Saturday, 31 January 2015

Horsing around

I'm often commissioned to photograph horses, and of course whilst I cherish spending time with as many dogs and cats as I possibly can, time spent with horses is a whole different experience for me.

There's something 'all-knowing' about being with a horse I find. There's strength and vulnerability in equal amounts and I feel, when they look at me, they're looking right into my soul. I often get really emotional on horse photo-sessions, and I have to consciously remind myself that I'm there to actually take pictures and not just look at them!

I find them incredible animals. I often think of how they've worked alongside us and with us throughout history. The pain they've endured and the strength they've given us during war time and beyond. For me the horse stands equally with the dog as Man's Best Friend.

There is no greater feeling than when any animal puts their trust in you and you can work as one with them. When I photographed Muffin, the foal below, I made very sure to stand right back and had my zoomiest lens with me. But the more I sat and watched, the more his Mum, and eventually he, allowed me into their world.

Muffin played up for the camera so much that eventually his Mum stomped her hoof and called him back to her - I don't think she was impressed with the amount of time he was giving me! I was of course overwhelmed and very grateful to both of them for giving me an amazing morning.

The gentle old souls really tug at my heart. Those who have done their work and are retired to enjoy the rest of their lives munching hay and rolling in the dust. I feel they all converse with me - I never ever push for a picture, even if I'm asked to by the owner - all the images come naturally and on the horse's terms (that's the same with all animals I photograph) this way you capture natural expressions of relaxed horses - of course, there are some that really don't want their picture taken at all!

But they still give you a cheeky glance!

My absolute favourite breed is the Friesian. One of my dreams on my Bucket List was to photograph them and I had planned for my 40th birthday to travel to Cumbria to photograph at the Friesian Experience. I was so disappointed when it didn't work out (proper sulked and everything!) Then I found out there were three Friesians just 5 minutes drive from me! Nearly a year later, just before my 41st birthday, I was able to cross out one of my dreams on my Bucket List - I'd done it!

I don't think I've ever been more in awe of an animal as I was in their presence (yes I cried!)

I mean, look! 

Yes, there's something incredibly moving about spending time with horses - even when they're being goofy!

Friday, 30 January 2015

Asian Dog Meat Trade

It is my sincere hope that, whilst this is a longer post than normal, you are able stick with it and read to the end. Sometimes a story is better told in a few words – but I couldn’t get all I needed to say out in a few paragraphs – the issues within are so important to me.

Actors Dame Judi Dench and Peter Egan have this week joined others urging MPs at Westminster to back a campaign to help the dogs of Asia and their plight. (the video is upsetting, I have chosen it though because it is not explicitly graphic - please do listen, if you can, to what Peter has to say.) 

I've been putting off writing about this because the subject of course makes me desperately sad, and during the research for Willow's adoption, I've had to witness some terrible things that none of us want to see. But as I sit here in my cosy little home in the South of England I wonder how I can do justice to this cause which is so close to my heart.

I don’t want my blog to be about sadness, it is after all, all about the joy of companion animals and the benefits they bring to our lives. But as I gaze at my beautiful dog from Thailand, my thoughts often go to what could have been her fate – and I have to get up and do something to take my mind off it, because the very thought of what could have been might send me mad. I have to write about this, as the subject is part of our story and if I didn't, I would be doing a disservice to all the dogs brutally tortured, the people who save them, those who campaign to raise awareness, and Willow herself.

I chose to adopt a dog that was linked with the Thai Dog Meat Trade and one of the ways I can do my bit to help the fight for these animals, is to make use of my social networks – tell the story, and hopefully reach people who might share the issues with their networks too.

Willow is beautiful, in every sense of the word. Whilst I've already documented her fears and ‘monsters’ – those are just a small part of the dog that she is. She is a kind and soft soul – there isn’t a vicious bone in her body, even in her most fearful states she has never ever reacted angrily. She is funny and playful, clumsy and silly and I can’t imagine her having to endure the fate of what millions of dogs just like her face every year in the part of the world she came from.

