Rushed off Your Paws at Christmas

You don’t need telling that it’s a busy and stressful time of year, especially if you have family to look after.

No wonder so many of us will be rushed off our feet. Or indeed our paws. 

I’m thinking of dogs like the lovely May here whose duties include opening and shutting doors, unloading the washing machine, picking up dropped items, pressing buttons and switches, and if need be getting help in an emergency.  

There’s the Christmas shopping to attend to, and that requires money. Here’s May using the ATM.

assistance dog using cash machine

photo by Canine Partners

All the food to buy.

assistance dog shopping in supermarket

photo by Canine Partners

Not to mention sorting out the Christmas post.

assistance dog with post

photo by Canine Partners

Canine Partners like May are trained to do a range of different tasks, but they’re intelligent and can adapt to the person’s lifestyle. In a survey, over a third of their humans say they rely on them to tidy toys away. Some dogs even let the cat in and out. And in and out again.

FreeImages.com/Robert Bak

And they do all this without a murmur of complaint, which can’t be said of most humans.

I don’t know about you, but I think May deserves something in her Christmas stocking.

Christmas stocking

If you don’t need an assistance dog yourself, you can still adopt one. Might even make a good last minute Christmas present for someone.

Have a merry Christmas, one and all.  

holly garland

You may like to know…

Canine Partners assists people with a range of disabilities to enjoy a greater independence and quality of life through the provision of specially trained dogs.

For example, the charity works in partnership with Help for Heroes, aiming to train dogs to meet the needs of people with even the most complex disabilities.  These life-transforming dogs also provide practical, physiological, psychological and social benefits including increased independence and confidence as well as increased motivation and self-esteem.

Canine Partners is a registered charity and receives no government funding. It depends wholly on public donations and legacies.

That’ll be you and me.

angel tree decoration

 

Easy tweet: “Christmas stress? Some busy feet barely touch the ground via @DrCarolCooper & help from @canine_partners”

Advertisements

Seven Reasons Why August Sucks

While the name ‘August’ comes from the Latin for dignity or grandeur, the reality is somewhat different.  Yes, it’s still high summer, but when you compare it to its neighbours June and July, I don’t think the month of August makes the grade. Here’s why:

1 The days are already noticeably shorter. As if that’s not bad enough, the weather thinks it’s October.

Rain by Valentina Degiorgis

2 You can’t move for tourists in London. Have you been to Marble Arch lately? It’s heaving. Luckily I know just enough Arabic to move dawdling visitors out of the way.

And in Cambridge, there are even bigger queues to get into the colleges. As here.

Clare College gardens

And here. 

queue at Kings College Chapel

Even more competitive than it is for prospective students, it seems.

Clare College gardens

3 It’s the silly season for news. That’s why the papers carry stories about donkeys rescued from seven-feet deep storm drains.

rescued donkey

And stories about Morris dancers having a punch-up with blind footballers. If you’re wondering, that one’s a spoof.

The biggest silly story of all? Must be the Labour party’s leadership contest. 

4 Kids in Scotland are already back at school. They’ve given up pretending it’s still the holidays.

5 When the August bank holiday weekend is over, that’s it. There are no more official holidays until Christmas. And any minute now, Christmas merchandise will hit the shops.

by Raquel Santos

6 It’s high season for kittens. In north-west London, the Mayhew Animal Home’s kitten cabins are overrun with furry bundles that need forever homes. Can you help? 

posed by model. photo by Roger Heykoop

7 Everyone is away (except for tourists). If you’re an adult, your inbox is full of automated away messages. If you’re a child, there’s nobody around to come to your birthday. I should know. Mine’s tomorrow. Are you going to be there? Thought not.

Roll on September.

***

Easy tweet: 7 Reasons Why August Sucks http://wp.me/p3uiuG-13z according to @DrCarolCooper

Payback Time for Fat Cats

Mishmish went into the basket happily enough, probably anticipating a drive to her weekend retreat.

cat in the basket

She wasn’t purring when half a mile later we parked outside the vet’s.

The waiting-room was full of red setter. Yep, just one of him, but he was bouncing around as if he’d eaten springs for breakfast.  

red setter

We installed ourselves in the corner next to a pooch with a rhinestone collar. An elderly dachshund waddled in, rolling from side to side like a cross-channel ferry. His owner had turned-out feet and a similar gait. She heaved herself onto the bench.

I know. I look like my cat too. For a start, I’m covered in orange fur. Unlike Mishmish, however, I had a streaming cold. People recoiled visibly from me and my tissues, or would have done had there been any room.

