Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The Bath Cats and Dogs home. Second visit.

As promised both to myself and others, I went back to the rescue-shelter yesterday, much more prepared than the first time. Because of recent snow(!) it's incredibly cold here right now. Which meant that before I left home I made sure to wear many many (MANY) layers of clothing, including a thermal(spelling?) shirt originally made for hiking.

For this visit I had been offered to meet up with a member of staff named Janine, so instead of simply finding my feet like I did the first time I went to the shelter, I now planned to properly start listening to people and taking reference photos.

With two layers of gloves, I was also preparing to actually sketch!


Walking down the same path again, but now with a sheet of ice over it, I had to tread -very- carefully in order not to slip. Was absently thinking how the dogs would cope with this record-breaking cold while shuffling along.

Arrived at the shelter with the familiar barking greeting me.

Once again entered the main reception building and asked the receptionist for Janine. The main hall that you step into is a quite large circular (hope that's the way to describe it!) welcoming space with glassed-doors to offices along the walls. If you looked closely, you could see pretty much one dog inside every office. Some of them peeking out through the window, and some others too busy investigating the carpets.

Janine came out to greet me and lead me into one of these offices where I was instantly enthusiastically received by Sky, a small staffie-terrier cross who was the friendliest dog I had met so far. She wasn't vocal at all (which surprised me), but so affectionate that I found it hard to believe that she was actually at the shelter in the first place.

For more information on Sky Click here!

Sky took up at least 10 minutes of my time before I even started chatting with Janine properly. I can't emphasize enough how friendly this dog is. But after tearing myself away from her and finally getting on with business, I was offered a proper tour around the home (which included going to areas that would be closed off from the public normally)

And so we were off!

The Cat and Dogs Home is much larger than you initially think. Even though the outside kennels show any newcomer that this is a substantial animal-shelter, there are even -more- buildings dotted around the area. We briefly visited one of the main catteries which was a modern and fresh building, a place that I definitely will go back to draw later. Then went on to the quieter part where the more nervous cats and the kittens are kept. You normally need a member of staff with you there. Any of my cat-loving friends would probably melt if they saw what I saw. I'll give you a clue: Pawing kittens with big eyes wanting attention :)

Janine continued the tour by going to the small animal shelter which was in an indoor building that needed a bit of updating. One of the last buildings needing work. When we entered I immediately saw one large birdcage in the corner with one very very small male budgie sitting on his own, huddling up and keeping mostly quiet. Instinct went: 'Take home to socialize!' but I held myself back! The same room also held rats, chinchillas, gerbils, hamsters and so on. It was kept heated with a plugged in freestanding heater.

The heating bills for this home must be daunting during this cold spell.

While I still pondered the heating bills (gosh, so grown up these days!), Janine took me past another area that was kept separate and not usually open for the public. The stray dog kennels. One particular dog really got to me. It was a border collie, such an intelligent breed, lost and cooped up in an unknown place. When we passed it was going absolutely nuts, jumping and barking. One of the most mobile dogs I'd seen in the home. Hope the owners come and claim him. :/

I won't go on about all the different areas, because I could be rambling on for ages, but in short we also went past the feral cat colony. An area that is a little bit outside where feral cats come in to keep warm and to eat. These cats will most likely never be re-homed. They are just not social enough.

After the tour drew to a close, I was given a little badge stating that I was just there to take photos for reference and then the staff allowed me to toddle around the kennels with a camera. Something which is going to be invaluable when I start drawing the dogs properly.

This time I DID try to sketch outside, but again, it was very cold. I only managed to sketch two dogs which were quiet and still enough to allow me to.

Meet Freya and Isis:

Just like a lot of other dogs in the kennels, these two were not there because of some behaviour problems or other fault of their own, but one of their owners had recently passed away and the one left couldn't cope, so they had come to the shelter.

Freya looks like the big sister. The one protecting Isis who is more nervous and uncertain of all the kennel noises. These two old dogs haven't got a bad bone in their bodies, seriously.

They were happy to be touched and fussed and spoken to, so they must've had a life of close human contact before arriving at the shelter.

I found this case kind of hard to deal with, because Isis didn't look like she was coping very well with the kennel-life and like she didn't understand why she was there in the first place.

I sat next to the kennel and drew them for a while until I couldn't feel my bum anymore and had to get up. I had been walking around the other kennels, taking photos and checking out the dogs, but the vast majority of them were so excited or anxious by my presence that I couldn't have them settle down to be drawn.

'Who are you!? Get off my land!'

