Toby

Toby was the result of a snap decision after spending some time with friends who had a young black labrador. It was a decision that changed our lives.

 

 

We had lost our beloved cats, Reggie and Ronnie, over a year earlier. Both lived to be more than twenty and we couldn’t imagine finding cats with their enormous personalities to replace them. We were living on the Isle of Man by then with two young children, both of whom had fallen in love with Tavey, our friends’ dog during our visit. On the way home, Richard said suddenly:

“Shall we get a dog?”

“A labrador?” I asked hopefully. I’d spent a huge amount of time many years earlier staying with the family of a university friend. They always had dogs, black labradors and a springer spaniel. I adored Worthington and Henry and had always thought that if I could have a dog, that’s what I’d like.

“Well they’re good with children,” Richard said.

The conversation might have rested there, but when we arrived home, I picked up the free paper from among the mail and flicked through it. With our conversation in mind, I glanced at the classifieds and to my surprise, there it was, a small advert.

“There’s somebody advertising labrador puppies here, in Ballaugh,” I said.

Richard looked at me. “Ring them,” he said. “We can go and have a look. We don’t need to get one. Don’t let the children know, in case we decide not to do it.”

Looking back on that piece of naivety makes me howl with laughter.

There was one puppy left when I rang, a black boy. It was a small litter, only four puppies, the mother a family pet. We arranged a time to go up when the children were at school, having told them nothing.

The house was chaos, puppies confined to a large pen but still taking over the room. Richard sat down next to the pen and someone deposited a black puppy onto his lap. “This is him. We call him Homer, he’s the biggest of the litter. Look at his paws.”

We looked. It was hard to miss those paws, they were enormous. I stroked the puppy’s ears. It had climbed up Richard’s chest and was licking his face. “What do you think?” I asked.

Richard didn’t answer. He’d obviously lost the ability to think, he was too busy falling in love.

Toby came into our lives like a small black tornado. He was lively, he was bouncy and he ate everything in sight. He ate our shoes and our clothes and our kitchen. He resisted all forms of training or discipline and made puppy training classes a nightmare. He clearly knew his name but had no idea why it mattered since he had no intention of responding to it. He was a new full time job and we adored him from day one.

My memories of Toby are a series of snapshots through the years. Toby as a puppy, failing to look guilty as some new piece of destruction came to light. Toby taking forever to learn ‘sit’, ‘down’, ‘heel’ and ‘come’, but then unexpectedly learning ‘turn’ and ‘paw’ without effort.

Stars of Blogging with Labradors
Blogging with Labradors, starring Toby and Joey

Toby first learning to swim down at Groudle Beach and then refusing to come out of the water because he loved it so much.

Toby as a young dog, taking pride of place beside Richard in our little red Mazda with the top down, ears blowing in the breeze as they headed off for the beach or the plantation.

Toby at two and a half, when we introduced Joey, the new puppy, patiently letting him jump all over him and then batting him halfway across the room when he got bored.

Toby at a barbecue, stealing a sharp kitchen knife off the worktop and racing out to greet an arriving guest to cries of “Hilary, watch out, he’s got a knife”

Toby refusing to come back to the car when it was time to go home, not once but many many times, making me late to collect the kids while I was coaxing him.

Toby at Silverdale, meeting an elderly man unexpectedly on the path and eliciting the remark: “Bloody hell, it’s the Moddey Dhoo!”

Toby taking the descent down Peel Hill too fast, rolling to the bottom and ending up with an operation and weeks of hydrotherapy to get him walking again.

Toby curled up on the beanbag with Anya when she was practicing her reading, listening to stories about dolphins and mermaids, loving the cuddles.

Toby on our “dog training for awkward dogs” intensive course, earning the nickname “Mr I will if I feel like it” after his determination not to walk to heel on the lead defeated experts in the field.

Toby getting older, his beard and eyebrows going grey, still handsome, very distinguished.

Toby sitting beside Jon and then Anya through their GCSEs and A levels, headbutting their books and laptops to get attention when they were trying to study.

