to turn a blind eye.  Try to remember how you feel when you are afraid and remember that one tablet, or coat or spray is not going to miraculously cure him of his fears.  The same with you; anxiety plays a big part in your own life so you should know that nothing will instantly take that away.  

More importantly still, is that you don't get angry with him for his fear.  If someone shouted at you every time you were irrationally afraid of something you'd be stuck in your house shaking!  Try to remember his behaviour is not against you or even a reflection on you; it is he who has come to you with these troubles.  

My advice is not to ignore your issues; persist in positive training, reward the good and ignore the bad as much as possible.  Keep things as consistent as possible; he will always know when tea time will be, when bed time will be and what time you will leave and arrive home.  He will always be in the same room/s.  If someone comes, they will always come at the same time.  Attend training sessions regularly and allow him to get used to his setting and the other animals and people there and don't expect miracles straight away.

Most of all; love and enjoy him as much as he does you because you're going to have to get through this together.  And that will be as hard as you make it...

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Behind the closed door...

When I adopted Caesar I thought that owning a dog was all about; nice walks, fun training sessions, cuddles and companionship.  I'm not going to say it wasn't about these things.  Because I'd say these things account for around 50% of our relationship.  The rest is based around; compromise, sacrifice and forgiveness.  And these things must come from both of us.  Let me explain:

It's 3am and I'm at work tomorrow.  Caesar has just thrown up on the carpet.  I know why he's thrown up.  It's because yesterday, when I was at work, he broke down a door and ate a lot of sweets.  Sweets that I know he shouldn't have eaten.  He's been wearing a smile on his face ever since.  I know when the corners of his mouth turn up into a smile-like shape he is feeling sick and I've been waiting for this moment since 10pm.  Waiting to fall into a deep sleep.  I can't.

Caesar shouldn't even be upstairs. When I first got him, those were the rules; no coming upstairs, no going on the furniture and certainly no sleeping in the bed.  Those things changed when I realised the battle I had with Caesar.  People say 'pick your battles' and I totally agree.  It seemed important to Caesar to be close to us.  He wasn't content with sitting at our feet, he wanted to be sitting on our laps or cuddled under our arms.  At first, we would sit on the floor to give him this closeness and he was content with that.  But more for our own sake than his, it eventually became easier to allow him to come up on the sofa for a cuddle.  He began coming to bed when we realised how difficult he found sleeping alone.  He would cry and whine in the night and, although we thought he would grow out of it, it actually got worse as he got to know us more.  So here we are at 3am, Caesar and I, upstairs, in the bedroom and he's just, politely (I suppose), jumped off the bed and puked on the carpet.

From not coming upstairs to not coming in bed to sleeping by my side every night....feelings change...

It's not nice throwing up at 3am.  I, as you probably will too, know this.  So I can't feel cross with Caesar.  I'd like to say he has learnt his lesson, but know that his innate behaviour forces him to go looking for food.  He will eat foods that are poisonous to him and, what's more, if there's no one about, he will carry on eating them until they have gone.  Just read 'Saving Caesar: What about GDV?' to find out what happened the last time Caesar got hold of unlimited amounts of food.

So am I angry with Caesar?  No.  I'm angry with myself.  Clearly I'm not clever enough to outsmart him.  Immediately I'm thinking of a plan B.... Although this time it's more like a plan Z.  I've run out of letters now.  But I will keep trying.  This relationship is about compromise.  If I don't do my job properly, he lets me know by eating the contents of my kitchen and then throwing up.  Harmony is only achieved when I put in enough stops and he stops himself enough; I have no doubt that Caesar could break a door down if he needed to.

 Caesar looking like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth...

So last week the balance of our lives was upset when Damien was suddenly called away to France.  And all hell broke loose in our house.  I was trying to make things easy for Damien by acting as if everything was fine.  But, the longer he was gone, the less alright everything began to get.  Every day, my sister, who was staying with me, would return to the house at lunch time not knowing what she would find.  By the end of the first day, the baby gate which was supposed to prevent Caesar from coming downstairs had been broken off the wall.  And, on the third day she returned to find that the gate holding Caesar back from the dining room had been pulled over and the dining room door was ajar.

What's this???

