52 Mondays #29

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So… another week. And if you thought it would be a quiet one, well, it isn’t. My sister arrives for a few days, and another friend mid-week. I’m in a frenzy of cleaning. Not to mention, I had a great idea last week. A really great idea. A time-consuming monster of an idea that should run itself once set up. Let’s just say it was really a job for the professionals, but with only my own meagre skills, I’m going it alone. I will no doubt introduce it to you in due course!

Sadly, it is not a money-making idea, though it could be I guess. It is actually a lot of fun. I needed to extend myself a little, rather than just working very hard in my comfort zone. Are you interested in it yet?

As you can see, new woof-woof Amigo is out and about with us. Today was his first off-lead experience. He has walked with me now on lead for almost four months, so he is well used to being by my side. He and Tilly just trot along very happily. Heston races off and races back when he is off-lead, which is not very often these days. He needs nose-blinkers so he doesn’t get distracted by scents he just has to follow.

Amigo is a griffon x border, apparently. If you ask me, he is pure muttley (and no less adorable!) and it is very hard to tell what he is, if he is anything. Definitely a Heinz 57. That was one boy who was delighted to be off the lead this morning. That’s why older dogs are so often easy adoptions – they often know the rules already, unless they have been purely working dogs. Thus, no house-training (okay, a little reminder) no pulling on the lead, no disappearing. And if I say ‘sit’, he does exactly that. He barks very rarely, and never barks at guests, only things that startle him. He doesn’t like thunder (he shivers and shakes and hides, poor love!)

It took a bit of getting to, that photo (Heston is just out of shot, but he was with us, promise!) as Amigo was not good with Heston. They didn’t have a good introduction and the first few days were a bit tense. Now, there are occasional warning growls from Amigo if Heston comes up behind him, but that is all. Mostly, they rub along very well, although they are never going to be best friends. I’d guess that Amigo has been in a one-dog house and has been the treasured pet. He is very well-behaved. A take-anywhere dog. He isn’t even interested in Tilly, and every dog is interested in Tilly. She is the most interesting dog of all dogs. It’s because she smells so very terrible. Plus, she has no airs and graces. If she wants to sit with you, she will. She does this with Amigo, and he always looks so very alarmed. She isn’t good with new dogs and barks like a maniac until she realises they won’t eat her, but after this, she is fine.

Anyway, it is heating up here this week – it has been very cold, certainly for mid-July. I thought mid 20s was bad, but someone told me it was 12° in Normandy last week.

The sister and I will hopefully have some trips and excursions, and a right good catch-up. I haven’t seen her since October last year, and it seems like forever.

Next week, back to normal. Peaceful summertime. Lots to do.

Hope you have a sunshiney day too – love this early morning freshness here.

Quoi de neuf?

It feels like ages since I have been here, properly. Save the odd 52 Mondays post. (See, I can stick things out!)

It is fair to say I have been busier than ever. What with exam build-up from April, then marking in June and July, it’s a four-month slog to the top of the mountain. I still have some clients here and there, but I actually have one whole week off from now until next Monday. One whole week! And a bank holiday as well! I bet I’m twitching by Monday evening.

Mostly, my life has been work & dogs. Work and dogs. Work and dogs. The weather is unspeakably cool for July (shhhh! I’m kind of enjoying it. 23°C and sunny is just my type of weather for outside work!) but it has been a busy time trying to finish things off.

In between, I’ve been spending a lot of time at the refuge trying to capture photos of the dogs there. One of the boss ladies was even getting a bit specific the other day. “Can you get some dog poses like this, or like that?” she asked. In my head, I was thinking, “They are dogs. You get what you get.” especially since the whole purpose of me taking them was that often the dogs only got photographed on entry from the pound, and then really for ID purposes, not for promotion purposes. Now I’ve done so many of the dogs (a good sixty or so have had a ‘re-looking’ – the French for a makeover!) everyone’s a critic.

I do notice that. I wonder if all people face the same thing? People who have a cheap point-and-shoot and no particular photography know-how whatsoever saying ‘you should do it like this…’

Hello?

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I took this photo.

