Tuesday, 31 December 2013

A Vintage Year

I have been standing watching the rooks dancing in the dusk. It is a sight that never fails to move me, even though it is repeated every 24 hours. Their morning flights are wonderful too, but at twilight they circle and turn and flood across the sky like waves rushing up the sand, and I am always left wondering how each rook knows which move is coming next, where he is supposed to be, which way to turn.
Who, I wonder, is the lord of their particular dance?

I was thinking, as I closed the shutters against the coming night, that tomorrow will allegedly be a whole new dawn, a fresh-minted world, a slate wiped clean and ready to be rewritten.

New Year has never been my thing. I love Christmas, with its lights and twinkle, well-worn traditions and cosiness,  but he idea of setting out on a pristine, crystalline adventure doesn't always fill me with eager anticipation.

I was listening to a very interesting documentary on the radio today as we drove into Sligo. It was about sound - music, notes, all kind of sound. Apparently when some people hear sounds, they see colours or shapes, or both, and, as everyone knows, sounds come across differently to each of us.
I think the year is like that. For lots of people, the year is like a circle, so December melds seamlessly into January - it is all a continuous whole.

For years, I didn't think about it at all, until someone described their vision of this circle to me. It was only then that I realised that my year was a long, straight line, and when I got to the end of December, I sort of metaphorically fell off, and had to flail around trying to find the start of the next year to grab onto.

It isn't quite as bad as that anymore, but I certainly see the year in colour, and I guess part of the glitch for me is that December and January are starkly different, and don't meld together at all. December is multicoloured with warm, golden overtones - but January is a pale icy blue, hard and light. There is a definite break between the two swatches, almost a chasm that has to be leapt, and let's face it, it's hard to leap when you're full of Christmas cake and chocolate.

I'm not great with the New Year Resolution bit, either (though I do have something in mind this year), but perhaps the best thing about the end of December is taking a moment to look back over the months gone by. They seem to fly more and more swiftly - if that's possible - and sometimes one can only be glad to see the back of them. Only yesterday a friend said it had been a ghastly year for her household, but I feel very blessed because, looking back, 2013 seems to have been a wonderful year in so many ways.

Not as far as the economy is concerned, it's true. Most of us in Ireland have had another really tough twelve months, but I've given up thinking about it - I've certainly given up worrying about it - which leaves a lot of head-space for all kinds of other things, most of which bring happiness in their wake.

It's been the year of the Wwoofers' return. Our gorgeous Frenchman came in January; lovely Heather and Aaron brought their adorable baby Gavin to meet us in April, and my beautiful Chloe returned in July. It was wonderful to see them all, and we felt honoured to still be part of their lives.

 And we've met a whole new batch of Wwoofers who came to help us in the garden this summer as well. Olivia and Marie Christine, sweet Jil and Marko. A new set of lives entwined with ours. 

Amazingly, we had our first holiday in years - we went back to one of our most favourite places of all, Paris, thanks to our friend, Sarah.

A vast 'family' of dogs playing in the Seine

And the In-Charge went to Berlin in the spring and Venice in the autumn on 'School Trips' with his college.

Plus we had a brief but wonderful weekend in Dublin for the opening of a friend's sculpture exhibition - a quick reminder of the joys of cosmopolitan life. Thank you all over again, Jil and Marko, for looking after all the dogs and cats and hens and household while we jumped ship!

Dublin's wonderfully quirky, but boringly named new Theatre

I've spent more hours gardening than I care to catalogue, but it repays me, over and over, for all the time I put in. And other peoples' gardens are all the joy with none of the work, so it's been great to see lots of those this year, as well as visit garden shows.

Sadly, my parents have both been quite unwell recently, but it's meant that I've spent more time with them in Suffolk this year than in the last I-don't-know-how-many. I was with them for my brother's wedding in August.

And at home we celebrated the In-Charge and dear DodoWoman's birthdays in style, with a wild, windy, wonderful party. The greatest compliment of the day came from the ten-year old son of a friend. 'Great Venue!' he said, nodding enthusiastically. It still makes me laugh now.

