Pregnant Paws

Well, it’s been a busy week at Emu towers, and, for once, the focus has been away from the challenges of the unreasonableness of the two-legged population and onto the animal kingdom. The week started with Luna behaving…well, strangely. I mentioned the symptoms to a couple of friends, and without missing a beat, each one said : “Phantom pregnancy” I don’t know about you, but this was very much a new term for me, and it does strike me that I’m learning a whole new vocabulary since the dog came onto our lives. Only last week I found that the ugly yellow circles on our lawn were caused by something called ‘urine burn’. I’d never heard of urine burn before, although it sounds like something where a bit of cranberry juice and yoghurt wouldn’t go amiss, but apparently it’s all the rage where female dogs wee on lawns, and completely untreatable, unless you follow said dog about with a watering can every time they need a pee. Any way, onto the phantom pregnancy, which sounds like it might involve ectoplasm and Doris Stokes (or Dynamo, for our younger readers) but is a proper physical and mental condition experienced by dogs a few weeks after their first season. I found this out, as everyone else does these days, by logging on to the internet, via the pet insurance details to check cover (alas no), and established the following symptoms:

  • Behavioral changes.
  • Mothering activity, nesting, and self-nursing.
  • Restlessness.
  • Abdominal distention.
  • Enlargement of mammary glands.
  • Depression.
  • Loss of appetite (anorexia)

Which was a bit like when you look into a medical dictionary and finding that you have all the symptoms for cholera, or athlete’s foot, or glaucoma (or possibly all three). Because Luna, bless her, seemed to be showing most of these signs in spades. Which was all a bit weird (or wared, as they say in these parts), probably as we’re so used to her behaving in a certain way. So, for example, she’d take a couple of her toys around everywhere with her, making sure they were tucked under her when she was sleeping. She started ‘nesting’, unfortunately choosing to do so in our bed. Then she went off her food, then she started talking to us. Really.  Not barking, you understand, but the sort of talking that dogs do when they want to have an urgent chat. Of course, this led to quite a bit of localised hi-jinks, with lots of ‘What’s that Luna, there’s two small children trapped in an abandoned mine?’ or ‘What’s that Luna, you heard Mummy telling Daddy that #3 was adopted?’ Although the fun to be had from this faded a bit when she decided to have an urgent chat at 4 in the morning. Reading the list above, Mrs E was concerned that there might be a conversation she was missing about depression, anorexia or perhaps self-harming, so elected to sleep downstairs, a level of devotion that had been denied to any of her human children.

Fortunately help was at hand for the abdominal inflammation aspect of the illness, as Luna was booked into be spayed on Friday. Not for her the pitter patter of little Hungarian paws across the kitchen floor in the future, instead she’ll be resigned to a barren life ahead, wondering what might have been. Even 72 hours post-op there’s something of Miss Haversham about the way she looks at us. On the plus side, she was weighed at the vets after the op, and declared to be the perfect weight for a dog her age. #1 helpfully pointed out that her reproductive organs would have pushed her well over the ideal point, thereby yet again showing the sensitivity that the medical profession is expecting from him in the future.

All of which has resulted in a different dog at the end of the week to the one we started with. She’s still enjoying her phantom pregnancy symptoms, but is coming down from an anaesthetic which involved a healthy dose of methadone (yes, methadone). She’s shaved across her tummy and sporting a pretty impressive dressing which she’s trying to lick off, so to prevent this, Mrs E has taken to fitting her out in a pink running T-shirt. So, just to recap, we have a dog dressed up in a pink shirt, coming down from methadone, who thinks she’s pregnant, and possibly suffering from depression and anorexia. She’s restless but not allowed off the lead for a week. Yet again, we have a glimpse into what happens when teenage girls go wrong.


Father of the Bride

For twenty of the last twenty one years, there’s been a pretty strong male dominance at emu towers. When Mrs E first popped out her first son, all thoughts of bringing up a little curly haired angel girl got pushed to one side, and I imagined fatherly conversations, perhaps involving a pipe and a fireplace, as I helped the little tyke on his way to being a regular bloke, and potential drinking partner.

