It is a slippery slope!
Bathtub was a black and white feral cat who turned up to feed at Mary’s Barn. An old abused wooden, double storey barn my horses sleep in, is also a highway for feral cats. First there was Button a small black and white queen, I managed to trap her and have her spayed and ear tipped ( a small portion of ear tip is removed to give a visual clue to those in the know that she is spayed, feral and fed), soon Spell turned up. Spell turned up at Halloween and was a curious, strong tabby tomcat. I never managed to trap him despite being less feral than Button. Sadly Spell was killed on the A68, a very well travelled cat.
I rarely see Button and indeed if she spots me, whilst upstairs in the barn, she promptly throws herself out of the top storey window. Spell used to sit and watch me whilst mucking out, occasionally crying for some fresh food though I would never have considered touching him.
Then Bathtub arrived though he wasn’t called that when he came, he was just the black and white bruiser tom. He would charge me should I try to walk upstairs whilst he was eating ( did he not know the rule don’t bite the hand that feeds you?). He would sit staring at me and I felt he was weighing me up. He made no attempt to get attention from me and simply used me as a meal ticket.
That all changed when he became ill. He was thin, wheezy and very listless. It was like a switch went off. He started crying at me, following me and tapping me gently on my leg. Soon he was following me around, having to rest frequently due to being poorly.
On one of his trips up the field as I watered the horses he was too weary to walk back to the barn so I sat with him and he pushed up against me. From that moment he decided I was to be trusted. I had yet to work out where he came from so walked quietly upstairs and found him asleep in the old bathtub!
He had a name and could be stroked. Not quite feral, feral became hand tame and more. I swore I would keep the relationship free. He chose who he dealt with, when and how much. I had done it before with Button and Spell, only this time it was different, I’d laid my hands on him.
Soon with treatment from the vet, a good few solid wormings and de flea treatments he was starting to get stronger. He put on weight, enjoyed his territory and blended well with the owned village cats. He avoided Robson the bruiser at the top of the village, didn’t bother with the two ginger castrates near the bottom of the village and even accepted Eric the daft cat in the middle of the village. Jasper the pest, still stole the food however they worked out a rota system so neither came into contact with each other which sadly meant I was feeding a greedy owned cat as well as the passing strays/ feral cats.
As an entire Tom he often disappeared for the odd day even up to a week or so but hey that’s what cats do. In particularly cold weather he holed up at the local farm and charmed the friendly farmer into not bothering him, enjoying the heat off the indoor cows. My plan was to castrate him before spring so he couldn’t sire any litters for me to potentially have to deal with in future. I really pondered long and hard about castrating him as I didn’t want to interfere too much however as I wasn’t sure if he was FIV positive and the life of feral cat isn’t the easiest.
I am not sure if I am to blame, however after his castration ( which went super smoothly, he was clicker trained to go into his carry box and was an absolute treasure to deal with, he travelled with no dramas and lived in his cage for five days recovering with barely a squeak though he did do a lot of pee protests about being locked in) everything changed. He clearly didn’t mistrust me after the operation, in fact he became like a jealous boyfriend!
Had the insecurity of the operation made him cling to me or if he just decided he was just content to hang about. He started to follow me whilst riding the horses, if I went for a walk he came with me. Wherever I was he was when I was near the barn or in the village. He sat on my knee, lay on my back and sat leaning against me whilst mucking out.
Every morning and evening he was at the barn, no more trips away. If I was at the bar most of the day he was there.
Until Monday. Monday he followed me home. He wandered round and round trying to find me. I couldn’t and wouldn’t let him in. My heart said let him in and my head say no. Why? He has an amazing life of self choice. He is stimulated, well fed, wormed and cared for. Anything he does is by his own choice. However the other reason is he is still aggressive and possessive around the dogs. My lanky lads are very good with him, as his possessiveness has increased I have had to manage his aggressiveness around them. My boys shouldn’t have to live in an enclosed area with an aggressive cat.
So I left him out and expected to see him that evening at the barn.
He spent the day in the garden, sat on Mr Gumps Quad bike as he worked on it and only left when Tink the terrier was offended by his hissing response to a hello.
No Tubs the next morning and still no Tubs this evening.
Now I have also omitted to mention Tubs is a very emotional cat. Any time I refused to allow him to follow me up the village he took himself off for days at a time and once sprayed me when I had to gently lift him off my knee to head home.
Bathtub has taught me so much. He has taught me to value freedom, freedom of choice and literal freedom. I used to break my heart watching Born Free, why didn’t they just keep her safe?! That’s human thinking. I thought I had come so far.
Fretting about where he is, his safety and my rejection of him that night.
I have learned nothing! I need to revel when he comes visit, marvel at his catness and admire his choices.
I will once I see that glorious face again, tail in the air and his strong confident walk.
