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Pets

I have been pesco-vegetarian for 27 years, long before it was trendy or commonplace, and I have progressive views on animal welfare.  I’ve never discussed my views on my blog, though, because it feels a bit like I’m forcing my beliefs on other people and I hate that.  Having said all that, my opinions on keeping pets will come through in this post, not to make anyone feel upset or guilty or ‘wrong’ but because my entire blog is written from my own perspective and my perspective on animal welfare is one of my strongest.  Before anyone flips out, please bear in mind that I am entitled to my opinion and absolutely nothing you can say to the contrary will change it so basically don’t waste your breathe telling me how fabulous dog crates are.

I’ve owned a pet since I was 6 weeks old.  Over the years I’ve shared my life with cats, rabbits, horses, dogs, even a pig (which was slaughtered when I was 11 and probably planted the seeds of my aversion to eating meat).   I had a chaotic and often lonely childhood and my pets gave me comfort, joy, companionship and unconditional love – I don’t know how I would have survived without them.

Looking back, however, we as a family made a lot of mistakes in our pet ownership.  For example, we got a beautiful, intelligent, loving Labrador/Collie dog then left it on its own for 8 hours a day.  The poor thing had a lonely, understimulated and miserable existence and I feel guilty to the bottom of my soul for that and still, nearly 30 years after his death, apologise to him in my prayers.   We owned a rabbit that was kept in a tiddly cage for most of its life and even though I was only 9 years old at the time and didn’t know any better I still feel guilty about it.  I am absolutely against keeping pets chained up or in confinement and that includes birds and fish.  I also think dog cages are barbaric.  I know it’s currently trendy to jail dogs, but then it used to be trendy to send children up chimneys until we came to our senses and realized it was cruel.  I’m now going to have comments from people who tell me their dog loves its cage, my answer to which is great, dogs love to have a quiet, comfy place to sleep just so long as you never shut the door and it’s free to leave whenever it likes.  I do have to put in a disclaimer here that caging an animal for short periods for health reasons, eg if recovering from surgery, is fine and in the best interests of the dog (even if the dog doesn’t realize it).  I’m even against owning horses to ride, even though I had two as a kid.  There’s a reason we call training horses ‘breaking’ them, and if you have to break a horse’s spirit to get it to do what you want I can’t see how that’s justifiable.  Plus, kicking an animals’ ribs to make it move is cruel by anyone’s standards.

“When you know better, do better” Maya Angelou

I’m saying all this because before we own a pet we need to think about the kind of environment we can provide for it.  It’s not about us, it’s about them.  Cats, for example, are mostly nocturnal and can roam up to 4 miles each night.  If you live next to a busy road and are planning on never letting it out of the house you have to consider how healthy an environment that is and whether, much as you’d like a cat, it’s actually suitable for the cat.

I already had a moggy when I got really sick with M.E.  I’d adopted him from a rescue charity when he was 6 weeks old (all my pets have been rescues) and I loved the bones of him.  I installed a cat-flap in the back door and he could come and go as he pleased, which he mainly did at night and slept the day away with me on my bed.  He was no bother to look after, even for someone as ill as me, I just had to feed him twice a day and that gave me a reason to get up in a morning.  That cat absolutely kept me alive.  On the days I felt so ill and was in so much pain I didn’t know if I could carry on I’d look at him and wonder what would happen to him if I killed myself.  Who would care for him?  Who would love him like I did?  The answer was no-one (my parents weren’t allowed to own pets in their apartment block) and I knew I had to survive for his sake.  He was tragically run over in 2002 (I think he’d become quite deaf in his old age) and I was distraught.

I now had no reason to get out of bed each day, had no-one to chat to and no-one to to cuddle.  My days felt devoid of purpose, bearing in mind I was still almost totally bedridden and very poorly, and even though I was still grieving some weeks later my parents took me to the rescue centre and we came home with another cat, a 2 year old Tom.  Being young, he was a different kettle of fish to my previous boy and much harder to look after because he was still at the stage where he wanted to play.  I found the first few months hard work, and wondered if I’d made a mistake, but eventually we settled into a new routine and developed a very special bond.

Fast forward 12 years and he developed chronic kidney disease.  We were never away from the vets in the final year of his life and it’s situations like this you have to bear in mind when you take on a pet.  Not only the expense (I spent £1000 on him that year) but the effort involved which, when you’re ill, is immense.  Luckily my M.E. had improved a fair bit by then and I was able to drive again – I would never have coped if I’d still been bedridden and I genuinely don’t know what would have happened.  I finally had to have him put to sleep in 2011.

