Thursday, 29 December 2016

Bush Day 4 to 6

Bush Day 4

Unusual start to the day. Got up at 6am and started prepping lamb shank for lunch. By 7am, it was all in the oven and cooking and I was ready for my second cup of coffee! Way too much work for that early. 

Then did some admin like fill Landie with fuel, get ice etc. whilst at the camp, we heard that an elephant had been hit by a train the night before. Sad. 

The lamb shank lunch was yummy! Mom made pumpkin pie and rosti to go with it and by the end of lunch we were all popping full. 

Evening drive was quite uneventful but we did see another hyaena which was cool.

Bush Day 5

Woke up feeling tired but all good as I got up and made pancakes and fruit salad for breakfast. Everyone appeared to like it so it was a hit.

We then packed up and for a lunch and chill at the pool. I am not a pool addict but it was nice to have a dip and then read my book. After an awesome lunch, we headed on a short drive to see where the carcass of the elephant who had been hit by the train had been put. The amount of vultures was insane!! You could hardly see what was left of the elephant. 

The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing at home, followed by Mom and I going to try see the Pels Fishing Owl at the causeway. We got home in time for me to try get some lightening pictures as a storm approached us.

We had really nice rain that lasted all night. I am sure the dry river beds are flowing!

Day 6

Rain... yep that sums up the day...,

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Bush Day 3

Usual start to the day with coffee and my book followed by my making a fruit salad breakfast. Whilst getting ready, we spotted a K9 anti-poaching patrol go past. This dog was amazing with her off lead walking. She was glued to her handler's side and only broke off when she noticed me opening a window to look at her, but she was back at his side seconds after! 

Once we got moving, we took a slow drive to see the burnt house. It's insane to see the power of fire! 

The morning drive had the usual general game and one of my ultimate sightings: hyaena! Was really nice to see even if it was super lazy at a dam!

Lunch was a yummy braai made by my bro and sister in law which was followed by me finishing my book. The book Ralf is a brilliant account of the work of a therapy dog in hospitals and is well worth the read!!!

The evening drive was nice for me as I got to sit on the back whilst Gareth did the driving. We were fortunate to see a rhino and then the hyaena again. The hyaena was pretty cool in that we got to watch as 2 zebra tried to come drink but we're super nervous!! Was funny watching them flick their ears back, stomp and sniff the air. The one was way more calm than the other but both clearly and rightfully nervous of the predator. 

No sign of elephant (although others saw them) nor leopard but we have time! Weather was cool but not cold and a bit windy.

Monday, 26 December 2016

Bush Day 2

After a slow start morning with blogging, coffee and my book, I eventually got up and the day started.

Obviously it was started with the family opening presents and followed by breakfast! Then, with the weather being so iffy, Mom opted to stay at home whilst we went and got the Landie from the office. 

The drive to the office was uneventful and we saw lots of general game. Having collected the Landie, I decided we needed a short drive (I was curious to see how Gareth and Danielle had gotten stuck). We meandered slowly in that direction and came across the poor people from Unit 29 who had lost their house on Friday to a lightening strike. These people were so bouncy and bubble despite everything and even despite that a few of them had gotten hit by lightening whilst trying to fight the fire!!! Really great lesson on positivity. 

After a fun chat with them, we continued to Mud Stucker's Drift where I immediately saw how they got stuck. The rest of the drive home was filled with good game sightings including vultures, wildebeest, bushbuck, giraffe, impala etc. Was amazing to see how much we saw despite the wind.

Back at home, Mom and I spent time sewing and crocheting before preparing lunch. Due to the weather, l we were going to sit inside for our yummy lunch of lamb, gammon, salads etc. 

In the evening we went for a drive and we're fortunate to see a pride of 11 lion in the area near Dad's tree. Really awesome. We followed them for quite a while and were entertained by tiny cubs playing! At one stage, we lost sight of them and decided to move on, as we were about to take the turn that Mom wanted me to take, a big female lion came out the bush right next to us! My poor brother got a huge fright but she slowly and calmly walked behind us with the other lions following her and the lioness with the cubs walking past in front of us. With the lions seemingly everywhere, I got a chance to play with my night vision and WOW!! I kept thinking someone was lighting them up for me because the lioness and 3 tiny cubs were so clear.

I have photos but on my big camera so will share at a later stage.

