William meeting EJ and his owner who founded Hounds for Heroes
The Dogs for the Disabled mascot
William telling Ronnie Irving, Chair of The Kennel Club, all about Oliver and all about Thomas the Tank Engine of course!
Ellie signing up for information about the Young Kennel Club summer training camp
We made lots of new four legged friends - this one was especially huge!
With the lovely Holly from The Kennel Club who invited us to Crufts and showed us around signing up for the Wallace and Gromit Grand Day Out sponsored dog walk. I'll talk more about that and how to sponsor us over the coming weeks.
William finding out more about the Kennel Club Good Citizen training scheme and getting a rosette for Oliver, who passed the puppy foundation stage a few weeks ago.
The pictures tell just part of the story of our fantastic day at Crufts. We had an absolutely fantastic time. Crufts was so much more than I expected it to be and is something that will be firmly on our calendar that we'll be looking forward to each year. We were very much 'Crufts Virgins' this year. You can tell the seasoned 'Crufters' - they were the ones who arrived with huge wheely shopping trollies. There is absolutely everything you could ever want for a dog. You have a maze of stalls selling toys, grooming tool, medicines, beds, leads...even pushchairs for dogs, and stalls showcasing a very wide range of doggy related charities to work your way through before you reach the various show arenas and judging areas. I was juggling working as a journalist with a family day out and trying to see everything with both hats on was impossible, especially feeling the strain of the shingles that caused the medical urgencies we had to sort out with William before we could think about Crufts. I was really glad we stayed over in Birmingham as the early start certainly helped us make the best of the day. I think you need at least two days at Crufts - one for wandering around the stalls, shopping, learning about all the charities and taking in the demonstrations and another for watching the displays, competitions and judging. We spent the morning wandering around and watching the Young Kennel Club competitions and then watched some breed judging after lunch before spending a while in the main arena watching agility competitions and a canicross presentation. We found it hard to tear ourselves away which is good really because you look forward to next time loads more when you want to see more.
We certainly came away with some fantastic memories, a much lighter wallet and, for me, clarification in the next steps to take with Oliver and William. The most amazing thing of all was how engaged William was with the day and the people and dogs he met. He had his moments and needed to escape into acting out some 'Thomas the Tank' stories from time to time but, on the whole, William was friendly and very keen to talk to people about Oliver and hear about their dogs. He loved looking at the stalls and choosing the things we needed to buy for Oliver and didn't even notice the crowds building up around him. This is a huge contrast with how he was at Discover Dogs a few weeks before we bought Oliver home. It was amazing to see. I've seen the huge impact Oilver has had on William's social confidence already but to be able to measure the difference in how William coped with two very similar events was fantastic. William was really upset to be leaving Oliver with a friend to travel to Crufts and had said he wouldn't go without him so I wasn't sure how well he'd cope but, every time he got upset, I was able to re-focus him by getting him to choose a gift for Oliver or showing him something we can do with him.
Over the last few weeks, I've been thinking a lot about where we go next now Oliver has finished his puppy foundation training and is half way to ten months, the age at which he could be assessed for suitability for training as an assist dog. I have been weighing up the pros and cons of keeping him as a family pet with a special bond with William - the two are inseparable and pine for each other when apart, or to keep focused on the task I set myself, to train Oliver up to the standard needed for him to be William's right hand friend and go everywhere with him. Taking Oliver out London to meet with the Dog's Trust on Tuesday was one clinching day. Oli loved it. He is so much happier out and about than he is lounging around at home. Oliver's breeding and temperament is to be a working dog. He's so very bright and solves games and problems so fast. He always needs new challenges. Then, to see how far William has come since we've had him but to also see his limitations and all the things Oliver could help him with to enable him to live independently. It's not just the autism side of things but also with his physical disability. Oliver could learn to do a lot of the things I still need to do and would always need to do for William, such as helping him dress, co-ordinate opening doors when he's in his wheelchair, getting on and off things, reaching things... The assist dog route seems the right way and the lovely thing is it's not just right for William, it's right for Oliver too. Our change of day to go to Crufts worked out well because some key people I've spoken to and need to speak to about our next steps towards achieving this were there yesterday and I had some very useful conversations that further clarified the next stage. There will be lots to share with you over the coming weeks and months.
One thing that I've been concerned about is how much Ellie wants to be involved in Oliver. She loves the idea of the Young Kennel Club and doing activities. Oli will always be our family pet and, if he and Wills make it as an assist dog pairing, Oliver will continue to enjoy playing with us all when he's 'off duty,' but Ellie wants her own special role. She was thinking of competitive grooming with the YKC. Ellie enjoyed watching the YKC competitions most of all and came away thinking the grooming interests her the most. So, Ellie will keep Oli looking fab and have something she can do with him that is special for just her. We plan to get involved with the YKC as a family and go to some of the weekends and summer camps they do. Hope plays her part taking Oliver on one of his walks each day and enjoys taking him and William to the park for a good run around. She's doing her Duke of Edinburgh Awards and school and has been looking for some volunteering to do as part of it. She was delighted when I came home from Crufts and told her about The Cinnamon Trust who help elderly and sick people keep their loved and treasured companions by offering volunteers to walk their dogs when they are unable to do so. Hope is really keen to get involved and looking forward to her volunteer pack.
As for Oli, we bought him some toys to play with in the park and some harder problem solving toys. I was pleased to find the company we bought his fleecy harness from at Discover Dogs. His old one is way too small now and Wills was very particular that he wanted an identical one. We got him some food and a huge array of treats. I couldn't resist a bandana - I think they look so cute on dogs. Of course, Wills chose Oli's trademark high vis orange but we also got a red one - both with his name embroidered. By far Oli's favourite things we bought home for him was a big bag of goodies from Fish 4 Dogs . He adores fish skin chews. Father Christmas got him some and (apart from a pet shop in Chiswick) we weren't too sure where he found them so were delighted to find them there with lots of special offers.
It was a fantastic and inspirational day. It was also pretty exhausting so we're looking forward to a weekend relaxing and watching more of the competitions and displays from Crufts on TV while we look forward to next year.