Toby with arthritis, too stiff to move fast or go for long walks anymore, but loving the garden or a mooch around the beach.

Toby meeting Oscar, the new puppy. Standoffish at first, then interested, but very much in charge, very much the senior dog. All the little steps of acceptance; the first time sharing a bed, letting Oscar lick him, licking him back. Toby watching Joey and Oscar play fighting and then finally joining in, a bit stiff and awkward, but having fun, his tail wagging.

The boys enjoying the sun this afternoon

Toby sunbathing in this warm weather on the tiled front porch with his brothers, his fur warm to touch, snoring gently.

I’ve started to cry again as I write this. There is so much to say about Toby that I can’t write it all. He was my friend, my beloved dog for fourteen years, and I struggle to believe that I won’t see him again.

There was a day, a few weeks back, when we took the dogs to Groudle Beach. I’d not seen Toby go into the water properly for a long time but he clearly wanted to show Oscar how it was done. It brought tears to my eyes to see how happy he was, splashing about. He looked like a dog who was discovering some of his lost youth and seemed to be enjoying it.

A week ago we took the three of them to Derbyhaven Beach in the evening. He was less keen to swim that day but he paddled, and sniffed the rocks and walked around on the sand looking so happy, his tail wagging, a big grin on his face.

On Monday 23rd he joined in a huge playfight in my study, trashing the place and making work impossible until I kicked them out. They all fell asleep in mid-game, slept for about four hours and woke up to eat dinner, then sat outside with us watching the lights come on.

The next morning I found him apparently sleeping peacefully in the kitchen. There was no sign of illness or distress or any kind of trauma. Joey was sleeping next to him; Oscar nearby in his cage. He’d died in his sleep, almost as if he’d decided that this was as good as it was going to get. He refused the inevitable declining health and mobility; the misery of a family trying to decide when was the right time to let him go.

He went kindly and with dignity and that kind of death was a gift that many pet owners don’t get. I was in shock and then distraught and I cried when we buried him and didn’t know how I would ever stop. Our family has lost a beloved member and I hate that he’s not curled up next to me. There’s an empty bed; an empty space on the porch in the mornings and an empty space in my heart that will always be there for Toby.

There’s been an outpouring of sadness and sympathy online, not only from friends and family who knew Toby but from people who have got to know him online through following Writing with Labradors. I’ve been so touched at all the messages. It doesn’t make losing him any easier but it does help.

It’s only been a few days, and grief still catches all of us unawares. We all deal with it differently; the girls talk and cry a lot, the boys are quieter, sadder. Joey spent the first day wandering from room to room, knowing he was missing, which made me cry more. But we were so lucky to get Oscar, the perfect puppy, when we did. His company has settled Joey very quickly. It would have been much harder without him.

I’m never going to stop missing my big boy and I’m horribly aware that Joey isn’t that much younger than him. But the pain and the grief of loss when a pet dies is worth every moment for all the years of love and fun we’ve had with him. He was a fabulous dog, loving, funny and daft, and I don’t regret any of it.

Rest in peace, Toby Dawson. You were so loved.

 

 

 

 

 

Joey the Labrador

I thought long and hard about sharing our experience with Joey the Labrador during the past 72 hours. Part of me thought it was too cold and contrived to talk about that many tears and that much stress on a blog post.  The other part of me is aware that since I started Writing with Labradors just over a year ago, hundreds of people have not only read, but interacted with me about my writing, my life and more than anything else, my dogs.  Toby and Joey, my elderly labradors, have become firm favourites with a large number of people and our new arrival, Oscar, has been hugely popular.

Eventually I’ve decided to share.  The story isn’t over yet, we’re still up in the air and we’re hoping for a good outcome but we still don’t know for sure. But my beautiful Joey has given us a major fright and I can’t go on sharing pretty photos of them all without telling the story.

About 48 hours ago, Joey’s back legs suddenly stopped working. This isn’t uncommon with labradors; Toby has bad arthritis and falls over occasionally, although much less so since we started giving him joint supplements. But with Joey it was sudden and shocking and he seemed in agony.

