We got help from Paws on Board

Black labrador looking at the camera with border collie. text says "we got help from paws on board"

What is it about asking for help that is so damn hard?

I would be honoured to help, if anyone blessed me with a genuine request for help. But to ask for myself… I have to be at the very near to the end of my wits before I do, and I know it’s very foolish of me.

Black labrador and border collie stare at a camera. Text says: We got help from Paws on Board.

We have a lovely, energetic and bonkers 2 years old black Labrador called Freya. We got her as a puppy at a time when I had time to train her and take her for walks.

Introducing Freya the Labrador.

I needed help.

First of all, Elisa’s muscle tone was getting very varied, she would suffer from very painful muscle spasms and cramps that are what is diagnosed as “dystonia”. Often, she would only be comfortable enough to be sort of content was when cradled in with a firm cuddle.

Then Melody started having seizures, and after necessary checks she was diagnosed with epilepsy (I realised I haven’t blogged about this – I will).

This inevitably meant neither of us parents felt comfortable being left alone with both kids at the same time, as each of them required a minimum of one adult to keep them safe.

The worst-case scenarios haunted our minds – what would happen if Elisa suffered from dystonia and was cuddled by the lone parent, only to see that Melody dropped to the floor having a seizure?

That meant no more taking turns to have some alone time while the other parent minded the kids. No more long walks with the dog, unless we got a carer to look after Elisa.

Labrador cuddling a child

Looking for ways to help Freya

From very early on our newly founded restrictions on walking time with Freya, I stumbled upon Absolute Dogs. I was looking for different ways to engage with Freya, give her focus and burn some of that energy at home, without me leaving the premises or going too far in case Dan needed me with the children.

I signed up for the “Sexier than a Squirrel”-challenge as it seemed like fun, which it was. Me and Freya enjoyed the challenge games and the whole experience did wonders for both of our confidences and Freya’s recall.

Unfortunately, it didn’t change the fact that Freya was not having enough exercise. I could throw treats on the floor in the garden all I wanted so she could go out for a sniff… I could play the games, I could teach her tricks so she would use her brain… But still, she needed the exercise. I could see her physical form getting worse. She was loosing muscle. She was getting restless and frustrated. Pressure was building up within her.

Black labrador laying down on a picnic mat.

Even after we got Melody’s seizures under control with medication, the fear stayed. I only felt comfortable taking the dog out for a proper long walk, if I knew Dan wasn’t alone with the children.

The shielding didn’t make matters any easier – it meant every time I was out with (or without) the dog, I would pass the other pedestrians as far as possible, keeping my distance. Which meant zero socialisation prospects for the furry pet of mine. Brilliant for learning to pass other dogs, but very bad for Freya’s mental health and canine social skills.

What is best for our dog?

I started to wonder if it was best for Freya to be rehomed to another family, where she would have all the exercise she craved for and the attention she deserved. We had had her for two years, and she was part of our family. Still, we were not providing the life for her that we thought we would when we originally considered bringing her home to us. The pandemic, shielding, the children’s diagnoses, it all were on my way of being the dog owner I had thought of being.

Dog being cuddled by her emotional owner.
Freya giving me emotional support at the time when I was upset over Melody’s seizures.

Something had to change.

We had to take Elisa in to the hospital for third time this year (post about this here). I knew something had to change. Even when Melody went back to school, I didn’t have the time to take Freya to blow some steam as I was on the beg and run to go to the hospital during school hours.

I started to research local dog walkers.

I wanted someone experienced. I needed someone who would know how to handle an energetic Labrador, who hasn’t had a chance to really be a dog for a while. Who would make socialising with other dogs safe and fun for Freya, who had been lucky if allowed to sniff another dog in touching distance for such a long while. Even if Freya wouldn’t pull as such on a lead, I didn’t want to give her to someone who wouldn’t necessarily understand her.

