A Dog Called Donut – a true story (part I)

There have been articles in the media about animal rescue charities being concerned that some people are rushing to adopt a dog during the pandemic. Many are working from home and so feel it’s a good time to get a four-legged companion, without thinking through the implications of perhaps being required to return to the workplace, or for not realising just how much time and energy is needed to settle an adult dog into a new home. Especially a dog that might have issues from being in rescue. In the light of this, here is a story I’d like to share with you about a dog we adopted from Battersea Cats & Dogs Home in 2003.


A Dog Called Donut – Part I

I will never get over my down-to-earth, completely unsentimental husband telling me in all seriousness that he’d had a one-to-one conversation with a mutt called Donut. Donut had begged, “Please take me home,” and George had promised that we would. It’s the kind of thing I would admit to, but not George

It was me who desperately wanted a rescue dog and he wasn’t really sold on the idea, so we’d agreed that he would choose. Okay, I said, let’s consider Donut. It looks like there’s German Shepherd and Collie in there, among other breeds, he’s the right size, though a bit skinny, and the poor boy has a torn and bloodied nose because he’s rubbed it raw on the bars of his kennel. He’s certainly handsome and, oh, and he has the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen. Soulful, compelling eyes, rimmed with black like carefully applied kohl, the pupils surrounded by irises flecked with gold.

We went to the desk and were taken to a private room where we were thoroughly and rightly grilled about our dog knowledge and experience, the suitability of our home and lifestyle. At the end of it, though, we were firmly rejected as suitable adopters of Donut because he had “issues”. He’d proved himself a problem dog with previous owners, and Battersea were adamant that he had to go to experienced people. Sadly, we were considered to be pitifully underqualified for him. Not having the heart to go round the kennels again we went home dejected and dogless.

One Saturday, about three weeks after our disappointment, we were at Battersea again, and as we did the round of the kennels, we were stopped in our tracks by a German Shepherd/Collie/Something Else mongrel with golden eyes. It was Donut! He was back!

Still skinny, nose once again skinned bloodied, he retreated to his kennel and turned his back on us. How could we blame him? We’d promised to take him home, and he’d been taken by someone else. Clearly that hadn’t worked out for him, so what now? He looked so downcast we knew we just had to try again.

This time, we were prepared for the interview and we said we wanted Donut. It was explained that he’d been brought back because he was so destructive and hated to be left home alone, how did we think we could handle him? We insisted we would do whatever was necessary. He was brought to the interview room so we could meet him, but it was easy to see he didn’t trust us, and easy to understand why. When he looked at us I’m sure he was thinking, “You will be my fourth home since I was born, how can I be sure you’ll be my forever home and not reject me as I’ve been rejected before?”

We promised that we would immediately enrol on a training class, get whatever extra professional help was needed, and it was Donut or no dog for us. This time, we won the day.

While he was taken for a bath, we rushed to the shop and excitedly bought all the bits: collar and lead, water and food dishes, food, chews, treats, toys, bed, more toys. Then we sat in the car park discussing a new name, because such a handsome boy could not possibly be called Donut! Battersea may have marked him down as, quote, “not the sharpest tool in the box”, but we’d seen real intelligence in those extraordinary eyes.

At last he was brought outside, slightly damp and smelling of apple shampoo. We put on his new collar and told him that henceforth he would be known as Darcy, a lovely, proud name for what would be, we hoped, a lovely, proud dog!

We took Darcy home.

He went on a wrecking spree.

Battersea had been perfectly frank with us about his problem behaviour. At the tender age of around 18 months to two years (his age wasn’t certain as he’d originally been picked up as a stray), he’d been in and out of homes and kennels. He’d been with the last people who’d adopted him less than a week! Although we knew all this, it soon became apparent that we really did have our work cut out if we were to turn Darcy from a destructive, stressed animal to the happy boy we so wanted him to be. It was fortunate for Darcy and for us that we hadn’t an inkling that it would take eighteen months to sort out his issues, as we might not have been so keen to take him on.

We began by signing up to a 6-week dog training programme that started about two months after Darcy came home with us.

It was a stressful eight weeks. Left alone for more than five minutes, he howled and chewed whatever he could get his teeth into. We’d find holes in carpets and chunks taken out of door frames and furniture. Sleep? No way. He whined all night and scratched at the door. If we left him in the garden he excavated the flower beds, he destroyed the water feature, upended the recycling bin so papers were strewn all over the place. My favourite rocker/recliner chair was chewed so badly it had to be thrown out. We bought a large dog crate, hoping it would make a secure retreat for him, but he hated it, absolutely panicking if we closed the door when he was inside it.

At training he proved himself a quick learner and was quite the star, blotting his copybook only when he took a dislike to a perfectly amiable Boxer and turned the ‘sit and stay’ practice session into a tangle of barking dogs. The trainer asked to take Darcy outside to work with him for a while. When he brought him back he said it was clear he’d had no training before and so had no idea how to behave, but he showed every sign of being very smart. We just needed to hold our nerve and keep going, and he would help us. Not only did Darcy pick things up super-fast, we also learned a great deal about our responsibilities towards him, and life became a little easier.

