Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Dogs digging each other

After 2 weeks... 

Lou, our adopted dog, is still amazing us by how civilised he is, despite more than 2 years in a cage. He loves knowing what will happen next, whether it's a walk in the woods or bedtime. He loves water on the ground but not from the sky. If he sees a puddle, he lies down in it. Yet his reaction to the hose-pipe - recoil - reminded me of  his past; shelter cages get sluiced out with hose-pipes. We are lucky with Lou, who is a plucky character, keen to please us and to fit in, but even so, he has a history that we can only guess at from his behaviour.

Read Part 1 of Lou's life with us

Now he is part of our lives, it hurts to imagine what his previous two years were like. He has been fully house-trained here from the moment he arrived (apart from marking his territory a couple of times on the veranda and cellar doors). Imagine how upsetting it must have been for him to foul his cage. Thanks to volunteer dog-walkers he was given 'a walk' every 3/4 days. In between, he was waiting for that walk - or trying to wait. The walk itself consisted of 5 minutes pulling on the lead, 5 minutes freedom on a strip of enclosed grass where he could run about and relieve himself, then 5 minutes pulling on the lead, back into the cage. Even after a fortnight, two shampoos (on the first day!), and a few rain-showers, I think I can still smell the cage and I want that smell gone, forever. Every day, more dead fur comes out on the brush. I want his coat gleaming like his eyes.

Lou has other ideas about his coat. Not only is mud good for hair and skin, it is excellent for bonding two dogs who like digging. The relationship between my Great Pyrenees, Blanche, aka the Princess, and Big Bad Lou, started off polite. The Princess was magnanimous and the Peasant cautious, not least because at 32kg he weighs in at 20kg lighter than she is. Then they started an engineering project in the outer garden. This involved serious digging. The holes filled with water and the furry hippo sat in one. Who knows what Blanche was really planning for Lou but from the moment they started digging together, they moved closer to friendship.

Digging together
Serious concentration

Lou in a hole

I think the honeymoon is over and we're into Stage 2.  Non-stop rain has both dogs bored and looking for trouble (i.e. each other) so this morning witnessed the first session of full dog-dog physical interaction. Lou's style is kung-fu - in fast, out faster, left-right left-right with the paws, then bounce off the furniture and chew the rug. Blanche has a certain elegance in the approach; the play-bow and a lot of vocalising, but the finish is pure sumo wrestler. She's a heavyweight and believes that jumping on your opponent's stomach usually settles things. Not if he's fast enough. They seemed to be playing to the same rules and tails were wagging throughout so I was more concerned for my living-room than for the dogs but I can appreciate what this stage is like when either dog turns aggressive. Then it's often a return to the shelter for the adopted dog, with bad habits reinforced.

Incidental dog training is all around us and I'm trying to not to overload Lou when everything is new but rather to take advantage of opportunities that arise naturally - such as a wine-buying trip. I suspect that Lou's wine knowledge is limited so we took him and Blanche to the May fête day at a Seguret cave, about an hour's drive from here. Dog-wise it was a good test of a long journey, which will be useful for when we all go on holiday in September (if we're still feeling brave); people-wise, it was a good chance to stock up on Cotes du Rhône Villages. 'Nickel! Impecc!' as we say in France when something has gone well. I'd rather Lou didn't pile over into the front seat every time the car stops but that's fixable. 

In a formal training session, I have taught him, 'Thou shalt not pull on the lead' so that walks are now a pleasure, if a bit of a tangle with all four of us and two lunges. From now on, he is no longer allowed to pull on a lead or lunge. Orderly behaviour getting in and out of the car was progressing nicely and then the hydraulics went on the boot door so the dogs now have to get in and out side doors. So much for establishing a routine and keeping to it! Lou's a bright little button and he's adapting; for a different dog, each change would be a setback.

I wasn't prepared for his silence. Not just the lack of barking (compared with Great Pyrenees who have for years alerted me to every passing fly and cleared the area of wolves in at least a 20 mile radius) but the lack of all sound. Apparently this is common in adopted dogs. Sometimes they bark for the first time months after being in their new home. The noise in an animal shelter is ear-shattering; some dogs join in, some retreat to silence, and many are traumatised. All I know about Lou in kennels is that he was not 'a barker'. In his second week I've heard him growl once, when Blanche thought she'd investigate his food bowl. To me, this is a good sign and Blanche understood exactly what was meant - she's not lacking in confidence herself! He has made a little barking noise, twice, so small that I wondered if I'd dreamed it. The first time, he was shut in the outer garden with my husband and Lou could hear me the other side of the door to the inner garden. He wanted to come in! I didn't let him because I don't want him calling the shots. The second time was when Blanche pushed him to play. She is very vocal, with a whole range of play vocabulary and it touched me to hear him reply - even if that response was probably, 'Get stuffed, I'm sleeping!'

