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I write this whilst the world is under threat from the coronavirus, it feels like I am watching a movie which can’t possibly be reality but unfortunately there seems no way to wake up from this nightmare.
Currently I am in Dorset with my daughter, my husband (and cats) are in Qatar and we aren’t allowed to return back there as the boarders are closed; my husband could fly out but then wouldn’t be allowed back, which wouldn’t be good for his work. Qatar hasn’t even reached its peak yet, so I can’t see them opening their boarders anytime soon (a sensible decision really) but makes me wonder when we will all be together as a family again, September….
It is hard to find a positive considering all the deaths and uncertainty, however, I am spending spring in the UK which I haven’t done for quite a considerable time, and what a wonderful time of year it is! On my once a day allowed walk I have discovered so many different footpaths, love watching the lambs galloping around the fields and the calves curiously approach me as I stand by the gate taking photos. When do we generally have time to just stand and observe? In our garden there is a blue tit making her nest in one of the bird boxes, I literally spend ages watching her and am almost at the stage of naming the blackbirds who come in the garden – my daughter thinks I am slowly losing the plot, actually though, I am just so appreciating being amongst greenery and wildlife after years of life in the desert, makes me realise how much I miss England.
During this lockdown I have been very productive art wise – there is only so many times you can clean the house! Serenity the deer and Dillion the donkey both got finished.
Plus a new drawing calling “Motherhood”, of course inspired by all the lambs and how they interact with their protective mums.
I am now starting a calf drawing, fortunately I have so many great refence photos to choose from.
Hopefully by the time I write my next blog post we will have come out of this situation and even more importantly, have a vaccine. Very worrying times at the moment, stay safe everyone.
We have a WhatsApp group on our compound in Qatar which is generally used for people selling things when they leave, or now and again for someone who has lost a pet. One such message came through on there with a distant photo of a fluffy cat in a garden looking extremely scared; I really hoped this was a lost pet and not yet another poor abandoned cat, which unfortunately happens all too often.
I monitored the thread but sadly no one came forward and indeed the resident said nobody could get near the cat; the cat was too scared and running off. I admit I was reluctant to act straight away hoping someone else would, our last rescue had to be sent to America as good homes in Qatar are nearly impossible to find. However, it was the height of summer with temperatures way over 45 degrees and a long-haired dumped pet is just not going to cope.
I loaded my cat trap in the car and drove to the street where the cat had last been spotted. I saw the poor cat hiding under a bush looking absolutely terrified and panting in the heat! It was obvious this cat was not used to being on the streets. I set up the cat trap and sat down to wait. Unfortunately one of our compound colony cats also thought the tuna in the trap smelt good and kept trying to go in the trap, which wasn’t helpful at all! I ended up sitting on the kerb feeding the compound cat tuna to try and keep him away from the trap, at which point Casper (as he is now known to us) came out from under his bush and approached me, obviously so hungry it over-road his fear of an unknown human. It was then just a matter of some sweet talking and a few spoonfuls of tuna until he let me stroke him and move in to scoop him up; I certainly hadn’t needed the cat trap. I popped him in a cat carrier and gained another rescue who would also need a home in a country where beautiful long-haired cats are often seen as a disposable accessory – sad but true.
On closer inspection it was obvious Casper had been neglected for a while. Under all his fluff he was soo thin, had very bad ear mites and his fur was also really badly matted. My goodness did he have the sweetest personality though! He let us bath him, clean his ears and attempt to start the process of cutting out the matts, all without objecting at all.
It took quite a few weeks to get him stronger and to get to grips with the ear mite situation, he also of course need neutering, a microchip, vaccinating etc etc. However at the end of it, he was simply stunning but now the problem of a good home, the rescuing is actually easy in comparison.
Luckily the wonderful rescue organisation Cat Rangers in America agreed to take him under their wing. My previous flight buddy was on hand to accompany him and a great foster home found (my cats true to form did not like this rescue in “their” house).
He flew to America on December 24th, a Christmas wish come true.
Like most rescues we will never know his full story, he strangely had no clue what it meant to sit on a sofa and definitely would never sit on your lap; that is still true to this day but will now sit beside you on a sofa. He wasn’t that comfortable being picked up and cuddled but now he completely embraces cuddles. We guess he was maybe brought on a whim and then dumped outside with the staff; he used to beg for food in the kitchen when I cooked. Whatever happened to him it hasn’t affected his affectionate and calm personality, he is a laid-back loving chap with not a mean bone in his body who is quite wary of strangers – can’t blame him for that!