We’ve been backwards and forwards to the vet several times. Yesterday morning he couldn’t get up at all and we cried, all of us, on and off, waiting for the vet to open, knowing that the time might have come, far too soon and totally out of the blue, to say goodbye to a beloved member of our family. Joey is twelve and not the oldest of our dogs and to be honest we didn’t expect it to be him.

It took three of us; my husband, my son and myself to get him into the car and down to the vet. My daughter stayed at home, crying over the other two dogs. We promised her that if it was bad news we’d make sure she had time to say goodbye.

The vet, who is fabulous, came out of the surgery to examine Joey in the back of the car. He was fairly relaxed, wagging his tail. Eventually she asked us to get him down and on his feet if possible so that she could check his reflexes. I felt a bit sick, knowing how painful it was going to be for him, but Jon and Richard did it and he stood there, letting her move his legs about.

“It doesn’t seem neurological,” the vet said, finally. She sounded slightly surprised. Joey looked up at her intently. Then he gave a little woof and went for a walk.

Joey wasn’t on a lead. He couldn’t walk; it seemed superfluous. We all stood there watching him in some surprise for a minute. My brain came back online first.

“He’s not going to stop,” I said.

Nobody moved or spoke.

“He’s going,” I said, starting to move. I had flip flops on and I couldn’t run.

“He can’t run,” Richard said, watching him.

“He’s bloody running,” I said, tripping over my own feet.

At that point, the wisdom of taking an active nineteen year old became obvious as Jon raced across the car park and caught Joey on the curb before he went into the road.

Having rediscovered his legs, Joey tripped around the car park (on a lead) did what he needed to do and came home with us. So far the vet has diagnosed a severe arthritic flare up, probably exacerbated by an injury (chasing a new puppy around possibly?)

Joey is home now. Yesterday he was not running around, or even walking. He was clearly in pain but he could get up and down when he needed to and he’s got a shedload of anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers. His tail is still wagging.

This morning, Joey came out into the front garden. It seemed difficult for him and he flopped down again and wouldn’t move. I was starting to get anxious again, it was a long time since he’d done a wee, but nothing shifted him. Nothing until Jon came past with Oscar on a lead, taking him for his morning walk. Suddenly Joey was up and at the gate, looking expectant. I got the point and got his lead. Outside the garden, we didn’t go far, but just watching him mooch around on his feet and behaving normally was a joy.

Oscar curled up with Joey
Oscar cuddling Joey

Oscar has been unbelievable with him. At first he seemed confused that his friend wouldn’t play but now he’s just cuddled up to him, happy to be close.

By this evening, Joey was almost back to his old self. He has started requesting to go for a walk, only very short ones to the end of the road and back, but so much more than we expected. This evening at feeding time, we found him sitting at the top of the three steps to the utility room. While Anya and I were still working out how to get him down without hurting him he stood up and walked down them as though he’d never been injured.

Writing with Labradors is in shock. It’s one thing to know that your old boys are getting on. It’s another to find yourself face to face with the reality of losing a dog that you adore. We still don’t know the long term prognosis for Joey although it’s looking very good at the moment. But it has given us a reality check.

The boys enjoying the sun this afternoon

I love my dogs. There is no part of me, that is ready to say goodbye to any one of them although when the time comes I will do the right thing. In the meantime I feel as though I’ve just both dodged a bullet and had a rehearsal for what might happen in the future.

 

Writing with Labradors. They don’t live forever but while they’re with me, I love them to bits.

 

The Arrival of Oscar – Guest post by Toby from Blogging with Labradors

The arrival of Oscar has changed everything at Blogging with Labradors.

I can’t believe it’s been nine months since my last guest post. High time the labradors got a say again, and a lot has happened during that time.

You’ll be glad to hear I recovered very well from my foot operation last year. In fact, despite all the humans’ very personal remarks about how old I was, I recovered a lot quicker than she did from hers. We quite enjoyed it, Joey and I, she was trapped on the sofa for weeks with not much to do apart from make a fuss of us and call for tea every now and then.