Last time we were here, it had been for a check-up with the vet nurse, an enormously fat woman who pronounced my cat to be overweight. She calculated her BMI and promptly recommended dietary modification.  I wanted to lock the nurse into a room and give her nothing but a lettuce leaf alternate days. Preferably an expensive lettuce leaf.

lettuce leaf

Today it was for annual jabs. The vet had a Littmann stethoscope. This is the king of stethoscopes, but it didn’t impress Mishmish. We had the obligatory chat about female ginger cats being unusual, seeing as they need two x chromosomes with the relevant gene to be ginger. It’s just like haemophilia, only more desirable.

The vet looked Mishmish over and said she was a big girl.

I blew my nose and pointed out that she was big-boned.

“Are you OK?” asked the vet, his syringe poised. I didn’t tell him about my raging sore throat for fear of getting penicillin, gentamicin and a £200 bill.

Mishmish duly immunised, I paid at the desk, but the visit wasn’t over yet. I still had to pick up the prescription cat food I’d ordered.

We waited by the reception desk behind a huge slab of a man, stubbled and tattooed, with an award-winning builder’s cleavage. He’d come to collect his dog after surgery, so I heard.

“What’s the animal’s name?” asked the receptionist.

“Twinkle.”

Twinkle, it turned out, was a bichon frisé with a bandaged paw.   If you’re not familiar with the breed, it makes toy poodles look impossibly butch.

Twinkle and Macho Man left, the receptionist took a few calls, and there we still were. “I’m waiting for my prescription cat food,” I told her again, not quite as patiently as the first time. My baby could starve!

empty cat bowl

She went to look but it hadn’t been delivered, apparently. “What kind is it?”

“It’s the metabolic diet,” I said.  

The waiting room nodded collectively. Pet owners know what metabolic diet means. It screams “SLAG! YOU LET YOUR PET GET FAT.”

The woman with the dachshund fixed me with a rheumy eye. 

I felt like blaming my husband. He gives her high calorie treats, I wanted to say. But then I’d have been castigated for not controlling him as well. There’s really no excuse now that there are special diets for flabby felines and activity centre toys to exercise lazy cats, not to mention various harnesses and contraptions to stop spouses dishing out treats.

leads, harnesses and restraints

They still couldn’t find the metabolic diet. Only ordinary cat food. We’d been here about 45 minutes by then. In her basket Mishmish was getting stressed, and I had distributed viruses evenly across the waiting room.

“We’re going away for a few days and I need the food. I did order it in plenty of time, you know.” But it was no good. The other owners had already judged me. I was the kind of idiot who feeds her kid burgers through the school fence.

Didn’t they know that junk food is much cheaper than the healthy stuff? I felt a twinge of sympathy for parents of tubby children.

The receptionist gave up and a vet nurse was summoned. She couldn’t find our order either.

Eventually the fat nurse from last time was called in and she quickly found what we needed, our 4kg bag of Advanced Weight Solution.  

Hill's Prescription Diet Feline Metabolic Diet advanced weight solution

I’m far better disposed towards her now. She can even have a lettuce leaf every day.

***

If you have space for a cat or dog in your life, please consider getting one from a charity like the Mayhew Animal Home in NW London.

As Rare as Rocking-Horse Manure

The new garden, about the size of a postage stamp, looked forlorn. This time of year, everyone else’s garden is already a riot of colour. Our soil is so poor, this is about all we can grow.

recycling

But then two students gave me an idea. As they walked past the English faculty, I heard one of them moan about having to ‘dump his shit before Michaelmas.’

The other one nodded encouragingly, and agreed he would dump all his shit too, man.

I know what Michaelmas is. It’s the name of the academic term that starts in early October and ends before Christmas. I wasn’t so sure what kind of shit they meant, but it got me thinking.

horse manure

That’s just the thing for improving garden soil.

But have you any idea how hard it is to find when you actually want some? There’s never any shortage of bullshit. The equine variety is another matter.

When I was at medical school, any really rare condition would be described as ‘rocking-horse manure. I never appreciated that the real thing could be equally challenging to track down.

Somewhere in Norfolk I’d spotted a sign that said HOSS SHIT, but Norfolk is a long way from anywhere. Except maybe Suffolk.

Lo and behold, this sign was a lot nearer home, and had more conventional spelling.

horse shit for sale

We stopped the car. Bingo, I thought. There was even a visible guarantee of quality.

horse in paddock

We knocked on doors, rang on bells, and went round the back of the outbuildings. Nobody was in.

So at the weekend we visited Wimpole Hall, a National Trust estate with a mansion and a working farm.  There was cow shit galore, a lot of it still on the actual cows.  There was also an amorous bull in a pen with several cows, which prompted a toddler to ask, ‘What are they doing, Mummy?’

‘Good question,’ said the mother as she wheeled the buggy away.

