Tails and Tales



Here' my self indulgent section where I waffle on and recall stories I have experienced with animals...all are true and real names have been left in to indicate the guilty!

Horses, good place to start...my parents took some persuading to allow me to ride, an uncle had died in the horseguards in the dim and distant past. I think he died of pneumonia following a fall, try explaining to loving parents that the same thing won't happen to you, however the whinging power of a determined girl should never be under estimated and I started riding lessons. In return for this generous offer I had to attend ballet lessons, ye Gods!, I was already very tall for my age and to prance around the floor thinking of snowflakes when all I wanted to do was be up to my welly buckles in horse muck was a penance I shall never forget. Fate took a turn when with great sadness the Ballet teacher took my mother aside and broke the news to her that a prima ballerina of over 6 foot was not only unusual but that most male leads would struggle in the lift to the detriment of the dance (not to mention the strain on the truss).

I lived , breathed and certainly smelled of horse, saving every penny to buy my own nag. I wistfully attended the Abel's annual horse fair held in Watton in Norfolk. The most beautiful coloured horse I had every seen entered the sale ring. His piebald coat shone in the sun as he jiggled around and fidgeted at the stares of the horse meat man, how could I possibly allow this fabulous beast be slaughtered? I watched as the only bid came from the meat man....going once...going twice...My hand shot into the air, "me, me" I shouted, the sale ring erupted into laughter as I bid fiercely against my foe , the one who would kill the gorgeous piebald. The meat man reached his limit, I had passed my limit long ago but I knew I had to save the black and white horse. "Sold" cried the auctioneer...the piebald was mine.

There just remained the small problem of money and here is where the wiles of a daughter kick into play as I pleaded with my parents to loan me the cash to buy the piebald who I now knew rejoiced in the name "Moby Dick", yes, I should have guessed at that point, who calls a horse Moby Dick?. However, my parents paid up and arranged at my local riding stable for stabling and I rode  Moby home proudly in a borrowed bridle.

The next day I was at the stables as dawn thought about cracking in the distance, I groomed Moby and admired his muscles and his  strangely thick arched neck . He playfully nudged my rear end as I mucked him out and thoughtfully chewed my hair as I fussed around him. At last it was time to meet my friend and ride out with her on my own horse! With borrowed bridle and saddle and a smile a cheshire cat would have been proud of I set out to meet her. Moby was impatient and snorted with excitement as he saw my friend and her pretty bay mare Polly, approach the crossroads. We set off down the lane together, side by side, my friend was saying how awkward her mare had become since she came into season, just small things like leaning on her when she picked her feet out, then suddenly Moby span around and almost unseated me, pivoting on his hind legs he launched himself at the rear end of Polly, his intentions were obviously entirely dishonourable at this stage as my friend and I screeched in horror. My friend managed to slide off the saddle as the crushing weight of Moby threw himself upon Polly's rear end and his front legs dangled against the stirrups  making the most appalling clatter, nothing compared to the noise of a maligned mare having a hissy fit!

Moby was a Rig, in the past he had either been gelded badly or his testicles had been retained so he appeared to be a gelding, all the feelings of a stallion and none of the fun! Look a gift horse in the mouth?...nope...look him square between the legs is my advice!

Some years later I ran a yard of hunters and eventers, one of my most cherished clients was Commander Herring, an  ebullient and generous man whose outer proportions matched his inner man. He and his down to earth . charming wife were followers of the local Hunt . The West Norfolk Foxhounds , across mixed territory with equally mixed success these doughty chevaliers spent the winter season in hot pursuit. Commander Herring loved the hunt, he didn't particularly want to exercise his extraordinary horse, a most beautiful bay gelding , who in another existence was certainly hyperthyroid and a somewhat excitable enthusiastic extrovert! I loved to ride this horse, his lust for life glowed in every sweaty pore. Just sometimes though, the phone would ring in the early evening and the warm , booming tones of the Commander would flood my ears as he declared " I should like to throw a leg over in the morning Geraldine"...What could a girl say?