The evening ended with a small dinner and then a relatively early evening. We all drifted off to the sweet sound of soft rain on the thatch.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Bush Day 1 - trip down

After an insane week of starting work at 1am most days, the time had finally arrived to leave for the farm. I was broken and tired so needed it. To give you and idea of how I felt: on Friday after I handed my home over to the housesitter, I piled out my narrow garage and planted my front bumper firmly into the side wall of the garage as I tried turning too soon!! After getting myself unstuck, I went to Mom's house.

Back to the bush day 1... we got up at 4am to the sound of awesome rain in Jozi. Happy for my garden!! After coffee and packing, we left. The trip was fairly uneventful until the last kms. As we crossed the Blyde River, mom reminded me to slow down and in my tired state I thought the limit as 80 so got my speed down. Dumb move! Cops were trapping and I got nailed for R300. The ethics of these cops were not so great but hey.

We went on our way, with my licking my wounds over the R300 forked out for my speeding. As soon as we hit that dirt road, the 2 of us opened a drink. We had made it safely.

The dirt road part was boring and aside for having been told that unit 29 had been struck by lightening the night before and had burnt to the ground, there was not much happening on the farm. Fortunately for the unit, the amazing staff here had saved all their household contents so it was just the house. Sympathies to the family who lost their bush home.

Unpacking was tough in the heat!! Mom and I were literally dripping with sweat as we took stuff out the car and unpacked the cooler boxes. After unpacking we sat down to relax and Mom raised a valid question: where was Gareth and Danielle? They had been just behind us entering the gate. I grabbed my phone and discovered that they had sent us an SOS message. They had gotten stuck in the mud at a dry river bed crossing!! After trying to phone them unsuccessfully, we radioed the office for help and discovered that another unit had found them and was busy getting them out. Mom and I could have also helped but we would have had to go fetch the landie and get to them - was quicker to just call for help. 

The Mud Stuckers eventually made it to the house and we helped them offload their car and I assisted further by providing them with an ice cold drink. (Guess there had been a reason I packed so much.) 

The rest of the afternoon was spent resting and the evening was quiet and uneventful. Mom made us a Woolies oxtail for dinner and we all chilled on the deck. I got to play with my night vision monocular and WOW!! I spotted a genet and when my bro spotted a hippo, we were able to watch it clearly through the NV. Love my new toy!!!!!

The weather here is in the upper 30s so is a bit toasty. But fortunately a really nice wind has come up and seems to be bringing possible rain. 

I guess it's time to get up and go make coffee and start day 1. Hope you all have an awesome day.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

A big adventure

I have done some pretty amazing adventures: I have cycled from George to Cape Town with friends with nothing more than the kit we had with us and a final destination, I have taken photos on a dune in the Kalahari with hail pelting down on me, I have cycled the cobbled roads of Belgium, I have gone birding in mid-summer in the Namaqualand, I have hiked, I have biked and I have lived life. But, my greatest adventure is just beginning! 
As you know by my latest postings, I am busy with an adventure with therapy dogs and with this, my dogs are joining me on this wonderful experience. For the most of it, they have not featured much but I have recently had an amazing experience with Hayley that has given me amazing hope that she will eventually qualify as a therapy dog. (She is currently half way through with her Probationary visits.)
I was privileged to join Corrie, Chrissie, Stephanie and the wonderful dogs Maisie and Gremlin at a retirement village for a visit in a frail care. I was so nervous that Hayley would not cope yet I had her last good visit in my mind but her first unsuitable visit haunted my mind. Doubts flooded in my brain as to whether she would be ok at the visit. Fortunately for me, she is a total rockstar and proved me so wrong!! When we entered the village, Hayley got a bit hyper and I knew she would be ok so I changed my attitude and started telling her that we were going to visit old people and she was going to be able to cuddle them. When we got out the car she saw dogs she knew so that helped us both more. 


On entering the frail care, Hayley was uncertain (she is not used to walking on tiles) but was a little cutie as we followed the lead of the others and went from human to human for attention and cuddles. There was one lady who really adored the dogs and Hayley would have been quite comfortable to sit by her all day but alas, we had people to meet!! 
The first room we went into was quite bubbly! The lady and her visitor fussed over all 3 dogs and the dogs and their new fans had a great bonding session. This room is where I learnt a LOT about Hayley. Firstly: she got waggy tailed and happy to go in which showed me she was in a good space. Secondly, I learnt that sometimes a cute trick we teach our dogs can have practical application. And I am not just talking about the basic things like "sit" or "paw". I have taught both of my dogs a trick called "paws up" with the intention of having a cute trick but also as a way for them to do a bit of stretching. This trick came in handy for Hayley as she was able to go paws up against the bed which meant there was no need to pick her up or have the lady strain to reach her. After all 3 dogs got plenty cuddles, we moved on to the next room where the dogs got more cuddles and Gremlin got plenty attention - the bonus of being small!


