Plastic Rabbit Housing – Ferplast Grand Lodge Plus Review

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I’m a huge fan of plastic pet housing due to ease of cleaning and low maintenance.  Ok, so plastic is not chew proof, but most rabbits find wood more palatable, and plastic has the advantage of being easy to wipe clean and disinfect.  So I was quite intrigued when my sister unveiled her new purchase for lucky rabbits Sage and Onion.  The Ferplast Grand Lodge Plus 120 at £213 from Amazon (at time of writing),  is a two storey plastic rabbit hutch which offers plenty of space for your pets without taking up room in the garden.  In Sage and Onion’s case, their Grand Lodge is indoors most of the time as they are predominantly house rabbits.  Space is even more of a premium when your bunnies live indoors and a plastic house blended into my sister’s semi-detached living room better than a wooden hutch.

Although the hutch is plastic, there are some wooden parts, namely the sleeping area and the ladders – one from the nest area and one leading down to the ground floor.  This hutch is available in bigger sizes too (140 and 160 models) and comes in grey, green or brown detail.  There are also basic versions (without the bottom tray, so can be placed on grass), and optional extras, like a roof insulation kit or PVC covers to protect against wind and rain.

 

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The hutch comes in flat pack so be prepared to do some building!  It is 115cm x 73cm x 117cm for the 120 model, so its a two person job to move it (23.3kg in weight).  There are  some nice features to this hutch, including sloping roof for water drainage which opens up for easy access.  Other openings into the hutch are a handy side door, the door for the nest area and the run opening at the bottom.  The package also includes a water bottle, bowl and hay rack.

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Roof opens for easy access

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Both top and bottom trays slide out for easy cleaning, and unlike wood these can be washed clean and quickly dried.  I particularly like this feature as it works like my own chicken coops, but bear in mind if you use this hutch indoors and your rabbit sprays, you will need  suitable litter trays or some additional protection at the sides.

Any downsides?  Well, my sister would prefer an extra door for the run at the bottom.  My issue is that although plastic is more hygienic, wood is warmer as it insulates and there doesn’t seem to be an insulating cover available for this item.  So if you are buying this item for use outdoors, you will need to keep your rabbits warm by additional means,  so be extra generous with bedding.  There is a roof insulating kit available to buy and clear PVC covers that fit over the wire to protect against driving wind and rain.  You can also move the hutch into an outbuilding during bad weather (not a garage with a car present because of fumes).  For my own plastic chicken coops, I insulate them by covering with an old carpet which I bungee cord in place to stop the wind lifting them off, taking care not to cover the ventilation holes.  This can also work with this hutch although admittedly it doesn’t look great!

This is a great alternative to a wooden hutch with a choice of variations to suit your requirements.  Just make sure you have someone good at DIY nearby if you’re anything like me! 😉

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The Family Pet Show 2016, Event City, Manchester

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Staff at Manchester Dogs’ Home stand!

I am quite lucky that my current employer allows us to work one day a year for charity.  I took this opportunity to help out Manchester Dogs’ Home at their stand at this year’s Family Pet Show.  I have written a blog on last year’s pet show, but this year its even better with some brilliant talks and demos plus the addition of giant tortoises and alpacas!

As it happens, this is the first year Manchester Dogs’ Home are manning their own stand, as opposed to sharing.  And it was busy!! £1 entry for fun dog shows (Cutest Pup, Dog The Judge Would Most Like To Take Home and Best Trick) and understandably, the entries filled up fast.  There were also some reasonably priced dog treats and accessories on sale at our stand, and all for charity.  Building work is still continuing at the Harpurhey home since the tragic fire in September 2014, so every donation still counts.

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Left, me and Dogs’ Home Manager, Steve.  Right, Catherine, regular volunteer plus friend!

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Shortly after opening, the visitors find us!

Had a fun shift with staff and volunteers meeting all the visitors, and quite a few had dogs from the home.  It was encouraging to see how generous the public are with donations too.  If you are looking to offer a forever home to one of the doggy residents, or wish to donate or volunteer have a look at their website www.dogshome.net

After helping out, I had a chance to look round the show.  This year, I was on my own so I was like a giddy child let loose in a pet paradise.  I sadly missed the Leopold Miniature Pony demonstration (again! Next year, I promise!) but I managed to catch an interesting talk about Lupine Dogs from Julie of Miyax Dogs.  Julie specialises in ethical breeding and training of wolf dogs.  Julie’s dogs have appeared in film and television (Game of Thrones, Penny Dreadful) and she brought along her lovely youngster, Eve.  Her website is www.miyax.co.ukwp_20161001_15_14_46_pro

Apologies for the blurry photo, but she was very active!

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On the subject of poor photography, I also managed to catch these photos of James Bowen and Bob the Street Cat, just arrived for their book signing.  VERY busy stand!  If you are not familiar with this amazing true story have a look here https://www.facebook.com/StreetCatBob/  There will also be a film out later this year!

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This lovely lot are from Hebbs Alpacas and are checking out their bed and breakfast facilities as they are here for the full two days.  www.hebbsalpacas.co.uk 

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 Not just one, but several giant tortoises, as well as other exotic critters from Crocodile Joe and Safari Phil.  Sadly Lavender the skunk was asleep when I called by Safari Phil’s stand but you can see her picture at http://safariphil.co.uk/#/meet-the-critters/4590594874

I actually missed Crocodile Joe’s live demo (although I heard him on his didgeridoo!) but plenty of videos to view on http://www.crocodilejoes.com/index.php?page=videos

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Stopped by to have a chat at the Parrot Rescue stand.  These gorgeous cockatoos seemed to be taking everything in their stride.

