Sunday, 20 April 2014

National Pet Month Competition to Win a Signed & Pawtographed Book

For those of you on Twitter, a chance to win a copy of the book from the lovely people at National Pet Month

Friday, 18 April 2014

A book on dog food I can actually recommend - a rarity

The other day I was vaguely sifting through the deluge of "stuff" aka Twitter, not paying a lot of attention to most of what was scrolling on the screen - my normal approach to Twitter which I admit to finding a tad befuddling - and saw one of my favourite "dog people", Julie Hecht had tweeted about a book on dog food; always certain to get a bit more of my attention than most things on Twitter, aside from dog rescue stories and appeals. Julie is a science writer and canine researcher and I find her twitter page and blog an invaluable source of good information. So I read her review of
Dog Food Logic - by Linda Case with a lot of interest and promptly ordered it for the Kindle.

There is so much that is written about dog food, much of it nonsense, sensationalist rubbish and best discarded that it can be a hard task indeed to source reliable information that is unbiased and sensible. I have done my best over the past few years to read everything I can, both the good, the bad and the mediocre to understand the subject and to know that our ways of feeding the dogs is healthy, not harmful. My instinct always said it was, but I do know enough about myself to feel the need to be as informed about a topic as I can be, not just rely on my own biases and intuition. It was especially important when I decided to include feeding in my book about Susie-Belle's life with us that what I went public with, was sound in terms of canine health. I have never, and don't intend to ever, tell others how and what to feed their dogs. What we do with ours, is based upon a lot of critical reading as well as our anecdotal experiences, my professional background in human health care and Michel's as a chef. For us, I know what we do is great for our dogs. It wouldn't necessarily be so for anyone else's.

So, I've read a lot on the subject and I can say that Linda Case's new book is the best I've read on the subject. It covers areas that are not readily available in other books and sources, at least if they are, they're not discussed with much intelligence or critical evaluation of evidence. This is what I really like about this book, it presents evidence, but shows how to use that, how to be a critical consumer. This is sorely missing in a lot of the information we are bombarded with these days. It is not a book about what foods to feed. It is about understanding the pet food industry, the science of canine nutrition and how we, as dog owners approach feeding our pets on an emotional level. There are a lot of good memorable facts. Her stance on the cost of feeding dogs resonates so deeply with my own thinking I feel I could have written it myself, only not as well of course: if we believe our dogs deserve foods that are produced from high quality ingredients, that are wholesome, safe and well regulated then we need to be prepared to pay more for that food.

Although there is a strong US bias so some of it may not be directly relevant for UK readers (labelling regulations etc for example) there is such a broad range of information that is applicable to anyone wherever they are located who is interested in the minefield that is dog food that I've no hesitation recommending it. As a free-styling raw feeder, I was most curious to see the stance taken on what is a polarising and contentious topic; I was pleasantly surprised to see the information presented was clear, the evidence, or lack of for health benefits of this way of feeding is critically presented, and no unjustified or inflammatory criticisms are thrown around.  Her view is that raw feeding can be healthy, if done correctly. Always been my point precisely. Just as some commercial dog food is perfectly healthy too. Again, something I don't disagree with. But this is often missed by some who opt not to feed commercial food. People assume I don't like any commercial dog food products. Not true. I don't like a lot of them and would only buy the best quality and pay for that if I chose not to feed the way we do. Claims that all commercial food is poor, or causes health problems is not something I ever say or believe; but just as all commercial dog food is thrown into the slops in the minds of a lot of proponents of raw feeding, so raw feeding is regarded as whacky quackery by many on the other side of the feeding debate. It's a polarising topic and this book tackles it well.

The book takes a scientific perspective on canine nutrition, dog-human interactions, which made this really valuable to me on a personal level, and I learned loads from reading it. The claims that are made by pet food manufacturers are put under the microscope and seen to be unsurprisingly to me, very shaky indeed. The marketers behind the pet food industry also get a roasting. Again, unsurprisingly. So do those who espouse the massive health benefits of raw feeding. And rightly so in my view. Claims are too overblown by many and the rhetoric that inflames a lot of the discussions on how we feed our dogs does no-one any good, least alone the dogs. The book is balanced, not in the least sensationalist and it doesn't try to convert to one way of feeding over another. It aims to help consumers critically look at what they are choosing to feed their dogs. That has to be a good approach.

All in all, a lot of what I read confirmed what I knew already, there was lots I didn't know too and some challenged what I thought I knew; all of it made me think more deeply about what the pet food industry is all about.