Do horses have a sense of humour?....Yep!  Solly was my horse in a million, a beautiful bay gelding , I bought him as a raw 3 year old because I loved the look in his eye, by a decent horse called Silly Season out of a flat race mare he wasn't really weighty enough for three day eventing but he charmed me anyway! He was the only horse I have ever known who looked up at the sky, he would watch birds from his stable and follow their flight with his elegant head.  I digress, his humour was very much in evidence on leaving the stable yard, at that time I kept him in Brisley, on the common , in the stables of Jenny Holkham (more of this extraordinary lady later!) the farm was next door to the Pub, the Bell. Of a summers day the Bell was a great place for locals and passers by alike to gather and sit outside to sup their ale. On leaving the stable yard Solly would obediently set off at a brisk walk to the end of the short drive, at this point he would check the audience at the Bell......Lightly and elegantly he would walk with gentle tread to a point where he would emerge from the bushes stage right of the Bell...Making quite sure the attention and spotlight was on him he would then leap into a series of fly bucks and alarming corksrews in the air in an effort to dislodge me! We progressed past the pub in leaps and barmy bounds with accompanied laughter and clapping from the "audience"...once past the exit stage left Solly would drop back into his long striding beautifully cadenced walk with a mere snicker of a chuckle ...The whole process was repeated on returning home from exercise, what a horse!

I promised more of Jenny Holkham, when I first met Jenny she was taking up the "good life" but no pink wellies for this girl, she was straight into farming with a herd of pigs and a few cattle. As a animal handler she was by far the best I had ever seen, it's said that women are better than men at raising young calves , Jenny was extraordinarily good with all stock. Tall and blonde she would have looked more at home on a models runway than a pig sty but she had made her choice and was making pig farming pay! Delightfully scatterbrained in some areas and sabre sharp in business a really uncommon mix of naive charm and ruthless businesswoman. imagine if you will a still summers day when the first of Jenny's pigs areoff to the butcher, the trailer is set up in the gap between the stables and the barn and Jenny and I are driving the pigs onward to their eventual doom . You may not know but a pigman's best friend is his board...by putting the large sheet of wood beside the pigs head the pig will naturally turn away from the barrier, thus the direction can be chosen...mostly.

So...onward and foreward the pigs grunted and moved as Jenny and I chatted in the warm sun. Finally we reached the bottom of the ramp into the trailer, driving each one forward with "Hoi! Hoi!" three loaded easily...the forth regarded us with a pink eyed steely stare. In approved scissor action we gained ground behind the porker and edged him towards the ramp. This young large white pig was about two foot six tall and chunky with it, he seemed almost resigned as he set his front trotters upon the ramp, then in a blisteringly fast swoop he dodged Jenny's board and double backed through her legs! I have no idea why Jenny gripped the pig at this point...the result was she hurtled off back down to the field grasping the pigs buttocks and firmly clamped to a fast moving pig.  Did I run to rescue her?...no,I have to admit I was convulsed in laughter at the sight of her astonished face and the gleeful grunts of a pig that knows it has lived another day!



For Katie

Autumn sun,

as a blessing

falls upon the old dog's head.

Soft grey muzzle, knowing the wind's secrets

growing fuzzy as sleep drifts in

lifting her to fields of rippling green

muscles bold with adrenalin,

strive and drive


elusive colour and form

just ahead,

just a breath away

spring sun on pulsing life


overflowing with exotic riches


the liquid mahogany of coat and life


her sigh


echoes in me as the

autumn sun,

like a blessing

falls upon my old friends head



No matter how many animals grace your life , the passing of each one brings unique pain and loss. the price we gladly bear for the gift of enduring friendship and loyalty in both this world and the next..





Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here,

That pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.

There are meadows and hills for all our special friends so they

can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our  friends are warm and comfortable.


All the animals who have been ill and old are restored to health and vigour;

Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent, his eager body begins to quiver. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.


You have been spotted, and when you are your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never have to be parted again.

The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.


Then you cross the Rainbow Bridge together…………….



Unlike most days at Rainbow Bridge, this day dawned cold and gray, damp as a swamp and as dismal as could be imagined. All of the recent arrivals had no idea what to think, as they had never experienced a day like this before.

But the animals who had been waiting for their beloved people knew exactly what was going on and started to gather at the pathway leading to The Bridge to watch.

It wasn't long before an elderly animal came into view, head hung low and tail dragging. The other animals, the ones who had been there for a while, knew what his story was right away, for they had seen this happen far too often.

He approached slowly, obviously in great emotional pain, but with no sign of injury or illness. Unlike all of the other animals waiting at The Bridge, this animal had not been restored to youth and made healthy and vigorous again.

As he walked toward The Bridge, he watched all of the other animals watching him. He knew he was out of place here and the sooner he could cross over, the happier he would be. But, alas, as he approached The Bridge, his way was barred by the appearance of an Angel who apologized, but told him that he would not be able to pass. Only those animals who were with their people could pass over Rainbow Bridge.