Sheep shit and pig shit too, but surprisingly little horse shit, certainly none for sale in the twee gift shop, complete with gingham ribbon like everything else. I think the National Trust missed a trick there.

There are substitutes, obviously. Some say cow shit is as good if not better. Would cat poo fit the bill? We have our own little factory, supplemented by presents from guests who come over the wall at night.

cat

If you’re wondering, the human stuff won’t do. Although my mother, ever the eccentric, used to tell me to put dirty nappies on the compost heap. Don’t worry. I wasn’t a very obedient daughter.

If you think you can collect horse manure fresh, think again. For garden use, horse manure needs to be well-rotted. That’s why I haven’t been round the riding schools and livery stables with an extra-large dog-poop bag.

You can get anything on eBay, right?  I checked this out. You can get horse manure for about £1 a bag. The snag is that you have to collect it from Scotland.

The solution was surprisingly simple.  I should have thought about it sooner.  Yep, the garden centre. Go ahead.

calf by the river

Call me a silly little cow.

How to Annoy the Hell out of Your Husband

Your own husband, obviously. It’s not nearly as much sport baiting your BFF’s bloke. I should mention that smug marrieds don’t have a monopoly on annoying, so all of the following apply equally to partners, live-in boyfriends, same-sex couples, etc.

It was comedian Rita Rudner who first said “I love being married. It’s so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life.”

with thanks to Ben Earwicker

with thanks to Ben Earwicker

Rudner may have said it in the 1990s, but driving each other nuts has been part of the pact since time immemorial. I’m surprised it doesn’t feature more often in marriage vows. Bottom line is, if you’re not annoying your OH, you’re doing it all wrong.

Here are 7 ways to do it right.

1 When he’s ill, tell him it’s psychosomatic. You can use this in multiple situations, eg something is bleeding or about to drop off, or it’s the dreaded Man Flu. Just make sure he’s unaware of research showing that high testosterone levels weaken the immune system (in other words, flu may really be more severe in men).

hat

2 There’s something far worse than man flu. Baldness. It’s a fear that goes back to Samson. All you have to do is glance at his bonce and say, “Don’t worry, dear. You can always wear a hat.” Careful, though. This one is irreversible. Even if he has a full mane of hair, you’ve planted a seed of doubt. After that, every time someone mentions hair or heads, a nervous hand will creep up to his scalp to check.

3 Be insufferably pedantic. “It’s not my fourth glass of wine. It’s exactly the same one I started out with.” Note that it’s more effective if you can say it without slurring your speech. Or falling over.

red wine

4 Move his stuff, like keys, the remote control or his favourite shoes. You’re not going to put them where they don’t belong. They’ll be in the right places for you. Just the wrong ones for him.  When he eventually finds whatever he’s looking for, he’ll give a sigh of relief and say “It’s always in the last place you look.”  Well, of course it is, you tut with a superior look (see 3).

5 Let the cat into his side of the wardrobe.  For best effect, it should be a long-haired breed, but any cat will do. Even a kitten can totally customize clothes within minutes. When he pulls out the trousers and announces that they’re ruined, completely ruined, FFS, you can, for additional impact, say you had no idea they still fitted him.

kitten

6  No list of strategies for annoying would be complete without bringing a mother-in-law into it. So tell him your mother is coming to stay. For extra shock value, try “My mother’s coming to live with us.” Caution: about 30% of people with heart attacks die before they reach hospital.

7 Here’s the coup de grace, the ultimate weapon: blog about him. That’ll do it.

 

How to Stop Yourself Watching Kitten Videos

Aw, kitten videos! Don’t we all love them to bits? It’s estimated that there are some 5.3 million kitten (or cat) videos online, and writers like me must have watched every single one. When inspiration fails to strike, or you can’t quite find le mot juste, the brain craves a cute kitty video.  

I bet you’ve watched them too. There are kittens tumbling about, swimming in bathtubs, playing the piano, cosying up to babies, fighting off Dobermans, rescuing firemen from trees, etc.

They’re a massive time-suck, especially for the self-employed, but they’re compulsive viewing. Someone shares one with you, and you can’t delete or look away. You just can’t. It would be like turning down a date with George Clooney. I bet if Clooney called you just before a crucial work deadline, you’d still say ‘Yes.’

I managed to give up chocolate for years on end, but couldn’t stop the kitten video habit, even though it’s pretty obvious I’d be a lot more productive.

Well, I’m over all of that now. No more kitten videos. And now I can share my secret with you.

Puppy videos.

I mean, who can resist the one with seven dogs waiting to be fed? Or the one where the smallest dog nicks treats from all the big dogs? Or the dachsund playing in deep snow? Not that you can actually see him, obviously.

Here’s my personal favourite.