And this isn't about people eating dogs (however, until my last breath I will never comprehend how anyone could eat such a dedicated animal.) Whilst I am now a vegetarian, how can I condemn anyone who eats meat when I ate and enjoyed eating meat for many years? I don’t judge meat eaters, my Man eats meat, my dogs eat meat. This is not about the vegetarian debate, but about how these dogs are captured, kept and then tortured for their meat. It is the extreme cruelty that has to end.

This is what Judi Dench, Peter Egan and their colleagues are fighting for. Both actors are patrons of the International Wildlife Coalition Trust who work tirelessly to help animals at extreme risk. They work to educate the people perpetrating the cruelty and (amongst other valuable work for they do for animals) they are fighting to stamp out the dog meat trade in Asia.

An estimated 5 million dogs annually are captured and eventually eaten in Vietnam alone. 

Many of these dogs are taken from other countries such as Thailand, some are pets who have been stolen. They are stacked together in cages so tightly that some cannot breathe. Their limbs are pushed through the wires and often crushed as more crates are piled higher – there is no care, no one looking out for their welfare - they are given no food, no water and driven in these horrendous conditions to Vietnam, at least a full day’s journey, where, if they are still alive on arrival, they are skinned and boiled alive to eventually become a meal. In other places they are bred in farms and kept in pens too small for their needs without any care or love. They have no choice but to watch their pals being tortured and killed; waiting for their turn. These aren't isolated and rare cases of animal cruelty, and these examples are not the extent of it either. It’s happening right now throughout Asia as I type and whilst you’re reading, it is prolific and this torture has to stop.

Why do they kill these animals, that many of us cherish, in such abundance and so terribly?

Dog meat to some cultures is much the same as we view for example beef, lamb and chicken. It would not be right for me to comment on the act of eating dog meat when I have, in the past enjoyed eating beef and lamb too. The reason these animals are killed is simply because it’s the ‘norm’ for some cultures; just as it’s the ‘norm’ for our culture to eat Turkey at Christmas and Lamb at Easter.

The reason they are killed in such a barbaric way is much the same as when it was illegal in THIS country to sell bull meat that hadn't been baited – the archaic belief that the fear and pain an animal endures just before death releases hormones that tenderise their meat. Thankfully our laws changed over 150 years ago and the torment of bulls was outlawed. In short, these dogs are tortured because they believe it is a better eating experience for the consumer.

What can we do to help the fight against the dog meat trade in Asia

Most of us have some form of social media where we can share stories and help educate those who haven’t either been given the chance to learn or who keep their eyes and ears closed to the torture.

Support the campaign and interact with the International Wildlife Coalition’s twitter.

Like the Facebook pages of organisations such as the Soi Dog Foundation who are actively working with the Thai government to end the cruelty. 

Learn about rescues such as K9 Angels (who I adopted Willow through) and On the Wings of Love.

Take a look at Animals Asia and see the work they are undertaking.

Urge your MP to make this a political issue – you can write to your MP directly here

There is great power in collaboration; we can all do our bit to end suffering worldwide.

Ghandi  once said:

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

I do not judge the people who eat dog meat for the reasons given above – however, I will always fight for the right of any living breathing thing to exist without fear and the infliction of cruelty. 


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Thursday, 29 January 2015

Crufts 2015

I am really thrilled to be given the opportunity to blog from Crufts this year, it is such a treat for me - not only will I get to spend time with fahsands of dogs over one long weekend, but I’ll also be able to write about the whole experience here too – what more could any mad crazy-about-dogs woman want?

Crufts is the largest dog show in the world. When it was created by Charles Cruft in 1891 there were 2437 entries and 36 breeds – now there are 200 breeds with an incredible 22,000 competing for the world class title of Crufts Best in Show.

It’s not just a dog show though - it is an entire Celebration of Dogs. It encourages responsible ownership and promotes fit and healthy dogs of any breed, and any mixture of breed within - and that’s what this blog is all about.

The long weekend gives us the chance to watch incredible displays, meet rescue charities, quality breeders, and breed experts with their dogs, to help us learn more about our best friends – perfect for those looking for a new fur-baby to join their family.

Crufts is held at the NEC Birmingham from 5-8 March 2015 – and tickets are available here.