Over the following years, with Mrs E almost constantly ‘in foal’, a series of other small boys arrived into the family, culminating in in a 5:1 advantage for the XY chromosomes. Another time, I’ll tell you about the patience that Mrs E has displayed over the years when responding to people who tell her that she must have been so disappointed not to have had a girl. But while she was busy maintaining her self control with the assorted nomarks that were helpfully talking at her, I was (and continue to be) whooping for joy. Because when I imagine having a daughter, a worrisome chill comes over me. I know full well that I’d be one of those awful fathers who’d be appalling news for any spotty youth that appeared on my door wanting to take her out. And I’m no less certain of that having spent the last few years with a few spotty youths of my own, who have been appearing at similar doorsteps across this postcode region for some years now.

And I’m pretty sure that bringing up boys is easier anyway. A friend of mine has a similar ratio of 5:1 but in favour of girls, and half jokes about having had all his interior doors strengthened for slamming purposes. I’m pretty sure that the idea that menstrual cycles synchronise when women are in close proximity to one another is an urban myth, but my friend does seem to spend an awfully long time working away from home.

But, just as soon as I start thinking about getting settled into manly family things, waxing moustaches, playing billiards and having fatherly conservations while leaning on a convenient mantelpiece, along comes disruption into Emu Towers. First, the arrival of Mrs Gibbs the hamster, taking the ratio to 2:5. Then, the disappearance of #1 to seek his fortune in the grim North, taking us to 2:4. Then, the arrival of the dog, bringing us to 3:4. And with #3’s continued obsession with musical theatre dominating every one of his mincing ways, we’re now generally about evens.

And it’s the dog that has given me most insight into the horrors of having to bring up a girl. I was alerted to this a few months ago, while half listening to my wife. The half-listen bit was a bit unfortunate, as I can normally get away with not really listening, making the right noises at the right time and asking for a summary at the end. I know some people at work who have managed entire careers like this, and I’m sure plenty of marriages thrive on it, but every now and again you get caught out:

Mrs E : ramble ramble ramble, challenging kids, need to get some food in, worried about my mother, need to walk the dog etc etc…

Me : hmm, yes, hmm, probably, yes

Mrs E : …and I think she might be going through some sort of change, because she’s really excitable and her genitals are really engorged…

And unfortunately, that’s the bit I heard. And in a ‘please don’t let me screw about with my own marriage’ style, I had to rapidly track back to what on earth she might be talking about.

Me: sorry, are you talking about your mother?

Unfortunately (or, fortunately) not. Had to recover from that one fairly rapidly, and established that we were actually talking about the dog. And apparently, the dog, being almost a year old, is moving rapidly out of childhood and coming into her fully fledged adolescent years. Which is, apparently called a ‘season’. And, apparently, with the season comes all sorts of teenage behaviour, including spontaneous bleeding, moodiness and disobedience, and a general enthusiasm for ‘it’. Some or all of which may be recognisable to those of you who are dog owners. Or possibly parents to the XX set.

But it’s not familiar territory to me, by any stretch. I’m not used to the idea of waiting up for Luna to come back from a walk. I’m extremely worried that Mrs E might well be looking to invest in some dog nappies. And, most of all, I fear for her going after just any old dog in the park. I keep telling her that I want her first time to be special, but all I get for my troubles is an enthusiastic lick of the face, and I’m not sure that’s the answer I want. Mrs E is putting a bit more faith in the process of keeping Luna on the lead for four weeks, and giving any inquisitive suitor the cold shoulder, but I’m not so sure. After all, attractive young female teenagers who really want to have sex normally manage to get their way, don’t they? As for Mrs E’s fallback plan, words almost fail me. Apparently, for a mere £75, you can buy a canine ‘morning after pill’ which is almost 100% guaranteed successful. I mentioned this to #1 last night, and he said we might have to use it after a one-walk stand. Indeed.

So I’m sorry to all my friends who’ve had to go through this in the past, if I’ve not been entirely sympathetic. If this is the sort of worry we have with Luna, it must be almost as bad with a human daughter.

