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A Safe Place

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safe place

It struck me yesterday – or, if I’m being honest, it struck Mum – how important my ‘safe place’ has become on our walks. Back in the autumn of last year, when I wasn’t walking at all – at the beach, yes; with the Parents, yes; with my Uncle, yes; just never anywhere in town with Mum – Mum and I came up with a safe place that she would carry me to, and when she placed me down, I’d walk from there. This seemed a bit of a random idea, but it worked. Mum had realised that there was one spot where I always seemed to relax, albeit it just a little. With a fence on one side (enclosing private gardens) and with cars always parked on the other, this stretch of footpath always felt like a calm spot after all the noise and traffic that we had to navigate in order to get here.

At first, Mum carried me to this spot, and I always walked from here. Then, on a few occasions, we even ran here – I should point out, this spot isn’t that near to where we live – as, once running, I’d forget about the nerves. And then, earlier this year, I started walking. My confidence grew.

You might imagine that the story ends there and that from this point onwards things have been fine. Easy, even. But they haven’t. I still get anxious. I have anxious days. Anxious weeks. Some days, it is hard to get from where we live to here. I stop-start, stop-start. (Okay, part of this is about being a hound and stopping to sniff every – and I mean every – scent. But part of it is also about me digging my paws in and refusing to move, in fear.) Sometimes Mum has to pick me up as picking me up is better than letting me get so freaked out that I shut down. So she carries me for a bit, reassuring me all the time, and then we try again.

And every time we reach this place, things get better. Finding this safe place has been invaluable. And now, more often than not, I pause here and take a moment. Because learning to deal with anxiety, in whatever form it takes, is about small steps. And it’s about keeping on trying, knowing that one day it will indeed get better.

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My February

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So, you might well be saying, March 11 is a fine time to post a round-up of events in February. I know, this is late – although, in case you missed it, I did post My February on Steller (okay, Mum did, but let’s not quibble over the details). The thing is, Mum and I were planning on redesigning the blog and thought we might hold back on posting anything else until we did, only – wait for it, friends! – Mum likes the new design I’ve chosen so much, she’s wondering about using it on one of her blogs instead. This is what happens – you come up with a great design concept and your human nicks it!

So, ehm, watch this space. Its design may or may not be changing very soon….

As for February, well, it was a good month. The days stretched a little, which meant slightly longer walks, although still with frozen paws. We made trips to Cambo Estate in Fife and to the historic village of Culross, which is also in Fife. I had a few great beach walks with my Uncle Bracken, who was also made into felt by the very talented felt artist Alison Rumbles.  And early in the month, I was interviewed by Bow Wow Times for their Instagram Dog of the Week feature, which was unexpected and great fun. Already in March, the days are getting longer. I can smell spring on the way.

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Did Someone Say Spring?

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I know I’m not alone in saying this, but I’ve had enough of winter. Enough of damp paws. Enough of wet bellies. Lowriders were not designed for drenched pavements. Or puddles. Or soggy grass. Or mud. And, to be honest, my humans have had enough of winter too, which is why we packed ourselves into the car and headed over to Cambo Estate in Fife two weekends ago. Every February and March Cambo takes part in the Scottish Snowdrop Festival, when the woodlands on the estate are carpeted in snowdrops. “Snowdrops signal the start of spring,” Mum explained. “People see snowdrops and feel… hopeful. Hopeful that winter isn’t going to last forever.”

This alone would be a good enough reason to visit, but Cambo is also one of our favourite places because of its incredible Victorian walled garden. I’ve been here a few times now and have told my Dad that this is the kind of garden I’d like one day (a guy can dream…): enclosed by a high wall, so it’s very safe; big enough for myself and my Uncle to invite all our friends round and still have enough space to lose each other (safely); and filled with windy paths that are begging to be explored. I love an adventure, and this garden is an adventure.

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There’s also a prairie garden, which is filled with grasses in the summer months, and a winter garden, which again was filled with snowdrops when we visited. And, of course, there are various gates and doors and benches and seats and ramshackle brick sheds that are primed for Mum to photograph – usually with me either placed on them or in front of them. Sometimes Dad is coerced into joining in.

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Remarkably – considering that we had left Edinburgh earlier in thick fog – the sun appeared, and it felt like the first proper sunshine of spring…

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Gates… I’ve no idea how this started, but Mum has developed a strange fascination with doors and old gates. I’ve learned just to get on with it. (Note to self: in future, always ensure that extending lead is removed before photo ops…)

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Once we’d strolled round the garden, taken photos at the ruined old steading, and gone to visit the piglets – who unfortunately had timed their nap for our arrival, so I got to smell them, oh-so-tantalizingly, but not see them – we headed past Cambo House itself and along the stream into the woods.