I'm really looking forward to seeing some familiar faces and meeting some new ones too. If you’re heading to the show, please do shout at me and say hello, I’ll be the tall blonde one wiping slobber off her jeans!

Keep an eye out on the blog for a chance to win tickets!

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Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Wednesday With Willow - The Tale of the Nails

Mum struggles with me and my nails. You see, every time she tries to trim them I fight her like a ninja. She must not touch my paws.

She says they look like talons. I agree, they do a bit. She’s worried they’ll start to cause me problems. She also said she’d get the vet to do it, but I fight him like a ninja too.

At the moment, they don’t cause me any problems - Mum’s having a few with them though, she says I sound like a tap dancer when I trot across the floor and asked if I would refrain from doing my performance of Riverdance at four in the morning – spoiling all my fun.

She’s started this new training regime, whatever that is. We’re doing something called ‘paw de-sensitising’. I don’t care what she does as long as she DOES.NOT.TOUCH.MY.PAWS.

She says she’s going to try again tomorrow – just clip the tippy-tips of them off to let the quick recede. I’m not sure if I’m going to let her. The alternative she says is that I do a lot of road walking so the rough surface wears them back naturally – but we all know how I hate any kind of walking – so that’s not the answer is it?

I shall report back. I don’t hold much hope for her to be honest – but you can’t fault her for trying can you?

She says if anyone has any ideas she’d be most grateful to hear them – just make sure that it doesn’t involve the touching of my paws at all, ‘kay.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Tuesday's Tails - On the Wings of Love International Dog Rescue

Every Tuesday I’ll be joining in with the Tuesday’s Tails Blog Hop to highlight a rescue dog in need of their forever home.

This week I want to share with you a wonderful rescue On the Wings of Love International Dog Rescue and a special dog they have in their care who is looking for the perfect place to plonk his bum!

On the Wings of Love (OTWOL) was founded by Marjorie Rigby from Lancashire, UK around 2 years ago after rescuing Peggy from the Thai Dog Meat trade. OTWOL’s philosophy is simple:

“Dogs do not know borders. In rescue neither do we. We don’t care if it’s across the street, across the country or across the world – we’ll fight for all of them and help where we can, no matter where they are.”

This is my own philosophy, hence my adoption of Willow.

Meet Jack. He’s looking for his forever home.

Jack was a Romanian street dog before coming over to the UK for rehabilitation by OTWOL. Romanian street dogs are subjected to harsh and often cruel and horrific treatment – Deborah, Mum of Sushi, who I posted about a few weeks ago explains more in her guest blog here.

Jack is a sweet soul. He is two years old, small to medium sized and a true softie. Jack is house trained and lead trained – he is playful but still a little shy – he’s looking for someone to continue helping him come out of his shell.

Jack can get nervous around strangers, but settles easily - he isn’t sure of bigger dogs until he gets used to them - otherwise, he’s good with dogs and chickens – he hasn’t yet been cat tested, but can be (his foster Mum doesn’t think there’ll be any issues).

Because he still quite nervous, Jack is looking for an adult only home or with older children who understand dogs. He does not want to be left alone for long periods of time - and he must have a secure garden to play in.

If you feel you could give Jack his forever home, please do contact On the Wings of Love directly – and don’t forget the other dogs they have available for adoption too. They have all come from some of the toughest environments a dog could endure - they need to find their special love too.

If you need a little reassurance: I can honestly say, I have no regrets whatsoever adopting Willow. She is everything and more I could want in a dog - Jack could be that for you too! 

Keep in touch with On the Wings of Love through their Facebook Page – and their sister page Dogs Saved from the Thai Meat Trade.



With thanks to Dogs n Paws and Talking Dogs for hosting this Blog Hop.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Breed History - West Highland Terrier

Please note: This series of breed histories came about quite organically. I have a large archive of images I have taken through my work as a pet photographer - rather than have them sit on my hard drive, and together with my love of anything ‘history’ I decided to develop the Breed History Series here on the blog.  It is important for me to make clear that I am an advocate of rescue dogs – I do not promote breeders. At the end of each of these articles there is a link to appropriate breed specific rescues. If you are looking for a dog to join your family, please do consider adoption before searching for a breeder.

