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!
Who ever said don’t work with children or dogs may have been wise however he may also have been a little grumpy.
Petnanny events have always been for charity and pretty flamboyant and full on. This time however I wanted one to reflect who I am and who the company is. Not a big grandiose affair, nope I wanted an intimate ( steady on missus), friendly get together where we just enjoyed being with our dogs and their friends.
With the perfect hall for us, a shout out to bring some food, it was quickly sorted ( baring the usual risk assessments etc etc which was done before our get together).
What could possibly go wrong?
Lots and lots of things. I can account for the dogs as they’ve known each other for many years, however add owners and children then it starts to get more colourful! Oh and of course food, toys and more food.
Now I can take no credit for Arya and Freya, that belongs solely with their parents. Both were gentle, sensible ( 3yr old and 1 yr old so sensible for their age) and simply loved the dogs. They ran, ate, fell down, got back up and said hello to a lot of dogs, no squealing which surprised me.
The dogs ran, played, begged, did scent work, searched for food together, played some more, hung around, had a lie down and settled lovely when they were put on a lead for the start of the buffet. Once everyone had eaten a good amount of food they were let off ( the dogs) and baring Lola puggle being a food ninja ( truly impressive skills) and the odd hopeful sniff of the table no food was stolen not even from the hands of babes.
My mam, Sheila, had joined us with her puggle Tilly and thoroughly enjoyed herself. That is a great barometer for me as she is easily put off events, bad behaviour or anything untoward is quickly noticed and whilst nothing would be said, she would make her apologies and go home.
I am so very grateful to have shared the afternoon with dogs that we should all be so very proud of, some lovely people with a simple love of their dogs and wow we have some phenomenal cooks within our group!
Well done to Freya, Arya super children and their parents. Well done to Flute and Tips ( my ibizan hounds), Tilly ( Puggypuggle), Truffle ( staffie x and queen bee), Lola ( Ninja Puggle), Carmen ( pharaoh hound), Jack ( very calm not normally calm jack russell), The posse Stan and Elsie ( staffordshire bull terriers), Winnie ( best dress worn, pug) and Raymond ( reindeer extraordinaire pug), Rez ( Vizsla), Ember ( daddies girl and stage star), Fluffy ( tibetan terrier), Cooper ( the teenager who made me very proud Labradoodle) and last but not least Gatecrasher Dougal ( he wasn’t at all shy about it and demanded to be part of the gang).
Thank you for joining me and bringing such amazing food, you all made it a wonderful afternoon and thank you Justine for helping as ever.
A special thanks to Sue and Graeme I imagine it was tough to come and I was so very pleased to see you both. A special mention to Fluffy’s family who came so we could see Fluffy and for him to mix with his old pals.
Time to go and eat another amazing home made flapjack that was left over ( how did that even happen they are gold!).
Working hard towards a goal is worth every moment you have days like today. Seeing owners handle their dogs so well is fantastic and for me the day was made seeing two dog mad toddlers being able to enjoy safe dogs without fear ( more likely parents would feel the fear to be fair).
Till the next time!
The last time I covered dear Maddi and Martha I found a lost, wandering two year old child in underpants and a jumper.
I have walked Mama ( as I write them on my list) for many years, I made the difficult decision to restrict my area. Once I had found cover for those who wanted help Mama went the wonderful lady, Yvonne who, along with Autumn and Cait, helped me whilst I was off.
Today Yvonne needed some time caring for her own family. It’s always lovely to see the girls so I was looking forward to a trip to the training hall with Mama in tow. Maddi especially loves the hall, I am sure she enjoys the sound of her feet on the wooden floor, throw in some scent work and she is one giddy labrador.
However today wasn’t to be about Maddi’s love for flappy feet sounds, it ended up being all about Martha.
As soon as Martha wobbled down the stairs alarm bells sounded. Not enough for me to worry yet, just a niggling doubt. Martha is a giddy silly girl so its not unusual to see her flump about. Walking to heel is a gallumping affair, getting in the van a bounding leap!
It only took a couple of minutes to hear a racket coming from her cage unfortunately it wasn’t immediately safe to pull over so as soon as I was able I pulled over and found Martha unconscious, eyes very dilated. Still breathing I made sure she was safe, as comfortable as she could be and jumped back in the van.
