Field Marshal Alfred Viu Thomas (Warning: this’ll bore you silly if you don’t like dogs)

I recently adopted a small dog from the local Protectora (animal shelter). He’s deaf and almost blind and his back legs don’t always work as they should. My friend, Carme, who runs it more or less gave him to me so that he could die in peace. He’d been found by two hikers up near the Sanctuary of Queralt in the mountains. He was soaking wet, half-dead, bleeding from wounds caused by the thorny bushes that grow up there, and with a severe ear infection. They gave him the name ‘Viu’, which means ‘Alive’.

They do an amazing job at the Protectora and goodness knows how many animals are now living in the lap of luxury because of them, but it’s still not the ideal environment for a small, scared, ill little dog. Viu certainly wasn’t thriving there. Carme thought he had only a few months left and neither of us could bear the idea that he’d spend them, trembling and afraid, in a cage – especially when he could have a comfy bed and a quiet life with me.

Since I’ve had him, he’s gone from strength to strength. Carme thought he was about 13; Albert, the vet, who saw him a couple of weeks later put him at eight or nine; two months on and he might be as young as five! By Xmas he’ll be a puppy! He’s still deaf, but his sight is better than we thought at first, and his legs are getting stronger. He’s gained some weight and lost some fear.

We’ve had a few teething troubles, but that’s only to be expected. I’ve never had a disabled dog before so the learning curve is quite steep for both of us. The biggest problem is with his toileting habits. He doesn’t want to pee and poo in the house, but sometimes he can’t help himself. For some reason, he thinks of the garden as part of the house, so he’s loath to relieve himself there as well. What I’ve learnt is that if he starts running around the house and getting agitated, it means he needs a poo. I then have about five minutes to put on shoes and suitable clothing and take him for a walk. He then does what he has to do within about 20m of the front gate. Of course, if I’m not in when he needs to go out, accidents do happen. But we’re working on it and hopefully a mutually convenient timetable can be arranged. (Any advice gratefully received, by the way.)

He’s also becoming quite a feisty li’l fella. He’s not afraid to stand up to dogs four times his size. He plants his skinny little legs firmly at a slight angle and tells ‘em what for. A neighbour’s dog, a Belgian shepherd, came calling. He observed the correct etiquette: sniff through the bars of the gate and wait for an invite before presuming to leap over the wall and pay a social call. My gardener’s dog, a lovely soppy great Staffie, however, was unaware of the protocol. After all, he’d been here several times before Viu moved in and had never had to observe all these social niceties. He came bounding in, through the garden, into the house, tail wagging and mouth open in a big friendly grin. My little boy was outraged. He’d never seen such insubordination. He gave that poor Staffie the biggest woofing off you can imagine.

Around this time, I was running a poll on Facebook to decide on a new name for Viu. The choices were, in alphabetical order, Albie, Alfie, Basil, Clive, Tommy (deaf, dim, and blind dog sure plays a mean pinball?), and Viu. By an overwhelming majority, Alfie won (with Tommy in second place). However, after his valiant defence of his territory, that alone didn’t seem to do him justice… so his full name now is Field Marshal Alfred Viu Thomas (Alfie to his friends).

Here’s a digest of my FB posts about his progress so far.

Day 1

7 September (Day One): He ate well but he’s still scared to be touched.

Day 2

9 September: He smelt so bad I had to wash him, but it didn’t really help as his fur is so matted in places, the water couldn’t penetrate.

Day 3

9 September: All dried off, but he still smells horrible though happily he’s losing his fear somewhat.

Day 14 September

14 September: At the vet’s. He’s had a raft of blood tests and they’ve all come back super-normal. There’s a problem with the coordination of his back legs, but Albert (vet) thinks that might be a chronic condition caused by an infection he had years ago. If so, as he gets stronger and less stressed, his wobbliness may improve of its own accord. He’s got otitis, so will need ear drops, and — as suspected — fleas, so is going to have an injection to kill them off. In the photo he’s waiting to be washed and shaved (the mats are too severe for me to be able to comb them out, and as they’ve soaked up all manner of nastiness, would be very attractive to any passing flies wanting to lay a few eggs…).