I had such a special bond with that cat that I couldn’t even contemplate replacing him with another moggy, yet once again my days were devoid of purpose and I felt really lonely without a furry companion.  I wondered if I were well enough now to consider getting a dog and spent some weeks researching the kinds of breeds which would be suitable for someone as ill as me, eventually deciding on a Chihuahua which I read didn’t need much exercise.  I don’t agree with buying pets, though, when there are so many in rescue needing a home but as I live in a farming community all the rescue dogs were either Collies or Staffies.  I spent weeks trawling the rescue centres online but the only small dog I saw was a little chap called Bertie.  He was a 2½ year old Miniature Schnauzer, a breed I’d never even heard of, so I spent a few more weeks learning about Schnauzers and eventually decided to go and have a look.

He was actually much larger than I’d imagined (he’s 1¼” taller than the breed standard) and I was still unsure whether he was ideally what I wanted, but as he tentatively put his paw on my knee and looked up at me with huge, worried eyes I instantly fell in love.  Add this to the fact he shared a birthday with my Nanna, and had the same name as one of my family members and I couldn’t ignore the signs that he was meant to be mine.

Despite being young, Bert was a really laid back dog.  In fact, I got so worried about how much he slept I took him to the vet for a check-up, but was told he just had a chilled personality and to be grateful 😉  But that’s kind’ve where my luck ended.  I’m a terrible sleeper at the best of times, so Bert’s bed was put in the Utility room and he slept downstairs.  But he woke every morning at 4am and started barking.  To cut a lonnnng, stressful, exhausting story short it took me 2 months to get him to sleep through, and even now 6 years later he still wakes me at 6am every single day of the year and I am permanently shattered.  I thought I’d be able to leave Bertie on his own for an hour or two if I needed to, not knowing that he had severe separation anxiety.  Despite trying various behaviour modification techniques we’ve never managed to conquer this, so I need a dog sitter every time I need to leave the house.  He had various other emotional issues, including weeing in the house despite being house-trained, and it took about 9 months and a lot of hard work for me to get these sorted out.  He’s also a barker.  Terrier breeds do tend to yap for England, especially the boys, and Minis are renowned for being vocal.  Again I tried every trick in the book and in the end had to admit defeat – he just loves the sound of his own voice and will bark at a leaf floating past the lounge room window 😉  Some days, when I have a migraine or am particularly sound sensitive, this drives me to absolute distraction and is actually physically painful.  Mini Schnauzers don’t need huge amounts of exercise but they do still need to go out and obviously my walking ability is severely limited.  Having thought about this I walked him on my little mobility scooter on an 8m extending dog lead.  Bert, though, was a puller and I learned some years later that he’d never been taught to walk on a lead by his previous owner.  Our walks became a nightmare and I often came back in tears, with my painful joints in tatters.  With that, his noctural wakings, barking, emotional problems, going nuts at other dogs and general lack of being trained I was so stressed, exhausted and ill at the end of the first month that I rang my Mum in floods of tears completely overwhelmed and unable to cope.  I had no idea that having a dog was going to be that hard and I was simply too ill to manage.  She told me that my health came first and that I should return him to the pound but, as my best friend recently told me “you are one of the most loyal people I know” and for me it wasn’t an option.  Bert was family, I loved him and I would make it work no matter what.

We are apparently lucky to have one of the country’s leading dog behaviour experts in Cumbria, so I rang him for advice.  He told me I’d chosen the wrong dog and that there was no way of teaching Bert to walk to heel on a mobility scooter.  I put the phone down in floods of tears, and a fierce determination to prove him bloody well wrong.  Just because you’re disabled doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a dog, even if the dog has issues.  Particularly if the dog has issues.  So I googled, went on forums and read everything I could about training difficult dogs and 2 long, stressful, tiring, frustrating years later Bertie and I finally came to an understanding.

We are now a team.  He walks beautifully next to my mobility scooter.  He comes when called (mostly 😉 ).  He sits, downs and stays when asked (mostly 😉 ).  He still barks for England, but no longer hurls himself at visitors and instead sits nicely by the front door when the doorbell rings waiting for his treat for being a good boy.  He’s brilliant with children.  Hopeless with other dogs.  But I can take him anywhere and he is golden.  In particular, he loves riding in the car sitting on his booster seat in the back, wearing his doggie seatbelt, with his head stuck out the window, beard and ears flapping in the wind.   We get constant compliments on what a brilliantly behaved pooch he is and I smile and think to myself ‘if only you knew’ 😉

He exhausts me, and makes me joyful, in equal measure.  I found taking him out twice a day on my scooter all too much, so now employ a dog walker for his morning walk which means I can no longer afford to buy clothes, or joint braces or other vital stuff for myself.  I insured him at £17.50 a month which, 2 MRI scans, 2 x-rays, an operation on his leg, drug induced vomiting after eating rat poison, worms, several fatty tumours, several ear warts and a bout of colitis later, went up to £70 a month so now cripples me financially.  I also have to employ a dog groomer who comes to the house every 6 weeks.  He has food intolerances, so has to be fed an expensive dog food and has to take supplements, which are another drain on my limited funds.  Without him I’d be monetarily so much better off but emotionally so much poorer.

