Friday, 27 May 2016

Selecting a puppy breeder

My husband has wanted a puppy for as long as I've known him, and longer. When we moved house last year it seemed as if it was the right time, he works from home so they'd be good company for each other. When anyone asked what breed he wanted, he used to have a top ten, but suddenly it seemed to have been cut down to a single breed. That just left the quest to find the perfect puppy.

A friend who I used to work with had a dog of the same breed, I got in touch with her and asked about her breeder. She gave rave reviews and we contacted them and were subjected to a pretty thorough interview process. Luckily we were deemed to be suitable puppy parents and advised that they were planning for a litter of puppies early in 2016 and they would be back in touch in late November or early December.

We didn't want to be pushy, but by the end of December we hadn't heard anything, we contacted them to be told that due to ill health, the owner had had to give up puppy breeding. We were naturally disappointed, but with the saga of Andrew's ill health in the first couple of months of the year, resigned ourselves to thinking that it was all for the best.

Once Andrew was fully recovered, the subject of puppies inevitably came up again. This time we were on our own. We joined a couple of forums for the breed we wanted and started researching. We were nervous about being sucked in by a puppy farm and didn't want to risk getting a poorly puppy and so were looking for a breeder with a good reputation. Unfortunately what we found was that there were very few approved breeders within a couple of hours of where we lived. We mulled it over and decided that the quality of the breeder was much more important than convenience. The name of one breeder had come up a number of times, with owners who'd bought dogs from him singing his praises, both in respect of him personally and the quality of dogs he produced.

We contacted him, he wasn't the easiest person to get hold of, but when we did it was worthwhile. He chatted to Andrew on the phone for about an hour, about what we should be looking for in a breeder and telling him more about the breed. He was happy for us to come and see his set up, but advised us to see at least two other breeders first, as it would make our trip to see him more worthwhile. I grumbled a bit, as it is so difficult to find local breeders, but accepted it as perhaps a test of our commitment to getting a dog.

I'd seen one breeder mentioned online, about 45 minutes from us. She was a hobby breeder but I'd seen some good feedback. We contacted her and asked if we could visit and she agreed. I'm not sure if it's unusual to meet a breeder when they don't have any available puppies, but she didn't really seem to know what to tell us. Luckily we'd gone armed with plenty of questions. She had one dam currently in pup waddling around, and the father was bouncing around as we chatted. It was good to see both parents, but the puppies weren't quite what we were looking for and we were anxious that she wasn't giving the puppies their first injections whilst they were with her. However, she was a hobby breeder and had had issues with conflicting types of vaccines before, so I could understand her point of view.

Our next visit was to a commercial puppy breeder about ninety minutes from home. Just writing that, it sounds like a puppy farm. They assured us that they were fully licenced, but not being able to see where the dogs lived, and only being able to meet the dogs they had chosen for us to see made me a bit unsettled. They even suggested that as a first time dog owner, we shouldn't proceed with our puppy choice, but should choose something slightly different (and coincidentally something that they had an unsold litter of!) It was a much more professional outfit and I'm sure all the dogs had the right injections and health checks, but it just wasn't right for us.

That then just left the visit to our preferred breeder, the drive took about three and a half hours, but it was completely worth it. We met a young puppy, an expectant dam, a grown dog of the breed we were looking at, a prospective father, and a litter of nine three week old puppies with their mother. He was happy to talk for hours about the breed and answer any questions we had. The more he spoke and the more we saw of the temperament of his dogs, the more we were convinced that this was the right breeder. Again, he was a commerical breeder, but you could freely see the pack of dogs and how they lived. He left us to mull it over and contact him in a couple of weeks. 

