Rufus

This is the post I never wanted to write, but always knew I would have to.

Yesterday afternoon, my best buddy, walking companion, personal trainer, confessor, therapist, culinary critic, alarm clock, conscience and rival in photography went off for a long and lovely walk in the sunny hills without me. Rufus was diagnosed with chronic kidney failure on Friday and it seems it had been going on for a short while. However, he has such a strong constitution that he showed few signs, and those were masked by his ongoing arthritis. In fact, he was in the vet for a general check up and we had no idea of any underlying conditions until we saw the blood test results.

By Monday, he had deteriorated quite quickly and while not in pain, he was clearly exhausted and the spark in his eyes had faded, even if he managed a weary wag of the tail when I spoke to him. It was at the same time the easiest and the hardest decision to make but it would have been cruel and selfish to prolong his suffering, as the disease was advanced and incurable. He walked into the vet, his tail up and wagging. As usual, he behaved himself and gently and peacefully fell asleep in my arms as I asked him to wait for me on the hills, where I promised to meet up with him every time I went there.

If you’ve read my blogs or seen my social media posts, you will know we shared a special and very close relationship. He was an important part of my life and if you’d asked him, he would have told you that without him, I’d be out of shape and fatter than I am. He was such a character that writing about him was easy and apart from some artistic license to interpret his thoughts, our adventures were told as they were. If you have a moment, search some of my earlier posts to get a picture of who Rufus was.

Rufus was very photogenic and he knew it. If I was taking too long over taking a photo when we were out, his protest usually took the form of standing in front of the camera. For every photo of a smooth waterfall I have, there are several of a smooth waterfall with a slightly blurry Rufus in the frame. When the camera was deliberately pointed at him, the chin would go up, the back legs would stretch out just a little and suddenly he was posing like the pedigree hound he was. The only give-away to his calm and considered exterior was the wagging tail.

Rufus wagged his tail constantly. If he was trying fake being asleep, his tail would give him away. Even when he reluctantly plodded up the stairs to have a shower, there would be a little tail movement as he knew he’d get a big treat afterwards. I like to think that he was a happy dog and I have no reason to think otherwise. A few years ago we went up onto the snow covered hills of the Brecon Beacons. After the initial climb, I noticed that his tail was drooping and not wagging. He seemed fine otherwise, so I kept and eye on him, ready to turn back if he showed any signs of illness. But he was his usual energetic self, leading the way, stopping to let me catch up and staring dramatically into space whenever I took a photo of him. Later, we went to the vet to check it out and it turned out he’d wagged his tail so much that he’d strained the muscle. That was Rufus.

He was a gentle hound with a lovely temperament. Like any spaniel, he’d chase anything that ran but he was friendly and loved attention. On hill walks, he’d ignore other dogs and stop conveniently where people were passing. Inevitably, he’d get a pat on the head or a tickle under the chin. Satisfied, he’d head off to the next group of people. Anyone who met him would tell you that once he’d checked you out with a few sniffs, he would be your friend. Even when he was feeling rough at the vet on Monday, a little girl came over and stroked his fur and he loved it.

We had our disagreements. We disagreed over the ownership of the sofa – if I was sat on the side he wanted to lie on, and which side varied according to whim, he would stand staring at me until I moved. He usually slept on the bed at night and I was allowed a narrow strip at the edge so he could choose where and how to sprawl. Rufus was a great believer in the concept of time being relative. When it was time to go out in the garden, it was time.  He also firmly disbelieved in the existence of rain and refused to accept it as an excuse not to go out. The only exception was the rain we could both hear on the conservatory roof, which we both agreed wasn’t worth going out in.

It was water that filled a large part of Rufus’ outdoor enjoyment. The first time I ever saw him swim was at Penllegare, where excitement got the better of him and he dived into the water after a stick. The river current slowly took him down stream as he bobbed along, before he figured out the doggy paddle and scrambled up on to the shore. Shortly afterwards, we were walking him along the side of the Neath canal when for some reason, he decided to jump onto the lilies at the edge of the water. He disappeared completely under the water and for a few seconds, I saw myself having to reach in to get him. Then he bobbed to the surface, surprised but none the worse for his dive and I dragged him back onto the tow path, which he stuck to for the rest of the walk.