Last week, a lady with a cheap point-and-shoot said “Don’t try and take a photo of them from above.”

Err…. why not? Little Jo looks wonderful for his ‘from above’ shot.

To be fair, you get what you get. Some dogs are happy to sit and pose for a photo. I found the easiest dogs are ones who will sit for a biscuit and look at you when you are doing it.

Like Victor.

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Do I have any tips for it?

Get down to the dog’s level if the dog won’t sit and look up for a treat.

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Put your camera on a low f-stop like 6.3. Not lower. Then you get the nose in focus, but not the face or eyes. Or you get the eyes in focus but a blurry nose. Then put it on a quick ISO, like 1600 or 3200. Anything less and even in sunlight you aren’t likely to get a clear shot. Zoom in fairly close, and you have to use auto-focus, because manual takes too long and they are gone!

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Clean the dog’s eyes of sleep and yuck. I am always forgetting to do this. See above.

Have a good partner. One lady I walk with really loves walking the dogs. But the only time she is still with them, she has treats straight out. Her hands are in all my shots, or her body, or she says “this dog is bored!” and wanders off. Bless her. She means she is bored, of course! If you have someone with you who understands photography, so much the better. They’ll keep hands and legs clear. If you have a certain assistant, she will elicit the kind of looks of blind adoration from dogs that give you super winning shots.

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If you are doing it on the lead, hold the lead fairly tight (not straining or pulling – that makes the dog look like a lead fiend!) about a foot away from the dog’s head. The dog’s movement is restricted but they look free.

Take photos after a walk, if possible, so they are happy and a little less energetic. If you have a ball of energy like I had with Rosalie, my toughest dog yet, you may have to find a bit of space and give them ten minutes to tire themselves out off-lead. Every single shot of Rosalie, she was moving too quickly to capture. Plus, she has zero recall and zero interest in treats. Plus, being on a lead is stressful. She has serious and sad weals that you can feel with your fingers where she has been restrained for long periods of time.

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But it will happen! This shot took 30 minutes to get, including walk!

If you can take a photo without treats and toys, so much the better. Then they won’t strain at the lead and the pose looks more natural. A miaow is the best way to get most dogs’ attention, especially refuge dogs who don’t know their name. The camera click can give you the money shot… head on one side out of curiosity, and great focus.

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Don’t take the shot in full sunlight… it is too contrasty. (see above) Shade is great, though you need a faster ISO and shutter speed.

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And it is best if you know the dogs a little, to try and capture a little of their character. When you can catch a little old guy having a rest, it’s fab

usty2I am a big fan of uniform backgrounds. Doesn’t matter if it’s a grey one, a stone one, a path or a load of greenery. But not too much of everything. This is true of body shots as well as close-up portraits.

julietta3And of course, for every Rosalie that takes a half-hour for one decent shot, there are hundreds who give you smiles and eyes and happy faces.

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There are also some who are out-and-out posers.

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As well as some who are camera shy, who are so upset by the camera that you have to give them a bit of time to do their best

havilaIf you are lucky, you get some great ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots that capture the different aspects of the dog on arrival and after they know they are safe.

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This is Chance. He was saved from euthanasia in another pound. Here he is a couple of days into his stay. (above) And a couple of days after (below)

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And even…

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So this is what I have been doing two or three afternoons a week. Oh, and then the evenings, I spend editing. It’s not just a case of take a photo and bang it up on the website. I haven’t time to do a lot of editing, but a simple crop, colour adjust and balance adjust will usually make the most out of most images.

Though I would like to say, yes, animal photographers make it look incredibly easy. But whoever said you should never work with children or animals was right. Especially animals.

So what else? Not to mention a lot of walks with my own beasties. Amigo, my refuge dog, took some time to settle in – that’s another (not very traumatic) story – but he can now come on walks with my own two as well.

IMG_1626And there has even been a little of this:

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And some of this:

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What a busy few months it has been!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

52 Mondays #28

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Feels more like April or May than July. It’s okay with me. I prefer mild to stinking hot. Just could do without the storms and the rain.