Moreover, I've learned to crochet, found my old knitting needles, have taught 6 people to knit, and have been immersing myself in colour during every spare moment of the year. Heaven! I've even made a few extremely bright throws, and actually sold some of them to raise money for Irish animal charities.

Two friends and I helped an animal rescue re-home a load of battery hens back in September, and as a result, in November the three of us set up Creating Creature Comforts on Facebook to raise money for Animal Charities. Just this morning I  worked out that already we've raised over €500 each for two charities (with our Animal Calendar), and passed on donations of €100 each to two further charities. There are a lot of animals in serious distress in this country at the moment, so it feels good to be doing something to help.

Best of all, No 1 son came home for a brief visit with a gorgeous young lady. Alas for us, but not for him, he is currently working in the Caribbean, so we haven't seen him since. His beaches are even more beautiful than ours, but hopefully he won't be there forever and we'll see him again soon.

We haven't been lucky enough to see No 2 son this side of the Pacific this year, but he's well and happy which is what matters most, and can be found on a slackline somewhere down under in Oz.

And - hard to believe - in 2 days time, we will have had the SuperModel TeenQueen for a whole year! It barely seems possible, but what a difference the year has made to all of us. She is so much more relaxed and happy, so much fatter and fitter, and she has helped to fill the enormous gap left by our sweet boys.

A good year!
A vintage year, even - to be laid down and re-tasted often.
I hope 2014 will be just as wonderful - for us, and for you, wherever you may be.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Christmas Holidays

We've had a real Christmas holiday day. We got up late, had breakfast and then set out for our favourite beach. We've been wanting to go, but it has either been too stormy, or just so windy and wet that we haven't felt like going near the sea.
But today dawned blue and still - a rare treat at the moment.

Unfortunately, the rivulet on our favourite beach was in such flood that we couldn't get across to the sands beyond, so we went on to our second favourite instead, which turned out to be a Very Good Decision.

Pocketfuls of dog treats

Wandering along the stony sand, we picked up fragments of sea glass to add to our huge collection, listened to a warbling bird that we couldn't see or identify, admired the patterns the water leaves behind, and waved to a fisherman pottering on his boat, bobbing at anchor just a stone's throw out into the bay. The air-sea rescue helicopter droned in, low over the water on the far side of the bay and hovered over Strandhill for a while, but it was too far away to see anything except the constant line of breakers creaming in from the Atlantic.

Sand patterns like armies of woodlice

It's a wonderful beach. It has a long spit that curves out into the bay, and nestled in on the land-side are mud flats, some sheep pastures and sometimes fishing boats laid up for the winter.
But today the tide was in across the mud flats, and the dogs went crazy, chasing each other in and out of the shallow water.

An inland sea

 Model Dog practiced being a fish.

The TeenQueen practiced being a 3-legged dog.

 And we all practiced wading.

From the long arm of the beach, there is a wonderful view of Knocknarea, Sligo's No 2 mountain just across the bay, but you can't see the huge neolithic cairn on its summit from this angle, even though it's one of the largest in Ireland (and dates back to 3000 BC). The grave belongs, they say, to Maeve, the ancient Queen of Connacht, who was buried standing up so that she could keep watch over all her lands. By the time she died, her lands were extensive - due, no doubt, to her Lucretia Borgia approach to the acquisition of power. On a clear day you can see across 5 counties, I guess, as well as Sligo Bay and Donegal Bay. On a bad day, you are battered by the four winds of heaven and may see nothing but the vast tomb - 10 metres high and 55 metres wide.

We didn't mind not seeing Maeve's Lump (as it's affectionately known), as we see it from the road all the time. Instead we watched riders on the far beach beneath her. They were having a lovely time, with their dogs streaming in front like outriders.

We inspected the skeleton of a boat left to commune perpetually with the wind and the tides.

And we stopped at the pile of stones that always looks - from a distance - as if it started life as a beehive dwelling for a lonely hermit. When you get up close, you realise that it is, probably, just a pile of stones.

We decided that we'd round off our lovely, seaside morning by stopping at The Beach Bar for a drink and maybe a toasted sandwich or something for lunch, but then we discovered that although we had lots of dog treats, neither of us had so much as a brass farthing, so we went home instead. 