Having a pet when you’re ill isn’t impossible, but it is a huge committment and one which shouldn’t be taken lightly.  Looking after a pet well can be stupidly expensive and absolutely exhausting.  No matter how ill you are, their needs come first.  You can’t decide one day that you’re too tired to walk your dog, or that you don’t fancy going out because it’s chucking down.  No matter how ill I’ve ever been over the past 6 years Bertie has never once not been walked twice a day, and if I couldn’t do it I got someone else to do it for me.  They may get sick at some stage, so you have to consider how you’d pay for that or if you have the resources to look after an ill animal.   Cats and dogs can live until they’re 20, so you do have to look ahead and think about the future.  But if you do feel able to take on a pet  the rewards are beyond words.  Bertie woke me at 5.30am this morning (I eventually moved his bed to my bedroom) and even though I was annoyed at being woken at the crack of dawn (again) one look at his furry little face and I just smiled.  He makes me laugh and brings me joy every day of his life and I can’t imagine being without him.

 

 

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Criticism

As you may have noticed, I don’t take kindly to criticism.  In most cases I think it’s absolutely unnecessary and usually the only reason for criticizing someone is to make them feel bad, or to make them question their thoughts or feelings because they don’t match with our own.

My biological Dad started criticizing me when I was just a toddler.  Nothing I did was right, despite the fact I was beautiful, exceptionally clever and in most respects the model child.  At the age of 21 I decided that if your own Dad can’t see the wonderfulness that is you he doesn’t need to be in your life and my biological Dad is no longer in mine.

I was bullied mercilessly at school by girls 3-4 years older than me.  I still can’t get my head round bullying behaviour.  Do these people have so little going on in their own lives they have to focus intently, every waking second, on someone else’s?  I was called every name under the sun on a daily basis for years, Lesbian being a favourite despite the fact I dated the same boy all the way through high school.  You have to nurture your own self-belief that you are a good person, despite what other people say.  This has stood me in good stead for being a Blogger, where you open yourself to some truly vile, angry individuals and those who lack social skills and appear to have no idea how to interact respectfully with others.

Of course, many kids who have difficult childhoods repeat learned patterns of behaviour in adulthood and I married a clone of my Dad.  My husband was a manipulative, psychologically damaging bully who criticized me endlessly – how I dressed, how I spoke, my skills as a wife and homemaker.  Luckily for me, and I’m not entirely sure how I managed it, I hung on to the little self belief I had and realized I deserved a better life.  So I divorced him.

When I developed M.E. I faced a different kind of criticism.  Every medic I’ve ever seen, at some point or another, has implied (or outright told me) that my symptoms were psychological and I was simply afraid of life/exercise/being well.  At one point I even started to believe them, despite the fact I tried everything to get better and desperately wanted my life back.  I turned my back on the medical profession in about year six of being sick – I didn’t need their kind of “help”.

There are various types of criticism of course.  When I put my photographs online I expect some form of critique, but I expect it to be polite and constructive.  I don’t expect someone to say “what have you done?!  There is no soul in that picture!” which is a recent comment from someone on one of my portraits.  That kind of comment dents a person’s confidence and makes them question their abilities, which isn’t going to make them better at their craft.  My best mate is my toughest critic when it comes to my photos, but her comments say things like “not sure the lighting is right in the top right hand corner, can you maybe darken it down a bit?”, critique which does not damage my self-belief and is actually useful.

Criticizing someone’s appearance is never OK with me, which is why I was so offended by my neighbour recently saying I looked ancient and miserable in a self portrait I’d done.  When you reach your fiftieth year and are menopausal you don’t need to be told that you looked better 5 years ago because you already know this.  We can’t do anything about our genes, the aging process, our height, our skin colour, the shape of our ears or any of our other physical attributes, so criticism of our physical appearance is never justified and the intention can only ever be to hurt or belittle.

When someone leaves a comment on my blog which starts with “you are wrong……” I don’t even read it.  If I’ve written a factual piece (which is rare, my blog is about sharing my life experiences) then politely pointing out I’ve made a mistake is fine.  But telling me my views are wrong isn’t.  What they’re actually saying is “I have a different view point to you and my view is the right view dammit!” which I find intensely arrogant. It echos with my husband’s constant diatribe of “shut the fuck up, what do you know anyway?!”  When I can be bothered to question these people on their views they can never back them up with hard evidence.  I’ve had loads of people comment that my ‘low histamine’ diet is a joke, but when I ask them to point me to the research on which they base their low histamine diet there is always a deafening silence…….because I know that this information doesn’t exist and all the low histamine information online is based purely on guesswork.  The same goes for disagreeing with someone’s political views, or parenting skills just because they don’t match yours – after all, you are right goddammit and they are wrong!