When I hear Lou talking, I'll know he really has his paws under the table.

Watching TV
I do worry about the perception that I'm a  nice person because I've adopted a dog - nicer than someone buying a puppy from a responsible breeder. I've done both. Would I adopt another dog in the future? Yes, if it fitted in with what suited our family. Do I think people should adopt dogs, not buy puppies? No, I do not! I think it's a personal choice. I wish there were no dogs in shelters at all and no adoption! When I translated 'Gentle Dog Training' it was in the hope that dog-owners would seek help for 'difficult dogs', not abandon them. I wish the only dogs were those brought into the world in, and for, loving families and I completely support responsible breeders. I wouldn't hesitate to support such a breeder by choosing to buy a puppy from her - as I did with Blanche. What matters to me is the commitment to your puppy and to your dog, for life.

Lou won't be going back to the shelter, however much he starts chewing the rug; and Blanche will still be our dog, however much she starts chewing Lou.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

'Banjo' up for big prize

BIG congratulations to Samantha Wynne Rhydderch 

whose book 'Banjo' is one of the 3 shortlisted for one of the UK's most prestigious poetry prizes; the Roland Mathias Prize for Poetry. Read my interview with Samantha and my review of 'Banjo' in this earlier blog post.

amazon uk link
The longlist competition was hot - check it out here. Good luck, Samantha! I'm more excited than if it was my book!

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Bible - Quilted Stories - Angella Graff, Guest Author

Angella's website
A big welcome to urban fantasy author Angella Graff who's not only stopping here as the last stop on a whirlwind blog tour but is offering 10 e-copies of her book by random draw - just leave a comment on any or all of the blog stops to enter. Details at the end of the blog.

About Angella Graff

Angella Graff was born and raised in the desert city of Tucson, Arizona. She married and became a mother very young, and after getting started with her family, began her University studies where she found her passion for creative writing, history and theology.

She now resides in Tucson with her husband Joshua, three children, Christian, Isabella and Adia, and their three cats, Archive (Ivy), Lasciel and Fix. She prefers to spend her days writing, gardening, and reading non-fiction theology theory books. Angella is also an avid, if not fanatic fan of Doctor Who and BBC Sherlock, which suit her dry, sarcastic humor, a lot of which is apparent in her writing.

Currently Angella is working on an Urban Fantasy series called 'The Judas Curse', involving extensive research into Mythos, Christianity and history. The first book of 'The Judas Curse', 'The Awakening', was released in November 2012.

Find out more or contact Angella

Read Angella's other blog posts on her 'Judas Kiss' tour
Website:http ://

 The Bible - Quilted Stories

Guest Post from Angella Graff

I have to say that coming up with individual blog topics for this amazing tour was a lot tougher than I thought.  When the idea was first presented to me I thought, “Well I never shut up, so this should be easy.  I always have something to say.”  Then, as I tried to take on this task I was sitting at my computer, staring blankly at the screen, waiting for something to come up.

And… nothing.  You’d think that as a writer, since it’s what I do, I wouldn’t have a shortage of things to write about.  I was email chatting with the amazing host of this blog, and she actually suggested that maybe I touch on the topic of how I came to write 'the Judas Curse' series.  Not the, I was inspired by blah blah blah post that I’ve answered a dozen times for interviews, but what really happened to make these books possible.

I realize that the book is a typical contemporary fantasy.  Detective meets supernatural beings, chaos ensues.  Okay maybe not typical, because I don’t think there’s a whole list of writers combining western theology with ancient mythos, but it’s a typical enough story-arc.  I can’t even tell you how many times I hear my husband use the name, “Jim Butcher,” in reference to something I’ve written. 

But although it may not seem like it, research did, and always has, gone into my writing.  Whether I’m writing some historical piece, some random blog rant about a topic that got under my skin, or several hundred pages dealing with old Greek mythology, I never stop researching.