And this afternoon I finally put out the last of the compost.
The long border and the Moon Garden are officially bedded down for the winter, and I can go away with a clear conscience. They are done and dusted, and already the merry-go-round is bringing spring closer with every passing day. Even so, I put extra handfuls on all the little blades of green poking out of the soil. It is much too early for bulbs to be pushing up.

Oh what a lovely sight

And my reward for all the hard work?
A little posy of winter roses from the two bushes I cut back.

Winter roses

Monday, 23 December 2013

The First Present of Christmas

Howling gales again today, and worse promised.
It is 4pm, and already twilight, but we are back in the cosy kitchen., the dogs curled in their baskets and my little Christmas tree glowing in the gathering dusk.
Despite the wind, it's been a lovely day. True, we did get caught in one torrential shower while replenishing the bird feeders, but Model Dog and I carried on regardless, although the TeenQueen was having none of it. When we looked round for her, she was nowhere to be found - until we discovered her sitting in the woodshed, watching us from her nice, dry vantage point.
She explained that she dissolves in the rain - or rather 'absolves' as we say in this house - so of course she needs to be extremely careful.

But the rain blew away, and we spent a few happy hours gardening.
The flower garden hides behind high walls, and is relatively sheltered from the fierce south-westerlies that have been blowing these last few days. Unexpectedly the sky cleared and the sun came out around midday, so it was lovely to be out and able to carry on with my job of tucking the flowerbeds up for the winter under a thick blanket of compost.

His Gorgeousness, Henri

Henri, our beautiful boarder, doesn't garden - it is beneath his dignity, and anyway, it makes his socks dirty - but he did deign to spend a few hours outside today, toying with the idea of catching a bird or two. However, that also proved to be too much of an effort, so he retired to his other bed in the shed, and is now back in the kitchen where he is overflowing my lap and serenading me in dulcet tones. 

The In-Charge has gone to deliver the last few Christmas cards and buy some hen food so that we don't run out. Everything else has been bought, delivered, posted or collected and we are now officially on down-time.
Christmas is about to begin.
Oh what a lovely feeling!
And when I popped out to feed the chooks a short while ago, what did I find?
My very first Christmas present.

 Christmas presents

They're the first eggs we've had for months, since before the long, drawn-out autumn moult.
Not even the pullets have been laying, which is very odd, as that's what pullets are for!
But no matter. Someone has been doing their homework and discovered that it is traditional in this house for the first egg to be laid on Christmas Eve. (They are a day early, but we won't quibble over details, they're only beginners, after all.)

I think it must be the Littlies, or maybe the Phoenixes, because these dear little white eggs are very, very tiny.

With two bought free-range eggs

See how small they are, here beside the free-range eggs I bought at the market.

But they will be delicious, and are quite the nicest present I can think of.

Saturday, 21 December 2013


I lay in bed last night and listened to the wind howling through the trees and around the chimney pots, the hail spattering against the window panes and the distant rhythm of surf pounding on the shore.
Bleak midwinter indeed.
But, safe in my warm nest I didn't feel bleak. This is a time of year when there is something vibrant pulsing at the core, and when night enfolds you it is like black velvet wrapped around a bright kernel, so in the heart of the darkness, the wildness outside lulled me to sleep very quickly.
It is a time of year when the night is often better than the day. This morning was possibly the most horrible day ever spawned. Rain, rain and more rain, borne on winds gusting to 105km/hr.

A couple of weeks ago, someone told me we were going to have blizzards, and snow lasting into mid-January. To my mind, an infinitely preferable alternative.

But heigh-ho. It's only weather, after all, and I have spent the day in my kitchen, all the animals curled up in their various beds, snoozing the hours away. I've been decorating my Christmas tree, wrapping a few presents, and writing last minute Christmas cards.

My Christmas tree

My friend Mairead posted a lovely piece on her blog recently called In Praise of Christmas Cards which was very apposite and beautifully written. She mourns the slow decline of Christmas Cards, she feels they are an important part of our tradition and - perhaps more to the point - our personal history. She is, of course, quite right. How can an email possibly compare? However warm the wishes, it doesn't sit on your mantelpiece looking pretty and seasonal, or last. And as for texts - well, there is nothing to be said.