From then on, water was the draw whenever we were out. One of his favourite places to go was Llyn y Fan Fawr. The route up to the lake followed the streams and brooks that would become the Tawe, and Rufus would walk in them, keeping pace with me on the river bank. He loved to chase, catch and dredge for stones and much time on our walks was spent throwing and catching stones. At the lake, my snack break would consist of throwing more stones into the shallow water and it would be a very reluctant hound that would set off for the Fan Brecheiniog ridge. Coming back down, Rufus would spot the water and be off, charging down ridiculously steep grassy slopes to get to the water’s edge, where he’d wait patiently for me to negotiate the path before trying to catch more stones that I was obliged to throw.

In recent months, with his arthritis, I’d had to keep him out of the water as it was a bit cold but I’m glad that on Friday, after we’d been to the vet and before I knew the blood test results, he managed to sneak into the river on Fairwood Common and we spent a few minutes with him barking for me to throw sticks. I now know he was very ill then, but the lure of sticks in water overcomes most ailments.

The house is empty now. The spot he had in the front room has a faint spaniel-shaped shadow where he would watch me, waiting for the signs of an imminent walk. Last night, I thought I saw him pop his head around the door to point out that it was time to go into the garden. There was no gently nudge to suggest we have the last little look in the garden before bed. I didn’t get to smooth his head as we lay back on the pillows and the light went out. There was no snoring, kicking as he dreamed of chasing squirrels, movement as he found a new most comfortable place in the world. This morning, he wasn’t lying next to me, belly and legs in the air as I tickled his tummy before we got up. There was no ‘bump bump’ as he came down stairs. I’ll get used to this silence eventually but it will be a painful and unhappy process.

There are so many photos I could have chosen to illustrate this but the two I choose show you how my shadow will look every time I step out into the hills and mountains.

So, if you are out on the hills and spot a fleeting black shape out of the corner of your eye, probably heading towards flowing water, say hello to Rufus. He’s very friendly and doesn’t bite. And if you’re walking past a river or lake, throw a stone in for him to chase. He’ll love that.

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Addicted to waterfalls

I could hear the sighs from the back seat as we drove up the Swansea Valley and along the narrow lane that follows the Tawe almost to it’s source beneath the Black Mountain. Rufus loves a walk on the hills. He’s not so keen when he sees me with tripod and camera as it means long periods of waiting around while I take ‘another’ photo of some waterfall.

He’s only a dog, you may think. Yes, but he’s a dog who knows me so well now that he will do all in his power to prevent me from taking photos using a tripod. Including placing himself in front of the camera in exactly the right place to spoil a careful composition. You think I’m joking. I’ve included two photos here of Rufus making his displeasure known by standing in shot or staring at me. And bear in mind that the waterfall photo, in which he has invaded the bottom right corner, was a 20 second exposure. He remained there, in one spot , for 20 seconds.

The waterfalls we visited today are on the side of the Cerrig Duon valley, above the little stone circle that dominates the lower valley. They are easy enough to get to, once you cross the river over slime covered rocks. It’s a short but steep pull by the side of the gully that the water has worn into the limestone. The hardest part is navigating the steep side down to get to the waterfall itself.

Once there, the waterfalls are usually spectacular and today was no different. Not too much water so that there was definition in the way the water fell over the rocks. The main difficulty in getting a decent image is mastering the high contrast between the sunlit part and the shaded part. At this time of year, with the sun low in the sky, it’s harder still. Today, I made several exposures of each composition, varying the shutter speed each time to give me some files I could blend together to create a tone mapped final image back home.