Below is his portrait which flew with him to the States as a thank you to the person who adopts him and gives him a good home.
Am sure he will find his forever home very soon – he is such a handsome loving chap, he deserves nothing but good things to happen to him from now on.
After literally his paws only just touching down in America he has been adopted! Received a lovely email from his new family with these great photos showing how relaxed and happy he is.
So happy for Casper, miss the cuddliest cat around!
Sadly still so many suffering on the streets in Qatar, which won’t change anytime soon, but we do the little that we can to help.
Meet three gorgeous kitties – Dorothy, Felix and Ziggy. I am sure they all have a story to tell because their owner is an amazing rescuer of both dogs & cats in Qatar. For example, from the few I know about, there have been bottle fed kittens plus a mum and her nine pups – yes you read that right, nine! All thrived and got wonderful forever homes.
If you are an animal in need in Qatar (we do have a lot), this is a person who you want to rescue you, the future will look much brighter from then on.
The Portrait – Initial sketch
I just loved the composition that these cats naturally put themselves in, the interaction between them is just so sweet and natural. The owner was lucky to have the phone at the ready to capture this.
The start of little Dorothy peeping cheekily around her friend.
Starting the basics on Felix.
Continuing with Felix.
Moving onto Ziggy.
Ziggy in progress; white animals are always the hardest to do.
Driving home from the school run, we spotted him outside a mosque eating rice that had been put out for the birds. When he moved we noticed he was limping badly and only really using three legs. It was obvious he was struggling and did not belong on the streets, especially as when he was approached he didn’t run away, just laid beside us and wanted a stroke. There was no way we could leave him there, so we had a quick search around for a cardboard box to put him in, he wasn’t impressed but it shows how in need he was that he let us put him a box to transport home.
A visit to the vet discovered he had broken both his leg and tail, they had since healed but there is muscle wastage on the injured side as he doesn’t fully weight bear on the leg. His tail also feels really “wiggly” when stroked due to the breaks. He was only between 2-3 months old when rescued, so had an awful start in life. We will never know how he got his injuries or when he was dumped on the streets, all we know is it astoundingly hasn’t affected his trust in humans, he is a really sweet boy.
Shadow is now doing really well, he can jump to bed height and is getting stronger daily, he does still walk with a limp which might never go but he can run really fast (which he does a lot) and flies up the stairs; when he is running he now uses the leg correctly, forgetting the past pain, so is slowly building up his muscle. The vet believes he is a Maine Coon / Bengal/Arabian Mau mix – his coat is soo soft.
We would love to keep him but our older cats are not impressed. Shadow loves to play and chases everything that moves – our poor older cats and don’t you dare move your toes in bed under the duvet, his favourite thing is to jump on them, which actually gets a bit painful! Very importantly, if you don’t have another playful cat, you will need to play with him – throwing balls, a toy on a stick etc. Obviously, he is a kitten so play is normal behaviour but with Shadow, that urge to chase and pounce is strong, probably his Bengal roots. He is very affectionate and loves to be with you, he is called Shadow because he literally follows me everywhere.
His Ideal Home
He would suit an experienced cat person who understands his urge to pounce and play; give him a ball and he will happily chase it for hours! He is full of character and has the loudest purr, which he does immediately you pick him up for a cuddle. He is also quite chatty, as soon as he sees you he gives little excited squeaks. He is adorable and very loving though a little shy with strangers. He is not a lap cat but likes to sit beside you, or in the same room as you, never on your lap though. He has very “doglike” tendencies and bonds closely with one person, also loves carrying things round in his mouth – pencils, balls and his favourite soft toy (who will be flying with him in his crate). He is such a sweetheart, am sure his new family will love him as much as we do.
- Age: 6 – 7 months
- Vaccinated: Yes
- Microchipped: Yes
- Spayed/neutered: Yes
- Good with other cats: Not older cats who want to chill, would need to be tested with a friendly playful younger cat.
- Good with dogs: Unknown
- FIV/FeLV: negative
His portrait will go to his new family as a thank you from me for giving him a good home. Big thank you also to Cat Rangers who agreed to take him under their wing.
UPDATE – Good news, Shadow flew to America on the 17th May to a great organisation called Cat Rangers, who help cats like Shadow find a forever home. I am very happy to report he has indeed now found a wonderful home and is now called Chester.