Day 15 Sept

14 September: All shaven! It’s been a tiring day for a small dog. He’s had blood taken and all his fur shaved off and been given a bath and an injection and it’s all been a bit fraught. And even now he’s home, his bed doesn’t smell quite right because the human’s taken away his familiar bedding and given him something clean and alien. Still, at least it feels right, so small doggos have decided to call it a day and go to sleep. He does seem a lot happier, though, for having been shorn (and no, I’m not going to call him Sean/Shaun — Aardman Animations got there first with that one). He certainly *smells* a lot better. You can see, on his bum, where he’s been biting himself because of the nasty itchy fleas. With luck, now the fleas have gone, he’ll stop chewing at himself and his fur will grow back normally. He does seem to have a bit of a bladder problem, though. The first three days, he pee’d normally —  he even dashed out to relieve himself one morning — but since then, he’s just been doing lots of little wees, and I’ve had to follow him round with the mop! Hopefully, it’s something like cystitis and the antibiotic will put him right. Fingers crossed.

Day 21 September

21 September: Poor little Alfie. His incontinence problem continues. He’s had KY jelly rubbed on his tummy for an ultrasound and a tube pushed up his willy to extract urine… and this is what we know: He has an enlarged prostate. This could be for one of three reasons: 1. Neural damaged caused by having been recently neutered — if so, it should resolve itself with time (50% probability) 2. Muscular weakness, typically caused by old age (45% probability) 3. A tumour (5% probability). As of next week (when the chemist gets stock in) he’s going to be on medication to try and alleviate the symptoms, but this will take a couple of weeks. In the meantime, he has some doggy nappies. And Albert (vet) thinks he’s no more than 8 years old, but seems older because he’s had a hard life and may have had something like meningitis or suffered neurological damage as the result of an accident at some point. All my dogs have beaten the odds and 75% of them have lived considerably longer than the breed’s typical life expectancy (Poppy had cancer, so died relatively young — but lived a good seven years longer than she would have done if I hadn’t found her/she hadn’t found me) — Alfie is not going to be the exception.

Day 2 Oct

2 October: Happily, he continues to make progress. He’s no longer scared of his own shadow (though he’s less brave when it comes to the shower) and greets me every morning with a wag of his little stumpy tail and tries to jump up to say hello. And his incontinence problem seems to have cleared up completely, with no drugs or nappies required. However, we’re not making much progress with house training. I take him out for a walk every day before I go to work and before I tuck him up for the night. Sometimes he relieves himself, but not always. He’s on his own for between three and seven hours, depending on the day, and about eight overnight. I leave him on the balcony — it’s about 4′ (1.2m) by 20′ (6m), fully glazed and has its own heater and he has his bed there — it’s a lovely bedroom for a dog. Sometimes I come home or wake up to a pristine balcony and a little dog anxious to go outside to relieve himself; other times I’m faced with a ‘dirty protest’. There seems to be no correlation between how long he’s been alone, whether or not the walk was successful, and what I find when I get home/wake up. During the day, when I’m in, I leave the door open so he can go out into the garden when he wants. In my bit of Spain, the weather is still nice enough for that, but I have to say I’m worried about what will happen when it gets colder and I need to keep the door closed (we have very cold winters here — sometimes the temperature drops to -15C).

Day 13 October

13 October: I chopped up an old duvet so Alfie could have somewhere comfy to lie (other than his basket). Here he is next to my table.

Day 20 Oct

22 October: My sweet, clumsy little boy has a strange fondness for snuggling up to my footwear. He may be a covert foot fetishist.


Day 4 Nov

4 November: Alfie is getting stronger by the day and I’m delighted with his progress. He has now learned to sit; before, he’d lie down or he’d stand, but sitting was beyond him (possibly due to muscle weakness).


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