I have the Mayhew and Jenny to thank for this one. The lovely Honey is one of the puppies from the Mayhew Animal Home in NW London. In December, I posted a photo of her, along with three other Mayhew animals who were also looking for forever homes.

Amaruq

Amaruq

Rambo

Rambo

Alfie Moon

Alfie Moon

I’m delighted to tell you that Amaruq, Alfie Moon and Rambo have now all found homes too. But there are still lots more lovely animals waiting patiently.  So check out the doggy videos on this link.

PS there are a few kitty videos too. Just in case you’re still hooked. 

A Holiday Home for the Cat

Moving house is a real performance. Just ask my cat.

Even if your heart isn’t set on a pad with an eye-watering price tag, like London’s Princes Gate or the Bishops Avenue aka Billionaires’ Row, it’s a major expense, and that’s before stamp duty. There are also surveys to arrange, solicitors to pay, and a mortgage to sort out. Get ready too for the gazumping, gazundering and chains which make the property game an expensive version of snakes and ladders.

cats have no such worries

Cats have no such worries. All Mishmish had to do was let herself be transported to a weekend retreat.  “We’re going on a mini-break,” I tell Mishmish. She takes this announcement in her stride.

checking the cat basket

The weekend starts well because she loves her basket. This always surprises me, considering it’s only used for transporting her to the vet and back. Maybe it’s the ‘and back’ bit she remembers best.

The journey itself is no trouble, though it’s hard for the humans to squeeze into a car packed to the gunwales. It’s all very reminiscent of trips with my three children when they were young. Only in this case there are two cat trays, a favourite water bowl, the special cat food, her favourite toys, and of course The Blanket.

Not that anyone would call it a blanket now. You can always tell who has cats. Their blankets look like towels and their towels look like knitting mistakes, says the author of How to Live with a Calculating Cat. This little book has been making people laugh since 1962 because it’s so damn true.

Anyway, on arrival Mishmish bolts out of the basket and heads under the IKEA sofa. There she stays, oblivious of efforts to coax her out.

cat under the IKEA sofa

Husband and I put out food, water, toys, The Blanket, even a welcoming sign.

I love my cat

We talk to her in a silly voice. She sits there watching us make idiots of ourselves.

After a few hours our knees hurt and I wonder if she’ll be there until the sofa self-destructs. This could take a while. Many people I know have an Ektorp sofa and it lasts years, sometimes decades. As reliable as a Volvo, though without ABS brakes.

We tell each other that you can’t make a cat do something. You can only make a cat want to do something.

Actually, scratch that. If your cat doesn’t want to do something, it’s never going to happen.

Cats are highly territorial, but my first ginger cat was far more adaptable. Bananas went places. As a student, I’d take her from London to Brighton and back. When I was a junior doctor, I’d often have to spend 80 hours at the hospital, so I’d take her with me to my on call room if nobody else could look after her.

But I have to accept Mishmish is different. She’s a homebody. And now she’s turning a couch potato.

Over the course of the weekend, she doesn’t venture out, not even to use the tray placed about 5 feet away. I get that. If there are predators around, a fresh deposit will give away your presence faster than a big brass plate on the door. But still.

So after 24 hours we go home, with Mishmish having seen no more than the underside of the Ektorp sofa.

Back and seat frame: fibreboard, moisture-resistant particleboard, plywood, solid pine, polyurethane foam 20 kg/cubic metre.
Cover: 100% cotton. Machine wash, warm 40°C.

IKEA Ektorp 2-seater sofa

We try again two weeks later. It begins exactly the same way, with Mishmish heading straight for the sofa to complete her PhD in furniture construction. All I can hope for was that she might graduate to an armchair for her post-doctoral research.

The breakthrough comes on Sunday around 2 a.m. This, I can only assume, is the moment she realises she isn’t going to be mauled by a lion, and the ceiling won’t cave in if she emerges from her shelter.

Her eyes are wide. There are loads of new crannies to investigate and new places to play.

nooks and crannies

“Cupboards! Wow! This one must be mine.”

cupboard

“Ooh, windows!”

window on the world

“And what’s this? Instead of wooden flooring there are carpets! That means the whole house is a scratching pole. “

carpets on the stairs

We’re kind of sleepy but this cat, having conserved her energies, is ready for action.

Pets depend on us, but they’re not children. Still, I get a warm glow now I see Mishmish likes it here. And it thrills me that she’s now eating and drinking.

Over the next few hours she uses both trays, sending the cat litter flying. I’m grinning from ear to ear with pride. Was I this delighted when my kids first used their potties and upturned them over each other? I’m really not sure, because my eyelids are drooping and I’m done in. Must repair to the sofa for a rest.

On top of it, not underneath.

IKEA Ektorp sofa again