Pet Loss & Prison

This week I visited one of Glasgow’s most notorious buildings with my partner in crime, the lovely Frank. Barlinnie Prison.

I booked this visit as a research trip for a fiction book I’m writing & when I told my contact that I am a Pet Bereavement Counsellor & have a book on that also, they were keen to get it into the library. I brought along a gift copy for a staff member who had suffered a pet bereavement in particularly tragic circumstances but obviously there is a process for the library. We’re also discussing a few other things I can do to support prisoners through this forced separation & indeed the death of their companion animals.

Everything in this hyper masculine environment is heightened so it’s important that support is available for everyday issues such as pet loss. It’s tough enough on the outside but imagine for a moment how it must be inside… This is a multi-faceted issue with added layers because of the situation, environment & culture. Imagine grieving in a place where you simply cannot show any weakness or vulnerability…

This was one of the most fascinating & interesting afternoons of my life. I had never set foot in a prison before & although I was keeping an open mind, my mind was indeed blown.

Driving up Lee Avenue, this building gives nothing away. It is of course an imposing structure but the modern façade is neither intimidating nor comforting which I suppose is a good thing. I still felt quite anxious despite the fact I was free to leave at any time.

My contact greeted us once we had shown our identification and passed through security. I really don’t think we could have had a better host or guide for our visit. We entered via the most solid door I have ever seen into a beautiful garden area with fantastic metal sculptures made by prisoners in their workshop, polytunnels and hanging baskets. The visiting area was much as you see on television but with a booth for teas and coffees, vending machines with snacks and chocolate and there is a separate brightly decorated children’s visiting area full of toys and colourful chairs. I was very aware of the brave faces that many of the prisoner’s partners were putting on and have nothing but respect for them. I saw the smiles and observed the exhaustion and pressure they are under to maintain the home, look after the children, maybe hold down jobs, pay all the bills as we face an energy crisis all while providing the things their partner might need such as new trainers or a radio. Albeit the prison does actually have it’s own radio station. I don’t yet know how popular it is or what the content is but I’m sure GBX is still a requirement for the younger demographic to keep spirits up.

As we entered the recreation area, I was instantly and pleasantly surprised by the atmosphere. It definitely wasn’t as grim as I was expecting. Both the staff and inmates were very welcoming, and I felt quite at ease walking past the rows of pool tables which were overlooked by some particularly good paintings by inmates created in the art area, including our beloved landmark of the Duke of Wellington sporting a traffic cone on his head. Onwards and into the library, I enjoyed a brief chat with the two prisoners who run the library and they honestly could not have been nicer. There was a great sense of pride from them and rightly so as they were incredibly knowledgeable, the library was immaculate and full of amazing books by incredible authors. Obviously, the crime fiction section was by far the biggest, but I think we’ll be in either the health or maybe the short reads section. As pleasant and gracious as my hosts were, of course there were the questions ‘What did you do? & Why are you here?’ lingering in the air that you just don’t want to ask. It could have been rape, murder or the same mistake/bad decision the rest of us have made but not been caught for… It’s really none of my business of course but the curiosity is always there.

My contact, who has worked at the prison for decades, gave a fascinating insight into their experience, how times and attitudes have changed throughout their eventful career and introduced us to other staff members who were equally informative & keen to share the positive aspects to what they do. I was really struck by the dedication to the provision of care every staff member showed and it’s great to see so much attention being paid to mental health and wellbeing. I was very impressed.

While there is a huge & welcome focus on rehabilitation as opposed to punishment and the prison is as nice as it possibly can be, it was B Hall that has really left its mark on me. Built in 1890 it really is from a different time. All those tiny little doors all the way along & all those floors high leading into tiny little cells was really overwhelming. All those hours, days, weeks, months and years in such a small space would be challenging for the most resilient of us. It might be ok on your own or with good company, but I imagine the experience would be entirely different if you were doubled up with someone you didn’t like or worse, were afraid of.

It’s taken me a couple of days to process everything I have seen & felt. I have had the tiniest glimpse behind those locked, solid metal doors and razor wire but this is how life is for a lot of people, not just here in Glasgow but across the whole country. I know how lucky I was to be born into my family & environment and raised with the tools to equip me for life. I have never taken that for granted. I’ve always worked hard to maintain that & live with purpose. This research trip has had a profound effect on me & made me so thankful for every good thing in my life. I have a new found appreciation for all of it. To say it was an eye opener & reality check is a massive understatement.