If I had to choose a word to describe how the dining room looked it would be 'disastrous' but I don't really feel that even this does the state of the room justice.  Suffice to say that, when I returned from work that evening, I took one look into the room before shutting the door and saying, half to the dog and half to myself, "I can't cope with this now..."  It wasn't until later that I was able to bring myself to evaluate the damage.

Summary of the damage:
1 x Christmas present eaten (box of chocolates wrapped for a friend) - I found the wrappers in the garden a couple of days later...
1 x Christmas ornament broken (by trampling???)
1 x coolbox (belonging to said friend), opened and chewed around the rim
1 x coat pocket missing - chewed from the inside...
1 x poo in the corner (!!!) - embarrassingly didn't find this until days later!!
1 x rucsac missing handles and inner pockets
1 x upturned mug (thankfully not broken but nice sachet of hot drink MIA...)
1 x box upturned with contents all over the floor
Various papers of unknown origin chewed up and spat out...

Had I realised that he had eaten a whole box of chocolates including the wrappers at the time, I would have rushed him to the vet.  However, as it happened, I didn't realise that there was anything edible in the dining room until much after the incident when wrappers started appearing in piles in the garden...By which time, of course, they'd already been through his system!  That taught me to check next time.  Though, I must admit, I was a little glad that I'd missed that little bit of drama!

It's a little bit of a sore subject how many of the items got into the dining room though, that being said, I was fairly convinced that Caesar wouldn't be getting into there in a hurry with a large cage barring entry and a high door handle.  However, Caesar proves time and time again that Caesar does as Caesar pleases.  And, though these items had been months in the dining room, it seems that something as simple as Damien leaving for the week can cause a major change in Caesar's behaviour.

So; compromise, sacrifice and forgiveness.

Compromise; maybe you can come to bed if you find it so difficult to be alone.

Sacrifice:  I'll give up a nights sleep to be by your side when you're sick.

Forgiveness:  I'll forgive you for throwing up on my carpet and eating my sweets if you can forgive me for leaving them where you could get to them.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Whose house is it anyway?

It's been a busy few months here in Caesar's castle as we've been getting prepared for some pretty serious work to be done.  Basically, if we don't replace the windows fairly soon, they're going to fall out!  So we had to make a few calls.  And we knew that we were going to have to deal with salesmen coming to the house - a worst nightmare for an owner of a dog like Caesar because it means that we had to;
1.  Face salesmen alone or face salesmen being knocked over by huge bouncy staffy
2.  Spend the next few days identifying knickers/socks that Caesar has stolen and putting them in the wash/bin - depending on how badly chewed they are.
3.  Find ways around having huge bouncy dog/salesman in the same room....

When we bought the house we had no idea that we would ever end up owning a dog, let alone a slightly unhinged rescue dog who isn't entirely well behaved, particularly in the presence of strangers.  And, in the first few months of owning the place we flew through our jobs quickly.  Then, a few months later, we got Caesar and he set about undoing all of our hard work; peeing on new carpets, pulling wires away from walls, scratching sofas, scratching tables, standing on window sills and generally making the place look as much like his kennel as he could manage; a home from home if you will.

For a while, I thought I didn't really care.  After all, if my rugs are constantly covered in dog hair and my table has a few scratches, it doesn't affect my quality of life.  I enjoy Caesar and, while I wish he would refrain, I'd rather have him here than not.

So what if everything's a mess?  You only live once!

This was all well and good until a few months ago when I suddenly remembered Plan A.  Plan A started 4 years ago when I found a wonderful dorma bungalow with whitewashed walls and a conservatory.  It met every one of my criteria for a new home in its own quirky little way; yes it had a nice bathroom, but it was downstairs.  It also had 2 bedrooms, but they were smallish and unimaginative in shape and size.  It had double glazing, a conservatory, a garden and a new(ish) boiler that seemed to have been given its own little room.  And, I was very keen on the fact it sat neatly in a cul-de-sac.  After seeing it twice, we put an offer in for around £5000 below asking price which was declined immediately.

I talked about growing red roses round the door and making a sun room out of the conservatory.  I had plans to modernise it and make it appealing as a first home.  When my offer was declined, I decided to see one more house to be certain I was making the right decision.  If it were on a home buyers show it would be the 'wild card'.  It was an eighty year old end terrace with single glazed windows, a boiler that was just about still clanging away, a roof that seemed to have been there since it was built and the remains of an air raid shelter in the depressing yard.

