Animals

I like Animals. Actually, I think I prefer them to people. Growing up, we had a menagerie and learned to care for them. Mum and Dad were quite strict in this regard. If we wanted a pet, WE were expected to do the work of taking care of it – feeding, cleaning and socialisation. I whole heartedly agree with this approach, though I’m sure I moaned about it at the time. But I learned to care for animals from an early age. Over the years, we had the normal dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, as well as rescued cockatoo’s and parrotts (which had foul language), some rescued hawks and kestrels (for which I obtained a bird-of-prey keepers license) and numerous others. Growing up, I wanted to be a vet, but at school, was persuaded that I wasn’t smart enough to do it. I’ve never forgiven my teachers for that, especially as I now hold a PhD in the chemical and Physical sciences! But I’ve always retained my love of animals. Today, we have three cats and a horse and they give me countless hours of enjoyment.

Our first cat was Francis. Actually, she was Diane’s cat before she knew me, but she allowed me into Diane’s life and now I make a very good substitute can opener when Diane is unavailable. Francis is a Norwegian Forest cat and is about 15 years old. She has slowed a little with the increasing years, but after having taken care of some health issues, has largely returned to her old self. She’s the Matriarch of the brood and lays down the law to the others. Francis came to Diane originally as a young cat when her owner passed away and has been with us ever since. Being big and black and fluffy, it is difficult to get good pictures of her, but here she is in her favorite spot, a perch close to the fireplace. Whenever I’m working at home, she has to be close, just to keep an eye on what is going on.

 

The next cat we acquired was this guy, just after we bought our house.

Stewart is a completely different character to Francis, who is very gentle and actually runs away from mice (defective cat!). Stew is domineering and wants to be top cat. He was a rescue that had been abandoned at the local pet store, couldn’t be put into the adoption program and was destined for the pound. We took him in without asking WHY he couldn’t be put in the adoption program. We soon found out! He is very territorial and it took a while (about 3 years) for things to settle down. To be honest, we didn’t realize what the problem was, which is that he has terrible separation anxiety from humans. Once we realized that, the issues diminished. The only real problem is that he likes to sleep between us, so we refer to him as our chaperone cat! He’s very needy for human company and has to be on my lap, especially at awkward times loves to jump on my lap at awkward times such as when I’m doing delicate soldering work…. He is definitely my cat and needs my attention. I’ve discovered that when I get home from work, it is best to sit (or lie down) for a half hour or so, in order that he can clamber up on to my lap and snooze. If I don’t do this, I get no peace for the rest of the evening!

Unfortunately, all of our cats have to be indoor cats due to the proximity of a busy road. However, they seem to be quite comfortable with this and don’t show any sign of wanting to go outside. Indeed, this their usual position for most of the day………

And then finally, our latest feline addition is Ion.

She is the baby of the family and was found in the garden one hot summer’s evening several years back. She’d obviously been abandoned and though we spent a number of weeks trying to find her owner, ultimately she became a permanent resident. Being the baby of the family and the most recent addition to the tribe, she is at the bottom of the pecking order. In particular, she gets picked on by Stewart a great deal, but has a ferocious yowl and readily deals with him! However, when it is necessary, they will call a truce……..

Unlike the other two, who are quite needy and have to be with us, she is very much her own cat and does her own thing, often going down and hunting in the basement for hours. She’s a fearsome hunter and rids the house of mice, which since we live in a rural area, is unfortunately a necessary thing.

Finally, we have Canyon. He’s a 6 year old quarter horse, seen below with Diane and myself.

I still can’t believe we have a horse, as growing up, I always thought that people with horses were very elitist. To be honest, that was because most of the people who I knew who had horses were indeed snotty little “it” girls who annoyed the heck out of me! (I was only about ten at the time at the time – girls became much more interesting as I grew up!). However, a friend of mine had a farm and her grandmother kept a couple of elderly shire horses there, and so I learned to ride and care for them.

These days, I live in America, where horses are more a way of life. Although this is more usual in the west, it is also true to an extent in areas of the east and Maryland is one such area. We live in a very rural area just north of Baltimore and when we moved there, we found that a lot of people kept horses. To our pleasant surprise, we discovered that the majority of these are not the upper echelons of society (though that does exist), but normal people with typical professions like nurses, teachers, secretaries, etc. Heck, even the mechanic who repairs my lawn mower has horses!!!! Indeed, Canyon formerly belonged to a local structural engineer and his wife.

So, it was only natural that after a few years of living here, Diane suggested that we learn to ride, since in her words “everyone does it around here” and we could join people whilst trail riding through the woods. After trying a couple of barns, we eventually settled with an organization called the Graham Equestrian Center (GEC), just north of Baltimore. This is a non-profit organization that aims to expose people to horses and teach them about horsemanship. It specializes in using natural horsemanship techniques rather than coercion under duress. Although sounding a little touchy-feely, it is actually an excellent way of teaching a horse to follow your requests. By understanding a horse’s psychology and how it thinks and responds to it’s environment, ultimately you end up with a more willing and responsive horse than one that is coerced.

The long and the short of it is that we came to enjoy this. It is very different from our professional lives, which are very technical, and so challenges us in new ways. After a period of time, we were offered Canyon, who needed a new home. Since we don’t have children, after considering it for a while, we gained a horse! At six years old, he is a still young, but is very willing and gentle and gradually we are learning to work together. He is however a little spooky and fearful of the outside world. We think he has not had much experience outside of the arena, but we are working with him to overcome is fears. Gradually, he seems to be coming to the realization that not everything out there is going to eat him and that fields and woods are exciting places to be! And that squirrels need not be frightening!

Over time, we have also become involved in the operation of GEC. As a non-profit, it runs on a shoestring budget and we help out as volunteers with the marketing and public outreach. Canyon helps out as well, as we have a program to expose kids who have had brushes with the law to different experiences. Many of these kids have very little in the way of stable family life or and have no direction or purpose in life. They come to us as part of a community service program supervised by a local police officer, where they have to work off community service hours by helping out clearing out the run-in sheds. However, as well as working off their allotted hours, to make sure they get a positive experience, we also expose them to the horses themselves. At first they often don’t want to participate, but once we get them to work grooming the horses (under supervision), they open up. Later, we get them up in the saddle and give them some riding experience.

Phil, Jim McDonald and Canyon with JOINS kids

Canyon is great at this sort of thing, as he is very inquisitive and seems to love children. By the end of the sessions, which take several hours, the kids are hugging him and asking questions. How much difference this makes in the kids lives is open to question. But there is the chance that it might make a difference. And Canyon is really good at it. It’s good for him as well, as he gets to exposed to lots of different people, so making him more sedate.

So there you are. That is our current herd of animals. I’m sure we will add to it at some point in the future, but to be perfectly honest, it is quite enough for the moment. But we love having them and they are fun and important to us both.

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