I’d like to say a massive thank you to everyone who spared us some of their time during our visit. It was hugely informative and helpful for my original purpose and intention, but it was also an unexpected exercise in personal growth. I have gained a new, real-life perspective away from the media/television and I definitely want to offer support in whatever way I can.

As always, be kind & be grateful.

Copyright Free Image by Alamy

Copyright Free Image by Alamy

Dog Theft – How to Reduce the risk of becoming a victim

The recent increase in cases of dog theft is horrifying. It is without a doubt a cruel and evil thing to do. Anyone engaging in this is, in my humble opinion, an absolutely heartless scumbag. The best thing about having my own blog is that I can freely express my views on the matter, and I will do so unapologetically.

As a dog mum, dog walker and pet bereavement counsellor I find it shocking that anybody would be so desperately greedy that they would cause so much distress to not just the animal but also the people left behind. It breaks my heart to think of how utterly terrified Pixie would be in that situation. Alone and scared, wondering when I’m coming to rescue her from these awful people in an unfamiliar place. Anyone who knows us would agree that we belong together, and I wouldn’t hesitate to use ‘reasonable force’ to protect her. Definitions may vary…

My heart also breaks for the human victims who have suffered at the hands of these vile individuals and gangs. I can only begin to imagine the devastation this would cause. Not only would they be experiencing the full spectrum grief emotions experienced during pet bereavement, but they would also have the added distress of not knowing what became of their beloved family member. Would those unneutered bitches be taken to a puppy farm to be bred from relentlessly in often disgustingly unhygienic conditions? Would others be sold on to unsuspecting people satisfying the demand? Victims would never reach the stage of acceptance and never gain closure unless they were lucky enough to be reunited with their companions.

So, what is causing this and what can we, as a society, do about it? Well, simply it’s the economy of supply and demand. These poor loving souls are viewed as nothing more than a commodity.  With so many people experiencing loneliness and indeed boredom during the pandemic, it has become obvious that there is an upward trend in the amount of people wanting a dog. Most people will want a new puppy or a designer/fashionable breed, which there has only been a limited number of available. At this point, unfortunately, I’m going to take a swipe at breeders. Many will know that I come from a family of KC registered Labrador breeders however my parents retired from this decades ago. Breeders have not helped this situation at all by increasing their prices for no other reason than just because they can. People are willing to pay more for the breeds they want, and that demand is being fully exploited which I find very distasteful indeed. This has had the catastrophic ripple effect of criminals stealing dogs to order to meet this demand which can not been met by breeders. Puppy farms have also sprung up and cashed in exploiting the situation further which has resulted in many people buying desperately unwell puppies which have contracted illnesses such as parvo virus and died within days of reaching their new homes. Which leaves the buyers grieving and out of pocket by upwards of £2000 in some cases.

I have blogged previously about our friends Bring Your Pet Home who work tirelessly to reunite pets and their people, but it is an incredibly difficult thing to do and especially so with such a dramatic increase in the number of cases. In the same blog we examined the legal classification of pets. Sadly, they are treated as personal property (chattel) so even if you are visibly distraught with worry when reporting to the police, this will not be treated with any more care or urgency that if someone had knicked your mobile phone. I strongly believe that the law needs to change on this. Police don’t make the law; they only enforce it. So, in the meantime, prevention seems the best way to combat this issue. My recommendations are as follows:

  • Adopt. Don’t shop. There are plenty of dogs looking for their forever homes in rescue centres and shelters. I rehomed Pixie privately and it was the best decision I ever made. She’s my best friend and I love her more than I can possibly put into words. Which is really saying something considering I’m a blogger and author! This also lessens demand for certain breeds of dogs and keeps ‘retail’ prices lower.
  • Never buy a dog from the internet. Websites such as Gumtree are frequently used by criminals to sell stolen and puppy farm dogs.
  • Make sure your dog’s microchip details are recorded accurately and are up to date. Recently there have been cases whereby details are recorded incorrectly which makes it incredibly difficult to find out where the dog belongs.
  • DO NOT LEAVE YOUR DOG TIED UP OUTSIDE A SHOP. This is in capitals because yes, I am shouting at you if you do this. I see it all the time when I’m driving around, and it makes me feel very anxious. This is an invitation to dog thieves. Don’t do it.
  • Make sure your garden is secure and don’t leave your dog unattended.
  • Avoid letting younger children walk your dog by themselves.