I feel like I've learned an awful lot over the last couple of months and hopefully all the research will pay off. If I were to summarise what I've learned, it would be:
  • See if there is a list of recommended breeders for the breed of dog you want.
  • Ask on forums for feedback about your chosen breeders.
  • Ask about the dogs which are being bred from, to make sure they're not being overbred, or being bred at too young an age.
  • Check what health screening is recommended for your chosen breed of dog, and make sure that the parents have been appropriately tested.
  • When you're viewing puppies, make sure their mother is there and assess her temperament.
  • Look at where the puppies are being brought up. They'll make an easier transition to your home if they're initially brought up with the hustle and bustle of a normal household rather than in an old outbuilding.
  • Always go to view the puppies, if the seller suggests coming to you, meeting in a car park or the like, alarm bells should be ringing.
  • Expect to be asked questions. A breeder who cares about his dogs will only want them to do to a safe home.
The important thing is really just to listen to your gut. If something doesn't feel right, walk away.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Isle of Wight travel blog

I have to start by saying that we nearly didn't go to the Isle of Wight. We were looking at taking a trip to the New Forest, I asked if we could do a day trip to the Isle of Wight and the rest is history. 

We'd had a bit of a rough start to the year and just needed a chance to get away, put our feet up and do some walking and sightseeing. If that's what you're looking for, book your ferry crossing now, as the Isle of Wight will be perfect for you.

We drove down to Lymington and then got the ferry across, which only took forty minutes or so. From there it was a quick trip to our home for the week, which looked a little like this. I'm feeling relaxed already, although my slightly taller husband did spend much of the week swearing after banging his head on low doorways. Oops.
Our first trip out was to Carisbrooke Castle, I'm lucky enough to have an English Heritage travel trade pass so admission was free. I love a bargain, and what a bargain it was. The castle was a really good example, with ramparts that you could walk all the way around and plenty of areas to explore. It even had the most important thing a historic castle could have, a good place to stop for lunch.  
We took one look at the forecast and decided the next day should be a walking day. We wanted to do some geocaches whilst we were away, and with it being April, I was overdue a visit to some bluebell fields, so I was hoping we'd manage to do both. Starting from Mottistone, a two and a half mile walk later through stunning scenery and we'd succeeded. Thirteen caches and bluebells as far as the eye could see. 
Another day, another sight to take in. This time we headed to Osborne, if it's good enough for Queen Victoria, it's good enough for us and another chance to use my trade pass. Initially I was really impressed with Osborne, there were plenty of information boards to make you understand how important the house was to Queen Victoria and how it was used, and access was given to numerous rooms. If anything it just seemed a bit much, and there always seemed to be someone standing in front of the information board you wanted to read. We also missed part of the estate as there were no free maps available on the day of our visit and we just forgot about it. It's probably the one place visitors flock to above all other attractions on the island, so I'm glad we saw it. Oh, and there are some bluebells here in a field next to the Swiss Cottage, makes it worth the walk!
We took a bit of a detour on the way back to our cottage. I love a miniature village, I've been to the one in Bourton-on-the-Water several times, and so had to see the one in Godshill. Honestly, I can't recommend it enough. The buildings were in great condition, but the one thing that set it apart from Bourton, was the tiny residents. They gave the place a bit of extra character and humour. If you can't tell, I loved it!
It was Andrew's birthday the next day, so I'd tried to come up with Andrew-type things to do. He loves steam trains, so we started with a trip on the Steam Railway. We started at Wootton and travelled down to the other end of the line at Smallbrook before returning to Havenstreet to look around the displays there. It wasn't as long a line as others we've been on, but the trains and carriages are beautifully restored. It was just a shame about the weather, I wasn't expecting snow in April!
Afterwards we took a trip out to Bembridge Windmill, this time making use of our National Trust membership. It was only a quick stop to have a look around and hear about how windmills worked, but interesting nonetheless.
This is all sounding a bit full on, this was actually quite a relaxing holiday for us! Nowhere is far away on the Isle of Wight, so we could get up late, or head home early and still have had a good day out. Anyway, next up was St Catherine's Lighthouse. As we were out of season we had a guide to ourselves, he was excellent, very knowledgeable and made the tour interesting. It's a bit of a walk down from the local village, but I'd definitely recommend it if you're in the area.
For our last full day we took ourselves out for a proper walk, walking poles and all. We started from the High Down Chalk Pit car park, hiked up to the cliff top (and then halfway back down again before returning, the curse of solving a puzzle geocache), before walking along to the Needles and the Old Battery, over to the New Battery and Alum Bay and then back across the fields. It was just over six miles in total, but such a good walk. 
And that was that, the journey home was smooth, in fact we were home in just over three hours.