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Same with this cat show entrant, who is just taking it easy between classes.  The pet show welcomes cats as well as dogs to the show, but its not always convenient to go places with your cat.   Below, this chappie shows us how its done!

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Barking Heads/Meowing Heads had an eyecatching stand…

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While Sealife Manchester had some engaging staff…

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My view by the Dogs’ Home stand

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Plenty of things to get involved in!

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And I ended up getting one of these!

Again, time flies when you’re having fun and my only regret is not being available for the second day of the show.  Many thanks to organiser, Carrie Mosley for helping arrange my volunteer work with Manchester Dogs’ Home and thanks to Steve Mapley and his crew for having me!

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Nootie Waterless Foaming Shampoo Review – Easier Way To Bath A Cat

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Did she say ‘bath?!’

I am lucky that my two Siamese cats, Bart and Phoebe are so good natured that I can give them a bath without any injury to myself!  So I have done this once or twice a year on a hot day and they would go and dry off in the conservatory, unimpressed.  This is my turning point.  They really would rather not have a bath, and to be honest, I wondered if there was an easier way of cleaning a cat without saturating myself and the bathroom.  Even though they are tolerant to being bathed, they can still shake off a huge amount of water!  Ringo, my havana Oriental, I have yet to discover his reactions but none of my cats really get dirty as they live indoors.  However, these days pet owners, including myself are quite partial to clean, fragrant smelling fur!

The pet grooming business is now complimented by a huge range of shampoo products with delicious sounding names.  Gone are the days of standard shampoo and insecticidal…nowadays there are shampoos for white dogs, dark dogs, puppies and sensitive skin, to name a few.  For my furry trio, I opted for a foam shampoo that doesn’t need rinsing off.

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I decided on the Nootie  shampoo as it was paraben free with no harsh chemicals.  In fact, compared to some other shampoos, there were very few chemicals listed on the label.  This was important to me as my cats groom themselves dry, so I didn’t want them to ingest anything potentially harmful.  Alarmingly, tea tree is sometimes listed in shampoos for use on cats, despite some evidence of it being toxic to our feline friends.  This product can also be used on dogs and puppies.

Most animals dislike being sprayed and the hissing sound of an aerosol.  Modern pet products avoid aerosols which is a plus for the environment.  This shampoo is in a pump spray; with a few presses it dispenses a foamy pile which can be spread over your pet and massaged in.  Note that at this point, your cat may still object to this as there is an unfamiliar smell (soft lily passion – mmmmm!) and also because the product is still wet.  Its not to be confused with the dry shampoo human ladies like to use!

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Phoebe was my first guinea pig for this product as she happened to stand in some poo that day.  Phoebe stands relatively still but protests vocally when she has a conventional wet bath.  To the point where I wonder whether she would eventually give me a swipe one day .  This time, there was no filling of the bath, putting towels down on the bathroom floor and catching of said cat.  I did the deed within minutes on the couch as she was sitting next to me, and there was no cursing from Phoebe.  Sure, she tried to escape, but once the shampooing bit was over, I just needed to towel her off and she doesn’t mind a good towel rub.  Result – she went fluffy as she would with a normal bath, and she smelt lovely!

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Note Ringo watching from a distance in the second picture! 😀

I know I would never have problems with Bart.  Again, he would rather not have a bath but he tolerates everything I do with patience.  Even giving tablets is easy with Bart!  He seemed to give his metaphorical thumbs up to this experience….

Bart loves a good massage.  He wasn’t crazy about the taste of this shampoo but he was purring on my lap as I worked the product into his coat.  As a result, you can see the loose hairs over my pants!

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Quick rub with the towel and floof!!  Two down, one to go.

Ringo, being a newcomer to the household, has never had a bath with us.  He would be justified in arguing against one as he keeps himself beautifully clean and his sleek chocolate brown coat shines like a Minstrel.  Its a shame to ruffle it up really, but here goes…

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As it turned out he wasn’t too bad, despite the unimpressed look in the final picture!  In fact, all three cats were pretty well behaved and calm as large amounts of water wasn’t involved, and I did them all in half an hour without much exertion on my part.  The result?  Well, after towelling them off and leaving them to dry themselves, some patches dried a bit tufty.  These were places where I applied more foam, so was more wet, but a quick once over with a brush will put that right.  I don’t think this product will be enough if your cat has got a particularly contaminated coat, but for a quick freshen up it gets my vote.  The fragrance (no toxic lilies listed in this product!!) is pleasant and much nicer than pet wipe fragrance.  Its not the cheapest foam shampoo on the market – around £10 for a 207ml bottle at time of writing – but I chose it on the ingredients listing, which makes it stand out from other brands for me.  Having done my three fur babies, there is still around two thirds of the bottle left, but that depends how much you want to wet the coat.  I wouldn’t say I was a particularly heavy user.

Bathing a cat is not essential but should you need to, at least there are some choices out there that are less stressful for both cat and owner.  Feel free to let me know your experiences on the subject 🙂

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Hand Rearing Baby Rabbits

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It was totally unplanned.  I had gone in for my induction for my new job at a large pet retailer when one of the managers asked if I could help with hand rearing some baby rabbits as a matter of urgency.  There were 7 newborn babies that had been brought in by a member of public who had unwittingly handled them and now the mother was rejecting them.

Of course I said yes.  The babies were being split amongst three staff as bottle feeding a litter of seven was a lot for one person alone.  None of us had done this before, and ideally, there would be a greater chance of survival if mother rabbit could be coaxed to nurse her babies again.  But the owner did not want to bring her in, so hand rearing was the only option.  We understood that the chances of survival for these baby rabbits were extremely slim.  They were only born the day before – they won’t have had much of their mother’s milk.