Most vets will see any dog in serious trouble, luckily I have a great relationship with the vets in the area so headed straight for the closest which also happened to be her own vet. The last time I had taken Martha to the vet I had gotten lost and that preyed heavy on my mind. Pulling over to see how Martha was I was greeted with a scared, panting little lass so with a gentle hug, reassurance and again making sure she was positioned safely in her cage I rang Justine ( another star of the Petnanny child found saga and yes once again dressed in true Wilkie style) who helped with directions and once again checked up address for me. Autumn had offered to pick up the two dogs furthest away and was on standby should I need more help.
Once in the wrong carpark ( my fault there are five to choose from) I saw a wonderfully helpful gentleman who was walking his lovely Shih Tzu. He not only helped direct me ( once Martha was checked, who by now was looking more normal and her panic subsiding) he ran to next car park to make sure I found my destination.
Once found, I promptly parked up in a loading bay with my lovely gentleman ensuring my van didn’t get a ticket and in we headed to the vet so I could get back park the van whilst Martha was supervised.
I thanked my knight in a trilby, blew kisses at the bemused, bright eyed Shih Tzu who looked like it was the first time he had ever ran with his owner, parked up and headed back into the vet. Martha’s mam was once again contacted and reassured her daft lass was looking a lot more like the bouncy labrador she normally was.
After a thorough check and blood test she headed back into the van for Nanny supervision and I once again was met with wonderfully helpful people. The lady, who runs the hall we hire, offered to open the Hall up so I didn’t hold up Autumn and Justine, meaning I could feel less pressure to get there asap to let them in the hall as I had the key.
The remaining pick ups were blissfully uneventful apart from one of the customers having had their drive dug up by the water board! My ears were constantly tuned in to Martha’s side of the van in case she had another seizure.
Mood, emotions and demeanour are so very important when working with animals and dogs seem to be especially affected by tension so I put my face on and prepared for what could potentially be an ‘interesting’ time at the hall.
Well I can tell you it was a true delight. With Martha safely settled, Maddi enjoying a play around the halls grounds I could really enjoy the utter immersion in doggy fun time. Their faces were so vivid with passion, passion for smells, food and friends I could have happily stayed there all day just watching.
I felt my own tension disappear and seeing Martha’s face relaxed and fear free I am just so grateful there are such lovely helpful people, a wonderful group of dog friends and the chance to enjoy them as you never ever know when that might change.
Martha’s results came back and more tests are required on Friday so all being well she will be fine and dandy soon, gallumping and bounding away.
I have taken so long to write about Sirus.
I always thought the more you time you spend with animals, the better you become at handling the inevitable sickness and loss. In reality you handle it differently each time.
I can’t explain how amazing it is to share a part of an animal’s life. It’s an honour and involves a huge amount of trust. Sirus came with a huge grin, a quick temper and a spot for every naughty thought he had ( which isn’t true as he had lots and lots of naughty thoughts).
Though many professionals will shudder at the suggestion of such a thing, he had a huge sense of humour and seemed to revel in any reaction of horror, bemusement or indeed exasperation. How can such a big personality be gone? Well he wore himself out I am sure haha. You can’t live life so full on without going poof!
Many many times, whilst on the naughty step he proudly came to us with his chewed lead handing from his collar. Actually MY lead. Back we went and put him back on the naughty step and he would stay there beside his severed lead patiently waiting for his nanny to release him, taking the opportunity to catch his breath ready for more antics.
Always such a handsome dog he had, what we say in the horse world, interesting conformation. His back legs refused to conform to any standard and that summed up Sirus very well. We can revel in the dogs who are 100% them, they follow their own path and teach you so much, patience for one.
Now don’t get the wrong impression. He wasn’t a bad dog, he was so incredibly sweet with his children, with us and most of his dog friends. He loved and gave fully to all he trusted and if he could see it pleased you he may just give you everything you wanted. Suffer fools he did not and was as quick as a whip yet he could, with a word, rein his temper in and become the sweet boy again.
In the later years two kittens came into his life and he enjoyed a new obsession. There wasn’t a part of these fur balls that didn’t intrigue him, it was lovely to see him accept his new family even if a little ott in the beginning.
I find it hard to remember Sirus playing without thinking of Roly, his nemesis. They were like two competing teenage boys. Where Sirus went Roly followed. Funnily enough, despite being such competitive boys, they looked for each other when apart. Games with others just didn’t have the same edge.