Having said which, I need to walk the dog. And I need to have a word with her first. She’s asking for trouble, going out looking like that.

Bringing up baby

Some years ago, me and Mrs E came under a certain amount of pressure around the kitchen table, particularly from numbers 1 & 2, to get a pet. After a number of months of resistance, we finally agreed that we could increase the headcount in the family with a hamster, an ideal pet that doesn’t actually do very much, is almost entirely nocturnal, and enjoys biting humans. So we trawled off to the pet shop, and the boys, after being encouraged away from the snakes and spiders, selected their new best friend. (The NBF, by the way, maintained the BF element for about 5 minutes after arrival, which might have been predicted, and ‘Brains’ maintained a hermit like existence for his entire life, doing what hamsters do, which, from my experience, is as little as possible.)

Anyway, we had a fairly memorable exchange with the shop assistant, who gave us a light/medium grilling on the importance of being prepared in the art and science of hamster rearing. Would we, for example, like to read up on the subject, just to make sure that we were completely ready to manage a new pet in the house? Perhaps we could take away a £6.99 book and check the safety features in our home, then return when we were absolutely certain we could cope with the upheaval.

I remember this meeting quite clearly, partly because Mrs E, who doesn’t raise her voice in public terribly often, raised her voice in public.

“Look”, she said, and I remember, all around us, people began to do just that.

“I’ve raised four children without a manual, I think I can manage a hamster”.

And so she could.

I mention the story of Brains (RIP) entering our lives in this way because we’ve just welcomed in a small puppy which has taken over our lives far more forcibly than the hamster, or indeed, any of the children ever did.

Just to give you some context here, I work away most weeks, returning on a Thursday evening to help with the telling off duties, so I end up speaking on the phone to my wife a couple of times a day. And for the last three weeks, almost every phone call between the two of us has focused on bringing up the new baby.

“Whatever did we talk about before we had Luna?”, Mrs E said at the end of a call last week, as I imagined the children looking longingly at their mother, desperately keen to tell me about achievements at school, new girlfriends, enthusiasms for improving readings, exercise routines and what they wanted to do when they grow up. (As if.)

In truth, having children has just about prepared us for the challenges of bringing up Luna, and so here’s a bit of a brain dump on how:

We are, for example, the only people who have ever owned a dog, just as in our own self-centred ways we were the only people to have ever had children, and thereby we reserved the right to bring every conversation around to how beautiful they were, whether they were eating/pooing in the right direction, what they’d learnt to do, and so on. Twenty years on, I can just about face talking about how boring we must have been to those around us, and only really justify it in that I’ve seen every other new parent I’ve met since behave in exactly the same way.

We’re ‘socialising’ the puppy in the same way as we took the kids to the park, and we look at her in that sort of benevolent angst that all the other dog owners do. Isn’t it great, we think, when they’re playing nicely together. But if your puppy starts getting above itself, we’ll take ours away before you can say obsessivemiddleclassttwit.

And, in the same way as we spent hours poring over the early learning centre catalogue to get yet another worthy toy, we’ve filled Luna’s living space (which started off as a bed in the corner of the kitchen and has now spread to pretty much the whole of the house), with dog toys, balls, chews and goodness knows what else. And, just like the children, she dutifully ignores all the toys and contents herself with a cardboard box. Most of the children have grown out of chewing table legs, but #4 still gives it a go now and again, and it’s quite sweet to see them side by side, munching on bits of furniture.

Already, Mrs E has trained her to have a better sense of personal hygiene than #3, although to be fair that’s not too high a hurdle to jump. Luna does catch you out though – when you’re home from a run, for example, she greets you by licking you as a makeshift salt lick – delightful at first, but a bit off putting when you realise she’s just had same tongue inserted in her own bum, and before that it was licking bird crap up off the pavement.

There’s a fundamental difference though, in the whole bringing up puppies and children thing. When our kids were born, obviously we loved them to bits, but their faces all looked like something between Winston Churchill and The Hood from Thunderbirds.

the hood winston





So, looking down into the pram, you might be forgiven for the odd shuddering recoil.