Then again, I’m a historian—or well, I like to play one from time to time.  I over-stayed my welcome when I was at the University, taking unnecessary history and theology classes because I just couldn’t stop shoving information into my brain about the history and psychology of Western religion. 

I remember sitting in my first theology class, and my teacher made some joke about Ancient Rome, and a lot of the students around the class gave that awkward, “She’s one of those guys,” chuckle, but I thought it was hysterical.  Never in my life had I ever heard anyone make ancient history jokes before and I thought, “Yes.  This is where I belong.”

A few weeks later that very same professor said, “You know class, there’s a joke in the bible?”

Now, having grown up in a staunchly religious family with pastors galore, I was skeptical.  I had no idea where she was going with the comment, and of course the very idea of a joke in the bible—I had to hear it.
“Peter, you are the rock on which I build this church.”

It took me a moment, but I got it.   Peter.  Petrus.  Petrus, in Greek meant rock.  So what he said was, “Rock, you are the rock on which I build this church.”  Ha.  Ha.  Ha.

Okay it wasn’t funny, but it was chuckle-worthy.  In that moment it took all of the stigma of supernatural surrounding the Bible and made it suddenly what it was—a human written piece of literature.  Not magical pages handed down by some omniscient being, but some guys who got together and quilted stories told generations before they were born into this thing that we’re still quoting today as though it’s sociologically and philosophically relevant.

Now, don’t misunderstand me—I’m not trying to be insulting, but as a person who grew up in that environment, who was slowly making her way from religion to an Eastern philosophy, I needed that moment to break that sort of hold that this ancient religion held over me.

There were moments then, that led me to 'the Judas Curse' series.  The story of the Fig tree in the Gospel of Mark.  Jesus cursed a tree for not having fruit when he was hungry, as though it was the tree’s fault.  I thought, imagine if his power actually made him slightly mad, and the more he used his powers, the madder he became.  Imagine that.

The gospel of Thomas which reads in the opening lines, “These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Judas Thomas, the twin, wrote down.”

The twin, I thought?  The twin?  Jesus’s twin?

I don’t, for a moment, believe that was the implication, but the idea was there, and when that stigma of holy and sacred and supernatural were removed, my brain let my imagination take over and out of it came The Judas Curse.  I was able to quilt together my love of history, of theology, of storytelling and create this series.

Yes, I’ve experienced some negative stigma regarding the series.  People who don’t want their religion changed, the ideas are sacred to them, the stories in the Bible are as real as the history of their own lives, and with that, I just have to roll with the punches.

My story is for those who can divorce themselves from what they believe, or have faith in, and it’s for those who just want to enjoy the fantasy of it.  Who want to read about alternative views such as Isa of Kashmir who many believed was Jesus of Nazareth, a man who escaped from Jerusalem after being rescued from the cross.  Look it up, I promise it’s fascinating stuff.

My story is definitely different; it’s going to ask a lot of you, because I asked a lot of myself and my knowledge bank while I was writing it.  I had no qualms about twisting and distorting ancient mythos from the Greeks, Norse gods, and Christianity, and I’m not sorry for it.  It’s not perfect, and it’s not Shakespeare, but it’s mine and it’s something I’m proud of.  I hope, if you read it, you’ll let yourself enjoy it for what it is, and see all of my own heart and soul poured into it.

amazon link
Book Summary

Judas' Kiss haunts him 2 millenia into his unending existence. Mark's story finally begins to unfold in the newest volume of Angella Graff's well received series: The Judas Curse.

Torn between petty gods and their hunger for power, a faithless police officer slips further into machinations that have already cost the life of someone he loved. Just as Detective Ben Stanford is ready to put the past at rest, he's pulled down once again into the chaos of gods, theology, and mystery. Told that his sister is alive and the two immortals, Mark and Judas, have been kidnapped by the treacherous goddess, Nike, Ben must find a way to rescue the pair before she can harness their powers.

While Mark waits alone, forced to write out the story of how their powers came to be, and Judas lay tortured by the angry Goddess, a reluctant Ben must enlist the help of an unwilling being from the ancient Norse Pantheon.