Which was why I hadn’t just given her for a friend either to take for a walk – I didn’t know how Freya would react to someone else walking her. Would she behave?

Child watching videos on a tablet while cuddled by a black labrador
I’m not just a dog. I’m a cuddly dog.

I watched lovely videos that dog walking entrepreneurs had posted, where they had taken a punch of lively canines to a forest and they were having zoomies and crazy, fun times. I read reviews, checked websites, read posts on Dog Friendly Dorset’s Facebook group, trying to get the feel of the people behind the profiles.

I asked my friend, a fellow dog owner, for recommendation and she told me about Vicky.

I checked out her website. While reading about the training service she offers, I noted she has been trained by the same people behind Absolute Dogs. I felt a spark of excitement: she would have same ideas for dog ownership and training like I do. I smiled as I thought of her training Freya to surf, of all things. I looked at her Facebook Page, and got the feel of calm, controlled but fun.

I contacted her, and I watched her face on the video call when we talked. I felt reassured. I felt connection. This woman seemed to know what she was talking about. We arranged a trial walk, and she came to pick Freya up the very next day.

I was nervous.

For nothing, in the end. When Freya got back, Vicky reported same things I already knew about my dog – that she had lost muscle on her legs due lack of exercise which could potentially be a health risk in the future, and she played rough with the other dogs and didn’t really understand all the social cues the other dogs were giving her, which was due the lack of socialising. Freya was lacking in confidence, which manifested itself in many ways.

Vicky also noted how loving dog Freya is and how in tune the dog is with me. Freya reads my moods better than I do. She truly is our emotional support dog. For the whole family but especially for me.

Vicky gave me some exercise ideas to help Freya build up strength on her hind legs and back, and there we had it – a beautiful working relationship between a dog owner and a dog walker/trainer. She started to come and pick Freya up couple times a week, and after each session I would see Freya trusting Vicky more and more, and she would come back from her walks tired but happy.

labrador laying under the table, leaning on her owners foot
“Mum, you are not alone. I’m here, laying on top of your foot. Just so you won’t forget.”

I have already noticed she is calmer around the house, the ever present near to the boiling point pressure within her has just about vanished.

She is still very much in tune with my emotions.

On the day of Elisa’s surgery in Southampton hospital, I was very anxious and so was the dog. She was clingy. She followed me everywhere, touching me on my legs, her ears drooping, tail low. I walked around the house, cleaning and picking up stuff to only put it down again somewhere else, and all the while the dog followed.

The surgery was to be long one. So I called Vicky and she came to collect Freya.

Freya didn’t want to leave my side, but she got lured away with yummy sausages… And when she came back, she was like another dog. She was content. She still watched me like a hawk, never letting me out of her sight – but she did so from the armchair, where she got herself comfortable. She kept her tabs on me, but wasn’t clingy.

When I was near a peak of an anxiety attack, Freya trotted to me and placed her head on my lap. I gathered her in my arms and hugged her tight, and Freya was there, calm, collected, snuggling into me. She felt my worry, but it didn’t overflow her bucket. She had had her run and fun, her body was tended for, she wasn’t bursting with nervous energy – so she was there for me. Helping me to keep me together.

This blog post is not paid advertisement.

Is merely an acknowledgement for amazing person for the work she does and what a difference it can make. For £12 a walk, my dog is safe, but has an adventure. She is allowed to be a dog, she learns to socialise with others of her kind and she gets the exercise she needs. If anyone ever asked me for recommendation on dog walkers or dog trainers around BCP council area, I would full-heartedly recommend Vicky.

And so would Freya.

Check out Vicky’s website and Facebook for more details:

Thank you Vicky, for all you’ve already done for us. Thank you. My only regret is that I didn’t find and contact you sooner.

Mother at Home: Child at the Hospital.

So much of missing Elisa is guttural.