Storms are lovely for me, for Tilly and for Heston. We don’t mind ‘em. Amigo, on the other hand, well, he is terrified. He is a quivering, shivering wreck during the storms. Poor boy. And we have been having so many of them!

This week marks the first time since his arrival that I have been able to walk all three dogs together – that, in itself is an achievement. Amigo, it seems, is not used to other dogs. He tolerates Tilly, but was most alarmed when she licked him on the nose. Sometimes, Tilly and Heston play – I say ‘play’ and I mean Tilly gives him a feeble little slap with her paw and Heston pretends to bite her legs – and that was upsetting to Amigo as well. No, Amigo has been in a one-dog home and he has been a loved and treasured pet. He walks to heel, never fusses, doesn’t mind being left, likes to sleep at the foot of the bed, loves cuddles, watches me constantly, loves treats and got so excited when I got my wellies out that I’m very certain he knows that wellies mean a walk or some time outside.

So to be able to walk all three, well, that is progress. Plus, it saves me a walk a day. Amigo and Tilly trot next to me. Heston runs in big circles on a long lead, unless he is in a field and I let him off.

It just makes me sad that a dog that is so lovely and so sweet, so well-trained and so good-natured, should have found himself at the refuge. What can have possibly happened in his life that led to him being abandoned? Poor guy.

Anyway, from having to sit and keep him and Heston separate, managing every situation that was stressful, from food and being in the garden, now there is only playing that they cannot do together. Balls are worth fighting for, even if there are two hundred lying around my garden.

I’ve been finishing off my marking as the farmers have been out harvesting the winter wheat. Although, the end is never really the end. Once the initial marking is over, all the remaining scripts go into a big pot and it becomes a free-for-all. Sometimes, it takes weeks to finish marking them all. Sometimes, they are gone in days.

Although most of my lessons finished on Friday, I still have ten or so clients who are putting themselves or their children through a little extra over the break. A holiday of sorts, then, for me!

And the rest of the time, I am busy trying to capture the refuge dogs at their most photogenic. I don’t know if it helps them find homes. I hope it does. It’s nice to have the time to spend there – the staff and volunteers are amazing and we have a really great time walking the dogs or helping out. I just hope I get to put in a few more hours over the school break.

52 Mondays #27

52Mondays27Another busy week. We’ve passed the half-way point for the year, and I’m afraid, realists, that it is all downhill from here.

By next week, I’m hoping my workload and marking load will be a little easier. But just when you find a space in your diary, the phone starts going mental. What looked like being a quiet summer looks like it will be a little more busy than I had anticipated.

Oh well.

 

 

52 Mondays #26

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Been hot and stormy all week. On Sunday, it was 32° here but by Sunday evening, there were huge storms. I’m not sure what time the storm hit, but I was woken up by a massive bolt of lightning that must have been directly overhead, and then the heavens opened. Even in the storms last year that brought trees down, none were quite so loud right over me. Usually, I sleep soundly as well – it takes a big storm to wake me up. Sometimes, I get up the morning after, look at the devastation and wonder how I slept through it.

I confess too that I am enjoying looking back through the photos of the year. My first was this one:

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6 months is a long time in the growing year. From seedling to harvest. The fields that were planted on the right have now been harvested.

I never get bored of this walk. It takes me right over a huge, open space and it’s the equivalent of doing a half hour of meditation for me. It’s a real mind-clearer. It’s my rehearsal stage, for conversations unsaid, for lesson planning, for considering, for reflection, for philosophy, for analysis. Open spaces do that to me. I can walk and not have to think about walking; it is a path that goes to only one place. There’s no map to read, no worrying if I miss a turn. It’s also one of the only places Heston can really have a run. He has no trees and no forest to distract him or conceal him, and I see any game long before he does.

As for last week, it was lost in work and meetings and work. I had Friday off and went for a day of cake and lunch and coffee at a friend’s house, and it was well-needed respite. Those days always recharge my battery, even if I leave with a stomach that hurts from eating too much.