We still miss him (though our older cats don’t) but am so pleased it all worked out for him. From being dumped on the streets of Qatar with a broken leg & tail to living in America, not a bad ending for this cute boy.
In his new home with his new friend – yes he is in the dogs bed, nothing changes, still the boss! Love you Shadow.
In Qatar, we have a lot of sad animal cases, if you follow some of the rescue groups you would pull your hair out and not know where to start! Personally, I try to stick to TNR (Trap Neuter Return) as that is about prevention but of course, working on the streets means you come across cases who need help and numerous dumped pets. This latest case though I didn’t find on the streets but saw on a popular Qatar facebook page…should never look at them!
Zima was abandoned by her owner, the owner moved away leaving Zima behind at the house where she had been living. The people who were sharing the property didn’t want a cat and they certainly didn’t want a cat who then gave birth to three kittens! They put an advert on a Facebook site offering the kittens for free – literally just go and pick one up, as if they were toys! The kittens were only about a 1 week old and still feeding from mum; as these are cute Persian kittens plus offered for free, loads of people responded saying they wanted a kitten and would go and get one. I read the post with horror seeing the photographs showing newly born kittens and quickly responded saying the kittens were far too young to give away, the person replied saying they were giving them away because they couldn’t afford to feed them, at which point I offered to bring them food but please not to give the kittens away.
A heartbreaking visit to the family to give the food saw the reality of where mum and kittens were living and how they were really not wanted; mum looked so sad and was so so thin but such a good mum, her kittens looked healthy and she was very protective of them hiding them under a kitchen cabinet to try and keep them safe. I was devastated to have to leave them there but had nowhere to take them having my own cats and a new rescue at home.
Following a sleepless night worrying about them I received a text message the next day from the people saying they simply couldn’t keep them, unfortunately, the food hadn’t bought the family time. I desperately contacted a fellow cat rescuer asking if she could help find a foster home but I literally needed it in the next few hours! She performed a miracle and found a wonderful foster home for the whole family. Now that they had somewhere safe to go I drove across town to collect the family, on arrival there it was almost like the mother cat knew help had finally come, on placing the carrier down mother cat calmly walked in it and sat down, as if she sensed a better life was just around the corner.
A visit to the vet confirmed that the kittens were all in good health but mum was in a very poor state. She had a vitamin injection but couldn’t be vaccinated because she was just too weak. It was also discovered she has hardly any teeth, therefore must have been really struggling to eat at all. However, they were given the all clear to move into the foster home. Thankfully she also tested negative for FIV.
Zima (Slavic for winter), as she was named by her foster mum, and her family moved into 5-star accommodation! Their very own room with fleece blankets and soft food that mum could eat. They must have thought they had landed in paradise!
Paradise is where they still are but the next challenge is finding good homes for them and covering all the veterinary costs of 4 cats – spaying, vaccination, antibiotics, worming etc. Good homes in Qatar are hard to come by and that is putting it mildly. A lot of rescuers ship abroad to America or the UK in the search for forever homes, an extremely expensive option! I hope it won’t come to that, divorce will be in the air soon as my long-suffering husband hears about the next cat rescue problem but we just can’t ignore the plight of the animals around us and help where we can.
A happy update – all three kittens have been adopted by Canadian families, lucky babies will one day end up in Canada, a far cry from where they started life. Mum is getting her happy ending too and flying to America.
It is so frustrating when you mess up a trap opportunity the first time around, in this case, I firmly blame my cat Snickers; here she is this time messing up my painting, luckily the tray was empty of paint!
We had recently moved to a compound and this stunning ginger cat had been coming in my garden and spraying the walls to mark his territory, as tom cats are prone to do. I decided it was time to trap him and sort this situation out.
The scene is set, the trap is in place and I am patiently inside watching from the window just above the trap but out of sight. Ginger, enticed by the smell of tuna is edging into the trap and almost on the plate (they step on the plate and it triggers the door to shut), when Snickers unseen by me, comes into the room…
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So many cats in the Middle East have a story to tell and Sammy is no exception. He was extremely lucky – or as his owner says, she was.
Sammy’s story (told by his owner)
I picked up Sammy at the vets’ office when his human brought him in to have him euthanized as he was leaving the country and couldn’t find anyone to take him. I didn’t really want another cat but I couldn’t let him be euthanized. I also tried to find him a home but sadly no one wanted him. He turned out to be the best cat and I fell in love with him. He lived to be 17 years old and finally passed due to gradual kidney failure. His young original human ironically passed before Sammy of a drug overdose.
