“Hurry up” yelled John as I feverishly flicked my litter all over the room, “Its 9.30 already and the sun is shining so the world and his dog will be on the roads”. He knows I need to go to the bathroom before a trip in the car so I glanced curtly in his direction before trotting to the hallway mirror to check my fur. My whiskers needed a quick lick before springing proudly outwards and I was ready for our day out at the Raystede Centre in Ringmer (East Sussex). The Centre started caring for animals 60 years ago and provides sanctuary to a whole host of creatures including goats, horses, turkeys, ducks, geese, tortoises and terrapins.
I was looking forward to seeing the donkeys because of their delightfully large ears and characteristic ‘eee-awe’ which can apparently be heard up to 2 miles away. I have a lot of respect for donkeys who have been used as working animals by humans for thousands of years, often being abused and neglected while they carry heavy loads for people across the world. Lizzy and Dolly are 18 and 12 years old respectively and were living in a field near Brighton when their owner died and they had no one left to care for them. The keepers told me that donkeys are bright animals and take time to assess what they are being asked to do before agreeing to it which has unfairly led to them being labelled as stubborn. They form strong bonds with their human and equine companions and (like horses) should be kept in pairs or herds, never alone. They are not waterproof and need adequate shelter to protect them from the elements as well a visit from the farrier on a regular basis.
The alpacas live in the fields with the horses during the day and are cleverly left to roam the secured sanctuary at night to protect the birds and wildlife from foxes by braying as an alarm call, kicking and even spitting at any potential predators. They looked rather hoity-toity and wouldn’t stay still for the camera so John and I moved swiftly on to the waterfowl haven. We knew where it was before we got there due to the great cacophony of noise that was coming from the flocks of ducks and geese honking and quacking around the lake. As we strolled along the footpath near the water’s edge, a greylag goose walked past that was taller than me. For some reason John thought the sight of my behind swaying as I swaggered alongside a goose waddling was quite amusing. The cheek!
There were no cats visible in the cat pens even though they were occupied and I expect the moggies were not in the mood to be gawped at. You know how particular pussy-cats can be! But I did see a picture of a fluffy black and white called Branson with a fetching beauty spot on his nose. He was found abandoned in a suitcase outside a shop in Eastbourne, traumatised but thankfully unharmed. With this kind of past, it’s no surprise that cats like Branson can be a bit shy, but given a bit of time and space they blossom into little cherubs. Unlike this little tyke in the picture, a hyperactive white terrier type schnauzer-cross called Edwina who needs a home with experienced owners to manage her high-energy outlook on life. Bruno the chocolate Labrador was a handsome boy and much more laid back than the crazy yapper.
We continued around the Centre and came across the rabbit run which included a rather creative demonstration of what a garden for a rabbit should look like. Next to each other were 2 plots. One was a boring bare patch of grass with a small hutch at the end where a sad rabbit might live. The other was called Home Sweet Home and was an interesting space filled with grass and earth, shrubs and leafy plants, bits of wood and a decent sized hutch
The stag in question was not an intoxicated man celebrating his upcoming wedding; it was in fact a beautiful Red Deer with magnificent branched antlers, an auburn coat and an alluring cream coloured patch on his rump! He was strutting his stuff amongst the vibrant greens and rich autumn browns of Bushy Park, home to both Red and Fallow Deer that roam freely across the grounds. Red Deer are the largest of the UK’s resident deer species and can weigh 90 to 140 kg (up to 22 stone) depending on the food available. This young man was about a metre high (almost 4 feet) and seemed to enjoy sweeping his antlers across the reeds and bushes by the river. He ended up wearing a crown of twigs with pride.
The 320 deer currently residing at Bushy Park contribute to the diversity of plant and insect life by grazing which, unlike cutting, creates variation in the structure of plant life and does not damage the anthills, thereby adding character to the grassland. This chap certainly added character to his environment, with his funny hat and funny noises. He emitted a kind of bellow, like a loud creaking door or a grizzly human baby having a squeaky grumble. May be he was getting ready to attract the ladies as part of ‘rutting’ behaviour during breeding season. Apparently the stags invest much time and effort competing with other males for the females by having roaring contests and walking in parallel, bobbing their heads up and down and barking. Unfortunately, all this puffing of chests and clashing of antlers can sometimes lead to conflict, causing injuries or even death. It seems like an awful lot of effort just for a date. They should take a leaf out of my book and try swinging swagger and a cheeky grin!
Anyway, when deer are in rutting season (September to November) or when they are caring for their young (May to July) they can feel a bit vulnerable and defensive, so John and I hid behind a tree some distance away, ninja-style. The advice is to stay at least 50 metres away and not to touch, feed or photograph them at close range in case they become aggressive. They are wild animals after all. Here’s a little bit of info you might find useful at the next pub quiz. Only the males grow antlers which are made of solid bone and are shed and regrown annually, becoming progressively more branched as the stag gets older. Re-growing their antlers is a demanding business that requires a lot of energy and nutrition to complete, but a fresh undamaged set each year gives them an advantage, and quite frankly looks darn good!
Shadow Photography is the business John and I started almost 2 years ago and, at the risk of sounding self-indulgent, John and I have worked hard to develop it into a viable prospect. Not many cats have the opportunity to learn new skills and meet interesting people from all walks of life so I feel quite proud to be part of the project. I try to make sure John feels like he’s in charge and I have to admit I couldn’t do it without him – he can lift heavy loads and he has opposable thumbs! Don’t worry, he’s used to my cheek!