It’s been a good ten months at writing with labradors. She’s now published her ninth book, An Unwilling Alliance, which is partly set on the Isle of Man and gives very good descriptions of a lot of the places I used to go when I was a bit younger. Quite liked the bit where the heroine fell down Peel Hill, I must say, it happened to me in my youth and it’s very long way to roll…

Still, life has been good, the sun has been shining a lot which is good for my arthritis and the younger humans have been doing something called exams, which seems to involve sitting around looking at books, papers and little white cards. The important thing for me is it keeps them in the house and making a fuss of us labradors.  Things were bimbling along nicely I thought, until a few weeks ago when she goes off for one of her periodic trips on the boat.  She usually comes back with a bag of candles from Ikea and eighty-five more books about the Duke of Wellington, but not this time! No. This time, she turns up with THIS!

So there we go. Meet Oscar, my new little brother and the latest member of the Writing with Labradors staff. I must admit, when I first saw what she’d got, I was pretty unimpressed. I mean she has two perfectly good labradors already. A bit old and creaky in places, and Joey seriously needs to lose a few pounds, but we’ve still got what it takes. Why does she want another one?

Joey took to Oscar a lot quicker than I did. I mean, I didn’t dislike him, but he’s a bit noisy and a bit full of it, and like all kids, he doesn’t know when to stop. I had to tell him off a fair bit in the first week or two, and I certainly wasn’t sharing my bed with him or my sofa or having him lounging all over me like Joey does. I always knew that yellow lab was soft in the head.

All the same, I’m starting to get used to him. It’s sort of fun having a youngster around. To start with, I just watched when Joey played with him in the garden. I’ve not seen Joey move that fast for years, I didn’t know the old fatso still had it in him. But it reminded me of the old days when we used to play together like that. And after they’ve finished playing, we all have a sit down together and it feels sort of right, somehow. Like he belongs here.

Still, I wasn’t planning to get involved. But we’ve been outside a lot lately with the weather being so great. They sounded as though they were having so much fun. And one morning I just couldn’t stop myself. Silly old fool at my age, and I’ll feel it in the morning, but by gum it was good fun.

So here we are. Three of us now, not two, and life has got a bit more exciting. Theres a lot of responsibility with having a youngster to take care of. Weve had to teach him about the beach and the park and the glens. Eventually well have to teach him to swim. Ive not really been in the water for a couple of years, but I got in with Oscar down at Groudle the other day and I must say Id forgotten how much I loved it.

2018 is going to be a good year for Writing with Labradors. Welcome to the pack, Oscar. One day maybe she’ll let you do a post of your very own…

 

Limping with Labradors – Guest blog by Toby

Blogging with Labradors

Toby

Welcome to blogging with labradors.

Hard to believe that this is called blogging with labradors and yet this is the first time I’ve been allowed my own blog post.  I mean, she’s very keen on posting ‘cute’ photos of us but do we get a say?  No.

Today she’s finally agreed to let me dictate my own post.  She can’t do anything else really.  I’m still recovering from my recent operation and while I’m lying around looking cute in her socks, she’ll let me get away with pretty much anything…

So, first a little about me.  My name is Toby, one of the two stars of Blogging with Labradors.  I’m thirteen and a black labrador, born on the Isle of Man up in Ballaugh although my Dad was an Irish show dog. She makes a lot of jokes about the Irish in me, but she’s laughing on the other side of her face at the moment since she just got back the result of her Ancestry DNA test and has discovered that she’s 11% Irish herself.  It explains nothing except the strange sense of humour and a somewhat dodgy taste for Irish folk music, but there you go.

I share the house with a family of four humans and another labrador called Joey who was adopted two and a half years after I arrived.  Joey is Manx and from a line of working dogs, which means he’s not as good-looking as me, although he’s not bad I suppose.  He used to be the energetic one, although he’s got so fat these days that his nickname is either Fattums or the King of Chins.  He’s supposed to be on a diet, but that’s a bit of a joke because he’s the most talented food thief I’ve ever met.  Generous too, he’s always willing to share what he gets down off the kitchen counters.