My husband was waiting to pick me up after my induction.  He eyed my cardboard pet carrier suspiciously as I got into the car.  “I can explain!” I bleated.  Prior to starting my new position, my friends had joked about me bringing animals home.  I couldn’t believe I was doing it on my first day!

Being new to this experience, I did my research on hand rearing rabbits and took on board information from various sites (although some of the advice differed greatly from each other).  Normally, the mother would only feed the kittens twice a day – her milk is super rich and also means that the less she visits the nest, the less likely predators will know its there.  As I am using a replacement milk powder (Beaphar Kitty Milk), I will need to feed 4 times a day to ensure that I will be providing as much nutrients as their mother would.  I mixed 1.5 scoops powder to 35ml boiled water, cooled to body temperature.  During the early days, as they would take very little, I mixed half this amount.

However, I was having problems with the bottle teat.  Despite having pricked it several times with a pin, there seemed to be very little coming out.  I even cut a slit into it, but again I couldn’t be sure the babies were receiving anything.  I decided to switch to using a 1ml syringe.  Luckily, I have accumulated a few unopened ones from previous vet visits.  I got better results from using a syringe and could also gauge the amount taken, but I had to be careful to feed the rabbits slowly, in case milk gets in their lungs which can cause death.  Its a very slow job, and I was grateful that I only had two to nurse.  Feeding them four times a day was exhausting and a big commitment – it took me back to the days when I was a mother myself!  In addition to feeding, I had a SnuggleSafe Pet Heat Pad to keep them warm, plus an old flannel for them to snuggle under, as well as hay for bedding.  As they were so small and inactive, I kept them in the cardboard pet carrier.

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The first week was crucial.  This was the week when the rabbits would either survive or die.  Sure enough, one of my colleague’s babies passed away two days later,  followed by another…and another…  With the news of each one passing away, I worried in case the bunny grim reaper was going to visit.  He didn’t, thank goodness, but all the other 5 rabbit kits went to rabbit heaven that week.

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We were not out of the woods, and it seemed we would be at risk until the babies were weaned.  This could be as soon as 4 weeks according to one website but even that sounds like ages away when you are arranging everything to fit round 4 feeds a day.  5 feeds sometimes – when I felt that the rabbits hadn’t taken much, my paranoia set in, and I would offer an extra feed late at night.  At first, they would take a miniscule amount –  less than 1ml at a time.  As the days went on, there would be an increase as they got better at feeding, and of course, as we got better at feeding them.  By now, I had sorted out a back up team to help with feeding duties while I was at work.  This consisted of my husband Steve (I had NO pets when he married me – he certainly got more than he bargained for!)  and my sister, Yausan and her husband Derek.

My sister was an obvious choice to babysit the rabbits.  She lives 5 mins away and has had various rabbits in her life.  Each one was special to her.  However, she currently has two rescued bunnies and was a bit surprised when I called on her to help  handrear the babies.  Like most people, she had no handrearing experience either.  “Feed them really slowly.  And don’t get attached!”  I told her.  Within that first week she named them Sage and Onion.  I would go to her house to pick them up after work and see Yausan and Derek each with a happily fed rabbit asleep on their lap while watching TV.  I hoped even more now that they would survive.

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Onion
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Sage

A few websites recommended the use of Avipro, a powdered probiotic useful for stressed, ailing animals.  I have used it before with good results on sick chickens so I fed 1ml daily to the rabbits in the morning.  Then I read in another website that I could add a small amount of powder to each milk feed, which made life a bit easier!  Also, after each feed, you should encourage the rabbit to poo and wee by stroking their nether regions with warm moistened cotton wool to imitate the mother washing them.  More often than not, the babies would obligingly wee, and wow, it was quite a lot of wee!  Old towels were quite useful when it came to feeding them, not only for cuddling them to keep them warm, but also for the milk and wee spills!

At the end of their first week, the babies grew furrier and their ears got longer.  Around 10 days is an important occasion as that’s when the eyes open.  Onion’s opened first, and it happened after a feed!

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“I can see!”

Sage’s eyes opened the next day.  He is slightly smaller than Onion but he is a strong feeder.

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“Nom nom!”

With their eyes open, they became more active and curious.  The bathtub when lined with a towel, became a good place to let them have a run, and as they are producing more wee and poo, a plastic brooder type box seemed more practical than cardboard.  They were taking increasing amounts of milk, and also nibbling at hay.  We dropped to 3 meals a day.  I was looking forward to them coming off milk and bought them some junior rabbit pellets.

However, Sage and Onion didn’t appear interested in the pellets till they were almost 5 weeks old.  I had also bought a hay based junior rabbit food (Nature’s Touch) to try to tempt them, so now they are on two types of rabbit food, the spoilt bunnies!

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Onion, left. Sage, right.

Apparently, hand reared rabbits can be prone to tummy problems, so its recommended not to introduce any fresh veg to them till 4 months of age, and even then to introduce tiny amounts.  Perhaps it was the weaning, but one morning Sage wasn’t taking his milk as usual and seemed quieter.  I didn’t waste any time getting a vet appointment as young rabbits can go downhill quickly.  As it turned out, by the time we packed the rabbits into the car, Sage was back to normal, but we continued to the vets for a once over.  He confirmed Sage was ok, and that he was a buck and Onion was a girl!  As soon as Sage’s testicles appear (approx 4 months), he and Onion will be neutered to avoid any unwanted pregnancies.