There are many moments we all shared with Si, one of my favourite all-time moments was Sirus’s love of swimming. He was the worst swimmer I had ever seen ( well baring the non swimmer Buck who just sank). Oh how that memory can make my heart ache and make my heart glad. It was like watching a drowning man with a huge grin on his face.
My greatest sympathies to Steph and family, thank you for sharing your grinning boy with us, he introduced us to your wonderful family and a good few laughs along the way. He made us cry and despite that I would do it all over again.
Sweet dreams you big goofball, you owe me a lead ( or ten!).
I never thought I would be that person.
Yet I really did ask a young child if he would like to see some puppies whilst trying to ‘lure’ him off a very busy road. It worked very well and for now the 2/3 year old was safe.
He was wearing a breakfast covered jumper, little boys underpants and nothing else. I was by now carrying him and asking him what he was called and where his mammy was.
I was pretty certain he wasn’t called dog so I tried again whilst panicking slightly that I was carrying an unknown child, a barely dressed unknown toddler. Where do you live, can you show me?
So we walked or rather I walked whilst carrying him as it was 4º and he had nothing on his legs or feet. Down the street and up the street. I see a woman and before I engage my brain I ask her “ Does this belong to you?”. Unsurprisingly, she stared at me and at the child and shook her head.
I showed him the dogs “Dogs!” and wondered how I was going to get my phone out of the van without looking like I was kidnapping him.
Then a wonderful sight! A Muppet PJ clad ( just in case you wanted to know it was rather appropriately ANIMAL) Justine drove into the street wondering why the PetNanny van was parked askew with windows open and no one in. She was more than a little confused when she saw me with child so to speak.
She promptly phoned the police then started to quiz the toddler. “Dog” was said a few more times and then off we went to show him more puppies ( oh the shame) as the posse were in her car.
Soon we were relieved of our charge and the two dogs I had seen running loose earlier in the street belonged to the same person as the lost toddler.
I try to look at the positives and he was safe however I was yet again disgusted at the cars who simply ignored or drove around “Dog!” and not one person even looked like they may help.
There are positives…..the police were brilliant and prompt, two people helped and the muppets do indeed live on!
If I were to be judged on my skill, as a dog handler, based on my own dogs I would have failed. My boys are wonderfully gregarious, sweet natured and can mingle happily in most situations and environments. They are good with livestock, excellent with other dogs and past the over exuberant greeting are lovely with children and people.
They sit, down, wait and many other useful tricks along with some completely random fun tricks. However they have no reliable recall. Flute can’t be trusted in the outside world without constant supervision and usually a line to which I am attached at all times. This is even before we see any prey. Tips isn’t quite as bad however I have no illusions, his recall is a feeble, unreliable affair.
What this has taught me is ongoing. Not only my weaknesses as a trainer and owner but also what I have to do with energetic hounds who can’t be let off at will. The fact they are a challenging breed is only a part of it and not the whole.
I have learnt more with these two wonderfully, funny challenging dogs than most of my dog walking clients dogs put together. They teach me humility, how to manage a dog’s needs whilst being tied ( literally) to a restriction in freedom and a closeness. This closeness has made me think more laterally and required me to satisfy a dog wants and needs.
So whilst running and playing with dogs satisfies many dogs, I take my boys out to rough areas to hunt rodents in long reedy grass. Where dogs may run through woodlands, I head out and find new places with new smells and hide or throw roast venison or beef for them to find. We head out on the bike, letting them match my speed fast then slow using their energy up and tiring them out mentally matching me on the bike. We go out with the horses, both a little scary and exciting to be able to move at a more natural faster pace than I can do on my own two feet.
Not for me are walks around the park. I have to think of new ways to fulfil their needs and wants whilst not decimating the local wildlife. This ends up invigorating me as much as my boys. Seeing the world afresh, spotting the prey whilst out before they do then sharing it with them if only visually and via scentavision. I now look closely to the changes in their behaviour and try to spot what they ‘see’ when they are using those phenomenal noses or ears. They now look to me as much to spot things that excite and frustrate them ( in equal measure)before moving off to the next and the next. No mobile phone texts or conversations for me whilst out walking.
So whilst I work on our reliable recall ( and always have), though I have failed one of the fundamental needs in our modern dog ownership, I will revel in the world I have been forced into. The exciting, infuriating world of smells, sights and sounds. Following hounds rather than walking the dogs.