The first stage of Sammy.
The lighting is quite tricky on this one but am liking the power in his gaze in this initial sketch.
Establishing all the basics.
Have now got all the basics in place but am fighting a bit with the lighting. The dilemma is whether to darken all the front as in the photo or make it softer and more “logical”. I don’t think it would work well to darken all the front but finding an in-between solution is proving tricky. Will put it on the easel to study and analyse for a bit…
So a few messages back and forth with Sammy’s owner and settled on what to do with the lighting issue, below is the scan of the end drawing.
I was pondering whether I should soften his expression slightly but his owner said no this was how he often looked at her, she said, I quote
” He told me everything with his eyes, he was a very deep and emotional cat and took about 6 months to decide if he wanted to be with us after his last owner wanted to dispose of him”.
So I left that slightly uncertain look, which was clearly part of him and a reflection on what happened in his past – clever creatures cats, we have to earn their trust and respect.
This cute cat with such lovely markings is called Gizmo, his portrait has been commissioned as a Christmas present for the clients’ husband.
Gizmo was one of three kittens born in the back garden of a villa in Qatar. His mother was not very good at looking after her brood and disappeared with one of her kittens, leaving the other two in the garden to fend for themselves. Lucky for them they were abandoned in a cat lovers garden and were whisked away to the vet for help. They were so tiny though that the vet thought they wouldn’t survive the night, well they were fighters and did survive, Winston and Gizmo became part of their family.
Winston was the stronger and smarter of the two, he taught Gizmo everything, they were completely inseparable. Gizmo had a few developmental problems which prevented him from jumping high and climbing trees, however, he had a big heart and would make friends with all the rescue kittens the couple took care of; he never fought or spat at any other cat. Gizmo did get quite sick at times and once spent a weekend in the vets because he was so ill, they knew he wouldn’t make old age but they hoped he would join them when they were ready to leave Qatar and relocate to Cyprus. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be and he passed away last Christmas. This portrait is in memory of their sweet little Gizmo. I think he was a very fortunate cat to have been born in their garden and have known love all his life.
Just love that he looks like he is wearing a little black hat. Feeling slightly emotional having just written his story (and I never even met him) but below is the initial sketch.
Working on establishing the lights and shadows.
All the basics now in place, moving onto the detail stage.
Slowly getting there, still building up the detail. White cats are actually quite hard because you need to put the shading in to give them depth but they do have to look white at the end of it!
He has an absorbed look on his face, wonder what he was looking at so intensely?
I think I am almost done. Am going to leave him sitting on the easel for a while to double check. Quite like his intense look and having checked my other photographs of him, he does seem to have that type of expression. So loving that little black cap, makes him completely unique, it couldn’t possibly be a portrait of any other cat!
I thought I was finished but two more days of analysing, have finally put the pencil down. Here is the scanned copy of the final portrait.
Portrait number 2 of Gizmo – the client loved the way he is sitting in this picture and it shows his markings so nicely.
So I am back in the Middle East and back seeing the animals trying to survive on the streets of Qatar, it is heartbreaking, makes me want to hide away from the cruel sights and live in an ivory tower where it is all about the fancy malls and Friday brunches, head-in-the-sand technique, ironic statement I know considering I am living in a desert country!
I drove out the compound this morning and on the first corner saw a stray dead dog covered in blood, probably run over in the night. By the time I drove back from the school run, the body had been cleared away, shame my memory of that poor dog won’t be as quickly erased! Sadly the stray dogs here are also at risk of being shot or poisoned, I also always wonder how on earth they find food, cats can jump in bins to search for food but the dogs must really struggle, perhaps they rely on human kindness, never advisable – sorry, I am sounding bitter!
I just went to help a lady trap a cat to be taken to the vet to be spayed, it is so nice the lady is helping the cats on her compound, only to hear from her that she found one dead that morning, she thinks the cat was poisoned by a neighbour who doesn’t like cats, will this be the fate of the cat I just dropped at the vets? Very sad to think it might, so yes, today I am feeling a bit bitter.
The compound where I live has quite a few stray cats living there but unfortunately, some of the humans don’t like this, some have complained to the management, they say having cats around is unhygienic – OK, so if you remove all the cats bring on the rats! Cats are actually very clean animals and perfectly healthy if TNRed and part of a managed colony, which brings me actually on to what I was supposed to be talking about, TNR – Trap Neuter Return.