Now the rabbits are eating well, milk feeds dropped to two, and then one feed in the evening around 7 weeks.  I had expected to stop feeding milk by now, but Sage and Onion had other ideas.  They loved their milk feeds and where they were once helpless and had to be encouraged to feed, they were now jostling for the syringe, which has now upgraded to a 2.5ml size.  They can take anything from 20-35ml in a sitting and I was hoping that they would become disinterested in milk.  In the end, I made the milk thinner and reduced the amount available till we eventually stopped feeding milk at 8 weeks.  One website had mentioned that mother rabbits would actually continue feeding babies till 8 weeks which made me feel better about it.

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Weaned, at long last!

Sage and Onion continued to grow; their coats grew increasingly fluffy and their ears lopped (their mother was a Lionhead cross).  Being hand reared they were very friendly and would make amazing pets for the right person.  I had enjoyed the experience of bringing them up against the odds but the perfect home was waiting for them all this time.  My sister had fallen in love with them and had looked after them at weekends – with no cats in the house, and no chickens in the garden, she could offer a better environment than me.  I will be sad to see them go, but as she is local and will need a rabbit sitter when she goes on holiday, it won’t be a complete goodbye.

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Sage and Onion at their new forever home, taking residence on the settee!

So…handrearing baby rabbits.  Where possible, get mummy rabbit to do it as its hard work for humans and often unsuccessful.  Avoid handling newborn rabbits as this causes them to be rejected in the first place, but if this happens, there’s a chance that the mother may accept them again if her scent is rubbed over them, using her soiled litter.  In the event you need to handrear, here are some websites that I found useful.  Good luck!

http://cottontails-rescue.org.uk/health/hand-rearing/

http://www.bio.miami.edu/hare/orphan.html

http://britishwildlifehelpline.com/Rearing%20Rabbits.html

Also, have a look on my Facebook page for some video footage!

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Introducing Ringo – New Kitten In The Family

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I am late writing this blog (as usual).  Ringo is a year old already, and you will have seen him in previous posts, but finally, this is his time to shine!

Being a mad cat lady, I had wondered about extending the cat family.  Common sense had always prevailed though; Bart and Phoebe were quite settled and happy and cat psychologists will tell you that cats are not sociable dependent on each other.  Multi cat households therefore are a human choice and not the cat ideal.

But many a Siamese owner will tell you differently.  Siamese cats are sociable with humans as well as other cats, and are often described as being quite dog like in some ways.  I can tell this by the way Bart and Phoebe cuddle up with each other (although cat relationships are always better between littermates).  Siamese cats are also well known for being vocal to get what they want.  Although they sometimes wind each other up, Bart and Phoebe are comfortable together, so why fix what isn’t broken?

Phoebe’s cancer had changed my outlook now.  I wondered how Bart would react if we had lost her, and if it would be a greater trauma to introduce another cat later.  At the same time, my son and stepdaughter were off to uni that year – I will need something to distract me from empty nest syndrome!

So along came Ringo, a havana Oriental boy all the way from Wales.  Oriental cats are actually whole coloured Siamese; they have the same long lean body type.  Havana is a chocolate brown colour coupled with green eyes (a gorgeous combination which reminds me of chocolate lime sweets!)  I opted for a similar breed as theoretically they would be more compatible.  Siamese and Orientals are quite demanding and assertive, whereas some breeds are more placid and may be more vulnerable to bullying.  I also chose to go for a kitten, who would hopefully learn to fit in with Bart and Phoebe.

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Ringo was brought up in a multi cat AND dog household, and was completely unfazed by us when we came to view him.  He was the last of the litter to be claimed but like all his brothers and sisters, he was active and inquisitive with no signs of ill health.  It didn’t take long for us to put our deposit down and after his second vaccination, we brought him home.

We had done all our research beforehand regarding introducing new kittens to the household.  The conservatory was already set up as Ringo’s ‘safe’ room and the dog crate (formerly the chicken brooder) was ready with food, toys and litter tray nearby.

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Ringo in his safe room, not looking impressed

The object is not to introduce a new kitten straight away, but to allow him to adjust to his new environment without meeting the residents for a while.  It is recommended not to let the cats see Ringo for a day or so before slowly introducing contact, with him safely in the crate.  The whole process could take a few weeks, during which the scent from all cats should be introduced  to each other via stroking and around the house, and also to encourage feeding close to each other.

The conservatory was the ideal room for Ringo.  The other cats rarely use it unless it was summer when it is warm, but recently it was used for the growing chicks, so Bart and Phoebe were only allowed in wth supervision.  However, I overlooked the fact that it had a glass door and the cats would be able to see each other – surely that wouldn’t be too much of a problem??

Ringo spent the first day pretty much getting used to us.  He had his shy moments when he would hide under the couch (which Bart did when he was a kitten) but in comparison to when Bart and Phoebe first came to us, he was more outgoing and friendly.  The cats were oblivious to the new addition – they were busy sleeping upstairs.

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Big paws 🙂

Bart came down for a snack, not even noticing a presence or smell of a new kitten.   Maybe, the cats were used to me using the conservatory for sick/growing animals?  Then he caught sight of Ringo through the glass door, who in turn also seen Bart.  Bart did a double take and was intrigued.

I wasn’t prepared for how vocal Ringo was.  After coming from a busy dog and cat family, he realised he was on his own and cried.  He had seen Bart and wanted to get to him.  By now Phoebe had come downstairs to see what the commotion was and decided she didn’t want to get involved.  She hissed and went back to bed, occasionally coming down again to voice her disapproval.

