As is the way of things, I was vaguely listening the wireless en route to work last week, tuning out the adverts, hoping for a traffic update and generally bopping along to whatever muzak the morning show threw in my general direction. Sometimes lyrics catch my ear and stick with me for the day, an earworm that interrupts me at odd moments as it plays and replays some part of a tune. This time I could blame the earworm on John Mellencamp – or on Jack & Diane, depending on how you look at it. Either way, the refrain of Oh yeah, life goes on… long after the thrill of living is gone… stayed with me long after the work day was done and dusted.

Thinking about it later I realised that every time I hear that song I reject the notion that life can become joyless, that it can become something so mundane and ordinary that it just goes on because it hasn’t yet ended. I view joyfulness – and enjoyment – as a skill, something that can be learned and then honed, be practised and taught to others. It’s a state of mind, a way of looking at both yourself and the world around you in a way that allows you to see the positives.

I understand that different people at different times have more or less capacity to cope with life, with personal and interpersonal problems, stress and conflict. Learning to be joyful is about expanding that capacity. Not necessarily by making more time for yourself or following some 10-step plan for a better life, although both of these may be valid options, but by focusing your attention on the present moment. I find that it’s about being IN that moment, being mindful of it and making the most of what can be found there. It’s about capturing what is found – however small it is – and holding it for just long enough to make your day feel worthwhile.

Joyfulness can be learned. I believe it can also be relearned – as long as you don’t let yourself believe in letting go of the thrill that is life. Today I noticed that our rosemary bush at the front gate has started to flower. It made me smile. That smile made me feel good about the day. Feeling good about the day helped me to be more tolerant, to find some pleasure in things that might otherwise have slipped my attention. Each time I do this, each time I find something to make me smile, it makes it that much easier to do so the next day. And the next.

My joyful – and lasting – moment today started with it being a lovely spring day. Since I was working from home, I chose to have lunch outside in the garden. This is a happy thing in its own right, but was enhanced by our puppy rushing over to say hello to me. Her tail was wagging madly and, as soon as I sat down, she dropped her very chewed bone on my lap. She then pushed the bone into my hand and stood leaning against me, gnawing on the gummy end in a very companionable (and sticky!) sort of way. Pure gold!


Dogs have been part of our household landscape for as long as I can remember, from my faithful childhood hound (Gypsy) to our current puppy many years later. At various times we’ve shared our home with a range of Heinz-57s (mixed-breed dogs), a Border Collie (briefly), a Welsh Springer Spaniel, Labradors, German Shepherds – and now have a young Doberman. I’ve spent years dog wrangling: from feeding, grooming, exercising and training to planning holidays around their needs. None of these things has been particularly arduous – indeed most of it’s actually fun, but it’s an ongoing commitment. In a blogpost last year I introduced you to Miss Molly, the most recent addition to the family. Seven months on, she continues to take great delight in showing me in various an assorted ways (every day) that a Doberman poses a few challenges I’ve not encountered with our other dogs.

Until MissM joined the family, I firmly believed that dogs should sleep in their own beds, ideally in the laundry or kitchen. I still believe that… but it turns out that my bed is super comfortable and my pillows especially so. Indeed, if my head happens to be on my pillow… well… heads are apparently pretty comfortable too. It turns out that Dobermans are very people focused. What this means is they don’t much like being on their own. In fact the closer they are to you, the happier they seem to be. If you stand still for more than a few seconds you end up with a large lump of dog leaning against the back of your legs. You move, she moves – and leans. I’ve discovered that the all-time favourite Doberman zone appears to be a lap – pretty much any lap, really. MissM fitted in mine quite comfortably when she was 12 weeks old and she got the idea that this was a thing.


A lap dog right from the beginning

At 10 months she’s quite a lot bigger and ends up draping herself across me when I sit at my computer, which definitely doesn’t work for me – although she seems perfectly happy with the arrangement if that’s all that’s available. This up-close-and-personal attribute of Dobes has been both my biggest challenge (not what I’m used to in a dog) and surprisingly enjoyable and companionable.

MissM’s big chest, sleek head, strong legs and narrow waist (not to mention rather pointy claws) make her a very elegant looking dog. This is misleading, as she’s actually all paws, legs, claws and very wet tongue – and is keen to share all of them. Doberman pups are happy, friendly, waggy-tailed and will do anything for food – and for attention. They are jumping dogs – both on and up. Ours jumps to my (not insignificant) shoulder height with all four feet off the ground when she’s excited. She’s very excitable…

Dobes are also stubborn, wilful, tend to be mouthy (and by this I mean both barky and chewy) and need firm, consistent behaviour modification. This means grabbing the pup gently but firmly by the shoulders or collar when they transgress and telling them NO in a deep, firm voice. Every time they transgress. They learn fast, but will push your limits until they’ve figured out that they won’t win that particular little battle. Reinforcing the NO with eye contact helps, but it takes consistent (and exhausting) repetition on some fronts.