And as I walked past Talik's home, I wasn't surprised to find it empty.

I had been asking around for him at reception and approaching staff. All of them told me to seek out his personal carer Holly. So I was on a side-mission to find this lady.

Then I found Cherry. or.. At least I think it was Cherry. I will undoubtedly be corrected if I'm wrong next time I visit the shelter :P Here is more information on her anyway: Click me!

A german shepherd (what is it with me and this breed!?) who wanted nothing more than to play fetch.

She came up to the bars with various balls and toys and dropped them by me to get me to play. I was very tempted and probably would have tried to take the ball if it hadn't been for the big sign hanging off the bars saying:
'I might look cute, but don't put your fingers through the bars as I might bite!'

So my hands had some respectful distance from Cherry's mouth.

Instead, I took out my sketchbook and began to sketch her. She was one of the other dogs that didn't seem to mind people coming close.

...That's when I noticed a white shape at the corner of my eye.

I glanced to the side and saw a woman standing with a large white german shepherd, chatting with a member of staff. The dog stood calmly by the lady and waited patiently for the human conversation to finish.

I just dropped everything (Sorry Cherry, I WILL come back to you!) and moved over to the small group. My first words almost blurted out was:

'Hi! Is this Talik!?'

The lady holding the lead looked over to me, perhaps just sliiighty surprised by this strange and excited Swedish person just popping her head in to the conversation. She confirmed my suspicions.

'Yes, this is Talik.'


I was instantly spellbound. I had been from a distance, but up close, this dog was just incredible. Everything that had been said about Talik was true. He was a gentle giant, and even though I was new to him, he instantly greeted me with a sniff and a little cuddle when I kneeled down.

In the midst of my slight cloud of utter adoration, I spotted a member of staff that must've been Holly, because of the way Talik was around her. We didn't get to speak in length, but maybe I can catch up with her later (if it WAS Holly..!).

The lady holding the lead must've seen my fan-girly behaviour around Talik and offered me to tag along as she was going to one of the areas where they let the dogs off lead. I of course accepted this offer and prepared to walk a bit with them.

This turned out to be perhaps a half hour long talk with a woman who had been walking Talik for over a year and the only reason she hadn't taken him home was because she already had two dogs. She was clearly in love with this dog and the german shepherd trusted her implicitly.

Before we headed off to the area where they allow the dogs to run, I was still kneeling down to nuzzle Talik and got two nose touches from him while the lady exclaimed: 'He likes you!'
I replied without hesitation: 'I like him too.' ... While I was thinking: 'A lot. I like this dog A LOT.'

What she said afterwards gave me mixed feelings.
'He was reserved yesterday.'
She probably saw my disappointment (I am not good at hiding feelings) and said: 'You could still put a reserve on him, even if there already is one!', but when I explained my house situation, we both agreed that it would not be fair for a big dog to live somewhere that doesn't have a garden. (This is also why me and Tom are currently viewing houses to buy WITH gardens)

The lady continued to talk about Talk soon being off to a new home, as we began to walk. She was at one stage fighting back tears.

Talik was let off lead and went to explore while we chatted.

The life of this dog has been terrible up until he was rescued. And now with a reserve put on him (finally), he was going to head off to a much better place. But it was clear that the lady was unsure about the entire thing.

I won't go on about it all, but it was heartrending.

Finally as we walked back towards the kennel, we actually realized that we hadn't introduced ourselves at all. The conversation had just been flowing without any formalities whatsoever.

The lady's name was Leslie-Anne (I hope I got this right! I am so rubbish with names).

After parting ways, I went back to Janine to thank her for the tour and the opportunity, and also to say that I would be back.

I got to be in the same room as an adorable puppy who was going to be off to his home the next day, but I have to admit I was still thinking about the conversation with Leslie-Anne.
And I was thinking about a white german shepherd.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Bath Cats and Dogs home. First visit.

Hello my lovelies!

I haven't been able to update my regular journal due to my life being pretty much dominated by my art-jobs ever since graduating from University. So while this journal has been collecting dust, my arty-blog has been updated on an almost daily basis.

But let us change that!

Ever since our project at University called Reportage Drawing was handed to us, I've been finding myself looking around at different places I'd like to investigate.

In an nutshell, reportage drawing is when you gain access to a place where the public would perhaps normally not be allowed, you spend time there and record everything you see and experience. At the end of it you hopefully come out with a coherent reportage that other people can read and get a glimpse of what the chosen place might be about.

