Barking Mad

A nation of animal lovers?

  1. In 2018 more than 47,500 dogs were abandoned by their owners in the UK. The animals all ended up in council pounds and more than 5,000 were later put down, according to the Dog’s Trust annual survey of 345 local authorities. It is estimated that around 20,000 dogs are put down in the UK every year. Why do we continue to breed dogs? I guess the answer is that we want specific breeds, fashionable breeds, breeds that don’t shed hair, breeds that look cute on Instagram. Maybe we should stop breeding dogs until all the shelters are empty? 
  2. Overbreeding and puppy factories have been blamed for the rise in stray dogs. Breeding dogs this way should carry a massive fine and a lifetime ban on owning animals. As an aside, I think all dogs should be identity chipped and licensed. The license to own a dog should enforce responsibilities such as training and exercising the dog appropriate to its breed.
  3. Don’t have a dog if there’s no one home all day. Most dogs are likely to become fractious, bored, obese, and naughty. Dogs are pack animals and need exercise, company, stimulation; and to be socialised with other dogs. Above all, don’t have a dog if you dislike walking, especially walking on dark winter mornings combined with cold rain. Most dogs need walking twice a day, not just at the weekend or when you feel like it. Using a ball-launcher instead is not a good idea. Consider how hard and fast your dog is running, turning, and leaping to catch that ball and then read about all the joint injuries this activity can cause. Walk the dog.
  4. Dog mess. More people do pick it up, but then they leave it hooked over a gate or discarded on the path in a plastic bag! Think about the implications to our environment.
  5. If your dog is loose and there are other dogs in the vicinity on leads, you must call your dog to heel or put it back on the lead. The dog already on the lead may feel vulnerable if a loose dog bounds up uninvited, no matter how friendly you think your beloved Rex is. The dog on the lead may be sick, old, not trained to recall, or blind, and the owner is trying to be responsible. When our elderly Labrador lost his sight he became nervous around other dogs and exercise meant lead walks only, but I’ve lost count of the amount of other dog-walkers who deliberately thwacked balls in our direction, and claimed that their big bouncy dog just wanted to play with him. Retractable leads can be just as useless in these situations. Not only do they break quite easily, but it’s common sense not to use them fully extended where there are roads, pedestrians, and other dogs, as essentially you are not in control – basically you have a semi-loose dog which can still run sideways, and barge too far ahead of you. 
  6. Dogs respond quite readily to simple voice commands and body language, so teach your dog to understand what NO means. And practise some recall obedience before you let the dog run free in a public space to be a nuisance to other people and their dogs, or attack livestock. Train the dog to walk to heel and/or buy a stop-pull harness – please don’t buy a choker chain. Reward the dog when he returns to you, rather than rant that it took too long or express what a naughty boy he is. He’ll be loathe to return at all next time! 
  7. Dogs are pack animals and are happier and less likely to become a problem if they feel secure in the family pack, ie: they know their place. If you allow the dog to eat from your plate and sleep in your bed, you are granting special privileges in the canine pecking order. This may or may not become a behavioural problem… but if it does become a problem, are you going to blame the dog?
  8. Why do some dog owners feel the need to dress their dog? Another social media spin-off? I’m not talking the odd hat or a quirky necktie for fun. Our Labrador looked especially dapper in a bow tie on special occasions, but he’d draw the line at being trussed up like a surrogate child, and so would I. Respect the fact that Rex is a dog and would prefer to be treated as a dog because that is what he understands. By the same token, children should be taught to respect Rex as a dog. When Rex is sleeping – preferably in his own bed – because then the message is crystal clear. But if Rex reacts adversely to being suddenly jumped on, are you going to blame the dog? If so, we’ve arrived full circle back to bullet point 1 in that an unhealthy proportion of abandoned dogs in rescue shelters have arrived there through behavioural problems created by their owners.