There are times when criticism is both needed and justified.  It’s absolutely right to question President Trump’s views on women, ethnic minorities and immigration because they are harmful and I’m intensely proud of those Americans who are standing up for their beliefs.  I personally, however, have much less time for the Brits who whinged endlessly about Brexit purely because they had an opposing view to the majority in the referendum, and the MPs who are threatening not to sanction the triggering of Article 50 should be sacked – we live in a democracy not an autocracy (thank God).

When I was younger I was a people pleaser.  I wanted everyone to like me and I took everyone’s views of me on board, as many young women do.  It was intensely damaging and decimated my confidence and self esteem.  I no longer entertain criticism unless I’ve a) asked for it and b) it is constructive.  If the price I pay for self belief is that not as many people like me I can live with that.

Is it a girl thing?

Jen Brea’s TED talk (which received over 300,000 views in it’s first 3 days!) about the way women are treated within the healthcare system has made me think a lot about the way women are treated in general.  We face discrimination every day of our lives and it’s so entrenched that it’s normal.

On TV yesterday was a woman who had been sacked from her Receptionist’s job because she refused to wear high heels.  She was professionally dressed in a suit but had on flat shoes because she found heels uncomfortable (they’re fucking crippling and I have no idea why we put ourselves through the torture!).  The male TV presenter said that all the men wore ties which they didn’t like, so why was she whinging about having to wear heels which made her look “glamorous”.  What has “looking glamorous” got to do with looking “professional”?!  God forbid she should turn up to work not wearing make-up, because apparently that also wasn’t allowed.  Her brilliant reply was that if they wanted her to wear a tie she’d happily oblige, then she and the men would be dressed the same.

A man left a comment on my blog this week telling me what to do.  He didn’t ask politely “have you tried this product?” to which my answer would have been “yes”.  He assumed I didn’t have a brain cell in my head and wouldn’t have already tried his solution, because obviously I’m female and fucking stupid.   My brother treats me like I’m stupid all the time, even though he doesn’t possess a single qualification and I am educated to post-graduate level.  We’ll be discussing a situation and he’ll pipe up “what you need to do is………….”.  He doesn’t say “have you already tried…….?” to which my answer is always “yes” because I’m not thick and have way above average problem solving skills, he just assumes he knows better than me because I have a vagina and not a penis.

Last summer I was at the petrol station filling my car up.  I went to pay and asked for a ticket for the drive through car wash.  Sadly it was out of order.  As I was walking back to my car a complete stranger (male) tapped me on the shoulder and said “you don’t want to put your car through the drive through anyway.  It only needs a bit of grit on the bodywork and the rollers will drag it along and scratch the paintwork.  What you need to do is use the pressure washer.”  My reply to which was “thanks so much for your unwanted advice.  How on earth have I managed to successfully live alone for 30 years without your guidance?” (I wasn’t about to tell him I am disabled and can’t physically use the pressure washer, because my health is none of his goddamn business).  To which he replied “I was only trying to help you rude bitch!” like I was the one who had been inappropriate.

But it’s not just men who tell me what to do.  I have women comment on my blog all the time, who think they know more about my life than I do.  The most popular is “you know you have <insert 50 different medical complaints here>” when they don’t have a single medical qualification or have access to my test results or medical records.  They assume that, despite being sick for over 2 decades, I’m so bloody dense I wouldn’t have already looked in to any of this stuff.

I ask myself if they’d tell a male blogger what to do like he’s five years old?  Would a man walk up to another grown man at the filling station and tell him how to wash his car?  Of course not. I do know people are only trying to be helpful, but I ask myself if they would “help” a man in the same way?

The constant assumption that women are stupid and need to be parented like a child drives me insane.  I have lived alone since I was 22 years old and I will be 50 this year.  Despite being as sick as a dog I have single-handedly renovated two houses, the first of which sold within 7 hours of going on the market (even though I didn’t use an Agent) and 12 years later still holds the title of most money paid for a house in that street.  I own power tools and I can use them better than any man I’ve ever dated.  I’ve managed to keep my car on the road since I was 17 years old without help from a man (apart from my mechanic).  Through my own research and determination, and without medical help or care, I have gone from being bedridden for nearly a decade to no longer being bedridden.  In the last 5 years I have successfully sued three companies without help from anyone (I couldn’t afford a solicitor).  In last year’s north of England photographic competition I received the highest score of anyone in my Camera Club despite it being mostly full of men and the fact I am disabled.  I’d like to think, despite my lack of a y chromosome and the humongous limitations imposed on me by my health, I’m fairly successful in my life.

If and when I need help or advice I am more than capable of asking for it.  If I don’t ask you can assume I don’t need, or want, it.