1 February marks the end of the hunting season in Spain, the day when many galgos will face a death even more brutal than the wretched lives they have led, simply because they are no longer useful. Please show your support for these poor creatures – be their voice!
It’s that time of ear when I am so busy doing secret photoshoots as Christmas gifts, preparing beautiful wall art for clients to give as Christmas gifts and writing Christmas gift vouchers like they are going out of fashion. The rush tends to start in November and go on until, oh, quite late on Christmas Eve was my record for issuing a last minute gift voucher! I absolutely love the excitement of all this, but especially the excitement of seeing my work on huge acrylic panels, canvases and framed prints that will go on the walls of my clients’ homes. I think these images become more and more powerful as the years pass with our beloved dogs. I often change round the pictures in my sitting room but the one constant that never gets shuffled out is the studio image I took of my own greyhound Jasmine when she was young and in her prime, alas over a decade ago and now only a distant memory.
This year I am adding a new product that I am especially excited about, smaller scale than the big wall art pieces I usually supply but perfect for people who want several pictures and simply cannot choose between them. My gorgeous new Portfolio Box includes five prints on professional Fuji Silk or Mohawk Fine Art paper, mounted on rigid board so you can pop them up on a mini easel, stored in a beautiful custom made portfolio box finished in linen or leatherette and engraved with your dog’s name. I love them so much much, it’s what my husband got for his anniversary present and what I’ve been giving my own friends for birthdays over the past couple of months. I’m including one of these in my special top of the range Christmas photoshoot package this year. Or for those who want to gift a Classic or a Premium Shoot for their dog loving family and friends, check out my other packages here.
I can email you a gift voucher on Christmas Eve but I’d prefer you ordered a little earlier so I can send you the real thing by post, all gift wrapped and tied in a bow. So please don’t leave it till the last minute or you’ll make Santa sad…
This is just an old-fashioned love story… Odin (galgo cross) and Maña (podenco) have been together almost all their lives. They have been loved and they love each other very dearly. But things have not always run smooth for them. At the age of eleven they lost their home and almost everything they held dear when their owner died, and they found themselves in the care of Galgos del Sol (GdS) in Murcia in southern Spain. At least they still had each other, and that must have been a solace.
It’s always harder to home aging dogs. Odin and Maña joined Galgos del Sol’s “Retirement, Sickly and Crazies” gang. What’s that? As Tina Solera of GdS said “The saddest part of rescue for me is when a dog is going to die in the center. Basically dogs come to our home that are at risk of dying in the kennels. The chances of (Maña and Odin) getting a new home together are slim so they are living with us under the Retirement qualification” But Galgos del Sol never gave up hope that Odin and Maña would be homed and moreover, be homed together.
Pause a moment… Anyone who thinks this story is going to have a sad ending has never fallen under the spell of a senior sighthound or experienced their powerful charms.
Odin and Maña became firm favourites with the volunteers who come from all over the world to help at Galgos del Sol. Word about them spread, and the pair developed a huge fan club on Facebook and Twitter. Among their followers was the wonderful Carmel of Greys Eleven Plus, which helps older greyhounds who find themselves homeless.
Let Carmel take up the story from here. She writes “I am thrilled and honoured to be allowed to offer Maña and Odin a place here at Greys Eleven Plus. Their story touched me deeply when they first came to GdS – this next and last step in their journey through life will be a happy one. I will keep everyone updated on their progress.”
So they all lived happily after. Odin and Maña travelled all the way from Spain to Norfolk in September. They are now living happily with Carmel and the other senior sighthounds to whom she has offered a sanctuary and a last, loving home. And they trying to bring service up to Spanish standards (Odin grumbles that breakfast is always late even before the clocks went back and Maña is still trying to share Carmel’s bed instead of the sofa). And because they are now just up the road from me (well, a Norfolk country mile or two), we got together and took some pictures.
Should you change a dog’s name? If you’ve had your dog from puppyhood it’s unlikely you’ve been faced with this dilemma. Your pup will likely have been known merely as “White Tail Tip” or “Orange Collar” and you will get to choose your dog’s first and only proper name.