Three weeks left of exam papers – if I get a move on. Two weeks left of school. I feel exhausted from the exams already. We mark in blocks of questions and when you have read 268 responses to the same question, it’s a little tiring to say the least. Final Brevet and Bacc exams happen this week and next, so I am not the only one in need of a rest. It feels like it has been a very long term and I am very tired – as always. I’m running on empty by this point in the school year, alongside everyone else of my profession, every student and every parent who are just about slogging through the last miles of the yearly marathon.

This photo has got my snog-bucket Heston in it. He’s been with me two years now. He is still a pup at heart, but he is a great dog. Giddy at times, he tries very hard to be good. He is currently tucked up under my bed, just as he was those first few weeks when he arrived.

Football is still his favourite game.

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God love him. He is a great dog. He’s still got his little needle teeth here!

52 Mondays #25

Almost mid-way through the year.

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It’s evening and morning walks now as it has taken a turn on the temperature dial recently. Last week we had two days of 30° as well as several thunderstorms. Cooler winds now are very welcome!

The marking season has started in full now, and I’m trying to do that crazy thing of squashing everything in at the end of the year. Schools here break up in three weeks’ time, so things should be a little easier after that.

You’d think.

I’ve got a lot of planning underway for events in September and October, before it gets all quiet again here. I’m looking forward to having a couple of weeks’ rest and enjoying my home space a little. I say this and I know I’ll end up doing lots more exam papers. I could do with a week where I can just lie in the sun with my dogs.

Anyway… it’s bedtime. Tomorrow is another big and busy one. Wednesday even more so. Let’s hope you all have a great week too!

52 Mondays #24

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I was struck this morning by how much the maize planted in the field behind the tree has grown – two weeks ago, the field still looked brown – now it is solid green. We’re still a little cloudy this morning, after huge storms the last few nights. I don’t know the storms touched us this far south last night, but there was a lot of debris on the road so I guess it did. One of my friends posted a photo of the hailstones that are still lying on the ground up near Poitiers – I’m guessing there will be lots of crop damage. Here, not so much.

The electrical storms on Saturday night were quite spectacular though, and I sat up watching them for a while. Amigo is terrified of the storms and he sat next to me shivering and shaking. Heston and Tilly don’t care.

Amigo’s now almost healed after his man-bits removal – no more collar (and no more scraped legs for me) and we had a long walk out yesterday. I am so in love with the forest near my house that I thought I would share it, and I sent out an open invite on a group I am part of, Les Amis des Animaux des Refuges en France, (LAARF for short!) to do a guided walk for our local animal refuge. I’d done a map for any walkers and we had a huge picnic at the end. It wasn’t a massive walk – 6km – but the dogs (and humans) were suitably tired by the end of it and we raised 150€. As usual, my head fills with exciting plans for other walks I could do that could raise money too. I thought I might do a chateau to chateau walk along the Tardoire at some point, or a walk ending with an English high tea. And I’m definitely going to do a mushroom walk in October.

This is our route in context

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And then I did a little map because it’s a route of my own creation. It’s one of my absolute favourites and takes in a whole range of different parts of the forest, from beech-lined paths to coniferous forest. There are ponds, narrow paths, clearings and dense forest and it really does take in the variety that the forest has to offer. I’m always surprised more people aren’t here. In England, a national forest like this, so close to a city, would be heaving on a day like yesterday. We saw two other people. That’s all. I’m not complaining. I like to be undisturbed on my walks!

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Anyway, today is a bank holiday in France, but I am working and gardening and dog walking. No rest for the wicked.

Have a joyous Monday and hopefully the sun will shine on you all.

It’s magic… It’s tragic

It’s Friday already. Friday. How did this happen? I’m in need of more than a shot of caffeine to get me through to Sunday evening, so here is Faith No More with Epic if you need a little musical boost too.

And why wouldn’t this great tune from 1989 give you a kick up the bum to get you through the week? How I love Mike Patton. That man is is Epic himself.

As you can tell, it has been a busy one (and it will be right through to Sunday afternoon, when I will finally get to sit down and exhale. The campaign to help Twilight raise money for dogs’ dinners is going well, but feel free to read and contribute or share or promote in any way you can. I won’t rest until every day is covered. Harold, Sirius’s labrador friend, collapsed and was unable to make it any further; he has now passed over the rainbow bridge. I hope he is keeping an eye on Sirius.