She and my mother are as one in this, although even Mairead probably doesn't expend as much zeal in the matter as my Mama. In truth, I have never known anyone who takes Christmas cards more seriously - she does a proper job, with news and personal letters enclosed - she probably thinks a 'round robin' is that plumptious little creature on her bird table. And she has them mailed in good time, not like my last minute scrabble to catch the final posting day.

It was today, the final posting day for Christmas. No surprise that I was writing cards, then.
I looked out of the window regularly, waiting for a momentary pause in the rain so I could scoot down to the post box, but the passing hours only brought more rain, blowing ever more sideways. Being washed down to the post office did not seem an appealing prospect , but then suddenly an angel appeared. It is traditional of course, at Christmas. This angel took the form of my friend the Talentui Goddess. I didn't see her wings at first, only when she announced that she was on her way into town did I spot the soft feathers fluttering behind her chic hat.
'You're not going to the post office?' I asked, hardly daring to hope for such a reprieve.
'No,' she said. 'But I can. I'm going past it.'
What a honey.

If pushed, I'd have to admit that it's not cards, but Christmas carols that are the essential part of the season for me. I don't mean bashing out O Come All Ye Faithful with some person coughing on your left side and someone else blowing their nose to your right, but rather the lucid perfection of King's College choristers singing John Rutter or The Coventry Carol or something angelic along those lines. It's not possible for me to make mince pies, or write cards, or decorate trees without those clear voices in the background. 

Essential Christmas

But I do love Christmas cards.
I don't send many these days - postage being so exorbitant - but I am very choosy about what I buy. They have to pass some indefinable yardstick. They have to really appeal to me, even if they are not conventionally beautiful. And - pleased as I am to receive any cards at all these days, I have a definite marking system for the ones I do get. Every year I keep one or two that I specially like, which are hung vertically on ribbons, and each Christmas all the 'specials' from previous years come out of their box and decorate the walls all over again.

One of my 'specials'

Perhaps loving Christmas cards is also about anticipation. To me, this last week or so before Christmas is almost the best bit of all.

I love midwinter, the days getting shorter and shorter, the trees bare against the darkening sky, the stars fierce and brilliant, houses filled with light and, despite the horrors of the world, everyone looking forward to something, whatever that may be.

Here we are, in the deepest dark of the year, the long, cold reaches of winter still to come, the slow return of the light tantalisingly ahead as the earth pauses - pivoting, slowly turning towards her next brave horizon; yet hidden within the folds of her dark skirts is Christmas, like a warm heart glowing in the depths of the night, a bright kernel shrouded in velvet.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The Day That's In It

I took the dogs for a walk this morning, up along the river and into the cathedral of the woods, where the columns of trees arch high over the path, and the bare, black branches carve their tracery against the sky.
The river was still and full today - quiet, apart from the odd salmon rising, sending rings eddying to the banks. All the way we swapped beats with the herons, who didn't seem at all pleased to see us. We were interrupting their second breakfast, I expect.

Model Dog walks so close beside me that I often find her ear lying softly in my hand, like an end of velvet.
She paces like a great cat - her shoulders loose and sinuous, the fluidity of her gait swaying her slightly from side to side. The TeenQueen on the other hand, is like a deer - light on her feet, easily startled, fleet and silent - she is away in a rush of air if something catches her eye.

When we got home I put up the Christmas tree I bought at the weekend.
It may not smell of sharp, pine resin, but I will enjoy looking at it every day - I think it is beautiful.
It was made by a Sligo glass-maker I know, and I loved it the moment I saw it on his stand at the Christmas Fair. It will be even nicer on a sunny day.

My Christmas tree

The rest of my day has been calm and quiet. I looked up as I was filling the kettle to find a flock of goldfinches on the bird nuts and 'cupcakes' outside the window. I have only recently opened this new restaurant, and it has gone straight to No 1 in the charts, but the regulars are tits of all kinds, chaffinches and sparrows, with the occasional visit from one of my garden robins. I haven't seen the goldfinches since last winter and it was a good day to welcome them back. 