And all the while, a hairy black Spaniel bounced and splashed and yapped and weaved between the legs of the tripod. I threw sticks for him, I suggested he went off sniffing for dead things in the sunlight grass. But no, he just wanted to hurry me along. And eventually, inevitably, he won. We left the shaded gully and emerged into the bright winter sunshine. The ground was still frozen and rock hard and there was white frost in places. Where water had formed puddles on the surface of boggy patches, it was ice this morning.

Rufus is good at following paths and he made his way down to the river while I was still faffing about, watching red kits wheeling about above the ridge behind us. By the time I had reached the river bank, he was on the opposite side of the water, watching me to see if I would slip and fall into the water. I disappointed him on that point, and we slowly made our way back along the river to the car.

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Cb

When I was a kid (yes, it’s one of those posts – please don’t interrupt.)

When I was a kid, living on RAF bases, I used to listen to the British Forces Broadcasting Service, (BFBS) in the mornings. One thing I remember from those days was the daily early morning weather report. BFBS did the equivalent of the shipping forecast for airmen. There would be a detailed weather forecast along with cloud types and heights to give the flight crews an idea of what to expect that day. I remember the strange sounding names, Cumulus, Stratus and Cirrus and their variations, and the figures that gave cloud cover and cloud base height.

Just over two years ago, Rufus and I got caught in a thunder storm while I was training for a trek. Ever since, I’ve taken an interest in weather prediction and in particular the early warning signs of thunder storms. We had a heavy storm here yesterday, with a lot of lightning and very heavy rain preceded by hailstones. It was well predicted and before the weather changed, I decided to read up on the cloud types. I wanted to try to identify them as they built up and so see first hand the early stages of a thunder storm.

Classic thunder clouds are generally Cumulonimbus clouds, (abbreviated to Cb). They are instantly recognisable as massive and billowing. They can form quite quickly, within 20 minutes sometimes, by warm air rising within the cloud and drawing cooler air in from below. The billowing part is sharply defined while it is formed of water droplets, although this sharpness may fade as the water freezes at higher altitudes. There will almost certainly be rain beneath this cloud, and more often than not hailstones and lightning.

I watched these kinds of clouds forming to the north of the house yesterday. They were so massive and high that it was hard to judge how far away they were. A quick check on the weather radar ‘app’ I have showed they were about 10 miles north, and they were indeed producing lightning. Later that night, the clouds formed over the house and we had our own storm.

This morning was bright and clear of cloud and I decided an early start was in order. There was still some humidity in the air and although the forecast said no clouds or rain for us, there was a lot of lightning activity in Europe and we often get their weather. So I read a little more from the cloud book and found out that there are a couple of early warning cloud species to keep an eye out for.

Altocumulus Floccus (small tufts of clouds) indicate humidity and unstable conditions at high altitude. These conditions can feed and energise cumulonimbus clouds, an already energetic cloud system. They can indicate a coming storm. Altostratus Castellatus clouds also reveal instability at higher altitudes but the clouds are more dense and usually result from more energetic conditions. Again, these clouds herald a coming storm (or at least the conditions necessary for one to form).

Armed with that information, Rufus and I headed north to Mynydd y Gwair. Yesterday, this seemed to be lightning central according to the website I’d been watching, with several dozen strikes recording in the area. I almost expected to see smoking craters but there were none – I guess that only happens in movies. The sky was clear and the morning was warm as we set off over the moorland north of the Upper Lliw reservoir. Sheep parted before us as we squelched through the surface water. Here at least was evidence of last night’s storm.

At the little river that feeds the reservoir, Rufus jumped in and paddled upstream while I walked the bank looking for little waterfalls to photograph. I’d forgotten about checking the weather until I noticed the sun had disappeared. I looked up and saw a few puffy clouds dense enough to obscure the sun. Nothing to worry about according to my new found knowledge, so I went back to setting the tripod up. I was using a very dense filter so exposure times were in the order of a minute or so. The next time I looked up into the sky I saw some familiar clouds; Altocumula Floccus.

