Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Plot Twist: In Which Gatsby Wants Us All To Take It Easy

Gatsby is fed up with our serious analysis and reflection.

Gatsby wants to share her holiday snaps!

You know how postcards always arrive really, really late, long after the traveler has returned home? Well, Gatsby wrote this postcard during her holiday, and I guess it has finally arrived.

Dear all,

This place is great! The sunpuddles are warm, treats in abundance and ohhh, did I mention the grass? It's fluffy and smelly with bugs and sticks! I've been digging as many holes as I can!
The locals are pretty friendly too.

Wish you were here.
xo Gatsby


Well, not really the end, of course. Even though she's back home now, I'm sure I'll be seeing more of Gatsby, and I'll be sure to share my adventures with you. But that's the end of her holiday, so new adventures await!

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

An Incident: In Which We All F*** Up, Sometimes

We are nearing the end of the Gatsby saga, but there's one incident that happened during her stay that I want to share with you all. Because I'd like to know what you guys think, and because the truth is -- we all f*** up sometimes.

About two-thirds into Gatsby's stay, I decided I was fed up with being scratched. I knew it was mainly due to how long her nails were, so I started looking for a groomer. I had no desire to try doing them myself because she's a nightmare to clip. In the past, we've resorted to both K and I working together and Gatsby ingesting a large amount of pawpaw ointment to get a few nails clipped. When I asked K she told me Gatsby could now be clipped by a groomer.

Can you believe this sweet face has been kicked out of two different groomers?

I have to admit -- part of my impatience to have her nails clipped was because I had company that evening and didn't want her scratching my guests in excitement.

Hey! Turn around!

I was hesitating because I didn't know if it would work; Gatsby is afraid of so many things. I didn't have a car to take her, either. While sitting on the issue, I woke up one morning to see a groomer's trailer outside my neighbour's. It was the mobile dog wash kind, obviously a franchise, but I went outside to check it out anyway. My neighbour had used this groomer before for her Golden Retriever and was very happy, and I couldn't watch the actual washing but was happy with the way he handled the Golden so I asked the groomer if he would clip my dog's nails. He asked a couple of questions and agreed easily.

It didn't work. Gatsby was afraid from the get-go. We sat together on the neighbour's front lawn, we tried with me using the clippers, we tried in my yard, we coaxed, bribed, and distracted with plenty of treats. We ended with me restraining Gatsby, groomer failing to muzzle her and Gatsby scratching him and drawing blood.

I felt terrible. I felt really guilty, and really stupid. Why? Because since day one I had been gradually and systematically exposing Gatsby to things she was afraid of. Our first walk she sniffed every single tree, bush and shrub along the way. I let her take her time. From the second or third walk onwards she actually walked. I learned to stop by the side of the road and wait while strangers approached, particularly if they were men or had dogs or children. Soon she waited calmly as they passed or even walked right past them without stopping rather than shy away. At the shops I asked strangers to give her treats. When my friend came to visit I asked her to wait in the hall for a while and toss Gatsby treats through the gate.

I felt this created more confident behaviour rather than the hit-and-miss approach that came of her people frequently thrusting her into many situations she wasn't comfortable with. This gradual approach worked well for both her and me, so I was still doing all of those things outside the house or when someone came to visit. I felt more in control of the situation and less likely to be pulled off the path or have her posturing at toddlers. She was doing very well, but we still had a lot of steps to go.

So I have no explanation for why I suddenly expected her to be okay with a) a stranger, b) who was male, c) who probably smelled like dogs and d) who came at her with clippers. Everything I've ever read told me otherwise, and it went against everything I believed in and the way I'd been working with her.

After the incident I was afraid Gatsby would regress a hundred steps and all my careful work would have been undone. I was afraid she would be more afraid than before of all of the aforementioned things, or even develop new fears. I was afraid she might be wary of me, even.

None of those things happened. She was still fine with strangers walking by as we calmly waited for them to pass. We found her lying at my visiting brother's feet under the table that evening. She absolutely, definitely loved and trusted me as much as before.

Profile view of Gatsby
What's going on inside that little head?

The incident still triggered my depression and I spent the next day in bed. One thing that gave me some peace was when I told my mother about the incident a day later. She told me that this had happened, more than once, when I was a child. I was a fearful child with separation anxiety, and she tried to expose me to more things, like playdates and dance classes. Sometimes it went well, and sometimes it didn't. After the latter, she always felt terrible, and wondered if she'd done the right thing. But I bounced back, just like Gatsby did.

Has this ever happened to you?

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Gatsby's Stay Continued: In Which We Are Told Of The Training That Happened

How do I cope with the desolate reality of not having a dog of my own?