The West Highland Terrier

Fearless, stubborn, wilful and alert –  predecessors of the West Highland White Terrier needed to be tough cookies. Working in harsh terrain - they were the farmer’s friend.

Scottish terriers of course came in all sorts of colours including white, and over the centuries different clans developed their own dogs to help work their farms. Terriers (loosely translated as ‘earth dogs’) primarily hunted vermin - these dogs were made to prove themselves in courage and stamina, with of course, only the fittest and most able carrying on the line.

White terriers weren’t deemed viable back then as true working dogs. It was thought that the colour made them weak; and with less camouflage against the terrain, they were of no use to farmers who needed their dog to help keep pests from destroying crops - livelihoods depended on it. The white offspring were generally removed from litters.

But, during the 19th Century three separate men became interested in breeding their own White Scottish Terrier.

Roseneath Terrier

The 8th Duke of Argyll, George Campbell developed the Roseneath Terrier – we don’t know why Maybe he just liked the colour!

The Pittenweem Terrier

The Pittenweem Terrier was bred from a much loved Scottish terrier bitch owned by Dr Americ Edwin Flaxman, a well-known dog and horse lover. Flaxman noted that many of the puppies his dog gave birth to were white regardless the colour of the sire. At first he had no desire to breed-on white offspring, but as the phenomenon kept occurring he felt that it could be a nod back to an ancient breed and so began to develop it.

The Poltalloch Terrier

The story is that Edward Donald Malcolm, the 16th Laird of Poltalloch and breeder of terriers was out hunting one day with his beloved Cairn. During the chase, Malcolm mistook his dog for prey and shot it dead. It is said that he was so torn apart, he decided to breed lighter terriers to ensure that would never happened again. Along came the Poltalloch Terrier, a light sandy coloured dog which, apart from colour, was virtually identical to the Cairn.

We know that Campbell and Malcolm knew each other, and that Malcolm and Flaxman were good friends – but we do not know if they originally mixed their own dogs. We do know though, as the breeds became more popular, all three were mixed to produce what we now know as The West Highland White Terrier (Westie).

The Westie’s popularity grew, and in 1907 they were officially recognised by the UK Kennel Club. Over the next 25 years the breed shrugged off its status as working dog and became primarily a pet.
Today’s Westies still have many of the traits of their ancestors. They are often bold and assertive, but don’t tolerate fools gladly. With proper training they make a great family pets and are known for their cheerfulness and energy.

If you’re looking for a West Highland Terrier to join your family, please do visit either Westie Rehoming or Westie Rescue Scheme for more information and details of Westies looking for their forever homes.


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Sunday, 25 January 2015

Black & White Sunday

Some things just fill your heart without trying.

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Thank you to Nola and Sugar for hosting this Blog Hop.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

10 things I love about my dog

Only 10 things? There’s 40 gerjillion things I love about him at the very least. This was the quickest list I’ve ever written as it took no thinking about.

1. His curls (especially his kiss curl).

2. The way he smells, it comforts me *this one doesn’t count when he’s wet*

3. How he always stops and waits for me no matter where we are.

4. The way he wags his tail so hard it's like he's got hinges at his hips.

5. The way he looks in his onesie (which is too big for him!)

6. His utter joy in everything the world has to offer – even the really mundane things.

7. When he sits on my feet just to be close.

8. The way he gets a droopy eye when he’s tired.

9. The way he headbutts me when I’m not taking proper notice of him.

10. The way he looks at me and I swear I can ‘see’ his thoughts.

Yep - there are many, many more things I love about him - I think the list is endless...

What are your 10 things?

"Everybody thinks their dog is the best dog in the world - None of them are wrong"

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Friday, 23 January 2015

The Lion in a Bobble Hat

Willow isn't the only one with (what some might describe as) irrational fears - Harvey has his quirks too. Like black bin bags, or the concrete German Shepherd that sits at the end of someone's garden on the route of one of our walks - He slinks really low on approach to the concrete beast, rumbling a warning growl as we go past.

But, his latest worry really surprised me, it was the introduction of a new cushion to the sofa. This one:

Just a lion in a bobble hat.