I published the story on Wednesday morning and then came home at 9pm to a series of emails and lovely comments from all kinds of wonderful people, who although unable to contribute themselves, have shared the story for me. I am very happy about that. That is giving me a kick in the rear to motivate me this morning.

Today, it is a morning of sorting and planning before an afternoon of dog walking at the refuge. Another kick in the rear as well. To be fair, I don’t think I’m ever going to find it a chore, even though I come home tired and hot and stinky. My favourite dog ever, Denver (and yes, I would have sold Tilly and Heston to home him!) went to his forever home a couple of months ago and his new family posted some photos of him that made me all weepy with joy – he was lying on the deck, right up close to some unidentified person who is giving him a massive hug. I might want to home all two hundred dogs, but even though I can’t (and even though I know there would be 200 more in the morning!) it is nice when doglets go off to live happy, happy lives. Much happier ones than they’d have had with you, especially if you have 200 other hairy chaps to pet.

Tomorrow is my work-busy day – Saturdays have been like this for the last seven years so I am well-trained. But Sunday I am leading a walk in the forest to raise money for the refuge and to also introduce lovely people to my favourite stretches of the woods. I’m planning on doing another one in September before the hunt season starts, and another one with a mushroom expert (though I might have to tempt her back from the Auvergne where she is now running a B&B!)

But what is really getting me through is the fact that the end is in sight. Kind of. It might be four weeks away, but I can see a break up ahead. Sure, I’ve got four weeks worth of marking to do in between now and then, and a hundred other things to do besides, but in precisely four weeks time, the schools in France break up and the exam season will be over. Whoo! Then I will finally be able to get out and tackle the jungle.

And to get me through my Friday, there are a few things that are helping put the spring in my step… sunny weather, blue skies, Amigo finally being able to get out of his lampshade and stop crashing in to me, turning a heel on my third sock ever knitted, 24 and True Blood restarting, the epic-ness that is Game of Thrones, picnics in the woods and being able to share that with more than just my dogs, curries with friends, being able to finally dig out my shorts… and… most importantly… all those epic people who have donated to Twilight and to other campaigns (one of which I will share next week) and who restore your faith in humanity. As is so often the case, those with the least to give are often the ones who give the most. It is very humbling and it gives me a lot to live up to.

Happy Friday, people. May your weekend bring you sunshine and love.

 

A Dogs’ Dinner

A Dog’s Dinner

by Emma Lee

If you imagined a happy retirement home for dogs, what would it involve? Comfy sofas, log fires, a few good buddies to cuddle up to? However you could imagine it, Twilight retirement home for old dogs is everything you would think of and more. A large, enclosed garden for ambles with doggie pals, a sunny patio space with room for any animal who wants to enjoy a little sunshine on their old bones, a well-equipped bathroom to keep them tidy and soup for those who can’t handle anything more taxing.

Any old dog would love just one of these things. What makes Twilight such a special place is that the dogs here are not just any old pensioners. They had all been left in refuges across Europe, having lost everything they had ever known. For some, that might be a dear and loved master who had gone into a nursing home, or, worse, passed away. For others, that might have been a life of misery and starvation, a life on the streets, unloved and unwanted.  It is often hard to know the stories of animals’ lives before a refuge. The only thing that gives you any clue at all is sometimes the sadness in their eyes, a flicker that disappears when they realise they are now in a place where they are treasured. I never realised though that I’d be in need of Twilight’s help for a dog I had come to love.

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Having volunteered for dog walks at the refuge de l’Angoumois in Angoulême, I met a dog named Sirius. This black and white setter cross was always happy to see me and always happy to take a walk. He never grumbled or complained, even though he was sometimes in a great deal of pain. His right ear had been lopped off, probably to remove evidence of an identification tattoo. Sirius had probably been somebody’s loved pet – someone who cared enough to identify him, to want him returned. But when circumstances changed, for whatever reason, he found himself lost and abandoned, earless, in his old age. The refuge is a safe and happy place for many dogs. It is warm, dry and they are fed and cared for. It is not a home. Sirius needed a home, especially after his recent stroke which made it very hard for him to control his legs. Even though he came with 600€ towards any eventual vet’s bills, nobody wanted him. He ran the risk of languishing in the refuge for the remainder of his days. His health was deteriorating. A friend insisted I get in touch with Leeanne and Mike, the couple behind Twilight, to see if they could help. So I did.