In MissM’s case, we have two particular challenges. One is her tendency to jump up on us (and visitors) and the other that she grabs our hands in her mouth. In a small pup this may seem cute(ish), but in a big dog it’s no fun at all and needs to be nipped in the bud – or as soon as plausible. Despite all suggestions from friends and family on this front, Dobermans really don’t respond well to physical punishment, such as a rolled up newspaper swat to the bottom, and are particularly mood sensitive to their owners.

Boxes make good chew toys – and you can nap in them too!

So, to solve the jumping issue, we’re getting her to SIT before being greeted or patted by anyone. In a matter of days we saw an improvement – although training some visitors is almost as challenging as training MissM! With regards to the ‘mouthing’, we’re trying object replacement. When she grabs at hands, first comes the NO, then offering a replacement – an appropriate chewable item – and placing it in her mouth if necessary. When she chews on the toy instead of the hand, she gets praised immediately. If she tries chewing hands again – then it’s rinse-and-repeat: more of the NO – more of the replace with a toy, etc. Repetition and consistency really are the keys to success, along with patience. Bucket loads of patience…

What I don’t get is how this breed got such a scary reputation. They’re definitely super protective – and a stiff-legged, deep-chested baying bark resounds around the neighbourhood every (every!) time anyone walks past the house. Actually, car doors shutting, the chickens scrabbling in the hutch and a wide range of other sounds also initiate a Hound of the Baskervilles response. Loud? Definitely. Scary? Well, I’ve an idea that popular culture has a lot to do with these perceptions.

Having said that, I’d say that taking your Doberman (or any puppy, really) to training should be mandatory. If nothing else, it trains the owner/handler in how to manage themselves, which makes it easier for the dog to be compliant. Eventually.


The harsh reality of having a pet in one’s life is that they will almost certainly die before you do. I am told that dogs – my preferred household pet – sometimes live up to 19 or 20 years and can be hale and hearty for most of their lifespan. My experience, however, has been that 10 years is the best that one can realistically hope for. This indicates a clear need for acceptance and understanding of this outcome from the start in order to minimise emotional upsets further down the track.

Advice of that sort sounds sensible and is easy enough to give, although implementation can be a tad more problematic. What seems to happen in my case is that pets come into my life, become part of my family and that I give little thought to their possible or probable demise. I/we feed them, walk them, take them with us to the beach and on holidays, make sure they have regular checkups at the vet and that they get their inoculations on time. In short, we simply live our lives and enjoy the companionship they provide.

In due course, however, some or other event catches up with us and brings home the stark reality of their relatively short lifespan. In every case this has left me saddened and – in some cases – quite bereft. Looking back across my life, I remember each of my furry buddies – and the gap they left when they died. Time eases the ache and new furry friends come into our lives, but I’ve found that it’s impossible to simply replace a friend with another friend.
Most recently Nuschka came to us. She was two years old, seemed fit and healthy and was in need of a secure home. We all thought she’d be with us for a long time to come and incorporated her into the family post haste.  In the yearn that followed we had a lot of fun together, but there was also a good deal of dog stress – low levels at first, but mounting over time to quite significant proportions. After months of her suffering chronic diarrhoea, numerous vet visits and all manner of investigations, we agreed to a procedure called a fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) for her in mid-December. Essentially this involved surgical intervention to empty her intestine and bowel and to then repopulate them with healthy bacteria. At the same time biopsies of her gut and intestine could be done in order to eliminate cancers as a possible reason for her ill health and to establish whether there were any other issues.

We brought her home after her surgery and, although she was clearly happy to be at home and pleased to see us, after a week she had lost weight, was vomiting and dehydrated. Despite  calming words from the vet, we rushed her back to the surgery at 3am on Christmas Eve. The week that followed was spent waiting. We waited to hear from the vet each day – and each day brought no new plan, no improvement and no clear idea of any resolution. The biopsies had shown that she had both inflammatory bowel disease, as suspected, as well as lymphangiectasia – a chronic and pathologic dilation of the lymph vessels.

We finally ran out of options just before New Year.  The surgery was very busy when I got there to see her and we ended up sitting together in a back room, my Nuschka and I, until our turn came. She was so happy to see me, her great plume of a tail swishing back and forth as she sniffed me and licked my hands and face. We sat there for four hours, cuddled up on the floor, my hand compulsively stroking her as I talked to her. I think I even dozed off with her at one point.

In due course the vet came back to give the lethal injection via Nuschka’s intravenous drip, after which we just sat with her as her life slowly ebbed away – and then for a while longer, chatting quietly about dogs and loss and life. This was the final thing I could do for my girl – to be there and take responsibility for my decision to end her life. Even though the decision was certainly in her best interests, I could not leave the implementation completely in the hands of others. She was my responsibility, not theirs.