But if you’ve ever adopted an older dog you may well have come across this issue – the name you simply cannot live with. Our first rescue dogs were all blessed with very sweet names. Who could fail to love a greyhound called Jasmine, or an Arrow, or a Robbie?
Given a blank slate, we quite like Victorian parlour maids’ names for girl dogs. So when we adopted our lurcher Pollyanna, or Polly as she is known, her name was as perfect as she and it stayed.
Our little lurcher Lindy was a different matter. The name just didn’t seem to suit this cheeky little girl and I couldn’t face yelling “Lindy” across a dog park or signing our Christmas cards with a Lindy. But she already knew the name Lindy, even though she’d only had it since she was rescued. We compromised and she became Lindy Lou, or Lulu for short.
The more I ponder the question of changing names, the more complex I think the issue is.
As a sailing sort, I’d always been told it can be bad luck to change a boat’s name. You can do so if you really need to, but a careful process needs to be followed to avert any bad luck. Since we misguidedly changed the name of our very first boat in a fit of hubris and foolishness, we have always treated the superstition with great respect.
On the other hand, a former name can sometimes carry unpleasant baggage from the past that the dog needs to move on from. I met a beautiful setter in the park the other day and her owner and I got talking. He told me she was a rescue, an abuse case who had been trained as a gun dog using the most barbaric methods. The turning point in her healing process had been the decision to change her name. From the moment she took her new name, she cast off the horrors of her past life and became a new dog, happy and confident, the dog she was always meant to be.
I think these days I might approach the issue of name-changes more thoughtfully and sensitively. Our greyhounds Arrow and Robbie were both rehomed by us after they had been returned to rescue kennels late in their lives and in very sad circumstances: their names were one of the few things to remain constant through all that upheaval. And little Lindy may only have carried the name “Lindy” for a short while when she first came to me but it was clearly important to her. It was probably the first time anyone had addressed her with love and gentleness in their voice and touched her with kind hands. These days we call her Lulu when she is having a special fussing but mostly we call her Lindy. It is her name after all.
Nearly a decade ago my dear friend Phylly Clarke adopted a greyhound, the beautiful Leah from Wimbledon Greyhound Welfare. She quickly discovered that while there are thousands of dog coats on the market, very few are designed for the skinny deep-chested shapes of our sighthounds. So, being a very clever and skilful person, she made Leah the most beautiful fleece coat to her own design. And everyone who saw it said “Wow!”
Fast forward a number of years and Phylly offers her hand-made hound coats through GreytCoats, with a donation to Wimbledon Greyhound Welfare for every coat she sells. She also offers bespoke Harris tweed coats for greyhounds and sighthounds, every one is made to your hound’s exact measurements, every one is a work or art, and they are probably the most sought-after item of hound attire on the market.
She made one of these coats as a special gift for my greyhound, the late and greatly-missed Jasmine: it was, quite simply, the most beautiful thing my beautiful girl ever wore. I have long hankered after one of these coats for my lurcher Lulu but as a rescue she is a late developer and has still been growing in the first years we’ve spent together. Then along came our second lurcher Polly and we decided it was time…
Tweed choices were considered; samples were ordered and tried against the dogs; decisions were made, then unmade; some tweed was ordered, and slowly the final choices emerged. Then there was the question of lining, Polly was an easy choice with a coordinating lining of soft camel fleece, picking out the pale biscuit stripe in her tweed. Lulu was, as usual, more difficult. Being sensible I should have gone with a pale fleece colour which would disguise Lulu’s occasional but prolific moulting. But somehow I walked out of Fabric Land with a length of wine-coloured velvet in my bag and a silly smile on my face. The dogs were measured all over and in places they’ve never been measured before. Then it was all in the hands of the maestro and we waited with much excitement to see the results.
When they arrived, we went to Oxshott Woods to do some photographs. It seemed somehow right. Years ago I had photographed the lovely Leah there, modelling one of GreytCoat’s very first tweed coats (and this is still one of my favourite photographs ever). Soon after I photographed Jasmine there, wearing her own special GreytCoats tweed. And now it is the turn of our two young lurchers.
These coats will outlast our beloved dogs. There is something both comforting and immeasurably sad in that thought. And after our dogs are gone they will become a precious legacy, steeped in the love that made them and our love for those who wore them. The late Leah’s tweed is currently on loan to another greyhound who is struggling with ongoing problems from an injury. And the buttons from Jasmine’s coat are now gracing Lindy’s new tweed.