Room number 3 was a toughie. Stephanie and Gremlin went in with the young lady who was an observer that day whilst Chrissie, Corrie and I waited outside but in sight of Stephanie. After a few minutes, Steph called for Hayley to enter. We had Hayley do her thing with her paws up and Steph gently helped the lady touch Hayley's paw with her hand and let Hayley give a gently touch her hand with her nose. The sweet lady tried to say something to us but we could not understand her. What we could see was the sadness in her eyes yet the happiness when her hand touched Hayley's paw. Her eyes lit up as they connected. 

We walked out of the room with heavy hearts, not knowing what was to come of the sweet lady yet happy hearts knowing we were able to put a smile in her eyes. I do not know if I am going to see this lady again but, I do promise that I will be there with Hayley next month to try putting a smile on her face if she is still there. 
The visit ended and Hayley was tired but still as calm as she ever is (so bouncing hyper on the inside yet ok on the outside). I was beyond proud of my young dog! She had proven where she fits in as a therapy dog and proven to me that she is a confident dog. I learnt that sometimes we just need to trust our dogs – in Hayley’s case, I should have trusted the fact that she adores adults and older people and that she is used to going into a retirement village. Yes, the frail care is not totally the same as walking around the area, but the smells are similar and the atmosphere is more relaxed than other areas.

Since the visit, I have seen a strange change in her. She has a bit more confidence which comes out when we are out walking as she is no longer nervous of the big alien cctv camera on the corner and she looks up at me often during walks in a comfortable, relaxed manner. She is also quite a bit more comfortable in her own space and not quite as needy. My baby is growing up.
Reflecting on the experience on going into the frail care, I wish that we had more teams to do this work! The joy those people had when we brought the dogs in was amazing! They lit up at the sight of the dogs and relished us as handlers being there too. In a frail care, the people are isolated from the outside world and by going in with our dogs, we are bringing them some love and care from the big world outside their 4 walls into their world.
If you have a friendly dog and are interested in joining us, please go to the following website:

Friday, 30 September 2016

Dog Therapy

Seeing the moment..

In my last post I spoke about therapy dogs and the connections they make with people. At the last visit to Teddy Bear Clinic, I was on the other end of the lens – I was a handler – and I once again saw this happening and once again, it moved me. There was kid who kept returning to the dog I was handling, this little guy (for the sake of this blog, lets call him Jimmy) was at first nervous to give George (the dog I was handling) a treat but after showing him how to hold the treat, Jimmy was a rockstar and even showed other kids how to do it. Jimmy kept brushing George, talking to George and even held the spare lead when we did our walk about, Jimmy really took George on as his own and connected with him in a way that one would expect a young kid who knows the dog and who owns the dog would connect. Not in the way of a kid who has just met this dog!! At the end of the visit, Jimmy walked up to George and said “George, I love you”. This really was a special connection made in the short period of time. 

Other connections made that day with George included a little girl who was quite nervous of dogs. This little girl wanted to give George the treat but was nervous, even after Jimmy showed her how it was done. So, I told her to hold her hand under my hand whilst I gave him a treat. She beamed as George took the treat from me!!! I then gave her a treat and Jimmy and I assured her that George is gentle. She giggled excitedly as George gently took the treat from her hand! This little girl kept returning to George and although she had initially been nervous, it was clear she had bonded with him when I caught her having a silent moment of understanding with him. You could almost see him telling her to be strong.


Another awesome experience I had was the visit to Clearwater Mall. Here the dogs go to get a bit of publicity for the work that they do and to recruit more interested people. I watched as the dogs interacted with people young and old with no bias to age, colour or gender. The dogs happily interacted with the fans whilst the handlers explained to the people what the dogs do. One nice interaction from the morning was a lady coming up to us and asking about the dogs. When she learnt what we do, she was amazed and said that she thought that therapy dogs were only in America. She was quite happy to hear that the work is also being done locally.


Learning more…

As if I was not busy enough, I went to the most awesome talk on Therapy Dogs at Fourways Vet. The talk was by Dr Conor Hughes and Louise Thompson and was beyond insightful. 

