Saturday, 14 November 2015

I am often asked to help photographers with tips on how to take photos of pets. Although it might not be obvious to a non-photographer, different genres of photography require different skill sets and often different equipment. With this in mind I was more than happy to add my top tips for photographing dogs when Creative Drum from Idesigni contacted me.

Here is the article, where I and several other fabulous dog photographers share some hints on how to get a great set of images from your family fur baby (fan-girling a bit being in a list with Paul Walker who happens to be my favourite dog photographer evers!)

Friday, 2 October 2015

Wentworth Wooden Puzzles

This is a review post

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Blogging Edge, on behalf of Wentworth Wooden Puzzles asking if I’d like to try out a puzzle.

Puzzling takes a certain amount of patience doesn’t it – I’m not exactly blessed with an abundance of that. Plus my inability to sit still for more than 10 minutes means puzzling doesn’t feature heavily in my spare time activities - in fact, I find them brain squeezingly maddening. But by sheer coincidence, I already knew of this puzzle company - good friends of mine, Available Light Gallery and Gifts, have their own puzzles produced by Wentworth, and I know that Available Light doesn’t go for anything but the best - so I thought I’d give it a whirl.

Of course, I went for a cat related one – keeping it relevant and that.

Wentworth’s puzzles come in a range different images and sizes - I ordered this one which makes a final image size of 360mm x 250mm, and of course, the bits are wooden, not cardboard - which is a nice touch. Within two days I’d received it.

As we’ve just moved (into a caravan until the legalities have been sorted for the house we’ve just bought) I decided to leave the actual putting-together-of-the-puzzle bit until we were a little more settled. Yesterday was that time, so I sat with the doors open to my little temporary caravan home, cleared a space on the table, and got started.

All the bits come in a fancy bag

I haven’t actually completed a puzzle since 1993. That one was a 20 piece kids’ version that I was forced to make at least a thousand times a day for the little boy I nannied - and, after that, I never wanted to see another puzzle again. In fact, I had every intention of passing this one on to a puzzle mad friend and asking her opinion so I could write a review, but that’s not professional is it? So, I psyched myself for the prospect of a few hours of what I assumed would be total mental torture, and got cracking.

Back in my day, puzzles had corners and edges. Each piece was pretty much similar in shape and size and you picked the edges and corners out first, slotted them together and then you’re off.

Not so with this one.

These puzzles are a bit clever you see. There are absolutely no uniform sized pieces, no corner bits, AND some of the inner bits have straight edges too, just to frustrate the heckers out of you make it a bit more challenging.

Now I hadn’t actually read this information (clearly noted on the box) pre-puzzling, so I spent 15 minutes or so searching for the corner pieces thinking I’d been sent a dud before realising. But, once I’d got my brain-head around that – far from annoying me enormously (as this kind of thing would do normally) – I wanted to carry on.

Then I found the whimsies. A whimsy in Wentworth World is a puzzle piece that’s not puzzle piece shaped at all.

And because they’re shaped entirely unpuzzlelike - it makes the putting together that much trickier (the zig-zag had me stumped for ages and I managed to burn the korma I was cooking to prove it.)

The whole thing took me about two-and-a-half hours (with a tea break in the sun in the middle) and with all of the puzzle’s quirks, I quite enjoyed those couple of hours too.

Take a look at Wentworth Wooden Puzzle's Autumn Collection - you can have puzzles personalised too.

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Monday, 22 June 2015

All the happies

Because yesterday's post was a sad one - I thought I'd just share one image today.


Look at her.

My beautiful girl, with all the happies!

It's taken a long time to get to this place - and we've still a long journey ahead of us. But, for now - this is perfect.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Ashamed to be Human

It's with a really heavy heart I go about my day today. The Summer Solstice was always a special time for me. Tomorrow would traditionally mean celebration, love, and the knowledge that for a few months we'll enjoy warm weather, our nature and wildlife will receive nourishment and crops will grow, with a little luck.

That was my view of the solstice until I found out about the Yulin Dog and Cat Meat Festival which I wrote about here.

Last July I applied to adopt a puppy from a beautiful dog who had been pulled off a dog meat trade truck in Thailand. That dog was destined to be tortured and eaten. Knowing her, and seeing my, now adopted, beautiful Willow and her brother and sister who are part of her, makes today especially hard - because, although thankfully, they are safe - there are thousands and thousands out there right now who aren't.

They are, as I type, screaming - having their skin ripped from their bodies whilst they are alive and being placed in vats of boiling hot water, all in the name of celebration over this coming weekend.