We have a mole! (maybe more than one…). In one short week it has destroyed all of Nick’s hard work to recover our grass from “builder’s scrap area” to normal family lawn and the place looks like the Somme (without the mud of course).
We called in The Local Mole Catcher. He said he wasn’t sure it even was a mole, there were no mountains, no obvious tunnels, just piles of ripped up grass. But, said Nick, something has done all this, pointing to the desecration that was once a garden; our lurchers have been sniffing the area with great interest, and they were used as working dogs before we adopted them, so they are probably sensing something.
The Mole Catcher was not impressed. If it was a mole, he said, a “proper dog”, a terrier, would be identifying exactly where it was with pinpoint accuracy, and he looked with undisguised contempt towards our lurchers Lindy and Polly (who were busy playing a gentle game of bitey face). He left, saying if there was any fresh evidence it was a mole, he would visit again, perhaps. We felt like townies being dismissed as silly children.
Last night we were enjoying a glass of something cool out in the garden while the light faded and the bats began to circle. Polly suddenly became very animated, did a quick dig and carried something out in her mouth, dropped it a few times, trotted round with it a bit and then, alas, let it go for good. By the time we got a torch it had disappeared, so any plans to shift it out of our garden to safety over the wall were thwarted.
But we are so very proud of Polly. She didn’t harm the little mole but she proved beyond doubt that we do have one. She is a proper dog after all!
It’s years since we adopted a dog who couldn’t safely be allowed off the lead within a very short time. But in the spring we adopted Polly, a headstrong young saluki lurcher, with all the usual saluki traits including selective hearing when there are distractions like interesting scents, distant squirrels, or other dogs to play with. So we’ve begun to build a list of safe and safe-ish local areas in West London and Surrey where she can enjoy a run off the lead without getting into too much trouble.
When we first let Polly off the lead, our starting point was some of the excellent enclosed, off lead dog walking areas which are available for private hire by owners who have dogs with limited recall, reactivity issues or simply a wayward tendency. Check out Dog Walking Fields in particular.
But we began to hanker for a wider repertoire: local places where Polly could have a quick blast off the lead at the end of the day; enclosed areas that could be incorporated into a longer, normal walk; places where Polly could meet other dogs and socialise. Here are some that fit the bill for us:
Suffolk Road Recreation Ground, Barnes
Character: Public park, nominally mixed use though mostly used by dog walkers. Big open grassy area, plenty of poo bins
Boundaries: Tall fencing on three sides, onto Suffolk Rd maybe 4′ 6″
Gates: A single gate onto Suffolk Rd which is always closed by dog walkers
Parking: On North Rd, busy at school pick up times, otherwise quiet
Other dogs: Yes, always some other dogs in the area
SIDMOUTH WOOD, RICHMOND PARK
Character: A fully fenced wide path running through Sidmouth Wood which is itself fully enclosed with deer-proof fencing. This is a lovely natural area which is very safe; great for building up good off lead walking habits; great to incorporate into a longer on-lead walk through the rest of Richmond Park.
Boundaries: Sidmouth Wood is fully enclosed to about 8ft. Through the middle of the wood running west-east is a broad, fenced path, maybe 50m wide and 500m long with 8ft boundaries all round and tall (6′ plus) self-closing gates at each end. Just watch out for the access gates to the wider wood about halfway down the path – the foxes have burrowed underneath and a smaller dog might also be able to sneak under these gates into the rest of Sidmouth Wood.
Parking: Pembroke Lodge Car Park
Other dogs: Quiet, but you’ll probably meet the occasional walker, with or without a dog as you amble through
TWO STORM WOOD, RICHMOND PARK
Character: Woodland with several paths running east-west though it. Very safe and enclosed. There are rabbits up on the hill here and tons of interesting scents in the wood. The wood itself is very safe and enclosed but if your dog likes pursuing scents they can disappear into the undergrowth and lead you a merry dance till they are ready to return – ask Polly! Good to incorporate into a longer on-lead walk through the rest of Park. Paths can be very wet and boggy here in winter months.
