Allergy Wizard would like you to know that it is Jeans for Genes week. You can find out more by clicking on this link.
Six weeks ago, a retired racing greyhound trotted into our family’s life. She has basically slotted in as if she has always been here, although sofa space is at a bit more of a premium these days. It’s amazing considering how many new things she has had to learn about: stairs, TVs, washing machines, children, etc. However, the outside world is still a little concerning to her.
Things that are terrifying, according to our greyhound:
- plastic bags blowing in the wind
- all spaniels
It’s also been a steep learning curve for us. We have had to work out exactly how high she can reach and what things need to be kept out of her way. It’s like when a baby starts to crawl or walk and you suddenly have to toddler proof your house and move everything up. Except a greyhound is a 30+kg former athlete with a full set of teeth so it’s a bit more of a challenge. Things that might have been food and needed to be checked for tastiness, according to our greyhound:
- several clothes pegs
- a pizza box
- an empty Amazon box
- a spoon
- a scouring pad
- many garden shrubs
- the straps on two muzzles
- a new pair of sunglasses
- a Fidel Castro cap
The straps of the muzzles were particularly embarrassing. People conspicuously avoid you, if you are walking along with a muzzled dog. This is doubled if the dog is wearing a muzzle repaired with cable ties (while the replacement is on order) so it appears that she has tried to bite her way out of her muzzle. She basically looked like a canine Ronnie Kray.
I was keeping her muzzle on because she didn’t really believe that any dog smaller than a West Highland terrier is a dog. A racing greyhound will only meet other greyhounds so other breeds of dog are a new experience. Each new specimen of small dog was sniffed closely until she was convinced that they are actually a fellow dog. Unfortunately, the smaller dogs sometimes objected, or occasionally their owners did, and scared her, which could be nasty for all parties. Now, she has had enough time to learn that dogs come in many sizes, we can trust her to go muzzle free.
Allergy Wizard summed up how we feel about our new greyhound, when he said “Things are funner around here now we have a dog.”
Firstly, you might be wondering what a care dog is. A care dog is a dog that has therapeutic benefits just by being itself! This contrasts with a therapy dog that has been trained to carry out specific, therapeutic tasks. For example, a dog, that has been trained to lie on its’ owner to provide deep pressure when the owner is distressed, is a therapy dog. A lap dog, that loves being cuddled and lives in a care home to provide relaxation for dementia patients, is a care dog. A lot of dogs are probably care dogs, without anyone realising it. Good doggos!
We had a list of desirable characteristics for our care dog:
- low shedding. No dog is truly hypoallergenic as they all shed their fur, but there are differences in how much and the type of fur.
- quiet. Several members of our household have auditory hypersensitivity, which means that sound is amplified for them. Everyday sounds, such as a dog barking, would be physically painful.
- calm. Several members of our household have Meares-Irlen Syndrome; a small, fast dog running around the house would cause disorientation, leading to accidents and injuries.
- older. We didn’t think that we were ready for a puppy as our first dog, and, frankly, everyone has enough trouble sleeping without a puppy waking us too!
The care “tasks” we wanted the care dog to fulfil were:
- being a good traveller. One member of our family finds travelling very difficult and has a tolerance of about 30 minutes – 1 hour for being in the car. We wondered whether having the distraction of a dog nearby (obviously kept safely, not just loose in the car!) might help him tolerate this better.
- relaxation. Having a dog to stroke, hug and tickle might be relaxing.
- needing exercise, but not too much exercise. One member of our family has a mild physical disability. They really need to exercise daily, but, because this is painful, resist this. Walking a dog provides a reason to exercise, but it would need to be short distances.
- playing. Playing games to extend the range of activities the boys take part in.