Actually it’s not true that I have learned nothing, I have learned so much from him so far. I have learnt our choices for animals are often not in their best interests, that often we feed our own addiction and needs over theirs and we underestimate the horror of boredom, a modern epidemic in our pet animals. Hopefully the needy time after his castration, his increasingly desperate need to hunt and replicate it in games has shaken Tubs out of his stupor and he is out being a true cat. Thankfully for our relationship ( Mr Gumps and I) Tubs is more partial to rodents than birds.
Oh Tubs come visit me at the barn!
Fitting in is something that just doesn’t seem to come easily to me and in many ways I am very grateful for that shortfall if indeed it is a shortfall.
I’m a doggy person without fitting in with the dog scene, a horsey person without ever being one of the horsey set. I am self employed business person who considers herself a business person through necessity.
I am a dog walker who doesn’t see becoming a dog trainer as an upgrade and an artist who doesn’t want to go full time.
I never quite knew who I would fall in love with, if indeed I would and as for children it never really fit. I am very nurturing and there was talk of me having triplets when I was a child myself ( oriental child, coloured child and an orang-utan! Sorry if that is somewhat inappropriate) however I was very unlikely to have ever become a mother.
I fell in love and don’t want to marry, which is just as well because my partner wouldn’t marry me ( haha). Indeed my mam has always threatened to show her bare bottom in Fenwicks window if I ever marry. We stay in a relationship because we want to be there. Our expectations are few, our financial joint commitments are chosen ones. Yes of course there are implications for me in time however this was and is a mutually agreed decision.
So why am I writing this on my blog? Because in many ways I aspire to have that relationship with our animals and my animals.
Why aspire? Well can I ever truly achieve it? I control, we control so much of their lives that I genuinely don’t believe I can achieve a complete mutually beneficial relationship where no one is getting more from the relationship from the other. However I can aim for as close as I can get.
Maybe I do have one relationship that is very close to an absolute ‘pure’ relationship! Bathtub the barn cat. At present he is free to mate, leave, come, share his life with me and I chose to have no control over this at present. Yes I feed him and medicate when he needs it however he is free to do as he pleases. It’s tough on me, I feel I can’t keep him safe and I have the moral argument of having an entire male cat roaming the countryside producing more feral cats. I feel once that decision is made I’ve tipped the balance towards ownership. It’s an important lesson for me. He has a hard, fearful wonderful life at present.
It brings me back chillingly to a man I used to know. He taught me many things and some I wish with all my heart he hadn’t. One of the things he made me face, which I wasn’t ready to face was the morality of keeping animals. Now I do face it and feel the weight of responsibility heavily. Yes any of you who see my photos and see what I get up to know how much I adore and revel in my guys yet I know, that much I expect from them, is tough. Flute is a great example, I limit him every single day. He would live and die by the hunt and I spend my days with him trying to avoid that shocking truth. Tipsy well I feel we have a great compromise in life though he would definitely chose more and more frequent everything and who can blame him.
So whilst I ponder about and seek that impossible goal, go give the guys and gals an extra walk or indeed let them chose what they do next. In fact I believe I just saw one of my customers led to the pub by their very insightful cockerpoo, how could she have possibly known that was just the perfect boxing day activity haha?
Or is it?
I can’t lie I came into the pet care service because of my deep, enduring love for animals, especially dogs. Seems like a dream to be able to spend all day with dogs, walking in the countryside and training them to be the perfect dog….in fact I get told this regularly how wonderful my job is.
Just like all careers there are drawbacks, bonuses and stresses. There is also heart ache, break and affirming moments not to mention frustrating, awe inspiring and infuriating times. Yet whilst we are all, customers and pet care professionals, focussing in the dogs we simply can’t forget about us.
Without us the dogs are nothing.
So we need to be a huge dominant force in the mutual relationship that is owner, dog and carer. Sometimes an owners needs need to become foremost over both dog and carer.
What have I learned since my operation on my back in December and my subsequent leg break? If you don’t have health you have nothing. Its a vital cog in a fluid, ever turning wheel. Just like life and nature everything has a function, role and place.
Once health is restored it gives you fresh eyes, fresh enthusiasm and a need to review all you do. Time to see what is needed, not just return to what has always been done. Human/ dog focussed needs.
I started this post in July…for some reason it was never finished so I thought I would pick it up now.
Providing a service for people for their dogs is a delicate balance. You love the dogs but not the way owners do, you make decisions about the dogs but not as an owner would. You train them again with a different perspective however always with all team players involved.
Often new customers will look at my service looking to fulfil not only a need but for a want, they want their dogs to become sociable dogs that get the chance to run free and play with complete abandonment with their new playmates whereas I too wish to allow dogs to be dogs, to mix, run and play with other dogs. Yet we all know it is way more complicated than that. Most dogs won’t be sociable with all dogs, just like I don’t actually like all people. Most dogs genuinely don’t benefit from all out non stop play. Just like me going crazy everyday on a trampoline with my daft mates or friends going out drinking everyday. Its all about balance.