Conor spoke about what are therapy dogs, the basis for canine therapy, and then spoke about some of the regular visits that the dogs do. In the topic of “What are therapy dogs”, she brought out something interesting: Therapy dogs are companion animals – so, your dog at home is essentially a therapy dog. Therapy dogs bring comfort when a person canttalk it out – so think about the last bad day you had and you just cuddled with your dog. Your dog was acting as a therapy dog. Working therapy dogs do a bunch of activities such as: Animal Assisted Therapy (here the dog and handler work with a professional therapist such as a physio with the client); Animal Assisted Activities (people interacting with dogs such as at retirement villages, hospitals etc); and Animal Assisted Interventions (these are programs such as the reading programs). 

The next topic was the basis for canine therapy. Being quite scientifically minded, this part was super interesting for me!! The dogs help on a neurophysiological level, a psychological level and a social level and since I am not an expert on this, here is the summary: dogs help control our stress hormones (such as cortisol, norepinephrine and aldosterone) and help increase our pleasure hormones (such as dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins). From a psychological perspective, they help on a bunch of levels such as touch (humans need touch as it increases the immune system, helps with trust and also overall well-being), engagement (decreases boredom, increases cognitive activity and counteracts institutional routine) and motivation (helps with getting people motivated to do stuff like walk or speak). On a social level, the therapy dog visits help start communication. The client talks to the dog and to the handler, then to other clients about the dogs, then to the staff and friends and family. People actually start speaking to one another!! On a social level, dogs also help with trust as they are non-judgemental; do not care about your history or motivations which help people to learn to trust again. 

Louise then went on to speak about what makes a good therapy dog handler and dog and then onto the process of getting qualified. I am going to just speak about the first bit. 

So what makes a good handler?

• Puts their dog first – connected handler and dog bond
• Someone who is emotionally strong
• Friendly
• Able to blend into the background – you are not in the limelight, the dog is
• Able to follow rules
• Punctual
• Respects authority
• Practical personality
• Basic dog savvy 
• Committed

What makes a good therapy dog?

• Loves people
• Works willingly with their handler
• Compliant personality and willing to take basic direction
• Social with its own kind and able to work closely with other dogs
• Good recovery from frights
• Can handle noise
• Not fearful
• Dog with good manners


Giving back – remembering why I am involved….

On a personal note: not so long ago, a friend mentioned friends and acquaintances that had recently passed away and said we too needed to give back to others like they did. For those of you who did not know them, you missed out. 

Lisa Mulley was my awesome neighbour who had her life revolving around helping others in her work and her personal life. She was always there for people with a cuppa tea when they needed it or to take people to the doctor or emergency room, she was also actively involved as a CHOC Cow and put great effort into raising funds for kids with cancer. 

Delene Mulley was Lisa’s sister and was an amazing friend to anyone who allowed her quirkiness into their lives. D was that person you called or messaged to chat to on good days and bad. She never judged and always had sensible logic to anything she said and more often than not, she would make some or other funny comment to get a smile on people’s faces. She was also the first out of my friends to become a CHOC Cow and like her sister, she put great effort into this project. As if being a cow was not enough, Delene was also active in raising funds for Border Collie Rescue which was a cause close to her heart. Despite battling with her own fight against cancer, Delene always remained positive and gave of herself to others in need. In a last minute attempt to bring a smile to her whilst she was in hospital earlier this year, I tried to arrange for a Top Dogs team to see her, but sadly, she passed away before we could organize something. Being a dog lover, Delene would have LOVED the cuddle time. 

The last person I want to mention is someone I only met once but was a really inspirational person: Gugu Zulu. Gugu was one of those people who lived life to the full!! Always doing something for others whilst making sure he was still a great husband and father. His untimely death was a major shock to all.


So… like these 3 people, I don’t want to sit around and do nothing but admire people like them. I want to be like them and give back to others in a special way and by working with Top Dogs, I am able to actively help others and actually see the results first hand. 

For anyone who is interested in experiencing what I am experiencing, I encourage you to visit the Top Dogs site and get involved!


Saturday, 13 August 2016

Making a difference

Years ago a friend and I spoke about doing therapy dog work with her dog (Bonny) and my dog (KD) but because it seemed like they had to have a Bronze Canine Good Citizen, we left it and despite my dogs both getting that, I forgot about it. Last year, I took the plunge and scheduled my evaluation for Hayley. I figured she would be the better therapy dog because she loves hugs and anyone who knows her knows she is a cuddle bug!! 