You are probably looking at our lists and thinking we are crazy! We want something that is calm and doesn’t require much exercise, and we choose a greyhound – the second fastest accelerating land mammal (cheetahs are the fastest)! Well, yes, but hear me out. Greyhounds can run very fast, but they are sprinters so they only do it in very short bursts. Most greyhounds have a fit of the zoomies for about 5 minutes a day, where they run around zestfully, often throwing their toys around as they go. For 20 hours of the day, they are sleeping, and, for the remaining time, they are moving around slowly and purposefully. A greyhound needs 2-3 20-minute walks a day. This was the level of activity that we wanted.
Greyhounds have very low maintenance coats. They need bathing about once every 2-3 months or when your nose tells you it’s time. They need a brush once a week, and they never need their coat cutting. They are low shedders; this is relative to other dogs, of course, and they shed quite a lot when they first come home. Greyhounds have silky, soft coats, that are just asking for stroking, and velvety tummies just waiting for tummy rubs.
Greyhounds are also generally quiet. They hardly bark as they tend to whine or squeak, if they are going to make any noise at all. The most noise I have heard from our greyhound has been the “greyhound scream of death” when she caught her ear on a rose bush and cried in panic, and she once barked in her sleep, while having a particularly dramatic dream.
Retired racing greyhounds have all the benefits of adopting an older dog, but less of the drawbacks. A racing greyhound has been kennel trained so they know not to mess until they are allowed out for exercise. Our greyhound easily transferred this over to being in a house. She has only had one accident and that was partly our fault for not understanding greyhound for “the back door has blown shut and I’m busting!” She was mortified by this so we didn’t even have to tell her off. There is none of the stress of house training a puppy.
Normally, an adopted dog is a mystery. You have no idea of what has happened to them or where they have come from. A retired racer comes with a registration showing their parents and grandparents. They also come with vaccination and medical histories. It is also less likely that a greyhound has been abused. Greyhounds have thin skin so can get injured quite easily. Greyhound racing is a business (some people feel very strongly that it is a business that should no longer exist) and the fact is that an injured greyhound is not going to win races so it is in everyone’s interests to keep the greyhound in the best condition possible, at least, while they are still winning… In some ways, it’s all to easy to imagine a racing greyhound’s life. It mainly consists of the routine of living in a kennel with another greyhound, travelling to stadiums (which means they are good travellers – another desirable trait ticked off), and racing. The domestic human world is unknown to them. They don’t know about televisions, hoovers, washing machines, or all the paraphernalia of life. Racing kennels are usually in the countryside so they have no experience of walking past lorries, buses and other traffic. They might never have encountered a flight of stairs before. Also, they probably have never met other breeds of dog; it’s quite a steep learning curve to discover that chihuahuas, wolfhounds and every dog in between are all the same species as you!
The great thing about an adult dog is that you can get an idea of their personality. We adopted our greyhound from Suffolk Greyhound Trust and they were able to match us to a greyhound, who was calm and well-behaved. This also meant that we could visit her a few times to get to know her before committing to adopting her. We discovered that she loved the toys that we brought with us, and she loved to play. Usually, greyhounds don’t play that much and don’t do tricks. Our greyhound has almost got the hang of fetch, after 3 weeks intensive training by the Allergy Bros. It’s really wonderful to hear the joyful laughter from Allergy Robot, when he is playing with her.
We are only a few weeks into our dog-owning adventure, but so far, it is going better than we could have ever expected. I’ll update you in a few more weeks to see if the rose-tinted glasses have cleared a little. I’ll leave you with a photo of Allergy Hound doing what she does best!
Autism and Employment
One of our dreams for the Allergy Brothers was to provide a paid internship programme for young, neurodiverse people. Honestly, it felt like putting the cart before the horse; providing a programme and then fitting young people to it. I think that we should really be finding the vocations of neurodiverse, young people and then working out what needs to happen to make that a reality. Therefore, we are having a rethink.
The core issue, employment for neurodiverse adults, is still a pressing problem. The National Autistic Society surveyed over 2000 adults, or a person responding on their behalf, in 2016. Just 16% of adults were in full-time, paid work. Only 32% of autistic adults were in some kind of paid work, compared to 47% of disabled adults, and 80% of non-disabled adults. 40% of those surveyed had never worked. 77% of the unemployed, autistic adults said that they wanted to work. There is definitely a need for support into employment.