I have learnt so much along the way yet it scares me a little how much I have to learn. What scares me most is how long term chronic pain affected my overall patience and the ability to see it from a customers perspective with people. Passion and knowledge can affects your view. I am pleased to have found my inner compassion and empathy again even if on a day to day basis no one will see any difference I can feel it.
The dogs have been so generous and have treat me better or the same as ever and for that I am so very grateful, they are a credit to us all. Baring the odd dog who reacted when I was on medication ( now isn’t that fascinating with both Flute and Lolly being utterly alarmed at the strange smelling imposter in front of them) we carried on slow or fast, creaky or otherwise.
Yet again it is time to say thank you. Thank you to all who helped, waited and went along with any plans or arrangements I put in place to enable us all to get through.
Keep on walking!
Christmas 2017 is my 20th as Petnanny! What a phenomenal thought.
I would love to have told my 28 year old self that I would still be around in 20 years yet would that have made me lax or unmotivated? One of the biggest decisions of my life and a huge leap as a person.
I celebrated my last walk at Christmas like I live my life….a little celebration, an appreciation of the here and now, of the wonderful people in my life and of course my charges whom without I wouldn’t be Petnanny! I picked up mam and we headed for a walk that she could manage with her overused knees. Luckily she is the same speed as Bob so it was a companionable walk, laughing at their antics and looking forward to a trip to the dog friendly cafe for coffee and a snack.
Once walked and dried ( dirty beasts though mam had managed to stay spotless as ever) we headed to the cafe. It was our first visit to this particular cafe and though small the important details were all there. As soon as we arrived, fresh water was supplied and we were shown where the dogs treats were if we wanted any ( of course I would have probably choked on my pecan pie had I just brought them to watch me eating thats not how we roll haha). Once the cake was chosen ( or in mams case, jalapeño and cheese scone) and coffee ordered the treats were dished out and the eating commenced. The other customers were a couple with a young girl who was very excited to show us her new sunglasses ( she wore them with panache) and promptly requested cake after spotting ours.
I am nearly always proud of our guys and gals ( this is the real world and sometimes their are capable of being real ratbags) and this was such an occasion and a truly wonderful low key way to end my walking year.
Hope you enjoy the photos and of course if you are on Instagram or facebook it would be lovely to see you over there.
Merry Christmas all!
I had really enjoyed drawing Homer, my dread of drawing had gone with my pain. No pain meant I could sit longer and really enjoy taking the time. However drawing the trio of collies was not as pleasurable!
I loved the look of the dogs, had enjoyed meeting two of them previously and their luxurious hair meant I could show light and dark which always helps with a portrait. Unfortunately one of the dogs I wasn’t going to be photographing or meeting and the photos weren’t quite as easy to read. Then there was the support….Velour is a curious paper. Do you remember the Sulvanian Family? They are/ were flocked plastic and the feel of them is very similar to Velour….kind of plush?
Usually used with pastel they give a real feel to fur drawings and the effect can be stunning. Unfortunately I react badly to pastels and whilst pencils work well on velour it is very unforgiving with pencils as you can erase or add to many layers ( you can add many layers with pastel). So whilst drawing I was a puffy eyed, blotchy, itching mess. Delightful! The odd drawing I will do and as this family had commissioned me before and loved the specific look I achieved with velour, pastel and pencil I went with it.
I was of course pleased with the finish result and the lady who received the gift was over the moon at having her favourite dogs on paper adorning her wall. It made my last commission before Christmas a delight as it was small ( I do love a small intimate drawing) and back to my favourite combination of pastel paper support with coloured pencil medium.
I hope you enjoy the picture unfolding and the finished piece and see which style you prefer!
Often as an animal artist you have a repeat of commission subjects. This, of course, makes total sense. For example if you have a border collie and you see a particularly good portrait of a collie in a style you like then you are more likely to commission that artist to draw or paint your border collie.
Drawing similar subjects can help you, my drawing hits a rhythm where you draw the longer fur with the curls and it biomes almost automatic however this time the two commissions had a very different look and style. The support differed greatly and the actual drawing was very different.
First was a dog I had drawn before, an unusual event as most are drawn once. It was also the same lady who commissioned me to draw him, sadly this time it was to be a memorial piece. So hard to remember whilst I am drawing him with his big open mouthed grin. He was a lovely dog and being a pub dog he was sociable and welcoming.
My second commission was a two of collies two rough collies and a border collie. Again unusual as I had drawn two of the collies before however this time it was for the daughter and she wanted it the same style as her previous piece. I will do a further blog post for that portrait and I hope you enjoy comparing the pieces in their style.
I hope you enjoy seeing the progress of Homer’s drawing and the finished piece.