Bart on the other hand was curious, so I decided to let them view each other through the glass door.  After a while, the two adult cats were secured upstairs while we let Ringo out of the conservatory to inspect downstairs and get to know us.  For the first day, we alternated keeping Ringo in his safe room so Bart and Phoebe could see him, and then moving them upstairs so he could explore.  The theory behind that was so all the cats could mix their scents before meeting each other.  This stage should take a few days but I knew Ringo was itching to meet his new cat family as he squawked each time he saw them.  And he was LOUD!  His mew was typically Oriental, not high pitched but long and throaty.  Not a kitten sounding noise!  Phoebe was not impressed.

The next morning, Ringo had gained more confidence and decided to show off his vocal skills for attention.  He seemed already bored of his safe room and the thought of keeping him restricted to these quarters didn’t seem fair.  His calls brought Bart downstairs and I decided to let these two meet, with Ringo inside the dog crate.

Bart is a very kind cat.  He strolled over to Ringo and didn’t hiss once as they sniffed each other.  At one point he gently put his paw through the bars to touch his new kitten friend.  It went so well that shortly after, I gave in and let Ringo out.  He wasn’t sure at first, but Bart was gentle and invited him to play.  After that, Ringo stuck to him like glue and followed him everywhere.  Even now, he will always see where Bart is and go after him!

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Bart and Ringo

So that was a good start, but Phoebe kept Ringo a good distance from her by yowling and hissing at him.  Again, Phoebe was not nasty but she needed more time and space to suss him out.  She only took a swipe at him when he got too close.  She tolerated him in the same room, and even on the bed as long he stayed away from her.  It was important I gave Phoebe some periods where Ringo was not in the same room to avoid overstressing her – I was glad I booked some time off work!

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Phoebe and Ringo – eventually!

Luckily within two days, the cats were all sleeping together on the bed.  Ever now and again, Phoebe would growl at Ringo, but I also saw Bart cleaning him, which was encouraging – I didn’t expect that acceptance so soon.  Phoebe and Ringo will now groom each other, but she will verbally scold him when he starts to play rough!

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The furry trio!

This post is not how I recommend introducing a new kitten, but how I modified the text book instructions to suit my situation.  The current thinking is to take it slowly over a period of days if not weeks – not two days like I did it!  But I guess I was lucky and I’m curious to hear if any readers have any experiences of introducing their cats to an established cat household.  I hear it is easier to introduce a dog…what do you think?

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Putting his feet up!

Hanging Vegetable Holder – Enrichment For Chickens

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Enrichment is a buzz word when keeping animals.  Gone are the days where it was sufficient to provide shelter, food and water – to keep our animals mentally happy, they need something to keep them occupied!

Chickens are pretty much on the go most of the time.  If you watch them free range, they are usually scratching around and pecking while they are foraging.  However, when they are in the run, the food is provided in feeders (no need to forage!) so adding a few props in the run is a good idea. Adding some different levels for your birds to hop onto are a simple way of providing interest.  I use an old stool and a mounting block, as they are easily cleaned, but an upturned bucket or a log, or large branch would be fine.  They are also good for hens lower down the pecking order as they have somewhere to escape to.

I chanced upon the Feathers and Beaky Veg Holder as I was looking for something to hang up some greens for the flock to peck at.  Throwing them on the floor meant they would get soiled and trod on so I thought this was a smart and convenient way to provide treats for the chickens.  My item was £13.13 from Ebay and came from a store, Pets Perfect in north Yorkshire.  The price of this veg holder varied on Ebay – up to £25.00, so shop carefully!

The conical metal spring holder is bigger than some designs I have seen on the market and stretchy to accommodate larger items.  The red plastic top which is easily opened to stuff the holder with leaves.  Because the gaps in the holder are fairly wide, the leaves need to be big, so cabbage would be preferable to spinach.

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I was quite excited to see if my flock would appreciate this gift, as in a previous blog I had bought them the chicken swing (much to my husband’s dismay).  Only to find they ignored it, pretty much like many toys I have bought for Bart and Phoebe.  Cue the “I told you” speech from hubby.  But as this new gadget will involve food, and chickens are naturally greedy, I can’t see this one failing.  I filled it with cabbage leaves and hung it in the run.

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Erm, what is THAT?

Chckens are generally wary of anything new, and it took a few bolder members of the flock to investigate before the word was out that it was edible!

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The swinging of the holder put some of the hens off, but after a while they realised it was harmless.

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I checked back a couple of hours later….

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I would say that was a positive result!  The hanger was at a height that all chickens could get to, but it is possible to raise it to encourage them to jump for the food, whcih would provide exercise and make the treats last longer.

Definitely a thumbs up from me and the flock!

When Your Cat Has Cancer – Phoebe’s Story Part 3

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Remember the no make-up selfie on Facebook for Cancer Research?  This was mine and Phoebe’s, and despite having chemo and losing her whiskers she looks fab!

After the good news that Phoebe was in remission,  we continued our visits to the Liverpool Small Animal Teaching Hospital every 3 weeks for the rest of 2013.  We have got quite used to the routine now, as did Phoebe.  Unlike Bart who rarely goes to the vet (touch wood!) and resists going into the cat carrier, Phoebe is quite compliant going in.  She may verbally protest a little when we put her in the car but otherwise she is quite relaxed about the journey which is only about 50 mins away.  I don’t like witholding her breakfast though, and regardless of whether she goes under anaesthetic for a scan, we have to starve her from the night before as a blood test is required to see if her white blood cells and platelets are low.  As her treatment progressed, they regularly showed up low, so her chemo doses were reduced accordingly.