I can’t help thinking that the world is missing out on some impressive skills. In his 2014 book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell suggested that a person needs to undertake 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel (DSM-5) includes “restrictive and repetitive patterns of behaviours, activities or interests” present since early childhood as part of the criteria for a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. It’s irritating that a child practising the cello for hours a day is a prodigy undertaking deliberate practice, but an autistic child learning about underground railway systems is seen as disordered. I think a more positive way of looking at “special interests” is as deliberate practice. Let’s get autistic experts working in our community!
Luckily, a team of people are organically forming to try to make this dream a reality. I am really pleased to be part of this. Our first step is to find out what is already available so I am putting a new page on this website with a list of resources as we discover them. Please share any useful resources in the comments too.
We have decided it is time to put the Allergy Brothers Cake Company to bed for a while. We may return in the future. There are two main reasons, and they are both very positive, happy reasons.
Firstly, the Allergy Brothers seem to be finally overcoming, at least some of, their allergies. This is fantastic news and is opening up a world of new foods for them to try. It’s keeping me very busy coming up with foods for them to trial that contain the target ingredient, but none of their other allergens. It’s basically my full time job now! It also means that it increases our risk of cross contamination because we have ingredients, such as dairy, in our kitchen. We takes allergies very seriously, of course, and we just wouldn’t want to risk a customer having a reaction from one of our cakes. The second reason is that we are soon to welcome a new family member, Allergy Hound! We don’t think that having a dog and making food to sell to the public in our kitchen are a good combination! You can be sure that I will be spamming our Instagram and Facebook accounts with dog photos very soon. The Cake Company isn’t going away completely as Allergy Wizard has plans to put together a cook book of our recipes.
We had a fabulous time selling our cakes. We met so many lovely people: both customers and other stall holders. We’d like to say a special thanks to the amazing team at Wivenhoe Market, Tom and colleagues at Lauriston Farm, Kate at Wigborough Traditional Meats, and especially Christine at Health and Booty in Brightlingsea, Essex.
I am developing our spring and summer cake ranges at the moment. After the success of our gin and tonic cakes, it seemed like a good idea to try another favourite drink in cake form. Prosecco is a delicious and much-loved Italian white wine, which seems perfect for a spring cake.
Let’s start with the good news. Is Prosecco gluten free? I would never say that all Prosecco is 100% gluten free, but I think it is fair to say, it is pretty much gluten free. Obviously, wines aren’t fermented from gluten-containing ingredients, like beer or whisky are, but there are possible sources of gluten contamination. For example, some wine barrels are sealed with a gluten-containing paste. It is possible that this gluten could contaminate the wine inside. However, Prosecco is produced using the Charmat-Martinotti method, which uses steel tanks, rather than casks or fermenting in the bottle. This means Prosecco is cheaper to produce, and removes the potential gluten source of the cask sealant. Hooray!
Is Prosecco vegan? Maybe. The Charmat-Matinotti method requires clarification of the Prosecco, after the second fermentation. This process is called fining. A fining agent is added to the wine to bond with suspended particles, such as grape fragments, and even soluble substances, such as tannins. Some fining agents are of animal origin: egg whites, casein from milk, gelatin, and isinglass from the swim bladders of fish (as an aside, how did anyone discover this? “Well, Gianni, we’ve tried tiger spleen and armadillo kidney, but it’s not clarifying the wine. Let’s give it one last go with a goldfish swim bladder and see what happens.”) Wines made using animal-origin fining agents may be a concern to vegans. The good news is that there are non-animal alternatives made from minerals, for example bentonite clay or activated charcoal. The only way to know is to check the brand of Prosecco you are buying. Luckily, the fantastic website, Barnivore, has already done the hard work for you. You can be sure that we will check the brands we use to make sure that they are vegan.
Is Prosecco gluten free and vegan? Very probably, and maybe!