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It was perfect timing. Luckily for Sirius, there was a place for him at Twilight. Leeanne asked if I could bring him over as soon as I could.

On the morning my friends and I picked up Sirius from the refuge, he knew something was changing. He sat at my feet for the two-hour trip, his head on my lap, looking up at me with a mixture of trepidation and trust. When we got to Twilight, Leanne and Mike took Sirius in like a long-lost friend, and within minutes, he had formed friendships, wagged his tail and went for a sniff around the garden.

I didn’t see him much the rest of the morning; he found a friend in an arthritic labrador called Harold and the pair spent the morning getting to know each other. Later on, I went to take some photos for the refuge and called to Sirius. He looked across the room at me with sheer delight. It was a look that said he couldn’t believe his luck. I’m not sure if he saw in my eyes the look that said “you deserve this, old fella!” but I hope he did. Leeanne tells me he sleeps back to back with Harold now and although he has other friends, he is best doggie friends with the labrador. He deserves nothing less.

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It’s not just a story about Sirius. There are around thirty other dogs at Twilight at any one time. Of course, they come here for their final days. For some, this could be a year. For others, less. However long it is, it is a home for them that makes up in more ways than one for any of the heart-break the dogs have suffered in their sometimes, sadly, too-short lives.

Providing such a home is an enormous task. When I was here, I got to thinking about the huge food and cleaning bill that Mike and Leeanne face each month. I thought about how much it might cost to feed the dogs for a day. I figured around 20€. Then I thought about how much we could support Twilight if we could find people who would help to pay for a day’s food and cleaning by direct debit each month. It would only take 30 other people to help cover their food and cleaning costs each month. That didn’t seem like an insurmountable task to me. Thirty people would surely want to help? If not 20€, then 10€ a month would buy breakfast or dinner for all the lovely puddings like Sirius. It would mean that Leeanne and Mike can continue their amazing work knowing that their basic doggie bills are covered.

I know that certain days and certain numbers are very special to many people. For me, I will always choose the number 29 in memory of my Gramps. He would be very happy to see all the old dogs in such contented retirement. That’s my number. To know that on the 29th of each month, I’m feeding the Twilight “puddings” and doing a little something to honour his memory will make the day even more special. For this reason, I want to ask if you would like to contribute a dog’s dinner, and if you would like to pick a calendar date for your donation. To this end, if you could let me know that you have committed to a monthly direct debit or virement and if you have a special day of the month that you would like the dogs to know is your day. I’d like to add these to a calendar so that I can share it with Leeanne and Mike because I am sure they will let the dogs know whose day it is.

In order to set up your direct debit or virement monthly, you can either do this via the Twilight website http://www.twilightchiens.com/apps/donations/ by contacting Twilight directly to ask for bank details, or in contacting me at emma_janelee@hotmail.com If you would like to get in touch to let me know whether you intend to buy breakfast, dinner or a day’s food, as well as letting me know any days of the month that you would like to be your personal dogs’ dinner day.  This is my way of saying thank you on Sirius’s behalf to Leeanne and Mike, who do what so many of us would find so hard. Sometimes, donations make little difference to the efforts of a charity or campaign; in this case, donations will make a real and immediate impact.

Thank you for reading, and please, if you can, share!

Emma (and Sirius) x

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52 Mondays #23

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Still under grey skies… feels like a re-run of last year – long, cool spring. With temperatures only in the low 20s, it’s nothing to write home about. I’m kind of enjoying it though – as long as it isn’t raining!

And yes. I am a day late. The fact I have managed 21 out of 23 weeks and I’m still doing this midway through the year – well, that’s something remarkable for me! I have been busier than ever (is that even possible??!) and the last week has gone by in a blur.