Harvey hates it! He stands staring at it, stretching his body out full to get a sniff  of it, but won't go any closer. The cushion is most definitely an unwelcome addition to our house.

What quirks do your, on the whole, normally well balanced dogs have?

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Thursday, 22 January 2015

13 Awesome Rescue Cats

With my HeARTS Speak hat on, I get to meet some pretty amazing animals who are looking for their forever home - like these feline beauties. I've lost count of how many rescue cats I've photographed, it is in the hundreds. I offer photography services in the hope that it will help in some way to find these cats their new forever home. I manage to snatch about an hour and a half to photograph anywhere between 10-20 cats each session, and I try to leave with at least 4 decent images of each to fit their profile on their rehoming page. One of my standard sessions for one cat would normally be an hour - so I have to do these in quick fire rounds to make sure they all get their pics and I don't take up too much of the Centre staff's time (they've got saving cats to get on with and by crikey do they do a good job).

Here's some of them:

There's the unusual and handsome...

...the pretty and sweet...

...the cool and laid back ones...

...and those who are pretty blimmin' miffed to be there in the first place.

There's the ones with cool hair-dos...

...and the ones that look like they should be in Disney cartoons.

The awesomely whiskered ones...

...the chatty ones...

...and the inquisitive.

There are the beautifully dark and mysterious ones...

...the rare ones....

...and the simply chuffing lovely ones...

And then there are the ones who hold a thousand stories in their eyes - a lifetime of love and eventually loss.

They're all waiting patiently for a new home.

If you're looking for a new feline fur baby - please do consider adopting. There's a perfect match waiting for you in a rescue/shelter near you right now. Make an appointment to go and see them...go on!

Cats Protection, the UK’s leading feline welfare charity, helps over 194,000 cats and kittens per year through its national network of over 250 volunteer-run branches and 31 adoption centres.

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Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Wednesday with Willow - The Beach Monster

Willow takes us on an Instagram walkabout.

What is this witchcraft and why is she making me walk on it? I. Do. Not. Like.

I do love her, but she insists we walk every day and I’d much rather stay at home with my toys and my Harvey. She says if I don’t do the walking, my body will get all wobbly like her legs and I'll be unfit. Unfit sounds perfectly fine to me, and her legs aren’t that bad – well…they wouldn’t win a Pretty Polly award that's for sure, but they’re functioning, they do the job, and that’s all that’s needed, no?

So, we do the Walk of Dread to the beach – just the very sight of it sends the shivers down me – and then she speaks to me in that daft voice that she knows I can’t resist and I follow her…to my DOOM!

Things I don’t like about the beach:

But she insists I might like…given time.

I gave it a go:

Nope. Not for me.

Harvey sees this big mass of wet stuff and runs headlong and gleefully into it without a care in the world - and I know he's a bit special, I'm fully aware he's one biscuit short of a barrel - but try as I might, I do not get it. Wet stuff = cold, and there's another thing I Do Not Like.

The view's quite nice, I'll give her that. There are some acceptable smells too - that green slimy stuff makes me want to stick my nose in it and snuffle it down the beach if only I wasn't always on the look out for monsters - but as there is indeed important monster watching to be done, the slimy stuff doesn't really count in the (non-existent) list of what I do like about the beach.

I wish we could delete the beach from the walk schedule - She says we have to come at least once a week because Harvey loves it so and it will be good for me to see people and other dogs playing, but we'll do it slowly and from a distance.

Maybe one day I'll learn to love it just as much as Harvey does. She says when I do we'll all go swimming together - swimming helps Harvey's poorly legs stay strong, he's quite good at it actually, but I think She's going to have to get me some armbands and a blow-up ring thing I can wear round my waist, because I haven't even got my 5 metre swimming certificate yet.

Yes, it if helps my Harvey, then I might...when the monsters leave...give the swimming thing a go.

Until then I'll just have to take it little by little won't I. That's what Mum keeps saying. One paw at a time. And there's always the woods. That's where I'm really happy.

Mum asked me to tell you about our Instagram and that you can follow us over there too if you like. She's not very good at it yet - she only really discovered how to use her Iphone properly at Christmas you know - she's always late to the party she says.

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