When walking your dog…

  • Make sure you have your mobile phone with you and that it is sufficiently charged. You may need to call for help or take a photograph of thieves and/or their vehicle.
  • Vary your route. Particularly if you have a breed which is in demand. You may have already been spotted and targeted.
  • Pay attention. You should be paying attention to your dog anyway but very often I see people chatting away on their phones completely oblivious to their dog’s whereabouts (and often the fact that they are pooping which gives us all a bad name).
  • Be aware of your surroundings and people around you. It’s O.K. to walk away from people who make you feel uncomfortable. Particularly if they want to photograph or pet your dog. If you’re not happy, don’t allow it. Never ignore your gut feeling.
  • If you feel vulnerable, arrange to walk with a friend or neighbour. You might also want to have a whistle or personal alarm. I have a personal alarm strapped to my arm when I’m out walking. No shame in it. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

My biggest tip of all is, do not let these evil people rob you of the joy of pet parenting. Chances are, you’ll be absolutely fine and statistically there are more of us than there are of them. Be alert, be smart but also be present and enjoy every moment with your beloved companion.

5 Ways To Conquer Blue Monday

Blue Monday, a notable date coined by psychologist Cliff Arnall, is deemed to be the most depressing day of the year and will descend upon us on the 18th of January 2021. Falling on the 3rd Monday of January every year, ‘the blues’ hit us as the post holiday euphoria fades, we return to work, our finances are not great, it’s a 5 week month thus longer until pay day, we have likely failed miserably at keeping our resolutions AND this year, we are still in the grip of a global pandemic. It is no wonder then, that grieving the loss of a much loved pet will hit harder at this time. So what can we do about it?

My best suggestion is that we work on building our resilience ahead of time. Let’s look at 5 ways to do that.

  1. Instead of making New Years Resolutions, make SMART Goals.

Every year we put ourselves under enormous pressure and set ourselves up to fail. STOP. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant & Timebound Goals are a much better way to do what we need to do in a less stressful way. By being a bit more realistic about working towards something in the future which is do-able, we are much more likely to be successful. Decide what you want to do and figure out how to do it using this pathway as your guide

2. Be more assertive and set boundaries.

When we are grieving for our pets, we can sometimes hide how we are feeling from others which can often result in us feeling imposed upon when people ask for more than we have the capacity to give. By setting clear boundaries we are effectively protecting ourselves and preserving our energy for what ‘we’ need rather than having our resources depleted by meeting the wants of others. You are not obliged to pick up your phone every time it rings. If you are having some ‘me time’ you can reply to a message later. Be selective about the media you consume and perhaps limit your social media usage to avoid absorbing too much negativity. It’s o.k to say ‘No’. Acknowledge how you are feeling, take a minute to process that and then take responsibility to be proactive about how to move forward. We can consciously take control of our emotional wellbeing by identifying, being honest and being assertive about our own needs without feeling guilty for it.

3. Practice Gratitude.

Having an attitude of gratitude can be hugely beneficial during the grieving process. It’s a beautiful way to memorialise our pets in our hearts and minds if we can be thankful for the time we had and the experiences we shared rather than focusing on what we have lost. If we apply a gratitude practice in daily life it can take as little as 3 weeks to form this as a habit thanks to the magic of ‘neuroplasticity’ which I often speak about in counselling sessions. If we can make gratitude and positive self talk part of our daily routine, it will become second nature. Think of all the things that bring you joy and happiness in your life. Thank the little Robin that visited your garden. Take a moment to congratulate yourself on an achievement. Simple things that we often overlook or take for granted can be the very things that can help you to rewrite a challenging day.

4. Meditate.

As a qualified meditation teacher, this is my ‘go to’ resource to quieten mind chatter and combat negative self talk. While we are grieving, we feel so many emotions, sometimes all at the one time. By practicing meditation on a regular basis we can learn to overcome that inner turmoil and regain our balance when we feel overwhelmed. Mindful Meditation is a great way to stay present and in the moment while noticing your environment, sensations and keeping things in focus. Self Compassion Meditation can be helpful when feelings of guilt arise. It is far too easy to let out thoughts run away with us so meditation can be an effective way to help us find our inner calm by ducking beneath that choppy surface.

5. Exercise.

The release of endorphins during exercise ensure that we feel good about ourselves and promotes better sleep which helps to build resilience. My preferred form of exercise is yoga due to the well documented physical, mental and emotional benefits. I also enjoy hiking as it’s a great way to take exercise, take in fresh, clean air and gives me the opportunity to practice mindfulness. I can practice gratitude at the same time by appreciating all the things that I notice during my hike. During this pandemic it is particularly important for our mental health to stay active.