Time is ticking, and the hard-headed detective must use everything he learned in the past to prevent another disaster, which could potentially wipe-out the human race

Ebook available from amazon 

My Review

Pacy supernatural thriller with deeper level 

On the surface, this is a pacy supernatural thriller, where various gods from different pantheons - Greek, Norse, you name-it – battle it out in modern day human bodies. The complications are enjoyable as you keep track of which god is in whose body, and whether it’s god or human currently in control. Add to the mix two cursed immortals from Jesus’ day and two likable New York detectives, Ben and Stella. The fact that their potential love affair is a threesome adds yet more complications; Stella harbours a god.

The story has plenty of twists and it takes place in two time periods, the modern day full of  murder and mayhem, and the ancient Palestine of Jeshua’s story as told by Mark, including the men from the east who seek Jeshua, and his tragic crucifixion. Sound familiar? Well, it isn’t! Angella Graff has drawn on her theological background to create a very different version of a history known to most readers from the Bible. Letting one of the apostles narrate this is a neat element in a complex, clever plot. Make no mistake; the author knows her Christianity, both as religion and as history and her take on ‘the Judas Kiss’ itself is both playful and provocative. Don’t expect the usual interpretation of ‘betrayed with a kiss’. Don’t expect the usual anything!

Somehow, Angela Graff manages to prevent the dialogue and the battles from being as silly as they ought to be, given the premise. On one level is the hook of resolving each mystery, starting with the question of whether Ben’s sister is actually still alive, despite her recent funeral. There are plenty of life-threatening menaces to survive, with imaginative resolutions. But there is also a deeper level, for those readers who want to think about the points raised regarding religion – or indeed to take offence. Without pontificating, Angela Graff’s characters make clear the damage that religion does, a viewpoint with which I totally sympathise. Whether someone entrenched in a particular faith would enjoy the story as much, I’m not sure. This is not a book for Christian fundamentalists.

Although I caught up on events in the previous book,  I would recommend reading Bk 1 'The Awakening', before 'The Judas Kiss' as the second book is very much a continuation from the first - and I now fully intend to read the first one!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, May 3, 2013

Lou the Black Dog, Chez Lui

Now I know why experienced dog adopters are reluctant to put in writing their advice beforehand; each dog comes with 'previous', good and bad, which affects his reactions; each adoptive family offers and wants different behaviour from the dog in widely differing family contexts; much of 'what you should do' is in body language, relationships and good timing - so difficult to explain or teach; and most successful dog adopters have absolutely no idea why they're good so they can't explain the skills they've added to instincts from experience. I still think it helps to share what we learn so here's my experience so far.

Balou on Day 1 in his new home
I've already blogged about choosing Balou, the seven-year old dog no-one wanted, who's spent over two years in a shelter and won the hearts of the people working there. Yesterday was the day of truth; Day 1 of the rest of his life, chez nous, earlier than planned because the rain just keeps hammering down and we cancelled our holidays. Great! We could get Balou sooner! Note crucial fact already mentioned; the rain keeps hammering down. Lou is not a dog; he is a furry hippo who threw himself into a deep, full mud-hole in our garden and wallowed. He already smelled like two years in a cage, fur like a carpet from a dumpster. I very rarely bath dogs but I decided to make an exception, using the special 'shampooing pour les chiens noirs' that had tempted me with its promise of making black fur blacker and shinier.
'I wanted a garden and a cute blonde'
Would I advise someone to throw buckets of warm water over the new arrival within hours of starting his new life, followed by a soapy massage, more buckets of water and then a game of chase round the garden with a towel? I don't think so! But it worked for us. While my Great Pyrenees watched the peasants cavorting and stayed well away from the wet stuff. It didn't take a canine genius to figure out that Lou liked water (the dirtier, the better) and I felt confident in handling him because of the car journey.

I haven't told you about the car journey? No problem getting him in the car with a traditional 'run at open boot' method. We waved goodbye to Nice Lady at Shelter, who wants 'after' photos. Then we fought to keep dog from jumping over to join us in the front seat, stopped the car, and re-arranged the people for Plan B. I put a back seat up and joined Lou in the Berlingot boot. An hour's drive later, I knew where he liked being stroked and I smelled like 2 years in a cage.

I was wrong in thinking it would take time for Lou to take an interest in us. He's lying beside me as I type and, now he's away from the shelter, there's no doubt he wants us to be his people and he wants to be with us - both of us. If he hears a door, he checks out who's coming through it and his tail will need a service check from wagging so fast and so often. Change is difficult and tiring, even change for the better, and I know many dogs try to run back to what is familiar, even if the familiar is physical abuse or neglect. There's no sign of Lou trying to do a runner but we're being careful - walks are on-lead.