B is for Beatrix, Barista, and Banana

After the angular acrimonious ramblings of letter A, I thought a more optimistic post was in order and letter B is altogether a softer, more rounded individual. A week of bumbling across Cumbria under bright blue skies and lurching from pub to pub was a rare tonic.
DSCN6390I do love the Lake District. We stayed at The Plough in the luxurious Redman Room, not too far from a village called Nook so I’m not sure the week worked as an escape from books. In fact, I could easily set a series in Cumbria, although if I were to believe something a publisher said to me about locations, I’d never write anything set in my native Snowdonia again, let alone anywhere so inconsequential as the Lake District. I wonder what Wordsworth would have thought about that, or Arthur Ransome?
In terms of books, the area is a wonderful literary blend of Wordsworth, Ransome, and Potter. It even boasts Wainwright for the non-fiction section. Apparently though the top British settings in fiction are Cornwall and Scotland. Clearly, I need to get Jack Redman out of that spa bath and into a kilt.
B is also for Bullshit, and Birthday!
April 2016 coincided with the Queen’s 90th, Shakespeare’s 400th and most appropriately for Cumbria, the 150th birthday anniversary of Beatrix Potter. Her legacy of 23 children’s books lives on.
e5ddac6377fc8aa4692eabc4baa4c630Interesting to read that Potter originally self-published the famous Peter Rabbit story after a host of rejection letters from publishers. In 1901 she printed 250 copies herself. It was so successful that within a year she was approached with a deal from one of the original publishers who had turned her down. But in 1903 she took matters into her own hands again when she failed to reach an agreement with Frederick Warne and self-published The Tailor of Gloucester. Potter was reportedly dogmatic about what she wanted the book to look like. Warne wanted cuts (that old chestnut) and she didn’t; so she self-published 500 private copies. In the end, Warne gave in and their subsequent partnership – both commercially and romantically – saved his publishing house from bankruptcy and revolutionised the way children’s books were marketed and sold.
Has anything changed in the industry? Other than Kindle, no!
13001210_1182904868420469_1182541687761248515_nPrior to my Cumbrian bumblings I met with Gillian Hamer of Triskele Books to discuss our next bookshop event at Hinton’s of Conwy. Thanks to Storm Desmond on December 5th our previous event was literally a whirlwind, but we aim to do bigger and better the next time around. We chose a coffee shop in Conwy in which to discuss the finer points – such as which wine to serve – but I admit to being heavily distracted. I think it must be a writer thing, people watching and dog watching. Where else can you buy Welsh tea bread from the same rack as a selection of dog chews? It was a busy venue with an eclectic queue of customers, obviously, some of them canine and suitably attired for the occasion with designer neckerchiefs. When it came to my turn, the barista charged us a hefty price for fancy drinks. Gone in fifteen minutes and with no real lasting impression, this had us somewhat downhearted when we compared the inflated cost of a cup of coffee to a novel which had taken maybe 12 months to write and produce. Should readers expect to pay more than 99p for a novel? I’d like to think so but reality dictates otherwise.
Royalties or any kind of profit are especially poor with regard to paperback sales (a retail price of £8-£10 can still mean less than £2 for the author). The bulk of the retail price is of course dictated by the printing and production costs of the physical book.
12339449_755681737870922_2320413221731760214_oAnd yet, from a satisfaction point of view, book signings allow a one-to-one audience with the reader and sometimes, this is priceless. Have we devalued material by publishing on Kindle? Probably. Without that physical copy in their hands, it’s not immediately apparent to the reader where the cost of producing electronic material comes from, and I think there’s a high expectation now for free or 99p novels.
Although Beatrix Potter did well from her royalties, including the purchase of Hill Top – her beloved farmhouse at Sawrey – would she believe that today, an original copy of Peter Rabbit attracts a price tag of £35,000?
John Ruskin, a Victorian artist known for his Cumbrian landscapes and a prominent social thinker from Potter’s era, gets this into perspective: When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece. Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of intelligent effort. There is no wealth but life…
Okay, press on… B is for brewery, Border Collie, beef and ale pie…
DSCN6386Wandering lonely as a cloud and looking at spent daffodils is no great hardship in Cumbria when the sun shines, although there was still clear evidence of Storm Desmond. It may have hampered our book signing in Snowdonia, but Cumbria got the full force. Many foot bridges were either washed away or partially collapsed in the National Park, and it was pretty incomprehensible to see roads closed because of huge sinkholes and massive subsidence on such tranquil, sun-filled days. The trees bordering the River Lune – those still standing – were extensively decorated with debris from the riverbed, like dirty lace. The volume of water surging along the Lune had virtually carved out new banks, taking down huge trees, stiles, and miles of fencing. It was the stuff of fiction, faintly unbelievable and morbidly fascinating to see how high the water level had reached. In various places around Cumbria we had to find an alternate path, and found ourselves walking miles off the original route.
DSCN6399We did find Ruskin’s steps though and climbed to the famous viewpoint in Kirby Lonsdale, hot and exhausted and tempted to bring out the emergency food supply, but not quite. Who needs a black banana when there’s beef and ale pie just a bit further on? The bar at The Watermill Brewery is mostly for dogs, children rather less so. The ales are straight out of someone’s active imagination: Collie Wobbles, Shih Tzu Faced and Wruff Night. Our dog used to love visiting because there was always some sort of canine action and plenty of tidbits on the floor.
Inspired by Potter, I should really write a book based on our dog’s adventures, illustrated with abstract line drawings. There’s nothing like the body language and facial expressions of a Labrador to raise a smile. And Pringle had a lot to say. There was that time he dragged a full picnic table across the camp-shop entrance and everyone was trapped inside. My husband yelling, ‘Pick up your balls!’ on a Cornish beach in August. The seven popped beach balls we had to pay for…
A couple of trips to Scotland and we’ve got the location covered. 
The Dead Dog Diaries: Adventures of a Spooky Bounder. I wonder what Beatrix would have made of a paranormal dog? Ruskin would be ashamed of my commercial plotting but just think, in 150 years’ time it might be worth a few quid.