The Saturday – the day of the County Show – marked the start of half term. Despite having arranged lessons with various pupils taking exams during the second half of the summer term, we had the afternoons to ourselves. We spent time every afternoon walking round Church Stretton town, practicing walking at heel on the lead and acclimatizing to all the noise and bustle of a small market town.
I wanted Grace to focus on me when she saw another dog, or something scared her. Rewarding her with a game of tuggy when she took her attention off something else and on to me seemed to be working. I could get her attention by just saying ‘here!’
When something really startled her it was a different matter. Nothing could get her attention and there were several occasions when she would suddenly reverse at lightening speed, dragging me into the road. I was very ‘on the ball’ trying to preempt things I could see that I thought might scare her, but just couldn’t predict everything – random loud noises were a case in point.
During the third day’s outing in the town, we were about to walk past a shop that we’d walked past six times during the previous sessions. This time Grace stopped dead in her tracks and started to reverse. Talking to her and reaching down to hold onto her harness, I asked her what it was that she’d seen. I couldn’t for the life of me come up with anything that was so frightening.
We had encountered shop signs put out on the pavement and she understood what they were – even the ones that would swing backwards and forwards in the breeze didn’t bother her anymore. I asked her if it was this particular sign and reached out to touch it to show her it was safe. Walking round the other side of me, she reached out her nose to poke the sign. It didn’t appear to be the source of the problem.
I stooped down and tried to see what it could be. I tried to imagine I was Grace and to see what she was seeing. Despite the audience of nosey onlookers that was quickly gathering around us, it suddenly struck me that it might be the colour of the wall underneath the large shop window.
Instead of being brick like most of the other shops, it was painted black. I reached out to touch the wall and asked Grace if it was the wall frightening her. I could clearly see from her reaction that it was. She wanted to believe me it was safe, but was finding it hard. She stuck her little neck out, then retreated. I confirmed it was safe by stroking the wall and getting very close to it. I felt very self-conscious due to my audience, but didn’t really care what anyone thought of me rubbing my hand on the wall with Grace freaking out on the end of her lead.
Suddenly Grace walked forward and boldly poked at it with her nose and gave it a sniff. A millisecond later, and the drama was all over – Grace was fine and ready to move on. The crowd soon dispersed as I produced the tuggy rope and we proceeded to play, in the middle of the pavement…
Grace continued to sneeze somewhat violently first thing in a morning and whenever she woke up after a sleep for the next six days. The green eye discharge was ever-present as well, but keeping a close eye on her, she didn’t appear to be poorly. She was already eating crushed raw garlic in her food and I added in Olive Leaf capsules made by a company in the U.S.A. which would help kill any bacteria or viruses if that was what she had. It certainly helps me ward off colds.
I didn’t think that she was actually ill though – I wondered if it might be her body cleaning all the residue from being fed ‘food’ (I use that word loosely) made from grains, other low-grade materials and laced with artificial colours and preservatives. Whatever it was, on the seventh day both the sneezing and the discharge disappeared as fast as they had arrived, and I was glad.
As well as working on getting Grace used to walking in the town, we also went on the Long Mynd for a few minutes each day. The miles of National Trust owned open moorland was the place Chandi, Pepper and I loved to walk. To Grace, it was another scary place and we had just as much work to do here as we did in the town centre.
For a few minutes at a time we would take a very short walk. Grace paid me no attention as she shot this way and that grabbing at everything with her mouth. When I say ‘everything’, I actually mean fresh, green, wet sheep droppings.
As a puppy explores the world with its mouth, this was inevitable, but not something I relished. Neither was manually extracting the poop from her mouth every five seconds.
It was a far cry from the relaxing walks I had shared with Chandi – it was actually a nightmare. Several times the tears streamed down my face as I bumbled along on the far end of Grace’s lead.
The saying ‘you don’t know what you’ve got until you’ve lost it’ did not apply to me. I knew what a treasure Chandi was and celebrated her companionship every day. Would I ever reach that stage with Grace? I couldn’t allow myself to think about the past or the future – at that point, both were the saddest places I could be. The present wasn’t that comfortable either.