Joey the Labrador

My humans are all right really.  I like the young ones best.  They’re always willing to stop whatever they’re doing, especially if it’s homework, and get down on the floor to give me a bit of a hug or a tummy tickle.  They also make a lot less fuss about dog hairs than the older ones.

Both the senior humans do something called “working at home”.  This seems to involve endless hours sitting at desks staring at a computer screen although how much of it is work and how much is scrolling through cute dog photos on Facebook and twitter is anybody’s guess.  I don’t really mind, because since she started working at home, I’m never without company.  She’s moved our beds into the study with her and we pretty much spend our days in there while she mumbles rubbish about Wellington and the battle of Badajoz at the screen and piles up books on the floor because she’s run out of space on the desk.  Sometimes we go and lie on the books, just for a laugh, and pretty much every one of them has dog hairs in it and at least one muddy paw print…

We live in Douglas on the Isle of Man which is a great place to live as a dog since it’s full of beaches, glens, rivers and great smells.  At my age I don’t walk that far, I’ve got arthritis, but I do like to get out and have a mooch around and a good sniff.

During the past year, she’s started writing books.  To be honest, she’s been writing books for years but she’s started publishing them.  I have to say I mostly approve since it keeps her quiet and out of mischief and means she spends more time with us.  I also like the website and blog, since a bit of publicity never does a labrador any harm, and I’m glad she’s acknowledging how important we’ve been to her success so far.

The thing that has bothered me is that up to now none of these books seems to have had much of a canine element.  I mean I know they’re historical novels, but people have had dogs for a good few years now and I can’t believe she’s neglected this important aspect of the human condition.  It’s true that there is a brief mention of a hound in A Marcher Lord” but he barely gets a few lines and there’s no character development.  It’s a shocking omission.

A Redoubtable Citadel

The most recent book is called “A Redoubtable Citadel” (where does she get these titles from) and it is published today.  It’s the fourth book in a series set during the Peninsular War.  I don’t know much about war and I’ve never thought it made much sense when you can eat or sleep instead, but people seem to like these books.  However the crucial thing about book four is that she’s finally come to her senses and introduced a dog.  It’s early days yet, but I think this one has the potential to be an important historical figure.  He’s got a good military name and I think he’s going improve the lives of the main characters no end by scattering dog hairs all over their uniforms and leaving muddy paw prints all over the tent.  I can’t wait.  Although apparently a few other things happen in this book, like battles and whatnot…

Other than that, the only other excitement in life at the moment is regular visits to the vet.  I had an operation a few weeks ago to get rid of an annoying lump on my foot and they’re all kicking off because I keep chewing off the dressings.  I’m not sure what else they expected, those things are uncomfortable.  This sock does seem to be a better solution so far and I must say I’m enjoying making a fashion statement.  She’s got an endless selection of attractive socks for me to work my way through.

I’m signing off now.  They’re cooking brunch and I’m hoping to cadge a bit of bacon if there’s any going but don’t worry I’ll be back soon on Blogging with Labradors with more musings on life with labradors…

Toby

Writing with Labradors Updates

An Unconventional Officer - love and war in Wellington’s army

Writing with Labradors updates

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Writing with labradors has undergone a few changes this week which will hopefully make the site easier to follow.

One new feature is the freebies page which now includes the first chapter of all seven published books.  It also includes the first chapter of book 4 of the Peninsular War Saga.  A Redoubtable Citadel comes out next month and takes Paul van Daan and the 110th through the horror of Ciudad Rodrigo Badajoz and puts Anne in the worst peril of her adventurous life.  Read chapter one here.

A Redoubtable Citadel

In addition to the sample chapters, I intend to upload a few other freebies as I go along so watch this space for more Writing with Labradors updates and improvements.