Why, I borrow other people's dogs, of course!

There have been other dogs I appropriated as my own, but my biggest adventure was, of course, The Great Gatsby Project.

While she stayed with me, I walked the adorable 8kg doggie diva almost every day, and:
  • She really grew in confidence. Initially she shied away from people and dogs approaching on walks (her scared ears, pulling me off the path), so when anyone approached I walked her off  the path and we waited until they had passed. Soon she no longer showed signs of fear when people approached. She happily led me past people once or twice without any issues, but I plan to keep stopping by the side of the road and waiting for a while yet, as she’s still bothered by larger groups of people, some dogs, etc.
  • We visited the dog park probably every second walk. We didn't go in, but just spent some time outside the fence. If she led us too close and panicked, we retreated to a 'safe' distance. The aim was to work up to going in.
  • I took her to the shops and she stayed by me while I ate a meal at an outdoor cafe, twice. Whenever strangers wanted to pat her I gave them high-value treats to give Gatsby to remind her that strangers can be a good thing. Gatsby was very, very good at the shops! 

With a canine companion, you never have to eat alone

  • Our family all learnt to use the "Off!" command, and while she never gave up pawing at us, I think it lessened when she realised I was never, ever going to give her my dinner. She still whined when I left the room or when she was left alone for too long, but I tried to wait for a pause or a sit/down before I re-entered the room.
  • I taught her "shake" (shake paws), which is pretty darn cute!
Needless to say, I enjoyed all of this, because I had a companion in my fluffy friend, because every bit of progress was thrilling, and because it was fun!

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Why don't I get a dog of my own?

Remember! Melon's Animal Adventures is now at our new web address, You may need to add the new URL to your feed reader so we don't lose you!

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This is a good time to answer a few of the questions I was asked before my hiatus.

A few of you have asked if I'd like a dog of my own.

A friend of mine, Mom of the acd6pack, asked:
with the support of your family, would a rescue dog of your own be a possibility?  I know you've thought of it in the past and I can't help but wonder if maybe having Gatsby at your home might have made the family see how much fun a dog can be and also that maybe it helped you?
I would love a dog of my own. But it's not a possibility right now. I have dysthymia, which is a chronic (long-term) form of depression, as well as multiple anxiety disorders. Because of this I haven't been able to finish my studies or keep a job. What does that have to do with a dog, you ask? Well, they are just examples which show how disruptive my illness is, and which emphasize that when I say I don't get out of bed or feed myself some days, or I forget to water my plants so they die, I mean it. This means that having a dog isn't going to work, no matter how much I love it or how much care and training I give it on my good days.

A dog is not a plant, people like to say. It's hard to ignore a dog. I know. But my guinea pigs were living, breathing, squeaking creatures and I managed to neglect them more than I'd like. I was lucky that Mom swooped in to care for them - Mom did almost all of the daily care for Cocoa for the last few years.

I need a hooman to hold my foodables for me!

My family are reasonably supportive and helped me out with Gatsby the couple of weeks she was with us, but as we all know, a dog is a 15+ year commitment. I'm can't make that commitment right now and I can't make it on behalf of my parents, who aren't after a dog. Due to my illness I'm also living at home, which means that it's not really fair to my parents to bring in a dog when they aren't after one. (And, of course, having no income means that I definitely can't go out and make a 15-year financial commitment.)

So, to conclude -- I would love a dog of my own.

I do get sad that it's not on the cards, because having Gatsby confirmed what we suspected -- having a dog around can help a lot. While Gatsby was here, I exercised, I slept well (no sleep meds at all!), and I had someone and something to focus on other than myself. But it caused some difficulties, too (more on that later).

Gatsby made a good walking buddy

But I (have to) accept that it's not on the cards right now, just like I (have to) accept not having the life I want right now. I (can only) do what anyone else with chronic illness does -- just put one foot in front of the other.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

We are moving!

Have you ever done dog training atop a ladder, pausing your drilling of the roof while you dig into your pocket for treats? While the dog is on the other side of a fence to you, visible only from the top rungs of the ladder? I did, recently, and we are both alive to tell the tale, although I admit I'll need to improve my treat-throwing aim if there is to be a repeat performance!

To hear how it happened, and for more stories like this...

Stay tuned to Melon's Animal Adventures, which is starting up again. (Hooray!) Our new web address from Sun 13 Dec will be If you are visiting through a feed reader like Feedly or Feedspot, you might need to add the new URL to your reader as the old link won't work anymore. Please check this - I value all of your comments and friendship and don't want to lose touch with any of you!

Don't make me come over there!