I decided to move out of the river valley as it was hiding the horizon and most of the sky. I wanted to see how widespread the clouds were and what was coming up. I moved downstream and saw that it was a very isolated patch of cloud which was clearing to the west. So I went back to photographing waterfalls again. Rufus, uncaring of the cloud types, splashed and paddled and bobbed his way downstream. We played in the water and I threw stones for him to catch and dredge. In a deep part of the river, I threw dead bracken stems for him to swim after.

I looked up again and saw more Floccus. But now, to the south, a larger bank of cloud was forming beyond the reservoir. It had the appearance of an early thunder cloud and I decided, given the conditions, that we start heading back to the car. Out of the valley, there was a breeze blowing towards the reservoir. One of the signs of Cumulonimbus is that as the warm air rises within it, it drags the surrounding air towards it, causing a breeze. It often leads to people thinking the cloud is moving against the prevailing wind. A wind in the direction of the cloud is a warning sign.

The breeze also made the walk back pleasant and Rufus ranged far and wide, unconcerned about any coming storm. And after a few minutes, although the cloud was growing, I wasn’t so concerned either. By the time we’d reached the car, the cloud had grown but hadn’t moved and rather than jumping in and driving off, I left most of the kit in the boot and we walked off onto a man made bank on the opposite side of the moor. We spent another 10 minutes or so exploring the surroundings before finally making our way home. Ahead, over Morriston, the clouds were thick and dark but as we neared home, they broke up and as I write this, the sky is full of larger Cumulus clouds (‘fair-weather clouds’), normal for the time of day and year.

Which means I have no excuses for not finishing off the lawn, tidying up the boarders and cutting down a couple of dead bushes.

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Mountain and lake – outdoor photography

By Rufus.

As you may be aware if you have read my previous blogs, I am developing as a photographer. (Developing, photography – ha ha! See what I did there?) Dave, my human, has decided that I am well enough to wear my camera harness again and this weekend I was able to get out and work on some ideas for landscape photographs I’ve been thinking about.

Yesterday, I got him to drive me to Garreg Lwyd, the site of an old quarry and one of the places we frequent often. I wanted to test my fitness, but I also knew that of the weather was nice there would be some opportunities for sweeping landscapes and possibly some cloud photos too. It was great to get out for a proper walk after the last few weeks, and I know Dave is in desperate need of the exercise to get him back to his mediocre level of fitness so he can take me for decent walks again. Garreg Lwyd is a mountain with a proper climb but it’s not too strenuous.

It was a gorgeous morning and there were plenty of tell tale scents of rabbits and foxes. We used a slightly different and steeper path but it didn’t take us long to get to the top. I managed to get some nice shots of the few clouds we saw. We walked for quite a while and I felt great and every time I checked on Dave, he seemed to be enjoying himself too.

Today, we went for another walk on the hills. I’d heard Dave mutter something about The Lake and although it’s quite a trek, I felt up to it. I only hoped he would be fit enough, too, and that he wouldn’t over do things. Sure enough, we set off towards Fan Brecheiniog and for a few minutes I wondered if we would end up climbing it. But I think that would have been a little too ambitious for both of us.

The sky was cloudless and the sun warmer than yesterday. I still have my late winter coat on so I welcomed the breeze which blew in now and again, and it was nice to dip my paws in the streams as we crossed them.

At one point I smelt a familiar aroma and went to investigate the dead thing it came from. I’m thinking of a creating a set of photos illustrating the fickle nature of fate and the fleeting moments we have on this planet. A dead cow would be ideal. Imagine my amusement to see Dave huffing and puffing his way up the hill towards me. I think he was jealous I’d had the idea before him. I managed to get one shot before he dragged me away. He has no concept of art.

The water of the lake was most welcome to my hot paws, and we walked around to the northern end where we sat and basked in the sun for a while. I found more bones and tried to set them up for photos, but Dave kept taking them off me. He just doesn’t get it!

On the way back, Dave carried my camera for me (he has his uses) and I roamed across the moorland. It was great to be able to run about. I think I put Dave to shame because I kept having to stop and wait for him to catch up. He tries his best but he is getting on a bit.