Some fuzzy goldfinches through the window

Armed with my hot drink, the dogs and I headed for the flower garden. I've been gradually putting it to bed, but some things don't want to go. Today I picked the last delphiniums, pink achillea and tall purple campanula (a flower that always reminds me of pixie hoods), and cleared another good stretch of the long herbaceous border, cutting back and weeding, but also taking time to split and replant various perennials before tucking it all under a thick blanket of compost.

It's a laborious job, but a satisfying one. A chance to say à bientôt and thank you after a long, long summer. And a chance to bury some treasure, as my friend, the Talentui Goddess, calls planting bulbs.
I am late with the bulbs this year, but as it still feels like October outside, I'm not too worried.
And when I see them again, in all their glory, the winter will be past and a new season of growing will have begun.

It was a good day to think of replenishment, I needed it.
Just as it was a good day to walk in the woods.
I used to walk there almost every day, but I've hardly been this year.
They are too full of ghosts, the woods, they make my heart ache.
But today it was a kind of solace to visit them again, the wind like wild water in the treetops.
It's a year ago today that Top Dog died and our world staggered on its axis. Dramatic to say that, perhaps, but true, and - daft as it may seem - I still catch myself thinking that he'll be back soon.

I saw a heartbreaking tombstone in a church once. It was for a young child, and all it said was: 'My beloved is in the garden, gathering flowers.'
Typically Victorian, I know, but it brought tears to my eyes. And I understand the feeling.
Top Dog is off somewhere, doing something. Chewing his bone in the orchard perhaps, or lying in the sun in the courtyard.
I just haven't seen him for awhile because dear Model Dog and I have been busy doing stuff too.

Thursday, 21 November 2013


As I said a few days ago, animals have been on my mind recently.
It's my own fault.
I shouldn't look on Facebook. Or, perhaps I shouldn't have 'Liked' half the Animal Charities in Ireland on Facebook. Then I wouldn't have to be confronted with the realities of furry life in this country.
The trouble is, I'm not great at sticking my head in the sand, either.

The realities don't make pleasant viewing, by and large, although there are (mercifully) lots of happy endings.
I know there are also lots of excuses for why things are so bad. Ireland has been in the grip of recession for a long time now. People are poor, hard-pressed, struggling to keep things together, losing jobs and homes. And, let's face it, other countries are just as bad...
But actually, the longer I think about it, the more pathetic any excuse seems to be.
This isn't Syria, or the Phillipines. We should be responsible for the animals in our care, and yet animal welfare in Ireland is in a truly shocking state.

Of course, I know there are lots of eejits like me who would give their last crust to the cat (not that my cats would look at crusts); who'd perch on the floor because the dog's got the sofa, and rush outside in a thunderstorm to make sure the outdoor critters have their umbrellas up.

Two happy endings for two Rescues, thanks to ForDogsSake DogRescue and Great Hounds in Need

Bur sadly, there seem to be many, many other people who just don't give a damn. Either that; or they're blind, deaf and dumb, or - worst of all - they actually choose to take out their frustrations and anger on any animal who comes within range.

It appals me to the point of sleeplessness that anyone can willingly harm an animal, yet people do it all the time.
It appals me that people can see animal abuse and neglect going on under their eyes - next door - down the road, and do nothing about it.That people can literally watch an animal die of starvation, or neglect, or injury, without intervening.
And that so few people do the one thing they could do to help - neuter/spay their own. Loads of charities offer vouchers to help with the cost of this simple operation, yet the country is overrun with strays and unwanted litters.

Mayo Cat Rescue has trapped, neutered and returned over 250 stray cats in their area this year. That is aside from all the other rescue work they do. Yet, in truth, as Maureen (who runs the charity) says: 'It's a drop in the ocean'.
If only people would look at the wider picture and see that not neutering adds exponentially to the whole sorry mess.

Considering how relatively small the population of Ireland is (somewhere round the 4 million mark), why is the animal problem so big? There seems much to answer for, and yet so few people being brought to account. And that is despite the fact that in many abuse cases, a whole parish might know what is going on.
Perhaps, worst of all, is the fact that those in an 'official' capacity appear to do least of all. From the government down, they pass the buck round and round while in the meantime, the animal charities have stepped in to pick up the pieces.