It is a great read, lots of science in fully readable language. And I shall still be happily feeding raw.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The holiday breakfast ritual

We seem to have developed a new routine to our mornings here, best told in pictures.......




Decision, decision.....
.....and Twinkle gets the first taste being the best sitter in the world these days when food's about, clever girl Twinkle....
...... but we soon forget the sitting and it's a calm, free-for-all as everyone gets their share...
We've never been particularly fussed about training Twinkle and Susie-Belle to sit for food, seeing as they spent years receiving the bare minimum to keep them alive and fertile, it seems mean to make them work for anything at all. But, this time last year, we realised that Twinkle is a bright dog and highly attentive and it helped to channel some of her nervous energy away from her anxieties if we engaged her brain. So we taught her to sit and now she is a darling, choosing to do it and appearing content when we acknowledge her doing it, so we play along and we're all happy in the game together.  As ever, what is such a small routine behaviour for "normal" dogs, is a major marker of Twinkle's improving state of being and worthy of celebration. 

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Iain Dale's Book Review and Radio Invite

So far, all feedback I've had on the book has been very positive and it seems to be doing what I hoped, which is to help to raise awareness of puppy farming and what it means for dogs like Susie-Belle to be imprisoned and abused for years. But, there is more to Susie-Belle's book than her puppy farm background and as anyone who's read it, or follows us here knows, food features as one of the main tools we used to help her heal. So I was really pleased on Monday to get an impromptu chance to talk about this side of the book with  Iain Dale, LBC Radio presenter, who has written a great review of the book on his blog.

But first, a slight bit of background to Monday's radio excitement as for me it was quite surreal: we're in the middle of our Easter break in France our morning walks have been amidst the peace of our local woods.

We like to head out  shortly after dawn in the fresh morning air to catch the best of the early light through the trees. It's truly magical being there as nature wakes up. On Monday, after we returned, I was about to get us all breakfast but decided first to have a quick check of messages - lucky that I did as there was one from Iain & LBC inviting me to chat there and then about our use of diet in Susie-Belle's life. I had no time to think or dither about as the short slot looking at canine diets was on air right then. Within a couple of minutes of me walking in the door from the quiet of the woods, I was on national radio talking to Iain Dale!

Iain has been interested in Susie-Belle's story since it first came out in the Daily Mail and he's featured items on his show about the horrors of puppy farming, so I was very pleased to get a chance, albeit briefly to talk about how we have used food to help bring Susie-Belle to health and happiness. I know how we approach food is not something that everyone would want to do or see as necessary and Iain comments on this in his review, but we know with Susie-Belle it proved to be a great way of unlocking her in her early days with us. We are now seeing the same with our anxious girl Twinkle, her anxieties drop away when it comes to mealtimes, much as they did with Susie-Belle and by making her diet varied and deliciously different, it helps her to engage with interest in this daily routine.

Iain's review is very welcome and I appreciate him taking an interest in Susie-Belle and doing what he does to help raise the profile of puppy farming on national media. To have him conclude of our book "....if you own a dog, or ever have done, you will absolutely love this book. It’s a gripping read and when it finishes you wish it hadn’t. I can’t give a higher recommendation that that" is very special.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Fostering - the key to increasing rates of rescue?

As any reader of the book knows, I am hugely thankful to Janet North, Susie-Belle's foster-mum not only for trusting us to become Susie-Belle's new family and arranging for the veterinary care that she needed, but most importantly for immersing her in a loving relationship the first time in her life. Janet and other fosterers of damaged dogs like Susie-Belle are the essential bridge between the dogs traumatic past and difficult present when they first find themselves in rescue, and their peaceful, safe future. For puppy farm survivors, who have never known human kindness, never lived in a home, know nothing about the world outside the cage or concrete pen that imprisoned them, foster homes provide a haven in which they can slowly learn what it is to be cared for and to be free of fear. Some dogs may stay in foster care for many months, others just a few days before heading to their new lives.

I recently came across new research from the US that has specifically looked at the success of a scheme where dogs are sent to foster homes where they also had the task of finding the new home for the dogs. Essentially, the dogs being fostered live very much part of normal life, going out and about into their fosterers community, wearing jackets with the "adopt me" message, making a highly visible presence in the local environment. The fosterers, or "Adoption Ambassadors" as they were called, took responsibility for finding homes and the adoption was completed by them. They used social media, family and friends to find the new homes for the dogs in their care. It builds on the potential idea that many people say they would adopt a dog, than actually do. By enabling the foster dogs to be part of the local community, be visible, be out and about essentially showing themselves to be the adoptable dogs they are, this scheme has shown promising results for increasing adoption rates.
Although the length of time for the Adoption Ambassador dogs to be found homes was longer than those they were compared to in rescue, this was not harmful, as of course they were living in caring, loving homes. Problems that some dogs in shelter have, are caused by the environment of shelters, nothing more. Take them out of the shelters and they are normal dogs.