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There was, of course, the obligatory posing on a bench that appeared to have positioned here for this very purpose…

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… and the obligatory posing amongst the snowdrops. If I’m honest, by this stage of the walk I was feeling a little less keen on the posing malarkey. As this was the start of the snowdrop festival, Cambo was busier than we’d seen it on previous visits, so I could hear other people and, more importantly, other dogs. And there’s nothing like hearing dogs you can’t see to put a guy slightly on edge.

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Also, by this stage of the walk, I could smell the sea. I always say, every truly great walk ends with a beach, and here the woodland path leads to Kingbarns golf course, from where you can walk down through the dunes to the beach. And once on the beach, I can relax. Every time we’ve travelled to Cambo, there’s been something different to see as the gardens and the woodland changes with the seasons, but the walk always ends here, and the beach is always the same. A place to feel sand between your paws. Rock pools to explore. A place to breathe out and contemplate life. As we all need to do from time to time.

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Uncle Bracken Gets Woolly

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One day, a few weeks ago, I received a comment on Instagram asking me whether my Uncle Bracken could possibly be the same Bracken that Alison Rumbles knew from her walks with her dog Tilly. Alison is an artist who makes felt dogs by hand, and she sells her pieces through her shop on Etsy and also takes commissions. Alison had messaged me because she had started working on a felt dachshund inspired by this wirehaired dachshund she knew called Bracken.

And yes, you guessed it, it was indeed my Uncle! It turned out that Alison knew my Uncle Bracken and my Grannie, and so the ‘Bracken’ she was in the process of making was fashioned on my Uncle’s gruff and rugged looks. The amazing thing about Alison’s work is the way she captures the personality of each dog, their facial expressions and manner, which is quite a feat when you’re sculpting wool using fine needles.

So, of course, you know what happened next…

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Yes, having looked on Alison’s Instagram gallery, clearly Mum and Dad needed to get an ‘Uncle Bracken’ for Grannie – specifically for Grannie’s birthday. “My Mum’s going to love this, I mean love this,” Mum said. So having sold ‘Bracken 1’ to another customer, Alison set about making ‘Bracken 2’, and Mum and I followed his progress on Instagram. Here’s a great photo Alison took when she was working on the little guy, and another where my ‘Uncle’ is getting cosy with a Westie, while Tilly is overseeing production. This is one of my favourite photos of the two ‘Brackens’ together, one needing his paws while my ‘Uncle’ was waiting on his coat.

Being able to watch my ‘Uncle’ take shape was undoubtedly part of the enjoy of this whole process, as Mum and I started to see his character develop. But then, last Sunday, we met with Alison and got to see The Dude in the flesh – well, in the wool.

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We hadn’t appreciated that Alison also reflects each dog’s physicality. My Uncle is a big dude with strong shoulders and a deep chest, and Alison had sculpted this muscle onto the felted version. “I can’t believe the detail in this,” Mum said. “And you’ve nailed his gruff and doleful expression!”

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And, the finishing touch: Alison had made my Uncle a felt coat in his trademark green. “Every time I see Margaret and Bracken, Bracken’s wearing his green fleece coat, so I had to make one for him,” Alison explained. It was the perfect final detail and, as Mum said, is so reflective of the attention to detail in Alison’s work.

And Grannie loves him. How could she not? As for me… well, I have to be honest here, after the episode with Fantastic Mr Fox at Christmas, Mum is really, really careful with me and anything felt. “I’d love a photo of the two of you together,” she said. I had the more delicate of sniffs at the new felted Dude and then thought, “I’m having his ear…” It was just too tempting friends. Thankfully, Mum has quick reflexes. (Ed: I saw it coming.) The felt Dude was saved. And after seeing Grannie’s reaction when she unwrapped him, well, I understand why.

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If you’re interested in commissioning your own felted dog, you can contact Alison through her Etsy page or via Instagram. Here’s one last shot, with a little bit of sunshine thrown in.

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My January

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A few days later than it should have been (it’s been “one of those weeks” Mum says) but I wanted to share my January here (you can also see more photos on the accompanying Steller story). It’s been a mixed month with far too many cold days for my liking, and too much rain, and sleet – think frozen paws and a wet belly – and with night time starting in the middle of the afternoon. January was one long snugglethon, basically – can you blame me? – with a few freezing cold walks thrown in. But already February is feeling better. Can you sense that too? It’s a little lighter, a little brighter. The days are stretching ever so slightly. The Parents are already planning a few trips where I can go exploring and have longer runs. So goodbye January and hello to the very, very first signs of spring.

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Happy Birthday Grannie

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Grannie

Today is my Grannie’s birthday, and I wanted to share one of my favourite photos of us. This photo was taken a few months ago when Grannie popped round to see Mum and I, and we had a little chat and held paws in the kitchen. I can’t recall what we were talking about – I think I was telling her how much I miss my Uncle Bracken during the week, and how much I miss summer. I don’t know why, but Grannie is always someone you can sit down and talk to. And she smells great, because she smells of my Uncle.

My Grannie is a Very Special Lady, and is the best Grannie this little fella could have.

Happy Birthday Grannie, from Harris X