There was a picture on Facebook this week of a dead foal lying on rough grass. The photograph showed that the ground all around the poor little creature's feet and body was just a mire - it must have spent its last hours thrashing its hooves - in pain, or trying to get up perhaps. The photo was taken by Animal Heaven Animal Rescue, who responded as soon as they were called, but were too late to save the foal, although they did take its poor mother and 3 other horses away.

A poor dead foal.  Photo: Donna Tier via PAWS Animal Rescue who were instrumental in helping these horses

AHAR is a charity that had already rescued 93 equines and 27 dogs this week, the horses from all corners of the country, both North and south. They have been on the road day and night, responding to calls to pick up horses that were starving, horses that had been dumped, horses that might have been destined for the illegal meat trade (until that bubble burst), horses that are left-overs from the good times when everyone was breeding right left and centre to make an extra buck.
Why is it always the people who are prepared to do something who end up doing everything?

About the dead foal and its mother, a local woman told this charity: 'I have been on to everyone I can think of about those poor horses, from the county council, to site owner, to environmental officer and at the end of it all, hit a brick wall. The final word was that..it all boiled down to money and what it would cost for each horse to be removed to the pound...no one would take responsibility.' 
So a foal is dead, and an un-funded charity takes in the unwanted animals. Again.
What would happen if the charities didn't act until they had the money 'in place'?
They rely solely on donations? What if it's a 'thin' week - as so many weeks are?

I saw another horse picture on Facebook recently.
I couldn't make out what it was at first. I can be a bit dim like that, but afterwards, I couldn't get the image out of my head.

Photo:  Hungry Horse Outside

Were the owners of this horse aware of its condition? The follow-on question is inevitable. If not, why not? They were, apparently, aware of the rescue attempt being made by another of this country's amazing charities, Hungry Horse Outside, but they didn't put in an appearance - then or later.

When I saw the picture, I truly thought the horse was dead, but incredibly she wasn't, and in HHO's care, she is gradually coming back to life, but to quote the charity: 'She is so unhappy, it is heartbreaking. She is being treated like a princess by the volunteers but she has lost the sparkle...she is completely uninterested in life itself. Despite all the love and care...she is unhappy.'
Some wounds don't go away overnight - if ever.

Rachael, well but still unhappy.  Photo: Hungry Horse Outside

Back in September, I was shocked into silence by the state of some of the hens I helped re-home as part of LittleHill Animal Rescue & Sanctuary's 'Great Escape' in which 7000 chickens were saved from a battery. (You can read about it here.) The birds, in just 15 months of life, had gone from healthy young pullets to lifeless, dull dabs of skin and bone, some of them almost completely featherless, a few too far gone to want food, water or even freedom.
A Year in a Cage.
It would make a good title for a play.
Sadly, it wouldn't be a comedy. Possibly a farce. Definitely a tragedy.

Yah Bird after several weeks of rehabilitation. She was almost completely bare to start with

With care and individual attention, alongside those things that hens ought to be able to take for granted - like fresh air, a bit of space, natural light, shelter, somewhere to scratch - most of them are now completely restored to health and well being.
But the battery was re-stocked with another 7000 bright-eyed pullets long since.
It's not illegal, after all.

A typcial battery. NOT the battery in question   Photo: Facebook

Yah Bird now

Not everyone is as lucky as the Escapee hens.
Being a long-dog lover, it's the plight of greyhounds that wrenches my guts. Perhaps the most gentle dog on the planet, the only mistake greyhounds ever made was catching our eye by running too fast. We'd never have focused on them, out of the ordinary, otherwise.

Photo:  Martin Usborne  (seen on

They are bred and bred, always hoping for that one dog who will make it to stardom and earn megabucks, but like everyone else in this world, very few make it that far, and if they do, the bright lights are short-lived.
I'm sure there are some decent racing greyhound breeders out there - at least, I hope to God there are - but the sorry truth for unrecorded numbers of greys is that once they're injured, or past it, they are 'disposed of.' 
For a lucky few, this might mean being handed over to a rescue. For countless others, it means having their ears hacked off at the root (if using a stanley knife qualifies as hacking) being taken to remote woodland or a quarry somewhere and shot. They are tatooed inside their ears, so traceable. Some, God help them, are just left without food or water (possibly muzzled) lying in their own mess in tiny cages, until nature takes its course.