Thankfully they’ve all grown out of this look, although #3 does give a passable ‘Never Surrender’ look in a certain light – God knows what he’d be like with a big cigar and a homburg. In contrast, showing someone a picture of Luna always gets the same reaction. Altogether now…aaaah:



I’ll be your dog

Well, following the Emu’s previous blog on The Big Decision On Becoming Dog-Owners, we’ve finally agreed the way forward. As a result, we made the all important call to the breeder a couple of weeks ago, and had a discussion that I suspect we’d find more familiar had we ever tried to wedge one of our kids into Eton. It appears that when you decide to buy a dog from a respectable  breeder, the interview kind of goes in the opposite direction to the one you’d expect, and it’s really up to you to pass the interview on whether you’re really qualified to own a dog. I’m not sure that we had the equivalent of this qualification when we first contemplated bringing kids into our world, but that may say something about the society we live in. Anyway, we passed the audition about whether we’d be fit to take on a puppy, and, given that there was a national waiting list and two large litters, we were duly allocated ‘bitch number 7’ and given a 90 minute viewing appointment in February, at which we will be paired with the ‘right’ puppy.

At which point, there was a suitable amount of what Hank Williams might have called ‘a’whooping and a’hollering’. I don’t think I’d realised just how much everyone else in the family actually wanted this puppy, and the sight of four people jumping up and down like they were on individual trampolines will stay with me for some time. And might be referred back to when the dog needs walking at six in the morning when it’s teeing it down with rain.

And that’s when the real challenge of naming the dog started coming in. At our allotted time in February, we’ve received instructions that we need to provide a small snap collar that is marked with the puppy’s name. This means that we not only need to have sorted a name by then that won’t sound ridiculous to the breeder, but also will a) mean something and b) be acceptable as something that can be called out in public and at the vet’s. For example, where we live, if we name a dog Elsie or Ruby and call it in the park, there’s a fair chance that we’ll be mobbed by ten year old girls in floral dresses and T-bar sandals.

And the meaning thing is a big deal as well. My absolute favourite ever name that we’ve come up with (thanks to our chums N&N) is Brilleaux, after the wonderful, wonderful Lee Brilleaux, who I mentioned here earlier and who really deserves some sort of recognition in the Emu home. I carefully worked out a hustings and lobbying plan for this name, and canvassed all members of the family to get them to vote in the right direction, but was eventually worn down by the counter-lobby (which I suspect may have been led by my wife, who has been heard in the past to say that ‘All Doctor Feelgood songs sound the same’). The counter-lobby finally won, with a text from #1, stating firmly that Brilleaux was ‘only suitable for a ‘boy dog”.

We also have a slight problem with other ‘meaning’ names, and my not-so-subtle attempts at calling a dog after my heroes have met similar obstacles. And as a result, Tegla (Loroupe), Grete (Weitz), (Alf) Tupper and Tuppy (Glossop) have been received with a certain amount of sniffiness by the committee.

Fortunately, I work in an industry that prides itself on knowing one end of a data based decision from another. And, if there’s one thing that I’ve learnt from a career in careful  observation of management actions, setting strategic direction and addressing important opportunities for process improvements (and so on), it’s that by turning very important data into attractive red, amber and green colours, you can make the whole exercise of making decisions far easier. So, taking our shortlist of potential names, and taking all feedback into consideration, we arrived at the following table (pls note #2 might not have been taking the exercise entirely seriously):

number 7

Oh, I forgot to also mention that I’ve also learnt from  observing management actions, setting strategic direction and addressing important opportunities for process improvements (and so on), that this is also an excellent way to hide behind the reality of actually having to do anything. And because it’s unlikely that our breeder is actually going to allow us to call our new member of the family ‘Bitch Number 7’, and because the really valid name (Brilleaux) has been outlawed, we’ll do whatever any responsible business leader will do, and make a decision by completely ignoring the management information and going with our gut instinct.

Which is what we’ve done.