We are quite lucky that Phoebe has a reasonably calm temperament.  No cat enjoys going to the vet, and at the start of her treatment when she had her stomach surgery she was quite scared, having never stayed away overnight before.  I wish I didn’t have to put her through that, but there were a few things to consider before we opted for the chemotherapy route.  It wasn’t just a case of finance to pay for treatment, but also if it would be kind to her to put her through all the vet visits and procedures.  If she had been an elderly nervous cat, probably not.  Although having to go for regular treatment may make them less nervous.  I have definitely seen an improvement with Phoebe regarding going into the cat carrier, and as she did a fair amount of travelling, we treated her to a new fancy new one!

"Is this for me?"
“Is this for me?”

There is also a lot of commitment involved in nursing cancer patient pets.  It can be difficult finding the time off work to attend chemo and scan appointments which could take most of the day.  We were quite fortunate that the hospital was not that far from us, but some owners travel quite a distance.  Medication is also a big hurdle if, like Phoebe, your pet will not take tablets.  Originally, her meds were 3 times a day, which dropped to twice a day but we needed to be regular and work them around everyday life.  I don’t think pet owners have a problem with commitment – one vet told us a story of some owners who took giving medicines literally and would set an alarm to go off during the small hours so their dog would get his medication at regular intervals.  He told them that 3 times a day, spread over waking hours was sufficient – but he felt bad that he didn’t make that clear earlier!

So we continued with our visits every 3 weeks where Phoebe would have her chemo, and a scan ever now and again.  Each time, she was still in remission.  2013 came and went and by June 2014, it was decided to lower her oral medications over a week, and then stop altogether.  Plus she wouldn’t have to come back to the hospital till September!

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Bart and Phoebe love to lounge!

Phew!  My purse can also have a rest!  To this day I haven’t dared add up how much the treatment has cost in total but I should imagine it’ll be in excess of £5000.  I wonder what the cost would have been if Phoebe was an Irish Wolfhound…ouch!  How I wished that I could go back to those nice days of just visiting the vet for vaccinations and paying a bill of less than 3 figures, knowing my pet has nothing wrong!

The majority of the patients who we see at the hospital waiting room are dogs, but there are a handful of cats too.  As it is a dedicated oncology department, all the patients have cancer in common.  A lot of them, like Phoebe, would be sporting a shaved belly, or ather area, and a bandage on one paw when they come out of treatment.  Others would have an external tumour.  It is interesting to note that most of the four legged patients will attend with more than one human in tow.  Its a worrying situation when you go to a referral hospital as like other patients, it was our only hope.  You need all the support you can get and someone to help with a second opinion, as there are still questions to be asked and decisions to be made.  So thank you Steve for being there at every appointment, and for the times I had to work xx

I asked the question “What if the cancer comes back?” The vets are keen to remind us of that possibility.  Some cats relapse sooner than others, some never.  Fortunately, they have dealt with recurrent cancer cases, and there were other drugs to use should the previous ones be ineffective.  Cancer is such a variable disease with different treatments and unpredictable outcomes.  Although radiotherapy was not offered to us, it is an option for some patients and the department has facilities with thick concrete walls to protect staff, public and other patients from the radiation.  We still have to remind ourselves that in the interests of animal welfare, the object is not to cure cancer using the large doses given to humans, but to manage it.  For the lucky ones, like us, we got remission as a result.  For others, to be able to slow the cancer and maintain a quality of life (palliative care) would be the next best thing.

Not taking anything for granted, I spent as much time I could spare with Phoebe.  During the early days when her future looked uncertain, the stress left me tired and drained.  I would go for a lie down on the bed and would wake with Phoebe snuggled up to me!  She quite liked this and now regularly snuggles with me in the morning, where previously she always stayed by my legs.  And of course, she doesn’t get told off anymore! As she was no longer receiving chemotherapy, her coat thickened and the whiskers made a comeback.  Check out the photo below, our updated selfie, thankfully me with make up this time!

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The September scan was clear.  We booked in again for another scan before Christmas 2014 which was also clear.  However one of her lymph nodes was slightly enlarged and there was sediment in her bladder, so she was tested for this.  I had been quietly optimistic about her recovery, but once more I could feel the anxiety setting in again.  Luckily, the enlarged lymph node was not related to the lymphoma.  The bladder sediment was nothing remarkable, but to watch out for any urinary problems and encourage drinking.

Now that Phoebe was no longer receiving chemo, she was able to have vaccinations again although we had to start again with a new course.  Chemo suppresses immunity, which is why vaccination isn’t advised during treatment.  This is something to bear in mind if you normally leave your pet at a kennels or cattery when you are away, and cancer treatment has delayed immunisation.  With the rise of pet sitting services available, you can get round this problem but check your sitter is happy to give medicines.  While Phoebe had medication, holidays took a back seat, as I didn’t want to give anyone the job of giving her meds!  While she was having her vaccination,  Shaun did a check up on her and palpated her stomach.  He also showed me how to do this, to feel for any lumps and if Phoebe reacts to any sensitivity.  The good news is that he felt nothing (neither did I but I’ll go by Shaun’s expertise!)

3 months later and we’re in 2015.  Phoebe’s March scan was clear, plus the lymph node that was raised last time was back to normal.  The plan was to book another scan in 4 months and then 6 months after that.  July came back clear.  The last scan was January 2016, which included some extra tests to check for any traces of cancer that may potentially spread.  I’m relieved to say, all is clear and she has been signed off by the hospital unless we have any concerns, in which case we can request to be referred again!!