But the possibilities don't end there. Some greyhounds end up on a vet's pristine table, while all the blood is drained out of their bodies. They are then, of course, dead, but the blood is very useful. The dog is not.
Some unlucky dogs are exported to places like Spain where, if that's possible, life as a greyhound will be even tougher than it is here.

The gambling public don't get to see all that.
Would they care?
If the question: 'What happens to these animals?' hasn't flagged itself up in their heads, then probably not. Those who do care don't support the dog racing industry by partidipating in it.

If you want to find out more about ex-racing greyhounds, or join a protest, contact Shut down BelleVue Greyhound race track in Manchester who work tirelessly trying to stop greyhound racing and abuse of these beautiful, gentle hounds.

I'm sure there are lots of people out there who aren't involved with greyhounds. Or mutts. People who stick to purebred dogs because then you are paying for provenance, you know what's what and you can be sure of what you're buying.
It's a nice idea - but can you be sure?
If you have ever bought a puppy, did you see its mother and the place where it was reared?
Did you see anything except the room/office/van the dealer wanted you to see?
If you did, well and good. Hunky dory and tickety boo - thank heavens for dealers who actually breed dogs because they love dogs, not cash. But you surely got one of the lucky ones.
If you've ever bought a puppy that got sick soon afterwards, or didn't socialise well with people, or - worse - died - then start asking yourself serious questions.
For vast numbers of young dogs being sold out there, the truth behind the seller's sunny smile isn't so good.
More pups than you would believe are bred on puppy farms, from worn-out bitches confined for life to breed like machines in small, possibly not very clean cages, until they too are past use.

Don't buy a dog. Choose a Rescue. You'll never regret it - and nor will they. (And that goes for cats too - every animal, probably - though I don't know how many rescued gerbils there are out there...)

If you read my blog regularly, you'll know that generally I'm a pretty positive sort of person who tries to be fairly upbeat about life, but there just doesn't seem to be much 'upbeat' in all of this.

There seems, instead, to be no end to the ways in which people can make a dog suffer.
Meet Charlie.
Charlie was found one winter's evening in a ditch. It was a miracle anyone saw him at all, really.
Julie, from Offaly SPCA, climbed down into the cold water and mud and somehow managed to pull him out. It was quite hard work because he was half dead, had almost no fur, was covered in injuries and was sticky and greasy.

Charlie, in Julie's car after being pulled out of a ditch  Photo: Offaly SPCA

It took umpteen baths with warm water and gentle hands to remove the coating embedded in Charlie's skin.
Perhaps fortunately, almost all the rest of his fur came away with it, revealing bites, holes, wounds...
Between them, the vet and the charity volunteers worked out that it was -cooking oil. Old, sticky cooking oil, like a pan that isn't ever washed, just used again and again. It's not uncommon, apparently. If you smother a dog in cooking oil before using it as bait in a dog-fight, it makes the whole thing so much more entertaining and fun. Of course, it doesn't stop the dog being bitten and savaged. In fact, it probably winds the attackers into more of a frenzy, because they can't get hold of their prey properly.

What a great world we live in.

It took months for Charlie to get better. The wounds got better soon enough, with treatment. The continuing baths got his skin back to normal function, and eventually his fur started to grow again. But the other wounds? Do the wounds inside ever totally go away? His foster 'mum', and now his permanent 'mum' have brought Charlie over the threshold into a new world where he knows happiness and love, but who knows what goes on inside a dog's head. I have had rescue dogs all my life, and the ones who have been really damaged, no matter how happy they become, are only every a shadow away from their memories. All you can do is keep the shadows away.
Fortunately, love is great for banishing shadows.

Charlie today - loved and part of a family   Photo: Offaly SPCA

Charlie sporting a rather splendid hat - his best friend's tail!   Photo: Offaly SPCA

Charlie's story is bad enough, but sadly it's only one of many. And some contain a different kind of horror.
The tale that is snaking round every lane and down every chimney in these parts at the moment is something I can barely bring myself to think about.