I’ve included some of his photos here too, other wise he’d get upset.

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Recovery

Rufus continues his recovery and so do I. My paranoia about his every little cough or weary look is slowly subsiding; it helps that I am reminding myself that for every little cough, there is also a tail wagging run to investigate some irresistible aroma and for every weary look, there is a bark as a result of me being too slow to throw the squeaky bone for him to chase. And so while I don’t think things are quite back to normal yet – he’s still on steroids, for example – we are getting much closer.

Today was about ‘normal’. In the house of Rufus, normal is a subjective word. Normal is waking me up to go out in the garden while it is still dark. Normal is waking me up again because, despite it being the weekend, we still need to get up at 6am for breakfast. So I decided that is things were back to normal, then we’d go with it. Normal, for a sunny Saturday morning, would be a hill. Now, I know Rufus still needs to work up his fitness to tackle a proper hill but I had a small hill in mind that I knew he would be able to cope with and that would offer us fine views and the option to walk on good ground.

Mynydd Carn Llechart is part of the moorland to the north of Swansea and it’s a part of the world we’ve visited and I’ve written about many times. After an initial few metres of climb away from the road, the slope is gentle and there are several tracks to follow. The one we usually use curves around the highest point of the hill until it reaches Carn Llechart, an ancient ringed burial cairn overlooking the valley that leads down to Morriston and Swansea. from here when the weather is clear, you can see DVLA, the Merdian Tower and Mumbles lighthouse. Today was such a day, beautifully crisp and with a hint of the warmth of summer to come.

We took our time on the moorland and Rufus seemed to enjoy being out in the big world again. As we headed back to the car, the views to the north were equally spectacular with the snow covered Bannau Sir Gaer in the very distance. It’s what we’re working up to but for now, 90 minutes on this hill was enough.

Back home, while Rufus snored his walk off, I spent an hour in Gelli Hir woods looking for bluebells. I have some in the garden but they haven’t yet appeared in any great quantity in the woods. Nevertheless, I was able to get a few decent photos by lying on my stomach in the mud and getting up close.

Back home I had things to do. With the work on the kitchen dues to start shortly, I have to start clearing things out and getting rid of the rubbish. I thought about it last week and that’s as far as I got. So after a quick coffee, and more medication for the hound, I started on one of the cupboards – the one that everyone has which is full of plastic containers, many without lids. They breed, of course. I’m sure I only ever bought four. I pulled out more than twenty. After the cupboard, I took down the bookshelf with all the cook books I never use on it. That’s not strictly true, I’ve used several but I don’t use them as much as I should., Maybe with the new kitchen this will change.

The snoring stopped and it was time for a light lunchtime snack. Then, when the snoring resumed, I went and cut the grass. This time, my work was supervised by Rufus, who checked the consistency of the cut and then joined me to sit on the sun for half an hour. I took that to be a sign that my standard of work was adequate.

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More Rufus

When I wrote my last blog 10 days ago, I did it with tears in my eyes and with a dread that my next blog entry would be a sad obituary for Rufus. Without being too dramatic, I was depressed and still awaiting the results from the various tests he’d been subjected to. I couldn’t let myself think there was any hope. They’d had to keep him in under supervision and although he came home later that day, he was back in the next day with further complications. But the last sentence I wrote about the thought of losing him (“I’m not ready for that yet and deep down, despite all that’s wrong with him, I don’t think Rufus is ready either”) proved to be prophetic. Despite all he’s been through, Rufus is snoring happily on the sofa as I write this, having just returned from a nice stroll by the side of the River Tawe near Moel Feity.

It’s still not clear what was wrong and although initial tests have come back negative, there is still a possibility that liver cancer has caused the whole thing. But the vet thinks it more likely that it’s an isolated and unexplained case of Immune-Mediated Thrombocytopenia (IMTP – a condition in which the body attacks its own blood platelets, causing uncontrolled bleeding) which can occur in some breeds, Cocker Spaniel being one. This is what he is being treated for while more tests are done.