Moving to Bath, I've seen plenty of areas that I'd like to visit with a sketchbook, but one particular place did not only catch my eye, but (beware of cheese) also tugged at my heart-strings.

The Bath Cats and Dogs Home. http://www.bathcatsanddogshome.org.uk/

It was bitterly cold today when I walked there from the bus-stop. So cold that the BBC weather people have given weather warnings about incoming snow. You could hear the dog barks from several blocks away, so I knew I was on the right road.

Sadly, this was the last photograph that I was able to take today (any photos after this one are from the shelter homepage). I'll explain why further down. :)

When I arrived at the shelter, I could instantly see kennels peeking out from behind the main reception building, and the dog-barking was incessant. Having been at dog-shelters before (Bristol's Dog home being the latest one), I wasn't really surprised by the noise. It is a known fact that dogs behave differently when in kennels (it is also why some people may be a bit intimidated and choose not to go for a shelter-dog).

I approached the receptionist who had a little black dog trotting around behind her. I didn't get enough time to see what breed, but might've been a young boxer.

I explained to her why I was there and wondered if I could just had a little wander about with my sketchbook. Contrary to the strict 'no go without a trainer' rules that I'd experienced at the Bristol shelter, the receptionist simply had me sign in and then pointed me in the direction of the outdoor kennels.

Before I even exited the main building, I had to backtrack and find a member of staff to ask if photographs were permitted. Didn't want to snap away and frighten animals to death. A lady explained that they normally didn't allow photographs to be taken due to the risks of the photos being shared and the dogs stolen. Also, some dogs are part of legal cases for cruelty, so you can't photograph them while investigations are going on. But, she also said that if I wanted to come back a bit later, they could have a member of staff with me who could basically let me know what was alright to take pictures of.

Hearing about cruelty cases makes me a bit uneasy, but after putting my camera away, I replaced it with my sketchbook and finally went through to the outdoor kennels.

The first thing you notice is the noise. There are over 100 dogs there at the moment, so just imagine having most of them barking at the same time. :P The area itself is a large grassy plot of land with rows and rows of kennels. There is also space for smaller animals like bunnies and guinea pigs. I did not see the cat section, so I'm guessing it is indoors somewhere. Will find out at a later date.

Because it was my first visit and also so bloody cold, I wasn't able to properly draw anything that I'd want to scan in. Instead I spent my time checking out all the dogs and saw plenty of other people doing the same. There was a gardening project going on while I walked around as well, so the place was buzzing, even through the bitter cold.

Many dogs were incredibly nervous. I had checked some of them out online before visiting. One dog that caught my eye on their homepage was Hoolio: Click me for info on Hoolio!. I've always had a soft spot for smaller dogs.

When I found him in a separate kennel with his little coat on, I was instantly a bit weak at the knees, but his home was decorated with various signs, telling people not to put their fingers through the bars as he might bite. Also advising people not to stare at him straight into his eyes since he is very nervous.

I kept my distance a little bit and tried not to appear too threatening by kneeling down, but he was still clearly agitated by my presence. Terriers are kind of known for being defenders of territory, and I guess Hoolio is no different. I want to go back to him again though, armed with sketchbook and camera.

Another dog that I had seen online that had sparked my interest the most was Talik: Click me for info on Talik!
A large white german shepherd.

It is a bit unlike me to go for larger dogs, and -especially- german shepherds after an incident with our old dog Fabian in Sweden. Our neighbour's german shepherd attacked Fabian unprovoked, sending him bleeding to hospital, but luckily he managed to recover. After that, my mum's been very cautious of that particular breed of dog, and I've been as well.

I'm not entirely sure -why- I was so fascinated by Talik..! But this article about him just made me want to throw all my money in his direction and make sure he lives an awesome life: Gentle Giant Seeks Soulmate

So! When I finally found his kennel, I was hoping he would be outside to show himself, but he was hiding away. I think I could hear some half-hearted barking coming from inside his 'house', but for the entire time I was at the shelter, Talik never showed himself.

Instead of being disappointed, this only made me more determined to go back to the shelter and draw draw draw. Many of these dogs are at the shelter at no fault of their own. Talik is only one out of many cases of cruelty. According to the article, he has spent most of his 5 years living in a crate.

After walking around the kennels, I went back to the reception area and spoke to the staff. They had a look at some of my previous reportage stuff, and after I told them a bit more about what I do they said their fundraising department would be happy to have a chat with me. So I intend to go back to the shelter early next week, hopefully with permission to take reference photos and to find out more about the place.

... And maybe to catch a glimpse of Talik.