Usually, when I miss someone, I either call them or text them. Usually the latter. I can keep in touch with my stepdaughter and nieces that way, I can call my parents who live in Finland. I can even write and receive simple sentences from my 5-year-old or have a chat with her over the phone if a need arose.

With Elisa, none of the above communication methods are usable. She is non-verbal, and cerebral palsy makes it nearly impossible for her to master any sort of meaningful movement in any of her limbs or body. She is deaf, and when she is poorly, she hardly ever tolerates her cochlear implants as she prefers to heal in complete silence that her body naturally engulfs her in. Her eyesight is not a lot better, even though she can recognise people and animated characters by looking at them. Still, eyeing Elisa through a screen knowing that it is possible she might not even recognise me on the screen at her end does not provide the equal comfort than actually seeing her.

So much of communication with Elisa is done through touch. We cuddle her to shower her with love. I stroke her hair, I gently trace her facial features with tips of my fingers. I tickle her, or give her a firm, strong massage. I smell her hair, the curve of her upper lip, where I can feel her breath. I love breathing in the smell of her breath when she’s healthy. When there isn’t that sickly sense that she’s got a flu,.

I can’t get any of that through the screen.

When she is not at home, the house feels utterly empty. Even if everyone else was filling the space, the lack of Elisa’s presence is so immense that none of us really know what to do with ourselves. Even the cat and the dog look like they’ve lost the plot, wandering around aimlessly, looking for something. Looking for Elisa. Even if she doesn’t do much, she does so much more than any of us realise, and it only comes painstakingly clear when she is not around to do it.

What is the hospital life like during the pandemic as a parent at home, when your child is an inpatient?

I recorded this voice clip on the 2nd of March. I attempted to answer the simple question of: “What is the hospital life with your child like during the pandemic, when you are the parent at home?”

I made it into a little slide show, with subtitles.

There are many reasons why me and Dan have made these care arrangements; why he is the one looking after Elisa at the hospital while I’m at home with Melody. One of the reasons is as simple as me being the one with a driving licence, therefore doing the supply runs between home and hospital.

Today is 9th of March 2021.

Elisa is still in hospital. I got to go and have a cuddle with her this morning before she got transferred to Southampton hospital with her Dad.

During the pandemic, Elisa’s muscle tone has been getting worse. She suffers from dystonia, which is “unintentional sustained muscle contractions leading to abnormal postures.” The lack of physiotherapy and occupational therapy may have contributed towards the worsening muscle tone.

Two weeks ago Elisa got admitted to the hospital due a lot of stress from dystonia – she was in so much pain. We took her in for the third time this year.

While doing their examinations the hiatus hernia was discovered nearly by accident, and since then we have discovered her fundoplication has loosened up as well as her hips are not doing really that well either.

She will have a surgery tomorrow. They will tighten up her fundoplication and get rid of that hernia that is letting her bowels push her lungs. I can’t even imagine how painful that has been for her. I mean, I’ve seen how much in agony she’s been – but to actually know how she’s felt…

 I just hope she will recover quickly and come back to being her happy self, without pain, as soon as possible. I am also so very scared. It’s going to be a major surgery.

Today is 12th of March 2021.

The surgery lasted 8 hours, but was regarded a success. Afterwards she was on a ventilator for nearly 24 hours in Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), but has already been taken off the ventilator and moved to High Dependency Unit (HDU) . I wish we could go up there with Melody to visit, but it’s not possible nor safe. Melody has been back at school, so even if the hospital would allow siblings to visit, we would not recognise it being safe.

Finally,

It is strange being home without Elisa and Dan. I’m trying to keep Melody as busy as possible, as this time around she has found it very tough indeed. She was so used to us shielding, all of us being constantly at home together, and all of a sudden half of her family is out of reach and mostly to be communicated with through screens.

We do not know how long Elisa will be in the hospitals for this time. She won’t only need to recover from the surgery, but most of her medications need to be fiddled with again to provide the relief from dystonia and other problematic by-products of her disabilities.

Will keep you posted…