Most of the week was spent in various trips to the vet. and in last minute GCSE classes. It was my car the weeks before, and then the vet last week. My recent rescue dog Amigo was booked in for his man-bits to be removed (and not before time, I hasten to add!) Not sure if it will make any difference to his behaviour – he’s still a grump around my young and handsome dog Heston, but other than the occasional ‘you are in my space, you bouncy villain!’ barks and grumbles, they roll along pretty well. In fact, they are less than a metre away from each other, snoring, right now. Not all bad. Amigo’s boy-bits operation went okay – though his cone is driving both of us mental. He bumps into stuff – usually me. I’m tired of his cone. I think he is making me suffer because he is.

Another week to go.

Tuesday, after I’d dropped him off and spent the morning doing deliveries, I went for a walk with the woofers from Mornac. It was a photo opportunity day and we were all in our finest outfits. A lady had come down to foster one of the dogs and he has subsequently found a home – which I am made up about. And I had to get a few photos of a big old beautiful labrador. I’m quite enjoying taking dog photos for the refuge, although I have to say that dogs are not always easy to photograph. It rained on and off though we managed to get together for the group photograph at the end of the day – the refuge has got a really great free advertising spot in a prestigious local publication and we needed a photo! Plus, I got to spend the afternoon with my friends and with dogs. There is no better way to spend an afternoon, if you ask me.

Wednesday was my usual busy teaching day – and I got home at seven ready to put my feet up, but came back to a pool of poo and blood and urine and vomit. I thought it was Amigo at first, since he was only so recently at the vet’s, but he has been sleeping in the dining room and the door was still closed. Both Tilly and Heston seemed okay – but there was blood literally all over the floor. I was guessing Tilly – though in retrospect, I have no idea why. I rang the vet straight away – I love my vet with my whole heart. Not only does his surgery do a lot at the refuge, but he genuinely cares about the animals. He thought Tilly would be okay – possibly a cyst, he said, or a kidney stone. Or something else. But bring her in first thing in the morning. If it got worse or her urine went from rosé to rouge, give him a call. As it was, she spent the night trying to pee, or peeing bits. I spent the night worrying.

I slept on the couch on Wednesday night – Tilly was trying to go to the toilet every 30 minutes or so and Amigo was bashing about in his helmet. I left the door open, curled up in a blanket and hoped it wouldn’t be too bad. I hate worrying about animals – there’s nothing you can do and it makes no difference if you worry or not.

Thursday was Ascension, a bank holiday in France. Tilly was at the vet’s, then having an ultrasound scan. She’s only nine – that is quite a good age for a pedigree dog, I know, but nine doesn’t seem long enough, especially since only four of those have been with me. Ten seems to be a good age for an American cocker. It is the same age Tilly’s companion cocker died, three years ago. It’s also the same age a couple of my friends’ American cockers have died. Though Jack couldn’t see anything on Thursday, he wanted us back on Friday so that he could run all the tests. Another night on the sofa.

Friday – back to the vet’s. And meetings for Les Dames de FER. I have to say, I am pretty excited. This network of women’s businesses in rural France was started up a year last February and now it runs training events, showcasing, network events, social events… it’s going from strength to strength. It was nice to sit and think business, and not have to think dog for two hours! I picked Tilly up and we had a big snog in the car. She might be a silly little dog, but she is my sweetheart. I love her with my whole heart. Her little waggy bum is just about the nicest thing in my day.

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Saturday, the usual, work and work and work!

Sunday I had the morning off and I took Heston out on a big walk in the forest to plan out a walk I am doing to raise funds for the refuge. Twenty people,and their dogs will be joining me for a walk and a picnic in my favourite bit of the forest. Heston and I went to check the walks were all okay and the paths not too overgrown. Lots of gorgeous wildflowers and a really nice morning. It’s only the second walk Heston and I have ever been on on our own, though I take him out for a bike ride every day if I can (me on the bike, him on the ground, naturally) I walked him Thursday on his own as well – he doesn’t seem to care much. It’s not the same as a walk with Tilly, though. His bum doesn’t wiggle in the same way.

As for yesterday – well, I have to start in the garden! I made a bit of a start and let’s hope there is SOME dry weather on the way!