I think this research shows there is a lot of potential if rescue groups can engage fosterers to take the next step and be responsible for finding homes and the adoptions. By engaging people in their own communities, using their own networks, it may save people feeling dogs in rescue are not for them and going down the puppy buying route as it seems easier.

The full paper is a fascinating read and be found here.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Celebrating National Pet Month

We're a few days late marking the start of National Pet Month as I had to be away from home at the beginning of the week and yesterday we were travelling all day, arriving in France for our Easter break. But we're here now, and although much of the month will be spent outside the UK, we are keen to help spread the message behind National Pet Month: as pets give us so much joy, love and companionship this calls for some wholehearted celebration.

We are huge advocates of enjoying life fully with our pets, we consider them to be intrinsic members of our family and treat them as such. Much of our life revolves around making their life as fulfilling as possible. For dogs like Susie-Belle and Twinkle who never knew anything akin to family before leaving the puppy farm, we are duty bound to ensure they never feel anything less than being essential to happy family life now. But, it's not duty that drives us. We love that they are as central to our lives as we are to them. This to us is what having pets in our lives should be about. Pets are not appendages, accessories, novelty purchases. They are family. Our dogs are respected and loved as individuals and always will be to the end of their days. Just as any family member.

Sadly, we know that not everyone who brings a dog into their lives sees them this way. Rescue shelters all attest to how disposable pets are to some people. When the novelty has worn off, or the cute puppy has become the bigger, boisterous adult dog it was always going to be, the dumping off at shelters is an easy, guilt-free solution for those who see pets as non-family. If people understood better what the responsibilities of pet ownership are, for the duration of their pets lifetime - not the duration of the novelty of having a pet, as this may not be the same thing - relinquishing of pets to shelters may be a lot less, adoption of pets from shelters may be a lot more. I've said many times here that if people understood more about sourcing their puppies wisely, taking their time to research not only the breeds they are interested in but the breeders selling puppies, more dogs like Susie-Belle would be saved the misery she was trapped in for years. We are donating a signed copy of our book to National Pet Month with the hope we may play a small role in sharing this side of pet ownership with the winner of the book.

Activities being held around the country in celebration of National Pet Month, found on their interactive map include fundraising events for charities, educational ones organised by veterinary practices and plenty more. I'm sure you'll find something nearby to take your interest. If we weren't in France, I could well be popping along to a Tea & Cake event I spotted!

The aims of National Pet Month include this:
  • To promote responsible pet ownership
  • Make people aware of the mutual benefits of living with pets
  • Increase public awareness of the role of pet care specialists
  • Raise awareness of the value of working and assistance companion animals
We are delighted to offer support as it sits full square with how we view life with our dogs. How we celebrate every single day with them. They deserve nothing less.

Monday, 31 March 2014

"To groke" is just the start...

Last year there was an article circulating round the internet on dog-focussed websites bringing the wonderful old verb "to groke" to modern minds. It was picked up by dog folk as according to Mark Forsyth author of the  Inky Fool Blog it means "to stare wistfully at somebody while they are eating in the hope that they will give you some of their food" a sentiment that many of us who share our homes with dogs will readily relate to.

Susie-Belle has perfected her groking since coming to live with us....

I loved this wonderful, simple word and have followed Mark's blog with interest and dipped into his recent book, The Horologicon with a lot of pleasure. He takes readers through a humorous journey of lost words, many of which really deserve to be brought back into our everyday parlance. To groke is just the start of a string of food-related words that I for one am going to be slipping into my writings, I warn you now!

For example, when Susie-Belle and Twinkle Berry are presented with their meals, their excitement usually gets the better of their manners and they invariably guttle their food, being the pair of gutguddlers they are. Whilst Renae is a far more delicate, polite eater, but then she wasn't dragged out of a barn half starved.

Chapter 8 of The Horologicon shines a light on the abundance of words with the letter G associated with food and I have a whole new vocabulary I am itching to use. Familiar with gourmet, gluttonous, greedy, he adds for example gundy-guts - an 18th century version of "lard-arse".

It's a fun read and one you may well detect the influence of here in months to come. For now, start looking for the groking looks your dogs give you....they are master scamblers but the best scamblers all need to learn first how to groke.