I don’t like to go round saying that we’ve beaten cancer, or that we’ve kicked it up the butt, as I’ve been reminded all too often that there is that chance it may return.  I have learned a lot from this awful experience and it has changed me and my family on our outlook.  We spend quality time together and take nothing for granted now.  We also learnt to cut back on things we didn’t need to pay for her treatment.  We didn’t feel hard done by either, but I guess many pet owners would do exactly the same.  Phoebe still doesn’t know what all the fuss was about – all she knows is that since that stomach operation,  she’s been able to get whatever she wants 🙂

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Phoebe – worth every penny, and more

 

Colour Changing Cat Litter? Pretty Litter Review!

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A new cat litter launched late last year in America caught my attention.  Pretty Litter sounded such an exciting product, I had to get my hands on some!

As a doting owner to 3 indoor cats, the Pretty Litter advertising ticked a lot of boxes; it’s lightweight, dustfree, absorbs odours and its highly absorbent and eco friendly.

However, the one thing that makes this litter stand out is that it changes colour if there are abnormalities in the urine.  Changes in the pH levels of the urine can indicate signs of ill health which may not be obvious in the early stages.  To me, this sounded a great idea, so out came my credit card and I pre-ordered a bag for my cat family to try.

At $19, or £13.10 a 3lb bag of Pretty Litter would last 1 cat 1 month.  I would have probably bought more for my 3 cats but the shipping was $30 (£20.68!!)  I stuck with my 1 bag, and reckoned that this would probably last 10 days or thereabouts.  As there are 2 litter boxes in our household, I was hoping I might stretch this to 2weeks.

The litter arrived just after Christmas so I put it to the test early January.  There was just enough for one litter tray which made me doubt if it would even last a week.  It was very lightweight and consisted of fine white granules that had reddish orange flecks.

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To be fair, this is the first time I have used this type of litter before, which I suspect is a silicate type litter as it is so light.  However, there is no mention on the packaging what it is made from.   Having used wood based litter for years, where soiled waste is thrown out, I was very dubious when I read the instructions.  The object is to throw only the poo out.  Any wee patches were to be mixed in and distributed throughout the rest of the litter and the moisture will be absorbed.  My immediate thoughts were focussed on potential smells.  My secondary thoughts were, “What if I see some abnormal changes in the litter?”  My cat family are very relaxed about sharing their trays and if one of them was producing a colourful patch in the litter, I would have to spy on their toileting activities to find out who would need a trip to the vet.

Just to clarify, normal urine shows up as a yellow to olive green patch in the litter.  Anything blue, red or orange/brown needs monitoring for 24-48hrs and if no improvement, a trip to the vet is advised.  Orange/brown means there’s bilrubin in the urine which could suggest liver problems.  Red means there is blood in the urine, which may not be visible.  Blue is alkaline, which may mean lower urinary tract issues, struvite crystal formations or kidney problems.  Green indicates abnormal acidity which again could mean lower urinary tract disease, amongst other possibilities.  Quite an ingenious product!

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Yellow wee patch!

Ringo and Bart were the main users of the Pretty Litter box in the conservatory, which tends to be a bit cold in winter.  Phoebe prefers the conservatory in summer when its baking hot!  None of the cats objected to the change of litter and used it as normal, but fussier cats can be introduced to it more gradually by mixing their usual litter with the new for a short period.  Despite it being quite fine, I didn’t think it tracked any more than other types of cat litter I have used.  Reluctantly, I mixed in the yellow wee patches and was quite surprised how they ‘disappeared’ into the litter.

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5 days later, the granules had become yellow in colour, which is normal.  This became deeper in colour as time went on, and the granules became less dry and free flowing.  My cats have short fur, so we have no problems with any sort of litter.  Owners of long haired cats may find that this litter may get stuck in the fur – probably no more than other types of litter, but something to consider.  I used Pretty Litter as long as I could get away with (2 weeks) and noticed that Bart’s poo left to sit in the now damp litter was turning the litter blue!  To be sure, I put some droppings from the other litter tray and left it for a few hours (that’s wood based litter stuck to the poo by the way!)  As you can see below, the litter surrounding the poo is blue!

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I contacted Daniel Rotman from Pretty Litter, who stated that high alkalinity (blue indication) is an issue in urine but not necessarily from stools.  As a precaution, Bart had a visit to the vet where he agreed that the pH of urine was something he would investigate, but not poo.  I can only assume that the damp litter was past its use by date anyway at 2 weeks between 3 cats, but I was compelled to test it to see how far it would go!

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Eeew! Time to throw away!

The amazing thing from this trial was that the litter had great odour absorbing qualities.  Despite never actually throwing away the wet patches, there were no smells – and my husband is usually first to complain!  It would be interesting to use this litter again in summer as that is when litter trays seem to smell more.  The granules were easy to work with so it really is a low maintenance product.

The downsides?  Well, the price.  At the moment it is not available in the UK although I am assured it will be, which will certainly save on the £20 shipping!  However, my regular wood based litter is altogether better value, even if I have to buy 40 ltr bags! I also enquired about how safe the product is if ingested but unfortunately I didn’t get a reply.  There is a FAQ section on the website which states that the product is safe if ingested, but it would be helpful to know what the litter is made from.

Personally, I would be inclined to use this product on an occasional basis, just to see if there are any changes in the urine, especially with my 2 older cats.  I think it can be a really useful way of monitoring your cat’s health.  However, it is not a diagnosis of any condition, and I would still consult my vet if I have any concerns about their health.  Owners of cats with a confirmed diagnosis of eg diabetes, urinary disease, etc may be interested in using this product as a guide to monitor their cats’ health, again with veterinary advice.  Not sure when this product will hit the UK but look out for it and check out the website https://prettylittercats.com/  You might want to conduct your own trial yourself and let me know what you think!

Molly’s Eggs – A Bit Smaller Than Expected!