He loves grass. He rolls in it, chews it, lies on it. The only grass he's seen in two years was a strip where the shelter dogs get walked every 3/4 days. He hadn't been out his cage for 3 days when we picked him up. He loves being brushed, apart from two knotted dreadlocks dangling from his ears. I don't know whether he's been brushed at all in two years (or before that). He lived in an infernal noise at the shelter, amid construction work as well as all the barking, and he seems surprised at Blanche playing guardian to a passing bicycle or the postvan. When she barks, he points, in the classic gundog pose, but so far he hasn't spoken.
Amazingly, his behaviour indoors is civilised - no attempts to steal or destroy - and he is house-trained. When you think about him spending up to 3/4 days in a cage without leaving it, it is a miracle that he has kept  the habits presumably learned with the family of his first five years. That doesn't mean there's been no territory-marking. He's a full-blooded male and when he peed on the verandah door, he was told a clear 'No.' I cleaned it by the book, with white vinegar (never bleach or the smell encourages repeat crimes). He watched, waited and returned to finish the job that I'd interrupted. He obviously hasn't read the same book! Since then he's lifted his leg against another interior door, recollected himself (or decided that I was watching) and refrained. My husband is already referring in franglais to 'the Big, Bad Loup' since we shortened Balou to Lou.

I am exhausted but, so far, this is an easy adoption of a dog who wants to please, who gets on with people and other dogs. However, the Princess already in residence is not an easy dog; she is polite to others (human and canine) but unknown humans should keep their distance and dogs should show respect, especially in doorways. So far, we've passed potential flashpoints without incident; going in the car together, mealtimes, a quiet night (hooray), even doorway negotiations. Sometimes it doesn't matter what decision you, the master, take; what matters is that you do take a decision and give clear signals to the dogs, over matters such as getting in and out the car. With dogs like Lou, anything goes; not with dogs like Blanche.

They have played chase and fallen asleep together (in a thunderstorm - an unexpected flashpoint!). It's a good start to what I hope will be a great friendship but I'm watching my Great White very carefully - almost as carefully as she's watching me...

My top tips on dog adoption? 
Tell your dog sweet nothings in a low, purring tone. Tell him when he's doing things right (which includes when he's doing nothing at all) Thank you, Michel Hasbrouck, for this simple but under-used technique.

Secure the perimeter and walk on lead for at least 2 months (and better forever than lose your dog).

Predict the flashpoints, especially if you have another dog, and plan for the practicalities. Anything involving travel, food, close quarters,sleeping arrangements, attention from the master, comings and goings, visitors, could be stressful.

After you've got him home - 4 common stages in dog adoption

1) Just Visiting 
The first 2 months can be honeymoon heaven, with artificially good behaviour because the dog hasn't yet got his paws under the table. Family pets can be over-polite to each other and all the bad habits you allow because you feel sorry for the woes suffered by your dog in the past, can bite you in the butt (literally) when he's settled in. Escape bids are common because the dog is seeking to return to familiar territory.

The beginning of an adoption can also be hell, especially with a dog who's known abuse - and often you don't know the history of your new family member. Be calm and careful with introduction to other animals, other family members. Avoid more flashpoints than are necessary - life will bring more than enough.

Whether heaven, hell or in between (does that mean purgatory?!) this will pass.

2) Integration
Usually some time in the first 2 months. Everyone realises the new dog is here to stay - including the new dog. Everyone tries to figure out how he fits in and where he fits in. Resident dogs stop being polite to the visitor and they have dog-dog sort-outs of the pack hierarchy. One new dog means that every privilege, every toy, every relationship, is up for grabs.

3) Testing
The new dog has his place in his family but he's the sort who wants more. If you've given him everything he wants from the start, and he's been easy-going about it, he might start to cash in on it now, bullying you. Or he might be a 'benevolent tyrant' who knows he's in charge but doesn't bother acting on that knowledge. If your adopted dog starts pushing you around, you have to stop him, without hitting or shouting.

4) Your dog in his pack
Everyone is happy but...

5) Testing
never stops with some dogs and you go through Steps 3,4, and 5 all of the dog's life. It's how the dog checks you are up to the job of leading, that you are 'Someone to look up to'.