The one problem that lingered was his separation anxiety. So, if he hated being left at home so much, could we take him out and leave him for short periods in the car? Well, yes, as long as we didn’t object to him breaking through the guard, gouging teeth marks into the handbrake, the indicator stick and wing mirror control knob. Oh, surely we didn’t need two functioning rear seatbelts? And all in my not-even-a-year-old Corsa!

The cost of property damage was mounting up and the stress levels, both canine and human, remained high. But we weren’t quitters. No way was this dog going back, yet again, to a rescue centre because, despite all the problems we were having, we knew there was an adorable dog lurking in there somewhere, just desperate to show himself.

It was clear that we needed professional help of a special kind, and I found an animal behaviourist willing make a two hour round-trip to come and help us. He came to our house, studied the dynamics of us and Darcy together, then worked his magic. I don’t know how he did it, and at the end I asked him if he’d someone managed to swap our Darcy for a lookalike! But the how didn’t matter, because from then on Darcy seemed to understand that being left alone meant he could take the time to rest, to sleep, and we always come back.

He swiftly filled out and his fur, which had fallen out in clumps due to stress, grew thick and glossy, and his sore nose healed completely. He understood all the commands and his destructive behaviour stopped. He slept peacefully through the night outside our closed bedroom door, usually curled up in his bed in a crescent shape or comically upside down with his back legs up the wall.

What we could never know about him was his beginnings. He started out in Manchester, and had been abandoned there, so how did he end up in Battersea Old Windsor? What had been done to him that he was in such a state?

So, the big question is, was it all worth it? That’s a resounding yes! Thanks to training, a little doggy psychoanalysis and our love, patience, tolerance and persistence, we had the most wonderful, loving companion for twelve years. Everyone who met Darcy adored him. And, very importantly, Darcy taught us that a loving animal/human companionship is based on mutual trust. We are not and should not try to be their masters.

At the age of fourteen, Darcy became ill with cancer, and so began the saddest part of having a companion animal. But, as with all my stories, there is a psychic twist to this one. Click here to read Part II.

J Merrill Forrest, December 2020

Writing Matters #4: turning off life support

In Writing Matters #3 I talked about an experience that inspired me to feature a character with dementia in my novel ‘Walk in the Afterlight’. I wanted to write about something that several psychic mediums had assured me of: that the mind/spirit/soul of someone in the depths of dementia has crossed into the Afterlife, even though physically they are still on this side. I thought it a wonderful way to look at what is a devastating illness and I hope this is conveyed in the story.

In this blog I’d like to tell you about another experience that both inspired and informed me when I was writing this novel. A character is on life support following a heart attack, and when complications arise that show there is no hope of recovery, her family elect to have life support withdrawn. This is the situation I found myself in with my father.

Dad had had several bouts of heart problems, the first happening when he was only in his fifties. In his seventies he had to have a triple bypass, but sadly the wounds caused by the removal of veins from his leg to create one of the bypasses refused to heal. It seemed that he couldn’t recover from the surgery, and a couple of months later I got the dreaded phone call that he had been rushed to hospital with heart failure and was in Intensive Care.

I had a two-hour drive to get there, and as I drove along the motorway I pleaded with the powers that be not to take my dad. Suddenly, like a film running inside my mind, that incredibly I could see and yet still be able to drive safely, I saw Dad sitting in an armchair, connected to oxygen, looking very ill, diminished and defeated. A soft voice asked, “Is this what you want for him?”

I arrived at the hospital, ran full pelt to ICU where a couple of family members who lived nearby were already waiting. I was allowed to see Dad and then asked to go with the others to the family room, where a consultant would come and talk to us.

It was bleak. Without a transplant they could see no hope for Dad, and because of all his health issues, it was unlikely he would even be considered for one. But if he was, finding a suitable donor could take years. Years of being kept alive by machines. I knew how much Dad would hate that. And the decision about what to do for him was solely mine, because I was his next of kin.

My aunt, Dad’s sister, said she could hear Dad saying that he wanted to go, and I knew that he wished it too. So I made the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, and hope never to have to repeat. We were warned it could take hours for Dad to pass away once life support had been removed, but my aunt and I believed he had already crossed over and he was just waiting for us – waiting for me – to allow his physical body to die and so set him free. A nurse came back into the family room just minutes later and told us that Dad had died the instant the ventilator had been switched off.

I knew with every fibre of my being that I had made the right decision, yet I still had moments of doubt and longed for a sign that I had done the right thing. It took four years before Dad came through to a psychic medium to give me that sign! I did not know this medium, but when I saw she was coming from London to give readings at a spiritual centre that I knew well, I didn’t hesitate to make an appointment. She described that day in the hospital so clearly – who was there, what had happened – she could only have been hearing it from Dad. She even said that while we’d been in the family room he’d been shouting at us to let him go! He told me that he deeply regretted that I’d had to make the final decision, and he knew there’d been some argument about it with a third family member, but he was so very grateful that I’d held firm.

That was fourteen years ago. I think about Dad every single day, knowing that he’s close and watching over me and, more importantly, he’s very happy where he is.