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Molly, my Aracauna hen I hatched last year came into lay that August, and was also the first hen to come back into lay this year. That’s her egg on the left – Araucanas lay beautifully coloured eggs.  Hers are a pale blue colour but they can vary to a blue/green and olive shade.  My first Araucana, Polly laid greenish coloured eggs, which I have to say were a bit bigger than Molly’s!

However, Molly is a bantam hen, so she is a miniature version of the breed and inevitably the eggs will be smaller.  I didn’t expect them to be quite so small though, and then one day I found this in the nest box.

Little tiny egg!
Little tiny egg!

It looked just like a sugared mini Easter egg and at for a moment I thought my hubby had pulled a prank on me!  It turns out it was a genuine Molly egg, tiny but perfectly formed!

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Molly’s eggs compared to a normal sized egg

I often mention in my chicken keeping courses that you can get some ‘odd’ eggs.  These may be variations in size, colour, quality of shell and may be due to the hen’s age, health, climate, diet, etc.  These eggs are fine to use (unless the hen is under medication) but you will rarely see oddities in the supermarket.  Provided hens are in good health the odd’blip’ in the egg making department shouldn’t be a major concern.  If anything, it reminds us that hens can have quirks in their reproductive cycles just like humans!

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Molly’s tiny egg consisted of just white when cracked open – boo!  Since the start of this year she has popped out 2 more tiny eggs, but her ‘normal’ eggs are still small compared to a regular bantam egg.  I am hoping they will get bigger but in the meantime I am enjoying multiple fried eggs to cover a slice of toast.  Maybe I should keep quail?

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Molly and me!

 

Liverpool International Horse Show – 1-3 January 2016

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Approach to Liverpool Echo Arena

Great news for horsey peeps in the north of England – a new international showjumping event was launched at the Liverpool Echo Arena from Friday 1st – Sunday 3rd January!  So naturally, I went for a nosey on the Saturday daytime performance to see some top level riding and also some thrills and spills!

Being a northern lass and having visited Olympia and the Horse of the Year Show, it was refreshing to have a similar event at a commutable distance without having to arrange hotel accommodation.  Furthermore, I paid £18.50 for each ticket which was very reasonable.  They weren’t the best seats in the house but the price was excellent value in comparison to Olympia and HOYS.

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Police horses outside the venue

Parking is conveniently close to the arena, which was just as well as we were on the minutes!  We had booked onto the matinee performance starting at 12.30pm.  Once through security, we breezed through the food and drink outlets, trying not to get tempted by the programmes and plush pony stalls.

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Ponies!!

The opening of the show involved some great lighting effects, drummers and the Bella Voci Opera Duo.

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Spot the 2 opera singers!
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Drummers in lit up costumes
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Back view of the Bootleg Beatles

We didn’t have a spectacular view of the Bootleg Beatles, but there was a large video screen at the front which showed them in black and white which looked really authentic.  They played 3 small sets throughout the show and provided some alternative entertainment to the not so die hard horse audience.  That included my son and husband!

Amateur Grand Prix course
Amateur Grand Prix course

The first showjumping competition that day was the Amateur Grand Prix.  The car in the picture was the prize (lease of it for a year) and was won by Aisling Byrne on Wellview Classic Dream.  Some big fences in this course with some relatively inexperienced horses, and up and coming riders, but we were treated to some brilliant riding and no-one came off! Ironically, the falls that occurred were in the second competition with the top level riders!

Taking a bow
Taking a bow

One of my favourite parts of the show was an elegant display by French stunt rider, Clemence Faivre, who rode side saddle on her beautiful Lusitano horse.  The picture really doesn’t do them justice so have a look on her website www.clemencefaivre.com for some amazing pictures and her story.

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Although I don’t watch horse racing, the Shetland Pony Grand National is always fun to watch.  Many professional jockeys started off doing this competition as children.  One to watch for the future is Trevor Hemmings’ 12 year old grandson Ben Hemmings who took part in this event.  Trevor is the owner of 3 Grand National winners and after this mini race, 2 previous National winners took part in the parade.

During the interval, we had a quick browse round the shopping village, passing the riders behind the scenes warming up in an arena alongside the champagne bar.  Oh if only I knew it was there earlier!

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Compared to the other well known show jumping events, the retail village was smaller.  But then, this is the first show held in Liverpool and it was New Year.  I’m sure next year it will be even bigger!

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Part 2 of the show started with the Bootleg Beatles and then a display by the Horseman Team, who were 5 men who could jump high fences.  Then it was an exciting Speed Stakes show jumping competition featuring big names like Robert Smith, Peter Charles and the Whittakers.  Having been to a few shows, falls were uncommon but there were a few tumbles and refusals here.  We tried to get a picture of Guy Williams in action but unfortunately this happened…

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Unlucky! Guy usually wins or is in the top three everytime I’ve seen him, but he wasn’t hurt so all’s good.  As it turned out, Piergiorgio Bucci on Casallo Z won with the fastest time of 46.44 secs, with Laura Renwick runner up on Heliodor Hybris, and Billy Twomey third on Tin Tin.

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Clare Balding was also there conducting interviews, and Geoff Billington sharing words of wisdom in his humorous style.

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After a final performance from the Bootleg Beatles we left the arena and made our way to the car park.  Be warned, we had a loooong wait getting out as people were coming in for the evening performance!  If you are taking non horsey people to a horse show, this one is probably a good one to visit as the entertainment between the showjumping is more broad spectrum.  Personally, I thought the show was a great success and hope it grows in popularity each year.  Have a look on www.liverpoolhorseshow.com for more info and take a trip next year!