I thought you might like to see the Shadow Photography advertising campaign that has been designed this year. Am I sounding executive enough yet?! It may not be an international conglomerate, but its mine and John’s baby and as managing director I’ve decided to share with you a couple of the ideas we’ve had to promote the business. Do you recognise the cat in the background on one of the ads? Its a good-looking ginger-striped old mate of mine.
Here are some pictures of two very cute kittens that are currently residing in one of the Cat Protection’s pens in West Sussex. Some of you may know that John takes photos of the cats for his friend who is a fosterer. These two poppets came into care from a lady who had lots of cats that were breeding willy-nilly and had never received any veterinary treatment. Unfortunately this type of situation has a terrible impact on the lives of the cats and the litters born to the females in the household, so these two cuties arrived in the pen with fleas, anaemia, cat flu and conjunctivitis. Apparently many humans think cats that are related don’t mate but this is not true. Nature has taught us cats not to be too fussy and it only takes an un-neutered male and female a few seconds alone to make the babies! You’ll be pleased to hear that Teddy and Tinks are now flea-free, infection-free and feeling much healthier and happier.
The pretty black and white girl is a 2 year old domestic short hair called Jasmine who was surrendered by her owner because she was unhappy and refusing to come indoors, probably due to the noise levels in the house and the unruly children that were causing her stress. She is friendly, gentle and playful, although a bit shy until she gets to know you. She has a potential new owner coming to visit her next weekend so let’s hope she is lucky enough to find her forever home soon.
While John and I were in the garden, my mate Ginger came along to check out my photography equipment. It was good to see my old buddy Ginge and he was very curious about my cameras. So I started telling him about the importance of using light as a medium and how I store my digital image files, but he cheeky rascal fell asleep on my bag.
I also caught up with my good pal Muffin, the haughty black 5 year old who kept looking through my new binoculars last time I came to visit. Muffin told me some bad news about my old chum Monty, a blue British Short Hair who was in the pen last year for about 10 weeks. He was difficult to re-home because he has irritable bowel syndrome and can poop for England! Fortunately, a nice lady saw past his dodgy tummy and fell for his charming and debonair personality. Poor Monty was hit by a car a week ago and suffered some serious injuries. To make matters worse, his owner who loves him very much did not have him insured. Surgery, stitches, bandages, pain-killers, antibiotics and £2,600 later, he is now home but still not out of the woods. His recovery will be slow and uncomfortable and his dedicated owner is caring for him while he is on cage-rest as well as working extra hours and taking in foreign students to pay off her credit card bills. I’m sure you’ll join me in wishing Monty every bit of luck and I hope he pulls through.
The early morning spring light was veiled by the heavy mist that lingered across the green gallops forming the backdrop for a location photography shoot John and I attended a few days ago. Regular readers will know how much I love being in the countryside spending time with nature, so you can imagine how excited I was to get up close and personal with some of the fastest and highest prized horses in the world. We were attending a course that took place in Newmarket (apparently the ‘headquarters’ of horse racing) with dinner and an overnight hotel stay included.
The food was delicious and the other photographers were friendly, although there’s always one who thinks he knows it all and kept flashing his equipment at the table. I managed to exchange a couple of surreptitious eyebrow raises with the silver-haired guy opposite me and remembered an old Chinese proverb which, in my words, goes something like this – “he who brags loudest, shoots daftest”! I noticed a man with thinning light brown hair and a quiff look sternly at me. Apparently he didn’t think a cat should be at the dinner table. But I soon impressed him with my impeccable manners, being sure not to slouch, put my paws on the table or lick anything below the waist!
Now I do like my peace and quiet at night and that’s exactly what I got when I went to sleep on a soft pillow at the bottom of the bed John slept in. I woke to the joyful sound of birdsong while it was still dark. I do like the birds and being a domesticated and sophisticated feline photographer, my instincts to chase them are well controlled thanks to my keen cognitive abilities, pursuit of photography and John’s exemplary care (he makes sure I have plenty of games to keep my mind occupied). When we went down to breakfast, the staff remembered me from the night before and gave me some extra salmon and scrambled eggs to keep my fur silky and prepare me for the busy day ahead.
Nothing had prepared me for strolling across the gallops just after dawn with hundreds of racehorses gathering around to do their morning workouts. They were so tall and muscular, their short shining coats glistening with sweat and hot air blasting out of their nostrils as they snorted and whinnied their way past me. I must admit I was slightly nervous when one of them stopped directly in front of me and lowered his head, but he gently pushed his big soft nose against my cheek as though he knew I needed some encouragement and from that moment on, I was well away!
He introduced me to the stable cat – a striped tabby boy who sat proudly on the ground watching the riders and trainers head out with the horses while the staff and grooms stayed behind to work in the yard. And did they work! Heavy wheelbarrows and water buckets were used to clear up the copious amounts of dust, dirt and manure that get caught in the most unattractive of places. The bedding is changed in the barns every day, the tack must be cleaned down and the horses feet must be picked to remove all the muck I presume. Apparently I’m not the only animal that needs to clean the toe jam from between my tootsies. But unlike some animals, I don’t do it in public! After a day at the stables I didn’t exactly smell delicious, so I packed up early to begin my washing routine and let John mingle with the rest of the photographers, smiling at the ladies and admiring the gee-gees