There has been a courtcase, apparently. (For once.)
Someone eating in an ethnic restaurant in a town close to us found himself chewing on something that didn't 'chew'.
Apparently, it proved to be a microchip.
Which, apparently, proved to belong to a dog stolen from the other end of the country.
It is grotesque, but turning away and pretending it isn't happening doesn't make it go away.

I couldn't run an animal charity. I'd be too involved with every case I was called to. I'd never be able to let an animal go. I'd worry myself sick over every creature I hadn't been able to help. I'd lie awake even more than I do, haunted by the horror stories. But thank God for people who do run them. They work tirelessly, they face ignorance, brutality, cruelty, abuse and neglect on a daily basis, but somehow they maintain a positive outlook and keep going. They are on call 24/7 with nothing that could remotely be called a routine, or a social life, or a planned 'day off'. And far from being paid, most of them are up to their ears in debt.

What happens when their credit runs out? Do they play 'Eeny-meeney-miney-mo' about who gets rescued and who doesn't?

As I am writing this, the wind is raging out of the north, hurling hailstones at my windows. Winter looms on the horizon, racing up behind us, snapping at our heels.Thank God my dogs and cats are all in, snug in their beds, dreams of supper dancing in their heads, a warm fire kicking in the belly of the stove. The hens are in their henhouse, huddled together on the perches, their heads under their wings.

But what of the creatures up and down this country who have no one and no where?

Two friends and I, in a small attempt to help animal charities throughout Ireland, have started something small, which we hope might grow. We are all creative people - art and craft people, sewers, knitters, photographers, and we thought that if we could add value to anything we could give, it  might be worth more.

We've called our venture Creating Creature Comforts because that's what we do - make things that, we hope, enhance life. What we'd like to do is sell some of the things we create in order to provide some basic creature comforts for needy animals in the care of Irish Rescues.  Anything that we can give to help towards food, shelter, medical treatment and finding permanent homes, has got to be better than nothing.

A lot of people in Ireland these days - especially artists and crafters - don't have spare cash to give, but they might be willing to give something they create. I've been knitting and crotcheting patchwork blankets for just this reason. One-off colourful throws for a sofa, playroom, nursery, TV chair, petbed...

Handmade throws for sale. €65 each plus p+p - of which €25 will go to an Animal Charity (approx 38%)

What do you make?
We'd love to hear from you if you'd like to join in. The idea is to offer items - singly or in bulk - for sale, and give a minimum of 25% from each sale to one of Ireland's hard-pressed charities (which leaves the producer money to pay for materials etc). If we can get this going, maybe we could even feature a 'Charity of the Month', and highlight what they do while raising a bit of cash for them. It goes without saying that we don't want anyone who already gives to a charity to stop doing so - this is something completely outside that loop. We hope that maybe, by coming at the same problem from another angle - people looking for crafts, gifts, cards etc - we can even get more (and different) people thinking about the animals around us. Who knows?
It's worth a try.

The first project we are undertaking is a 2014 calendar. The photographs are by Martina Killian, and feature the animals on her own smallholding. The pictures are warm and often amusing and represent the side of life we all need to focus on - animals living the lives they ought to be living.

You know what they say, big oaks etc - everything has to start somewhere. You may already have bought a calendar, but hey!  Put one in the loo, or the kid's bedroom, anywhere, and help us raise money for animal charities in Ireland. €5 from each calendar will be split between Sligo Animal Rescue - you've got to start at home! - and LittleHill Animal Rescue and Sanctuary, the charity which brought us together to form this small endeavour.

A website is on its way, but for the moment Creating Creature Comforts is on Facebook, and this blog.

You can contact us on: creatingcreaturecomforts@gmail.com or by leaving a comment below.

Please buy a calendar and help us create more happy endings  - it will be great reminder throughout next year of how things can be for animals if we all work together!
We can re-write the old rhyme:
Catch a Rescue -
Don't let go!
Some pictures from our 2014 Animal Charity Calendar

Calendar €10 plus €3.00 p+p (we can post worldwide)
To pay via PayPal or a card, go to the Buy Now button in the right hand column of this blog, near the top of the page.
Or go to Creating Creature Comforts Facebook page and use the link there.

Thank you for helping.