With no place else to turn to, the elderly animal turned towards the fields before The Bridge and saw a group of other animals like himself, also elderly and infirm. They weren't playing, but rather simply lying on the green grass, forlornly staring out at the pathway leading to The Bridge. And so, he took his place among them, watching the pathway and waiting.

One of the newest arrivals at The Bridge didn't understand what he had just witnessed and asked one of the animals that had been there for awhile to explain it to him.

"You see, that poor animal was a rescue. He was turned in to rescue just as you see him now, an older animal with his fur graying and his eyes clouding. He never made it out of rescue and passed on with only the love of his rescuer to comfort him as he left his earthly existence. Because he had no family to give his love to, he has no one to escort him across The Bridge."

The first animal thought about this for a minute and then asked, "So what will happen now?" As he was about to receive his answer, the clouds suddenly parted and the gloom lifted. Approaching The Bridge could be seen a single person, and among the older animals, a whole group was suddenly bathed in a golden light and they were all young and healthy again, just as they were in the prime of life.

"Watch, and see," said the second animal. A second group of animals from those waiting came to the pathway and bowed low as the person neared. At each bowed head, the person offered a pat on the head or a scratch behind the ears. The newly restored animals fell into line and followed her towards The Bridge. They all crossed The Bridge together.

"What happened?"

"That was a rescuer. The animals you saw bowing in respect were those who found new homes because of her work. They will cross when their new families arrive. Those you saw restored were those who never found homes. When a rescuer arrives, they are allowed to perform one, final act of rescue. They are allowed to escort those poor animals that they couldn't place on earth across The Rainbow Bridge."

"I think I like rescuers", said the first animal.

"So does GOD", was the reply.


Tottie’s Story –Liver Shunt


Tottie was always a little bit “nice but dim”, she had a bad start with a Mum that was careless to say the least. Some bitches just never really settle into the maternal role and Tottie’s Mum certainly resented the time spent cleaning and feeding the squirmy little babies. I went to visit the litter five days after they had been born, to cut a long story short , I came home with three tiny Spinoni wrapped in a blanket in an apple box..

Two of the pups flourished , greedily sucking the bottle and getting stronger by the hour. Tottie just seemed to lack the will to live, I dripped milk into the corner of her mouth as she lay in the palm of my hand , seemingly lifeless. The turning point came  36 hours later as with a sigh and a shudder she opened her mouth to accept the sweet milk, I could finally get some sleep!

As the three pups grew, Tottie was still smaller than the other two and her coat had the quality of a Merino lamb! How could I not love her? She was playful and charming and bright as a button.

The months passed, then one evening I noticed that she wouldn’t settle as she normally would. My sofa is always piled high with a tangle of dogs, mostly snoring and muttering about what a hard day they’ve had, but Tottie continued to wander about the room, aimlessly restless. Eventually she flopped into her basket as bedtime approached. Anyone who has dogs or children will understand that half sleep when you feel something is “brewing”, so when at around three in the morning I heard rustling and thudding from the kitchen I was down there in a moment.

Tottie was wandering around the kitchen, she didn’t acknowledge that I was there, odd in itself, normally she bounced to me in a series of gleeful bounds. I watched as she continued to walk clockwise around the room, bumping into corners , just not seeing anything. I couldn’t get a response when I waved my hand in front of her, by now I was terribly worried, her legs just kept walking even when I picked her up, she had become an automaton , her muscles jerking as she struggled to move and keep walking.

I was blessed that morning to have such an intuitive and well informed Veterinary Surgeon, after careful consideration she shared with me her concern that this may be Portosystemic Liver Shunt. The next few hours would tell, the emergency therapy was Lactulose as an enema as well as given by mouth and a large dose of antibiotic. A drip was started to flush her system through.

Tottie was so very poorly, we really didn’t know if she would respond. My Vet tried several Veterinary Hospitals  with specialist knowledge and none could squeeze her in, and so we waited.

Six hours later, what a transformation! Tottie was jumping out of her skin, shouting and running around as if she had been given the elixir of life, which in a way, she had.


Tottie has now been diagnosed with liver shunt by the use of ultra sound imaging.


What is Liver Shunt or PSS?