Boundaries: Fully enclosed to about 8ft. Large gates (always closed) at east and west ends of the wood
Parking: Sheen Gate Car Park and wander up to the wood
Other dogs: Quiet, though you might meet the occasional walker, with or without a dog.
CORBETTS COPSE, RICHMOND PARK
Character: A small but perfectly-formed enclosed copse within Richmond Park, with grasses and some low trees and a nice bench for a sit down and quiet contemplation. Great for an off lead blast as part of a longer on-lead walk through the rest of Park. The boundaries are not high or very robust, but fine if your dog is not a jumper.
Boundaries: Fenced to about 4ft, with wooden fences and netting. Two wooden gates which are always closed.
Parking: Broomfield Car Park
Other dogs: This is a tiny area, there may be another dog owner already in the area and if so it’s usual to wait outside or ask permission before joining them.
BRENT LEA RECREATION GROUND, London Rd, Brentford
Character: Adjacent to Syon Park, fully enclosed with ancient, robust walls, is a largish, mixed-use recreation area with tennis courts, undulating grassland and a few trees. The only vulnerability is the gate (see below) which other users tend to leave open and you need to watch it like a hawk!
Website: This is probably the best online resource describing the area
Boundaries: Walled to 8ft plus except for one very short section of wall at 5ft near the single entrance gate.
Parking: Limited on street parking outside in Half Moon Lane
Other dogs: You’ll sometimes share with the odd dog walker
DOG PARK, BEDFONT LAKES COUNTY PARK, HOUNSLOW
Character: Within Bedfont Lakes Country Park is a large enclosed dog park. It’s mostly open grassland with a small hummock with a couple of shrubs at the far end. Surprisingly pretty when the ox-eye daisies are out in late spring. This is a great area for well-socialised dogs to have a run and to meet and greet with other dogs of all types.
Boundaries: Fenced to 5ft plus with dense planting all round boundaries. Two gates maybe 4ft high, always closed
Parking: Use the adjacent car park in Bedford Rd (not the one in Clockhouse Rd)
Other dogs: Very busy, there are always other dogs up here being walked.
MILLENNIUM WOOD, BUSHY PARK, HAMPTON WICK
Character: A safe wooded enclosed area within Bushy Park. Relatively recently created (=Millennium) with robust metal fencing all round. Nice for an off lead leg-stretch as part of a longer walk within Bushy Park
Boundaries: Fully enclosed to 7ft or so. Beware the burrowed out areas under the gates – a small, nimble lurcher can limbo out through these as our Lulu recently proved (thankfully she has good recall and never strays too far).
Other dogs: Often used by other dog walkers
Parking: On street outside Bushy Park in Church Grove and walk to Hampton Wick Gate
PRINCE CHARLES SPINNEY, RICHMOND PARK
Character: Another of these robustly fenced pathways through a bigger enclosed wood in Richmond Park. This is a path about 200m long, beautiful with bluebells in spring, nice as part of a longer walk through the park.
Boundaries: Prince Charles Spinney is fully enclosed to 8ft or so with robust, deer-proof fencing and through it runs this separately enclosed walkway with gates at each end. Watch out for gaps under the fencing into the rest of the enclosure especially down at the bottom where the stream runs through.
Parking: At Pen Ponds Car Park and walk up or Broomfield Car Park and walk down
Other dogs: Quiet
North Road Recreation Ground, Sheen
Character: A small enclosed dog-specific area within a larger, mixed use public park. Useful for a quick leg stretch
Boundaries: A lowish boundary fence maybe 3’6″ to the dog-exercise area, taller fencing round the surrounding park
Parking: On North Rd
Other dogs: Owners of other dogs tend to wait patiently outside so you’ll probably have the dog area to yourself.
If you know of any similar dog-walking areas in West London or Surrey please add them in comments below. We’ll certainly be growing our list as we find other suitable areas.
This article is titled in homage to the late Stephen Foster whose wonderful book “Walking Ollie” makes me laugh and cry and sigh every time I read it. It is about Stephen’s experience when he first adopted a wayward saluki cross, much like my Polly. I highly recommend this book and the sequel “Along Came Dylan” to anyone considering adopting one of these nutty lurcher types.