The sheer terror these animals endure is hard to write about - and I don't want to write about it. I don't want anyone to have to write about it - why are we having to write about it, talk about it, shout about it, to raise awareness and ask those perpetrating the torture, to stop it? What is wrong with the human psyche that can deliver such terribleness to another living creature? And why do I have to be part of the same human race as those who do this?

Today, I am ashamed - of being human. Most days I spend some time fighting for the rights of people and animals to give me some reason to not be ashamed of my humanness - there are many people who fight too, and I like being part of that collective team, it restores my faith in humanity. But today? I despair.

We weren't able to get this terrible festival banned this year. But we can work towards getting it banned next year. We can support those in China fighting, against all odds, for these animal's rights.

Today, I'll give beautiful Willow extra hugs, and thank all my lucky stars that I have her in my life. I will send out all the love I can muster to those who have been stolen from their owners to end up on dinner plates, or who have been strays, and never knew any love or care - and now never will.

Tomorrow, I will start fighting alongside you all again. 

To read my article about the Yulin Dog & Meat trade click here.

Please visit the following websites to find out more. If you can't donate, then share on social media, if you can't do that, talk about it, write letters. We will get this stopped. Please let that be sooner rather than later.

Stop Yulin Dog & Cat Meat Festival - Facebook Page

Animals Asia - Website

No to Dog Meat - Website


You can join me over at these places:
Facebook (brand new Pet Chronicles page)

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Saturday, 30 May 2015

Where I Open Up a Bit

I don't really like talking about the negatives when it comes to Willow's journey. If I do, it will be in jest. You see, the good things far outweigh the bad things. But sometimes, you've just got to be honest haven't you? Get it all out - shift all the negative, for the positive to come back in. Today's one of those days.

Life’s ok – but my heart’s (and my body if I can be truthful) is a bit broken for Willow.

It’s been tough.

It’s hard work living with a dog that is so driven by fear.

For four months, Willow and I were doing so well. We were working on her fear, and then this pesky lump happened. I couldn’t walk her, because for her to wear a harness would cause her pain – and of course, I can’t go out with her unless she’s wearing it - it’s the only thing that stops her running away when she’s spooked (which is often). Then she had the surgery and it took a good 6 weeks to heal. Now, we’re back at square one with her fear outside the house – and it’s almost as if it’s come back two-fold. Life, at the moment, is difficult.

So many people spend so much time giving me such sound advice about what to do, and how to treat her – I take it all on board, and try everything - but Willow is extreme. Her fear is extreme. Her ability to cope disappears the moment she steps outside of the house and it’s all I can do to hold on to her. Unless you’ve met Willow and seen her fear, there’s nothing else to compare with it. Even experienced dog trainers have looked me in the eye and told me up front “This is the worst case I’ve seen.” Few can offer any real helpful advice on how to cope with it and how to build her confidence – and I do, at times, feel quite alone trying to figure out this massive chaotic puzzle.

I have the most amazing friends – all adore Willow (if they didn't, they wouldn't be my mates, eh?), all want to see her happy too – and they help me with her socialisation. They spend hours being patient with her, hours and hours just sitting and letting her come to them when she feels ready. They will walk with me, they will run with Willow, they’ll give extra tasty treats to her (and me) and support my socks off. I’m not alone in that sense. But, of course the hard work is down to me, and when you really don’t know which road to take (sometimes literally) it’s all a bit scary. This is an animal I have committed my entire self to, and I have to make it right.

Honestly? Had I known of the extremeness of fear, I might not have adopted her. That’s not to say that now I regret adopting her. I don’t. Far, far from it. But, to put her through this breaks my heart. I want to be able to leave her in the house where she is comfortable and happy - in her own little Bubble-of-Safe and not have her worry. But, reality is that I can’t. She is young, she is full of energy that she needs to burn and I have to try and help her.

I also have Harvey. He has needs too. He’s of course the epitome of a gentleman. When we’re walking and Willow freaks out and pulls my arm out of its socket and I wince in pain – Harvey will glance up at me with a “You alright Mum?” look. Of course, I always tell him I am and give him all the “good boy”s I can, and he wags his tail to let me know he understands.