If like me you're looking for somewhere in the UK for a trip and consider the Isle of Wight, don't overthink it, just book it. You won't be disappointed.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Lydiard Millicent Village Show 2016

When we moved house last year, we basically wanted to move to Midsomer, but with fewer murders. As it turned out, we didn't quite manage it, but I was very excited to hear that our new home has a Village Show.

This was the third year that the show has run, it's designed to have a category for everyone, 
from baking and flower-arranging to painting, photography and writing. Entries had to be in about ten days before the date of the show, which took place on 2nd May.

Predictably, when the date of the Village Show arrived, the weather had turned for the worse. Not to be deterred we donned hats and waterproofs and marched through the rain to join in. The photography, writing, flower arranging and art entries were displayed in the Church, so we started there first. I was surprised there were so many entries, with only 700 or so houses in the Parish I was concerned I might be the only entrant. Did I mention I’d submitted a couple of entries?!

I had a bit of a vested interest in the photography class so we headed there first. We had a good look around the entries, there was plenty of variety with some stunning, some amusing entries and some that we weren't quite sure how they fitted the category name.

It was only when we'd been around most of the photographs that we noticed that the winners were marked. Gold, silver and bronze prizes were awarded in each category, with recognition for other entries that were highly commended. We made a quick trip back to look at our own photos, I was surprised to see that I'd won a bronze in one category and a highly commended in another. Not bad for my first year!

We looked around the other classes displayed in the Church. The flower arranging entries were beautiful and creative. The art categories had some excellent entries, I always think a portrait must be good if you can tell who the subject is! 

We cast our eyes over the creative writing and limerick entries before heading to the Parish Hall. The local school had arranged a display of maypole dancing, but not only were the participants and spectators soaked, so was the music system, which refused to play a note. Not to be deterred, the spectators clapped a rhythm which the children danced around the maypole to. 

We headed inside the Parish Hall next to shake off our waterproofs and to have a well deserved cup of tea and slice of cake. You have to do your bit for fundraising!! The rain seemed to be easing off so we headed back out to look at the television and film themed scarecrows which were on display as part of another competition class. Some of them had suffered a bit in the weather, but Mr Bean made me laugh as soon as I saw him and got my vote.

We returned to the Hall planning to look at the other entries on display inside, but the prize giving had started early, presumably due to the poor weather. I had a quick look around, but it was difficult to get around the tables with the Hall filling up. I only realised how many classes there were when the prize giving started. It took ages! I was determined to stay and get my moment of fame though! 

It may not seem much, but who would have thought a rosette and a certificate would make me so happy?!

I'd better get out with my camera so I have something to submit next year. Next stop silver rosette?

Sunday, 1 May 2016

April round up

April has really flown by and it was a great month. Things are getting busier at work, so the days are passing more quickly and weekends have been fairly full. It's so nice that the weather is getting warmer and drier, it means I've been keener to venture outside, away from the fire. We had the roof fixed on the outbuilding too, so we're watertight again, and don't need to worry about any rainy weather forecasts.