Judging by his recovery, the treatment is working. He came home from the vets on Tuesday and since then he has regained his mischievous character, the spark in his eyes and the incessant appetite. I’ve gradually taken him for longer walks, watching him all the time and stopping when he seems to be getting tired. It’s not as straightforward as that as Rufus feigns exhaustion when he realises we’re heading back to the car or to the house. He’s done it for years and the closer we get to ‘home’ the slower he gets. But I can read the signs and I’m happy that he’s regaining his strength.

This morning, I was woken several times by an enquiring nose and at 5.30 I let him out for his usual morning toilet patrol. At 7.30, a wet nose and wagging tail informed me that it was time to get up and go out for a longer walk. So after breakfast, we set off for the river in the Cerrig Duon valley. It’s one of Rufus’ favourite locations, particularly in the summer when he can cool of by paddling and swimming in the sparkling water. I thought it would be a nice treat for him during his recovery and I wasn’t wrong. We were out of the car for more than an hour and at no time did Rufus’ tail stop wagging. I watched him carefully for signs of fatigue and cold and there were none. He took the lead and set the pace. The river walk isn’t the most strenuous we’ve done but there is enough climbing, jumping and balancing on rocks to provide a bit of a work out for him (and me).

I took the opportunity to try and take some photos and here was another sign that Rufus was feeling better. Every time set up a photograph, a black Cocker Spaniel appeared in the viewfinder (see the photos below). It’s his normal way of reminding me of the main reason we are out – to provide exercise for him. Suitably reminded of my role in this morning’s outing, I simply strolled on, enjoying the sun and the companionship of my walking buddy.

We’re not out of the woods yet. The treatment for IMTP will last for around 3 months as the drug doses are gradually reduced. There will be more tests and I will worry while I wait to hear about each one. But for the time being, I have my boy back with me and he’s making good progress.

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Rufus

As I write this, my best buddy Rufus is very seriously ill. He is normally a healthy, fit hound who bounces back from anything life can throw at him. Last year when he tore his cruciate ligament, he wanted to continue chasing the rabbit he’d nearly caught when he did it, despite only being able to walk on three legs. Compare that with Leigh Halfpenny’s cruciate ligament injury, done at about the same time, which kept him out of the world cup! So when Rufus is laid low like this, I know it’s not just an act to gain sympathy.

We’d been for two long walks on the weekend, plus his normal daily walks and it was only when I discovered some blood in his saliva that I knew something was wrong. It turns out that he has a large, bloody lump under his tongue, he’s extremely anaemic and he has a rock bottom platelet count which has led to internal bleeding. All this should have knocked him out but even just before he went to the vet we went for a 30 minute walk (this was before I knew the full extent of the problem, of course) and he was fine afterwards. When we went to see him on Tuesday night, while he was still recovering from the anaesthetic, he still tried to made his way to the door of the surgery and it broke my heart to see him nosing at his lead in the hope I’d put it on him to take him for his evening walk.

The treatment he is having is for the blood disorder because the tests to determine the underlying cause will take a while to come back. It could be cancer or an auto immune disease causing the low blood counts. Either are very serious but there is more hope if it’s the auto immune disease as there are treatments available which can help. Even then, there’s only a 50/50 chance that they will be fully effective.

I’ve just brought him home from the vet and its great to have him with me where he belongs. He’s obviously happy to be home too, and after having explored the garden to make sure I’d done an adequate job of protecting it in his absence, he settled on the sofa and was soon snoring away.

As you may imagine if you’ve read any of my blogs before, we have a close relationship and I’m finding this all very hard to take. I’m not naive and I know that as he gets older, Rufus will continue to slow down and there’ll be one day when he doesn’t want to go for a walk and one day when he takes his last walk without me. But nevertheless, I’m not ready for that yet and deep down, despite all that’s wrong with him, I don’t think Rufus is ready either.