I’m also intending to introduce a separate travel section for those of you who are interested in history and might be considering visiting some of the areas depicted in the books.

Thanks to all of you who are following both this site and the Facebook page, reading the books and taking the time to review and rate them on Amazon and Goodreads.

If you want regular updates, articles and information on history, travel, book reviews and a few freebies thrown in, you can now join the e-mail list here.

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Blogging with Labradors: History, Writing and Life

Toby and Joey

Welcome to blogging with labradors – my very first post.

I’ve read so many times about how daunting it is to be faced with a blank page.  That’s probably very true for normal people, but I’m not sure I’ve ever been normal.

From a fairly young age a blank page has always been a challenge for me. I can fill it with ease; with stories, with doodles, with information, with ideas.  Writing things down has always come more easily to me than speaking the words, although having said that, I quite like to talk as well.

So Blogging with Labradors is my author website and blog.  Wow, that sounds mad.  It means that after years of prevaricating and making excuses and sending endless manuscripts and sample chapters I am finally going to take matters into my own hands and publish what I’ve written.

As I said, the writing was never the problem.  I’ve always written.  The business side of writing, the risk of putting my ideas out there and letting people read them hasn’t come as easily to me.  It’s not that I’m shy.  I’m actually not.  It’s just that it feels slightly arrogant, slightly conceited to assume that just because I’ve written something people will want to read it.  I don’t even tell most people that I write.  It’s been like a guilty secret for most of my life, draft after draft of novels and stories hidden away.  I used to write in exercise books and then on an old manual typewriter.  Now I have laptops and Word and Scrivener.  It doesn’t matter what you use to write with.  What matters is finding the courage to let people read it.

The world of publishing has changed beyond recognition.  Self-publishing used to be called vanity publishing and involved paying a large sum of money to print a book which might never sell.  These days we can all do it online, and somehow it seems to have less of a stigma attached. But there’s a bit of me that still wishes I’d found an agent or a publisher.  I did try, although not as hard as I might have done since I lack the patience to wait four months every time.  I’ve entered competitions and done quite well.  I’ve joined new writers schemes and tried Mills and Boon because at least I know they read the stuff.

I’ve had some great comments.  To summarise all of them, I have learned that I don’t write pure romance and I don’t write literary historical.  They don’t fit the Mills and Boon mould.  I can write, and people seem to like my characters.  My research is excellent and my books are apparently easy to read.  But they don’t fit.  They’re not currently marketable.  They’re not particularly strange or wild or unusual.  They’re just not part of a current trend.

That might be true.  If it is, I don’t really mind any more.  I’m putting them out there into the world of e-publishing and I hope some people find them and enjoy them.  I’ve realised, at this advanced age, that I’m not going to stop writing.  I love what I do and perhaps some other people will enjoy it too.  If not, I’ve lost nothing but the time it took to create them, and since it was a joy that’s no loss at all.

Lurking in the bowels of my computer I’ve found three standalone novels which I’m going to publish first after some revision, more as a test run than anything else, although I’m fond of them.  I’ve also been working on a series of novels set during the Napoleonic wars which I’m going to revise and start publishing.

My late onset of publishing bravery has taken me into a whole new world of technology.  It’s never been my strong point, and I’m lucky that the man I married is a software developer and resident genius, although if he has a fault it’s his passion for finding out every single feature of literally everything before writing a single word.  I owe him so much for all the work he’s put in on this website and on helping me work out how to publish the books.  More impressively he’s even read one of them, came up with several intelligent ideas on improving it, and genuinely appeared to enjoy it.  Blogging with Labradors, and it’s website, Writing with Labradors, is written by me but would never have existed without his help and patience.

I’m intending to upload the first book within the next week and I hope people will read it.  If you like it please review it and recommend it.  If you hate it, feel free to review it anyway.  I’ll be upset because I’m human but I might learn something from it, this whole thing is a learning process.  So far it’s a process I’m enjoying.  I hope some of my readers enjoy it too.

Toby, Joey and I welcome you all to Blogging with Labradors.