ChatterLog September 2011


Virgo, the Virgin

Greetings everyone and welcome to the September bulletin! Summer is well and truly over and we have moved from the sunny sign of Leo into the cooler sign of Virgo. We’ve had an earthquake and a hurricane and the air has already begun to feel a lot colder as we continue to lose one minute of light each day and head towards the Autumnal Equinox. As with each of the 12 zodiacal signs, there are a number of characteristics (and therefore topics) that I could write about, so for this month and the sign of Virgo I decided to go with the theme of “Pets” because Virgo rules over pets and small animals. Virgo is also the sign of “service” – so how do our pets serve us humans? Back in the day, animals were domesticated for the purpose of “serving” mankind, from a pack of hounds used to hunt in the forest, to the oxen in the fields pulling the farmer’s plow, to the horse and cart for transportation, or the cows in the barn providing us with milk – these animals aided in man’s survival and were the next step from being hunted by primitive man solely for their flesh, bones and skins. So how did they evolve from that point to what we now see as a modern-day fashion accessory? I wonder what primitive man would think of people nowadays who carry their dogs around in designer bags!?? A pet is essentially a household animal, (usually a dog or cat) kept for companionship and a person’s enjoyment, as opposed to wild or domesticated working animals such as livestock… So even though your dog may not be a working dog, it is serving you by bringing you companionship and unconditional love 24/7. Pets provide their owners with health benefits, not just because they are pleasing to look at or pretty to listen to. Have you ever wondered why a doctor or dentist’s office had a fish tank in the waiting room? Mine did growing up – and I can see why, it was definitely calming for the patients to watch the fish. Pets are great. They don’t answer you back and they do love you unconditionally, especially if you are the one who feeds them! Young children can learn the responsibility of what it takes to care for a pet – they have to be fed, cleaned and walked, constantly, so parents must be just as responsible when buying a pet for their child. How many stories do we read about abandoned puppies who seemed ever so cute when they had that Christmas ribbon round their neck, but once it started to grow and chew on a few pairs of shoes, perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea after all. There is an alarming number of animals that are mistreated or rejected by families. And because they were not taken care of properly, look at how busy all the animal shelters are as a result?

© Michael Brian ?

We couldn’t resist showing you this image of Jason Goodrich with a brand new puppy taken by photographer Michael Brian on a shoot for Cesar’s Way magazine at the North Shore Animal Shelter. Jason was assisting Michael Brian that day, and Michael was thrilled to have captured this unexpected moment and wonderful juxtaposition between the gritty Jason and the innocent and irresistible young puppy, less than a week old.? How can you not love this image?

Growing up in England, there was no shortage of dogs. Everyone had dogs. We did not have cats, hamsters, or guinea pigs growing up, it was all about dogs. Actually, I am a cat person, but one of the positives about having a dog is that it does require you to be outdoors and walking, which is not only great exercise but also gets you into the fresh air and interacting socially with other people and their dogs. Pets are a wonderful source of comfort and cure for loneliness, for people of all ages, from young to old. There is now a medically approved class of “therapy animals” (mostly dogs) that are brought to visit people who are confined. Speaking of confinement, there are programs, such as “Puppies Behind Bars” which trains prison inmates to raise puppies to become service dogs (note the word “service” again!) for the disabled and explosive detection canines for law enforcement. – so from faithful companionship, to guiding the blind, or guarding our property – dogs have a strong attachment to man, and man to his dogs. We have all heard the expression that a dog is “man’s best friend” – not a hamster, not a snake, or a parrot – but the dog. According to Wikipedia, the popularization of the term occurred in a courtroom speech by George Graham Vest in Warrensburg, Missouri in 1870, who said, “The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.” The phrase was later shortened to “man’s best friend”.??When I was very young, my mother had a black Labrador called Marcus, but he disappeared one day, never to return, and was most likely shot by the gamekeeper for poaching the pheasants. She was so upset, we went for quite a few years without another dog, until one day when my father returned home after surveying a property, where the owner had poured his heart out to my dad about how on earth he was going to cope with his wife, 4 kids, 2 dogs, 2 cats and whatever else was in his menagerie. So he had decided to begin by getting rid of one of the dogs and asked my dad if he’d at least consider it. After he had told the sad story, my father suggested taking this dog on but my mother was set on saying “no”. That night she had terrible dreams about this dog having to be put down because there was no home for it, so when she woke up the next morning, she sat up in bed and announced, “That’s it, we’re taking the dog.” And thus Fred the Bassett Hound became a part of our family. He was quite a character and one stubborn dog – he literally ruled the household. For instance, he wouldn’t drink water from a bowl – I mean, who knows how long it had been standing there, it was obviously stale… so Fred preferred to drink from a running tap. He had figured out that if he stood in the bathroom and barked endlessly, eventually someone would come and turn on the bathtub tap so he could jump up, hook his front paws over the edge of the tub and drink from the running stream of cold water. Delicious!