Andrew's wanted a dog since I met him (and long before), eleven years on and I think it's about time. As such, we're hoping to get a dog over the summer. As Andrew works from home, it's probably the only time that we'll be in the right situation with time and energy to get a puppy, so that's the plan. We've heard so many horror stories about puppy farms that we're doing our research and getting out and meeting breeders before we make any decisions. We met one breeder in South Gloucestershire at the start of the month, one in Monmouthshire a couple of weeks later, and one in Merseyside yesterday. We've read a lot and learned a lot more by speaking to the breeders, so much so that we've decided where we'll get our puppy from. Eek! We're now just waiting to hear back from the breeder about availability so that we have a date to work towards. I've never had a dog before, so I'm terrified and excited in fairly equal quantities. Yesterday's visit really helped, as we got to meet a variety of dogs, from three week old puppies up to sires and dams. It's still a bit hard to get my head around the commitment of taking on a puppy, but I'm sure everything will fall into place when we get him home. 

We did a detour on our way to the South Gloucestershire breeder to see a friend who's recently had a baby (well, not that recently, time flies!) It was lovely to see them, they're a really happy little family. We headed to Zizzi in Cheltenham after meeting the breeder for food. The restaurant is based in a former church, they've made such good use of the space whilst retaining as many original features as they could. Beautifully done!
We also met up with a friend for lunch the following Saturday, it was just after Andrew had had his eyes tested for the first time since his surgery. He passed with flying colours, I can't tell you how nice it is not to have to drive everywhere anymore!

More recently, we've just come back from a week on the Isle of Wight, it was lovely. Really relaxing but with plenty to keep us occupied. I'll do a separate post about that once I've had a chance to get all of my photos off my camera memory card. It was Andrew's birthday whilst we were away, so I tried to come up with a day of Andrew-type things to do. We went on the Steam Railway in the morning and then took a trip to a windmill in the afternoon, followed by dinner out in the evening. I think the girl did good, phew!

Now onto how I'm doing against my plans for the year...

Read sixteen books
I read 'The Girl on the Train' by Paula Hawkins whilst we were on holiday. It tells the story of Rachel and the seemingly perfect couple that she sees from the train on her journey into London every day. It was pretty good, but equally not that memorable. I've also got an audio book on my phone which I'm listening too every time I go to the gym. It's a long one though (over twenty hours!) so I don't think I'll reach the end too soon.
Find one hundred geocaches
We're up to 36/100 after a much better month, helped a lot by doing twenty in the Isle of Wight. We did a really nice series of nine near Mottistone which took us through fields of bluebells, followed by a Church Micro at the village church, which was where Benedict Cumberbatch got married. Who knew?!
Maintain Vitality gold status
Well, I did, but they gave us such a poor renewal quote that I've actually moved our work private medical cover to a different insurer. One to remove from the list!

Try three gym classes
Still not made any progress on this one. I've been blaming my ankle and had made an appointment with a physio to have it looked at, but after changing insurer, I'm back to the drawing board. That said, it put up with a lot of walking on holiday, so maybe it's no longer a good excuse!

Meet up with an old friend
I've not had much of a chance this month, with dog breeders and holidays taking up so much of my time. Hopefully things will change over the forthcoming months.

Blog once a month
I'm almost taking this a bit too literally and blogging only once a month, I'm sure that will change when I've got hundreds of puppy photos that I want to share with the world!

Watch a new film once a month
There were a selection of DVDs next to the television in the cottage we stayed in last week. We watched one, Miss Potter, which is about Beatrix Potter. I was vaguely interested as her cottage in the Lake District is in the village that Andrew's aunt lives in, we visited it a couple of years ago. My only issue with the film was that Renee Zellweger plays every English character in the same way, she was just a bit too Bridget Jones-y for me. It was a perfectly pleasant film though.
Take two holidays
First one in the bag! I'm not sure the second will happen, it all depends upon puppy timing. My second holiday may just be puppy maternity leave, but so be it!

Take six day trips
We took lots of day trips whilst on holiday, but I don't think I should really count those. I'm sure there will be plenty more over the forthcoming months.

I'm not really sure what May will hold, watch this space... Work will no doubt be hectic, thank God for weekends!