I blame the stained glass window in the hall for the fact that 6 weeks later we owned it...

For a moment, I turned into Kevin McCloud.  We were building a conservatory, we were knocking walls down here and there.  We were having new windows, a new boiler, a new bathroom which would combine parts of the hall, bedroom, toilet and existing bathroom to create a new space.  I forgot that, unlike Kevin McCloud, I have neither the skills nor the money to put any of this into place...

And now, 4 years on, here I am sitting in front of an eighty-four year old single-glazed, stained-glass window that it looks like it's going to cost me over £1000 to replace.  And, if Caesar doesn't stop sitting on it and barking at other dogs out of the window, the time for this will come sooner rather than later!

Plan A involved buying the house, fixing it up internally and externally, and selling it on in order to do the same again in a house with more space, more land and a better location.  When I adopted Caesar I lost sight of all of this.  And it was only a short time ago that it came back to me.  A sharp shock that reminded me that I hadn't planned to be here forever.  And, that, really, a nice garden and a bit more space would do Caesar some good too.

Caesar making the most of our little yard by sitting in the planter!

This is when I desperately started calling double glazing companies.  Forget three quotes; I decided to get quote after quote until someone came back with something that was appealing enough to make our ears prick up.  Then I realised the consequences of what I'd done.  I'd asked more than a handful of salesman into our house.  And, thus, into Caesar's lair.

Now, Caesar is lovely with people.  I would trust him to the end of the earth not to hurt them.  At least not intentionally.  However, he is a big lollopy dog who thinks he's a small lollopy dog and, despite being all of 20kg, likes to sit on peoples knees...

Salesman 1: 
Tactic: Outdoor kennel
A full hour of squealing, squawking, howling and barking that is enough to make any neighbor a little bit angry....good job we're planning to move after all this work!  Salesman spent a lot of time asking where the dog was and if he'd be able to get to him.

Salesman 2:
Tactic: Send Damien out with him for a walk
A very cold Damien after salesman stayed for a fairly long time and it was windy outside!  Finally called Damien an hour later to say he'd gone.

Salesman 3:
Tactic:  Large crate in the lounge (salesman said he 'loved' dogs)
Caesar cried and barked and carried on, causing the salesman to nervously ask why he was making those noises.  When I replied, "he's a staffy, they do, and just very excited,"he said "OK, let him out..."  2 minutes later, could I put him away again?  Perhaps at this point I should have pointed out that he actually lives here and I had warned him about the fact we had dogs and that he said he LOVED dogs and it was fine.  Perhaps he didn't expect Caesar to be that kind of dog...

Who knows, but Caesar spent the next hour or so, as he haggled and scribbled and drank tea, locked in his cage.  And, continued to make that noise for the whole time.  Can you blame him?

Salesman 4
Tactic: After previous salesman, the decision was to send Caesar for a walk with Damien again.  This didn't work as intended because the salesman was half an hour late, which meant that Caesar returned just after he arrived.  And then became very excited and very vocal at which point the man calmly said 'I'm not sure I like the look of him...'  At this point, he was still on his lead!  So, Caesar went back in the cage and the salesman steered clear of him for the most part.

Kicked off his usual snoozing spot - no wonder he was crying!

So which tactic worked the best?  Definitely, with a noisy dog, the cage is not the best option.  As, they begin to look like some scary zoo animal that nobody really wants to get very close to.  And, this becomes equally interesting when you have a salesman who is not sure he likes the look of him and Caesar, obviously pawing at the locks and attempting some kind of Houdi-style escape...

Walks are a great idea but of course that means that one person is left alone to tackle salesman speak and tea making and pointless haggling.  It also relies on the salesman being on time for the meeting otherwise, a short afternoon walk, can turn into a midday hike.  And, particularly in adverse weather conditions, this can be awful!

What about putting the dog outdoors?  This, again, depends on the dog.  It did not work with Caesar as he became very vocal and agitated, this then put him in an elevated state when he returned into the house.  And, probably didn't do us any favours with the neighbours either.

Finally, leave him roaming around the house?  I didn't try this one but I've got a feeling my window quotes may have been a few hundred pounds more had I let him bother salesmen...

What, I'm not meeting them?  But I got dressed up and everything!