I grew up looking after and interacting with a wide range of animals (cats, dogs, horses, calves, pigs, a guinea pig, stick insects and more), and often roaming the moors, swamps and woods behind our house (“Brunssumerheide“) for hours.
I rode horses for a while. First, next-door as the neighbours and their relatives a few houses away along the same road had horses. Next, at Stal Heihof van Abdissenbosch, run by Chris and Jeannette Haazen at the time. (You can see Chris and Jeannette in the three videos below. Ever seen a horse dance? If not, then you really gotta watch the first video.)
My favourite one was called “Devil”. Does not quite have the same ring in Dutch, but yes, he was a stubborn little rascal. I think he even pulled me into the water once, on an outdoor ride. There was also one called Duebe. That was an armchair ride. Quite nice every once in a while. Joel also was a character. Tested you. Would unexpectedly come to a halt in a corner, refuse to budge and then wait to see how you responded to that. The one that always bucked was Lyndon, which meant you had to take the end of the line if you rode Lyndon.
I got to the point of jumping, but then I graduated from secondary school and moved away.
(In this third video, you see the same horse – Nartan – as in the wonderful first video of these three. It shows you a bit of the relationship between Jeannette and Nartan.)
Dogs tend to like me. Sometimes, dogs (strangers!) come running when they see me, tail wagging. For a quick hello. It’s even happened, on Castle Field in Southsea, that a dog spontaneously came running, threw itself at my feet and rolled onto its back. Particularly larger dogs seem to trust me and consider me reliable. I generally prefer somewhat larger dogs, and they undoubtedly know that.
I like animals so I also enjoy looking after other people’s pets (and homes). While I was living in Florida, I did that for various people and animals. And a few years ago, I had the pleasure of looking after a sensitive older rescue Staffie in my home for about a month.
I’ve also gone fox-watching a few times. (Britain has many urban foxes. Also an increasing urban deer population, but not here where I live.)
Staffordshire bull terrier mix Cassie
This sensitive older rescue Staffie was very happy and relaxed in my home. She was great fun. We went on many long walks, and ran and played a lot.
I had been told she was nervous around other dogs, but didn’t see a trace of it while she was staying with me.
She responded with great anxiety when she saw that someone wanted to take a photo of her, however. I don’t know what might have caused that phobic response. So I only snapped a few sneaky photos like this one, and left it at that.
Another photo of Cassie
My learning about birds began in Florida. Up to that point, I knew next to nothing about birds. I got into sea bird rehabilitation with the wonderful and globally well-respected bird champion and oil spill contingency planner Lee Fox.
Freshly arrived from Amsterdam, I decided that volunteering might be a great way to grow roots in the local community so I started calling around for volunteering opportunities. Lee’s facility PSRC was the first to call me back.
This spunky and highly intelligent creature called Sioux was part of my household for 21 years. She was awesome. She was still a youngster when she arrived at PSRC in Florida where I was volunteering at the time. It was against the law to release her. Also, she was unable to fly. So she needed a home. I adopted her along with quaker parrot Mohawk who managed to stay alive for 13 years. (Necropsy done.)
Since then, I have had two feral (wild) quaker parrots (Myiopsitta monachus) and emigrated with them twice.
For a while, I had a spunky half-tame cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus) who I liked very much, but turned out to be much happier in a large aviary with lots of other cockatiels than in my home.
On YouTube, I often see bird owners stroke their birds as if the bird were a cat or dog, but it is my understanding that stroking the back of a bird tends to have a sexual meaning for the bird. If you want to be friends with a bird who knows you well, stroke the bird under one of the wings. Gently insert your finger from the front, but observe how the bird responds. Don’t force it.
Sioux on the left, Mohawk on the right. Youngsters. After we left Florida, they refused to eat carrots. No idea why.
Gently stroking a bird’s bill tends to be calming to a bird. Soothing. Nice. Sweet.
Birds have similar reserves about being touched in certain places as humans, by the way.
In recent years, I have rehabbed a few pigeons (Columba livia). Pigeons are highly intelligent and gentle creatures that I had essentially ignored for decades, embarrassingly.
The most recent one stayed with me for six months and taught me a lot. I am very grateful for the experience. I have also on occasion grabbed a highly inquisitive pigeon who had ventured into a store, in Portsmouth and in Amsterdam.
I clean and disinfect with F10, a high-end veterinary product.
2016: This pigeon had accidentally gotten locked up somewhere and was dehydrated when I spotted the creature trying to commit suicide – but clearly not wanting to die yet. No muscle power. No lift. I grabbed the bird. Stayed with me for nine days. Already doing pretty well again in this photo.
Lee Fox was in charge of loads of volunteers cleaning up oiled pelicans after the 1993 oil spill in Tampa Bay and set a global survival record for oiled birds. Lee Fox and a team of volunteers were also involved in the Prestige spill clean-up in Europe.
Photo: Dawn Waldt.
1994: Ducks were very rare at Pinellas Seabird Rehabilitation Center (PSRC). We often had pelicans, many different heron species, double-crested cormorants, anhingas, gulls and many many more. Ducks? Nope. Just this one. We also had a loon once. Raptors went to the nearby Boyd Hill Nature Park facility.
Photo: Dawn Waldt
This photo shows another rehab pigeon, four days after I found her and took her with me. As you can see, she was feeling pretty damn miserable back then. She turned out to be very wise, smart, persistent (setting goals for herself) and highly inquisitive. She stayed with me for six months, through the winter. She left with a fresh set of feathers and a heck of a lot more energy. (I’ll say! She really stunned me when I released her. She instantly shot up incredibly high, did three circles to find her bearings, then headed home, half a mile north. She was looking very different by then.)
Cockatiel Cappuccino. Sioux helped pick his name.
Sioux on the left, Mohawk on the right. Still youngsters. Mohawk preening and Sioux taking care of an itch.
Mohawk being loud and bossy. Sioux looking at Mohawk with interest and admiration. Quakers do this thing where they puff themselves up, but it means they’re relaxed and confident.
Sioux on the left, still relatively young and nowhere near as confident yet as she grew later. Mohawk on the right, lifting her right wing.
I have also had three rescue cats who emigrated with me three times (twice with my first two cats and once with my third cat).
The Atlanticats Tim and Twici on their way to Florida. Tim is in the bottom carrier, not happy. Photo taken at Schiphol Airport. (I slimmed Tim down a bit after we moved to Florida.)
Cat Tim came from a shelter, initially highly traumatized for whatever reason. He was estimated to be about 5 years old, which means he lived until the ripe old age of 21 or thereabouts. He was a terrific pal of a cat. He loved “trying to catch” the laundry and then racing away at record speed. I wrote a piece about him that was published in the women’s magazine Viva.
Cat Tim playing with one of my birds’ feathers, by then highly advanced in years (and struggling with a liver/gall bladder tumour as we later found out).
This is Twici, asleep in Florida. She used to belong to an older woman who was going into a home, in Amsterdam. Neighbours adopted the cat, but threw her out when they discovered that the cat had serious bladder problems. The cat then decided to come live with us. I had to piece her history together by leaving notes and making calls. The bladder problems later resolved completely and never returned.
I plucked Cat Cibyll away from an attic where she’d been hiding. Apparently, she’d gotten lost when her owner moved away. She’d become pretty feral. It took me 9 months to get her to accept my cat Tim… I had a Chinese wall running through my flat for a long time, but Tim and Cibyll ended up being best pals.
My cats’ vet in Amsterdam was Dr Geerling. I still haven’t gotten over the fact that he passed away a while back.