I am in fear every single time we go out. Of course, I don’t show her this. I am confident and walk with my head up and my arms loose and reassure her all the way. But inside I’m thinking, will today be the day that I can’t keep hold of her? Will a parent not heed her hi-vis vest asking them to give her space and allow their children to run at her? – or will a cyclist whizz past her so fast that she screams in terror? Will I have to turn in Xena Warrior Princess and drop kick the next know-it-all telling me “Oh, just let her off lead, she’ll work it all out herself?” and how many times am I going to hear “Oh, he’s fine, he’s just bouncy.” about another dog, who’s clearly showing it wants to knock her off her paws?

One of the many wonderful things that Willow has taught me though (and there’s reams of things), is patience. Patience with the stupid people. I mean, let’s face it, if a dog cowers away from you when you approach it, do you really continue the approach and tell her to “stop being silly?” No, you turn away and YOU stop being a prize idiot.

I’m all for telling prize idiots to bugger off. I’m more than happy to do that. And I will educate parents about the dangers of allowing their kids to approach dogs without asking the owner’s permission (for the record, my answer will always be No when it comes to Willow. If it’s Harvey, that’s OK, just be prepared for the snog of your lifetime and the probable ground hugging you’ll be doing when he bowls you over.) I’m not backward in coming forward. But, when I do my absolute best to keep the fear to the very minimum for my dog and someone comes in and bollocks it up. It miffs me. A lot.

I don’t think I could cope with another week of her being missing. Not even a day. I worry all the time that she is going to break free and run when we’re on a walk. The fear in her eyes tells me that if she did break free she would run and not stop. My stomach knots with anxiety, my thoughts race to the time she was missing and how utterly heart-breaking it was. How I would lay awake at night and wonder if I’d get a call to tell me she’d been hit by a car or shot by a farmer – and the sheer panic when I’d open my eyes after I’d finally fallen asleep to realise she was still gone. Was she alive? Was she scared? Has she been hurt? I can’t go through that again. Not now. Not after we’ve been through so much together.

When we’re in ‘her’ fields (with no one around and just the sounds of nature), she’s the happiest, most carefree animal you ever did see. It fills me with absolute joy to see her run and play and be a dog. A normal dog, doing normal dog things. It hurts to see her coiled up with anxiety when we’re not in those fields. But sometimes, that’s unavoidable. I simply cannot keep her away from civilisation. From time-to-time, we have to go where she’s not comfortable – at least for the shortest time until I can get her to the safe ‘happy’ place.

Maybe, you might think, leave her home. Don’t make her walk anywhere. I’ve tried that. If that’s what makes her happy, then absolutely. But she’s not happy with that. She gets wound up like a tightly coiled spring and needs to run, properly run, and play and sniff and do all she should be doing. Her behaviour becomes erratic and her anxiety escalates if I don’t walk her.

Willow is the reason I'm overcoming my own irrational fears, and learning how to drive. Once I pass that test, she'll never have to walk somewhere she doesn't want to again. For the meantime, we have to get from A to B, and we have to do that by walking.

I was told that she’d never experienced hurt or pain. And I want to believe that. But when she flinches at a caress. When she runs screaming (literally) from children. When she cowers in terror when she hears a man’s voice that isn’t her Dad’s – I find it very hard to believe. This isn’t just a case of no-socialisation from being a pup. Something/someone has terrorised her at some point. That’s not just me who says it – those with decades of experience of working with fearful dogs feel this too.

Willow and I have a bond I’ve never experienced before with any other dog. My first dog was my soul dog, the very thought of him brings me such an array of emotion, I find it hard to think of him sometimes, because I’ve never gotten over him dying, even though he was very old. He was my everything. Harvey, he’s my baby. The light of my life. My right hand man. Willow, well…there’s a deep connection that I can’t explain. She gives me all of her, she looks at me with such entire trust, and I know, when we’re together, in the house, she’s the happiest she’s ever been. I so want that for her when we’re out. I can’t live my life indoors, of course, I’ve tried, for her sake – but it makes me so miserable too. I am an outdoors person. I have to be out there, and I have to help her believe that she’ll never ever be in danger when she’s outside with me. She’ll never be hurt – I just won’t let that happen.

So, we take it step-by-step. We start from the beginning again, and we move forward. And we will get there, I know we will. The day I bought her home, she laid on the sofa and didn’t move for three days, so scared, she peed where she laid and wouldn’t let me close to her. Now, she follows me everywhere. If she can be wrapped around my legs, even better. She’ll commando crawl to get to me on the bed, always with a paw on me to know where I am (I’m not going anywhere without you darling) and snuggle into my armpit sighing a huge breath of relief. She’s safe.

You can bet your life on that.

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