PS: Just after I’d written this and scheduled the date for it to be automatically published from my website, my dad’s sister died. We know she is with Dad, their mum, my brother, and other loved ones who greeted her when she crossed over. No RIP for my dearest aunt, she’ll be kicking up her heels and showing everyone how to party, just as she did when she was here!

Writing Matters #3: the hospice patient

Real life events inspire my writing, and here is an example from ‘Walk in the Afterlight’. Rainstones House in the novel is a fictional place where one wing is a hospice and the other a residential dementia care home. The hospice scenes in the story are from my experiences being a volunteer at a local hospice a few years ago. I occasionally assisted in the Day Patient Unit, but my main role entailed visiting a patient with a life-limiting illness at their own home. I was assigned to a delightful elderly lady, many years a widow, whose life expectancy was about one year due to stomach cancer. When I started visiting her she was a lively person. Always beautifully dressed, with her nails painted, her hair immaculate, she would sit on the sofa and tell me stories about her life and give her opinions on current events. I so enjoyed our conversations and debates on all sorts of topics. Of course she was frail and the physical changes in her in the time I visited were all too apparent, but after a couple of months I began to notice mental changes too. These were so rapid it seemed that one week she was the lady who looked forward to my visits and the next she seemed not to know me at all. She kept asking who I was and if she owed me money. I had been advised to answer her questions each time as if it was the first time she’d asked me, so I would tell her my name, explain that I came every week, and she didn’t owe me any money. She would accept what I said for a short while and then ask me again. And again. And again.

All too soon she was bed-bound, not knowing who and where she was. Clearly she had dementia, and this could have been the result of the cancer reaching her brain. Whatever caused it, the vibrant lady I had known had completely disappeared and I found myself wondering: ‘where has she gone’?

I was not sad when she died for she had told me early on in our acquaintance that she knew her husband was waiting for her to join him, and she was looking forward to dancing with him again. When the hospice contacted me to tell me of her passing, this is how I chose to think of her.

I never forgot her and as the idea for this novel began to take shape in my mind, the experience with her was the trigger-point. Through extensive research I learned of some intriguing and wonderful theories about what might happen to us when the mind no longer functions but the body goes on living, and this is what the story is about.

ISBN 9780956795441

(Previously published as ‘The Waiting Gate’)

Jane, 28th October 2020

Writing Matters #2: the leaf

In my first Writing Matters blog I wrote about how I had taken back the rights to my novel ‘The Waiting Gate’, thoroughly revised it and published under my own imprint with a gorgeous new cover and a new title: ‘Walk in the Afterlight’.

Although I felt I had done the right thing, there was always a little niggle at the back of my mind that maybe I hadn’t. I belong to a fantastic support group, Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and when I posted on the forum about changing the title of a published book I had mixed responses. Some said go for it, some had actually done it and considered it the right thing to do, others said it was a risk. As you know, I decided to go ahead and I’m very proud of the result. But still… that niggle wouldn’t go away. Until I got a little message that convinced me I had done the right thing.

At the beginning of this month I was fortunate enough to visit our Greek home for two weeks, a place of tranquility and beauty where I always find it easy to write. Every morning I set my laptop up on the marble-topped table on the patio, work on and off throughout the day, then pack up for the evening and watch the sun go down (yes, lucky, lucky me!).

On this particular morning, I’d gone into the house to make coffee, and when I came out I noticed a leaf. It is a large patio, but there was just the one leaf. A couple of feet from my chair.

Study that for moment and then look at the cover:

It literally sent shivers up and down my spine.

Jane, 19 October 2020

Writing Matters #1: starting over

It’s a hard decision to rebrand a novel and republish it under a different ISBN, perhaps even rename it, but sometimes it’s the best thing to do for both author and reader. I have so far written and published two novels featuring psychic medium Alex Kelburn, covering life, death, afterlife and in-between: Flight of the Kingfisher and its sequel The Waiting Gate. The first was self-published, the second was not, and the paperbacks were a different size and printed with different fonts. I hadn’t thought about this before signing up with the publisher (yes, I know I should have!), and I just wasn’t happy every time I saw images of the books side by side on social media. I also wasn’t satisfied with one of the plot lines in The Waiting Gate, feeling I could truly improve it and, in fact, refine the whole story if given the chance. As the third novel in the series is now underway, I decided I had to bite the bullet, and get to work making the Alex Kelburn books the best that they could be.

Firstly I took back the rights to The Waiting Gate and engaged talented cover artist Rachel Lawston of Lawston Designs to create two themed covers immediately, and a third in due course, and also a new logo for my imprint, The Moon Tiger. I gave Flight of the Kingfisher a thorough edit, then I rewrote that troublesome plot line of The Waiting Gate, thoroughly revised the whole story and retitled it Walk in the Afterlight.

For more information go to author website https://jmerrillforrest.com/

At the time of writing, Flight of the Kingfisher is available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon and will be on wider release from 10th October. Walk in the Afterlight is available on kindle and will also be on wider release around mid-October. The third novel, as yet untitled, is in the initial writing stages and I hope to have it ready for publication by January 2021.

Jane, 28 September 2020