left: Fred Bassett resting on the front lawn of Cuckoo Hill House?right: Fred Bassett sticking his big wet nose into our family friends’ very young child’s face!?From left to right – John Bell (family friend), myself (with very short hair!), my mother and Laura (John’s wife)

There are many hilarious stories about Fred, including when we mated him with our friends’ Bassett Hound “Lucy” but Fred wasn’t too bright when it came to matters of procreation (he was more interested in food) and was quite unsure as to what he was supposed to be doing with this “horny bitch!” After a couple of confusing hours he eventually succeeded in impregnating Lucy, who a couple of months later proudly produced a litter of cute little puppies. Our father’s eldest brother (who lived in Nairobi, Kenya at the time) decided he wanted one of them and so “Fred the Lemon” went in the plane with him to Africa and he spent his life living there! Ironically, this particular uncle was a journalist, and after he divorced his first wife, my aunt remarried another newspaperman who happened to be editor of the Daily Mail. At one point he was approached with a new cartoon for the paper by the Scottish cartoonist Alex Graham about a Bassett Hound based on his own dog. My step-uncle loved the idea but said he would only put it in the paper if they changed the name to Fred – and thus the famous Daily Mail cartoon “Fred Bassett” was first published on July 8th, 1963 and ran for many years! And although it was based on the cartoonist’s dog, and named after ours – the stubborn character portrayed in the comic strip was very much like that of the real Fred.

Mum with Julian, the Budgie. Photo by Louisa J. Curtis

When our mother lost her last dog, she herself had become too frail to cope with another one so back in 2005 my sister came up with the brilliant idea of an alternative and low-maintenance pet – a budgie! Little did we know that she had in fact kept budgies as a child, outside in a big aviary, but they had apparently died in a frost? She had never mentioned this to us before, not until we plopped “Julian” on to her lap. We timed the presentation during one of my visits from New York, my sister picked the budgie up from the pet store and then picked me up from my father’s house, which was only a few minutes drive away from our mother’s. The budgie was in a small cardboard box, so when we got to the bottom of the hill, we pulled over to transfer it into the cage for the rest of the journey. We didn’t think it would look very nice if we were to present her with a bird in a cardboard box and an empty cage, besides, the budgie didn’t have much room in there to breathe…??Transferring the budgie from his box into the cage was not such a simple task as it sounds either, but eventually we managed it. We then drove literally at a snail’s pace down the road while the poor bird clung to his perch for dear life, leaning slightly from side to side as we navigated any bends in the road! By now my sister and I had started to have one of those fits of uncontrollable giggles and we had to work very hard to keep it together and not drive into a hedge. Finally we crawled into the yard at our mother’s and crept into the cottage with her gift. The look on her face was priceless – which is why I am sharing it with you. She named him Julian after one of her favorite irreverent and very “camp” English comics, Julian Clary. Julian subsequently became a firm and very noisy fixture in mum’s little house from that point on and kept her entertained until she could no longer cope with living at home and had to move to the nursing home. So whatever your pet preference might be, remember to treat them with just as much love as they bring you pleasure!

Wishing a very Happy Birthday to all you Virgos!