In February, Hayley passed her evaluation, I did my observer visits and Hayley had the one visit to Teddy Bear clinic which we found was not suitable for her. Since then, I have learnt that she prefers older people (although kids in prams are very cool for her) and will give anyone who decides to sit on the floor a massive hug. She will have her chance to hug humans as a therapy dog soon

Since then, KD and Bonny had their chance to have their evaluations. Sadly, both dogs they have a few bad habits that need sorting before they can join forces with this great cause. But, watch this space: the dynamic duo are coming to bring smiles!! 

So, what are “therapy dogs” and why do I do this work in the tiny bit of free time I have? A therapy dog is basically a dog that has the instinct to give comfort, happiness and to provide affection to people in various situations. They go into various situations such as rehab clinics, hospitals, old age homes, orphanages, schools and more! If you look at America, therapy dogs are also used in courts and also in times of major disasters to comfort people. The dogs are all handled by their owners or other qualified handlers and all these people give of their time as volunteers. These dogs are not professional working dogs but are special dogs who are loved by their families and have the temperament to help others.

In the time that I have been a part of Top Dogs, I have experienced such joy and seen just what these teams do. I have been privileged to visit an orphanage with the dogs where I have seen kids faces light up as their favourite dog arrive. These kids are so eager to interact with “their” dog that they almost forget that it is reading to the dogs time! Each time I visited, I saw a change in the kids. They became more confident and their reading improved. Each time, I saw how the handlers of the dogs patiently assisted the kids with their reading and how the dogs calmly let the children read to them and cuddle them. The dogs are amazing how they do not judge or criticize a mis-read word or sentence, they are just eager to have the kids tell them a story!! I can’t wait for KD to pass his evaluation as this is a visit that he will love – an hour of tummy tickles and someone reading to him!! 

The other visit that I have become involved in is Teddy Bear Clinic. [This is where children are prepared for giving evidence in court, in cases of abuse etc] This visit has made me human and despite the fact that I do not have a dog that is suitable for this visit, I feel the need to be involved with this one. These kids are my absolute heroes – they are facing things bigger than most of us will ever face and are brave enough to do so. They have spoken out and are standing up for themselves. I am happy to be a part of the team that is helping them on this journey. 

On these visits, we meet outside and do the usual meet and greet and the briefing by our visit leader. The dogs then go upstairs and their blankets are put down and they wait for the kids. The emotional tension from these kids is insane but they immediately start interacting with the dogs and the tension eases. The kids interact with the dogs by brushing them, stroking them and even get to go walk around with the dogs. At the last visit, an observer told me how she noticed a special moment between a child and a dog where the child and dog connected and you could almost see the kid telling the dog without words what they had been through and the dog almost telling the kid it would be ok. At the same visit, I watched a handler approach a young girl who had been standing on the side lines for a while. The handler calmly asked the girl if she would like to touch the dog, the girl bent down and cuddled the dog. It was so heart-warming watching this young girl interact with this dog after seeing how reserved she was. 

So why do I keep returning to Teddy Bear Clinic even though I am not working with my dog there? I feel that somehow this visit is where I need to be and I need to be there without a dog so for now I go as the photographer where I get to journal the experience through my lens in the hope that I catch a glimpse of what we experience when there. This visit has caught me on a level where I want to help and I feel that being a part of the very special Top Dogs team, I can maybe make a tiny bit of difference. 

After the last visit to Teddy Bear Clinic, I totally get what the dogs are doing. From an outward appearance, the dogs are just being cuddled but in reality, these dogs are connecting with the people they interact with on a far deeper level. Remember: dogs have way better senses than we do so they smell, see and hear way more than we are able to. They can tell the story of the old lady who has a smile but inside she is sad, lonely or sick. They can tell the tale of the child who is broken emotionally and is trying so hard to right wrongs yet is giggling with her friends. They can tell that a child who to us may not seem normal from outward appearances, actually is pretty normal on the inside. Dogs know our deepest secretsthat we may not even know. In fact, I remember a friend telling me that her dog kept jumping up at her and wanting to sit with her, later it was discovered that this friend had cancer. Dogs are that amazing and we just have to listen to them and to allow them into our world and let them help us and others. 

So, I will continue to work with the amazing team that I have found and I will keep telling everyone about the work these dogs do. To all the Top Dogs handlers and dogs (be it qualified, probationary or observer): thank you for the work you do. You are all amazing.