It’s hard to sit by and watch a beloved family member fade away – but it is much harder to watch them suffer, particularly when there is an alternative. By the time I got home I thought I was all cried out – but I was wrong, apparently. Dear Nuschk – what a damn shame it ended up this way.


It’s been a while since I fell into the category of stay-at-home-Mum, with the result that many of the day to day aspects of what’s involved have become rather distant memories. I remember being tired, trying to get what felt like a gazillion chores done – or partly done – while the children napped, but also to grab a little shut eye then if the opportunity arose… I remember it was fun, but that babies and toddlers are a lot of work and that I’d had very little idea of what I was letting myself in for when I started on that journey. I remember that babysitting was an issue, since I had little in the way of convenient relatives/friends to help out, particularly in the early days.

Having just added a puppy to our household, I’ve suddenly been catapulted straight back into that zone. Since puppies need pretty much what babies do, we’re gradually getting back into the swing of patience, consistency, a managed environment, regular feeding and cultivating good habits (via bribes if necessary). Fortunately, unlike a baby, our pup was 12 weeks old when we brought her home, not just a few days, and is therefore quite a lot more independent than a baby. She also came with a lot more sharp little teeth than a baby and is happy to demonstrate their use on ankles, fingers and furniture. As she’s already mobile, she can (and does) follow me from room to room and will dart off with a treasure given half a chance. I’m truly grateful that my babies did none of those things – at least to start with!

The similarities are more significant: like my babies, this little girl wakes us up if we’re bold enough to actually fall asleep,  seems to produce an endless supply of waste products that need to be cleaned up, needs to be fed at regular intervals on a special diet and doesn’t believe in alone-time (the bathroom is no longer a haven!). I’m also once again tired a lot of the time, don’t get an awful lot done (including blog posts) and have to make special arrangements for daycare if I have appointments or need to pop in to work for a day. Fortunately I can do most of my work from home and have the best puppy daycare in town when I need it: a daughter who’s prepared to give up her day off to help out. She’s earned mega brownie points for that one!

molly2 Despite the exhaustion, mess and chaos, our puppy is adorably cuddly – especially when she finally conks out in a lap. This seems to bring out all the  protective instincts in whoever’s cuddling her at the time – and all her achievements result in a ridiculously high level of pride and satisfaction for all of us as well.

Overall, I’d recommend getting a puppy – but only if you have the time and energy to devote to one.  On the upside, their needs are fairly simple and remain that way, you can leave them alone at home (later on) without social services paying you a visit, they’re always pleased to see you and you never have to attend parent-teacher nights! It’s a win all round.

puppies_19oct14We visited the new puppy again on Sunday and she’s (still) completely adorable. Actually ALL the pups are. The biggest in the litter weighs in at 7kg, whilst our little girl is a far more petite 4.5kg – although the size of her paws tells us that there’s going to be a lot of growing happening over the next few months.

We sat on the grass and had 12 little fur bundles clambering all over us, licking our faces, nibbling on our hands-feet-clothes, then racing off on adventures only to come racing back, falling over their own legs – and each other. The aloe vera in the garden took quite a hammering once they discovered that the fleshy leaves came off and the lawn has numerous little proto-holes dug all over it. Thank goodness only one pup’s coming home with us!

Since then we’ve done a little audit of our house and garden to see how safe and secure they are for the puppy. It turns out that SO many things will need to be packed away over the next couple of weeks if they’re to survive the onslaught of the needle-sharp teeth and boundless energy.

We also just took Hot House Flower (dog number one) to the vet to check out her intermittently runny tummy. The last time we took her along to check this out we were told that she has the canine equivalent of irritable bowel syndrome, that we should add psyllium husk to her meals and just keep an eye her. Since things haven’t improved and the back lawn has turned into the bog of eternal stench, we took her back for another round of tests – just in case…

The vet duly sent another faecal sample off to the lab – this time for more comprehensive testing than the last sample – and the results show that HHF has a little more than an ‘irritable bowel.’ She has both coronavirus and campylobacter in her system. These are a huge risk for puppies and can lurk in the system (both the dog’s and environment) for prolonged periods.

The solution is apparently to change HHF’s diet a bit (no more raw chicken!) and to inoculate both dogs against the coronavirus. Since the vaccination takes two weeks to be effective and since the puppy will only be getting her C7 vaccination at the end of October (at 10 wks), she’ll have to stay with the breeder for a bit longer than planned. Disappointing, but we’d rather err on the side of caution – particularly since coronavirus can be so dangerous for puppies. Besides which, it’ll give us a couple of extra weeks in which to puppy-proof the house and replace the bog of eternal stench with some all-new virus-free lawn. What fun!