In the fetus a shunt, called the patent ductus venosus, is present and bypasses blood away from the liver to the placenta so that the mother can cleanse the blood for the fetus. Once the puppy is born the shunt closes within three days after birth and the puppy's liver must clean the blood.  Sometimes the shunt does not close off. A portosystemic shunt, therefore is an abnormal vessel that allows blood to bypass the liver. As a result the blood is not cleansed by one of the bodies filters: the liver. These dogs also have much less blood that flows to the liver which causes the liver to remain small. There are many variations of congential portosystemic shunts that are found at surgery, however there are  two main groups:  shunts located in the liver (intrahepatic shunt) and shunts located outside of the liver tissue (extrahepatic shunt).  The intrahepatic shunt is most commonly found in large breed dogs and extrahepatic shunts are seen in small breeds. 

So why did Tottie’s behaviour become so bizarre? The toxins built up and caused symptoms of, blindness, poor weight gain and  unsteady gait to name just a few. I have found in my research that even aggression and obsessive behaviour can flag up a possible Liver Shunt to a switched on Veterinary Surgeon.

As a breeder, my concern was the possible inherited link. Just how many dogs have this condition and is there any way of testing? The number of dogs that have Liver Shunt that goes undetected is impossible to quantify, many animals show no signs or symptoms until they undergo anaesthetic, the poor recovery rate is because the drug is not being processed through the liver in the normal way , instead it lingers .The risk of death under anaesthetic for an animal with PSS is a real one.

There are some breeds that have a known propensity for PSS among them the Irish Wolfhound and the Yorkshire Terrier The mode of inheritance is unknown as yet, I include a study from the USA in 2003.

C247 Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee 37996-4544, USA.

A hereditary basis for congenital portosystemic shunts (PSS) in Yorkshire terriers was explored through record and pedigree analysis and a breeding trial. The odds ratio for PSS in Yorkshire terriers was 35.9 times greater than for all other breeds combined. Wright's coefficient of inbreeding was approximately twice as high for Yorkshire terriers with PSS as compared to normal members of the breed (P=0.09). No common ancestors were found that were significant to the PSS group. Two affected Yorkshire terriers were bred and produced two normal puppies. Congenital PSS appears to be hereditary in Yorkshire terriers; however, the mechanism of inheritance has yet to be elucidated.

So where do we go from here, one simple answer is not to repeat a mating where the condition occurs in one or more pups. Tottie was the result of a repeat mating, none of the other 12 puppies produced in the two litters has shown any sign of PSS.

There is a test that can be used on a litter to determine the presence of PSS, it measures ammonia concentration and bile acid, this from The Veterinary Record, Vol 144, Issue 25, 693-696
Copyright © 1999 by British Veterinary Association

Five hundred and sixty-six Irish wolfhound puppies aged six to 15 weeks were tested for congenital portosystemic shunts by the dynamic bile acid method. Plasma ammonia concentration was also measured in 165 of the puppies both fasting and postprandially. Nineteen puppies (3·4 per cent), nine males and 10 females, had portosystemic shunts. Smaller litters appeared to be more likely to contain affected puppies. The postprandial bile acid concentration was a reliable predictor of the presence of a shunt, with the highest concentration in a normal puppy being 38 µmol/litre and the lowest in an affected puppy being 43 µmol/litre. In contrast, fasting bile acid concentrations were normal in the majority of the affected puppies. There was considerable overlap in fasting plasma ammonia concentrations between normal and affected puppies (26 puppies, 15·8 per cent of those tested). Postprandial ammonia concentration appeared to give better separation between the two groups, apart from two individuals which produced bizarre results. It was concluded that the postprandial or dynamic bile acid test is an appropriate test for the mass screening of Irish wolfhound puppies for portosystemic shunts, and guidelines are proposed for the interpretation and follow-up of the test.


For Tottie her longevity is uncertain, I did consider the surgical option but after research I decided that management through diet and drugs would be my choice for her. I stress that it is a personal choice, should any reader have the misfortune to encounter this condition themselves, I suggest you make your own decision based on your own research and advice from a professional source. A short life but a merry one is what I envisage for Tottie, she is bonny and happy now, she has lactulose twice a day along with antibiotics and a diet that is restricted in high quality protein.

As for Tottie’s brother Tobi and her father Geezer they have had the acid bile test and are clear of PSS



In conclusion I thought it would be useful to share with you some of the symptoms associated with PSS, only through sharing knowledge can we hope to know more.


  Failure for a puppy to grow
· Poor weight gain
· Depression, Listlessness, apathy.
· Weakness
· Seizures
· Salivation, drooling
· Vomiting
· Poor appetite
· Balance problems
· Bladder stones
· Blindness