I hope that you find these tips useful and can implement some of them in the lead up to Blue Monday. If you would like to talk about how you are feeling, please don’t hesitate to book an online session. Alternatively, you can download or order a copy of my book ‘How To Recover From Pet Loss – Supporting You On Your Journey To Acceptance’.

Fireworks – Silence is Golden – Do we really need the Big Bang?

As we enter fireworks season in the UK, I want to put it out there and ask that people stick to the celebratory dates and consider using ‘silent’ or quiet fireworks. Sadly, in recent times, I have noticed that fireworks are being set off several weeks in advance of Bonfire Night (November 5th) and continue well into the New Year. Sometimes even being set off during daylight hours which makes absolutely no sense to me. There have also been several occasions where fireworks have been let off to celebrate football matches which sadly, not being a fan, leaves me little to no time to prepare in advance. I’m sure many of you can relate to the feeling of utter despair and frustration I feel when forced to witness the trauma caused to our beloved pets.

Just last week, Sandra Rolfe of High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, told The Metro of her nightmare experience with her Pug x Spaniel, Penny, who was almost killed when she was knocked down by a car after fleeing in fright after being spooked by people setting off fireworks nearby. Last year, it was reported in the media that an 18 week old Terrier puppy called Molly belonging to Susan Paterson of South Yorkshire and Archie the rabbit, belonging to Donna Pilgrim of Cornwall both died of fright/heart attacks thought to be brought on by fireworks. Fiona Hohmann of Swansea has also highlighted the plight of her beloved horse Solo, who was so distressed by fireworks that he bolted in panic until he suffered a ‘twisted gut’ and died.

Of course, we should remember that fireworks don’t just have a negative effect on domestic pets who at least have their hoomans for comfort and care. The impact of fireworks on birds and other wildlife is often overlooked so it is important to include examples in this blog. The California Costal Commission banned fireworks in the city of Gualala in 2006 after a display caused nesting sea birds to flee their nests and abandon their chicks. And in 2010, the residents of Beebe, Arkansas feared an apocalypse after over 5000 dead or dying-red winged blackbirds fell from the skies after a New Years Eve fireworks display.

I was delighted to learn that the town of Collecchio in Italy has made it a matter of law that ‘silent’ fireworks be used in order to minimise distress to animals. The city of Bristol in England also favours ‘silent’ fireworks. Of course, the word ‘silent’ is slightly misleading as they are not completely silent, but the noise is greatly reduced without the usual loud bangs and booms that we have come to dread as pet parents. Many people would welcome the use of quiet fireworks too such as the elderly, military veterans with PTSD and those with learning difficulties such as autism.

My own dog, Pixie, suffers terribly around this time of year and it absolutely breaks my heart to see her shaking uncontrollably in such a state of fear. Having grown up with gun dogs who were unfazed by loud and sudden noises, I had to learn pretty quick how to deal with this and minimise her distress. I’d like to share with you how we get through this together:

  • About 2 weeks in advance, I start Pixie on Zylkene tablets to get them to an effective level in her system. I purchase Pet Remedy and spray that on her comfort blanket. I walk her before sundown so that she doesn’t need out during peek dark hours then put on her Thunder Shirt. I purchased all of these items from my local Pets At Home store where recommendations and advice on products can be given by their very knowledgeable staff members.
  • I stay in with her during this time and close the curtains to reduce noise and visual stimuli.
  • I turn the volume up on the television and on Bonfire Night, we listen to the very soothing Pet Sounds radio show on Classic FM which is presented by the lovely Bill Turnbull.
  • I make a ‘den’ for Pixie so that she has a safe hiding place if she does feel distressed, but I do try to act ‘normally’ so as not to feed into her anxiety.

I would also recommend the following:

  • Where possible, bring any outdoor pets inside.
  • Ensure microchips are up to date and identity tags are worn just in case they do bolt/run away.
  • There are many other calming products on the market such as ‘Feliway’ and ‘Adaptil’ but in extreme cases you can seek advice on sedatives from your vet.
  • Some people introduce noise desensitisation practices however I would recommend seeking guidance from a reputable behaviourist on that.

I sincerely hope that your pets and local wildlife do not suffer this firework season and I would actively encourage you to get involved in any local campaigns and sign petitions calling for the use of ‘silent’/quiet fireworks. Hopefully more retailers will follow the example of Sainsbury’s and stop selling fireworks altogether. Unfortunately, time and time again, it is shown that we can’t rely on people to act responsibly and show consideration towards others so I really do feel that the time has come to intervene and cut these irresponsible and inconsiderate people off at the source.

Thank you so much for reading, stay safe and find more information for your reference via the links below.