I have done TNR now in many countries (Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Philippines, Dubai and Kuwait), so I just as well add Qatar to my list. TNR works; as long as unwanted/unfixed pets don’t get dumped into the colony (happens a lot). For example, by some strange coincidence, I stopped by a dumpster where a cat was climbing the rubbish bags searching for food, I wanted to get a photo of how life for the street cats is to add to this post. I approached slowly so not to scare the cat but low and behold the cat jumped down to the floor ran towards me and wrapped herself around my legs crying loudly – this was no street cat! Closer inspection she had stunning blue eyes and looked very much like a Siamese – yes someones dumped pet! From a distance, I thought she was a street cat but when you look at the close-up photo, you can see she isn’t! Poor baby, shame on whoever did this to her.
I am preparing a document for our compound management to try and get their support to run a TNR program here, I hope they will agree. For those of you wondering what exactly TNR is, the below poster illustrates it well, if you would like to know about it in more detail, please follow this link: https://www.alleycat.org/our-work/trap-neuter-return/
There are many groups of animal lovers all around Qatar working to help the animals. A lot of people raise money to fly the dogs out of the country to homes they have found for them abroad; it is very difficult to find homes for big dogs here. There are wonderful Facebook groups showing these dogs loving their second chance at life, here is just one example of such a group: https://www.facebook.com/pupswithpassports/
My area of animal welfare has always really been TNR, for every cat we spay we stop yet more kittens having to survive on the streets, that in itself is an achievement. Have a look at the chart on the left to get an idea of how many kittens an unfixed pair can produce!
The difficult part of TNR is to pay for all the vets’ bills, so I am going to donate 20% from the sale of my Original Art to build a fund for spaying and neutering, it is never enough but it is a start. When I leave the Middle East at least a few poor souls will have been helped, sorting out the massive animal welfare issues here might unfortunately not happen in my lifetime.
Tomorrow is another day, I will pick myself up, stop ranting and just get on with it again like all animal rescuers do, it is the happy endings that keep us going.
Look at this stunning photo of such a gorgeous cat! Bebe’s owner is a photographer (have a look at her portfolio kerrysellers.myportfolio.com), so I have been spoiled with this photograph – actually slightly worried I can do justice to this the amazing shot! Sadly Bebe passed away recently, so her owner is having the portrait done in her memory.
Below is the initial sketch.
A friend of mine, who is a pastel “human” portrait artist, once told me she always adds the eyes first so that she has someone to talk to whilst working on a portrait, I have done the same here before starting work on his amazing coat.
Was just about to post these when had to stop to mop up the floor, Qatar experienced a full-on thunder-storm, the art room windows proved not to be equipped for such unusual amounts of rain, hence the mopping!
Anyway, back at the desk and back to the art. At the moment overemphasizing all his markings, will probably have to soften some slightly later but liking the powerful feel he is portraying, makes me think of the larger members of the cat family.
Have now completed all the basics, moving onto the refinement.
I think I am finished but I will leave him on the easel to analyse a bit more before scanning him. I also always get my husband to have a look (good to get a fresh set of eyes to view it) but for him, it is actually a no-win situation, if he criticizes it I get defensive but I do actually value his opinion, sorry hubby!
Below is the final scanned image of Bebe.
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Having packed up the furniture, sold the car, shipped the cats, enrolled very reluctant daughter in her new UK school and said a fond farewell to expat life, we thought that was it for living life abroad – end of a 23 year love affair with expat life and the thrill of exploring new countries, the UK beckoned and with it stability and finally putting down some roots. But hold on, we now live in Qatar! Yes the expat pull was just too much, is it a slight addiction I wonder… maybe the grass isn’t always greener on the other side – literally!
So we are back in the desert and back to drawing one of my favourite models -a characterful camel! I particularly like this one in his halter.
Below is the finished drawing. Called him “Best Blanket Day” as he does look very smart.
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Baxter and Barley’s portraits will be a surprise Christmas present. Look at this amazing photo of Baxter! The client persevered with her photography (and my fussiness) and managed to get this great shot! Such a wonderful expression and great lighting. A good clear reference photo makes all the difference and this one is a pleasure to work from. Whilst I get started on Baxter’s portrait, the client is trying for more shots of Barley, as they aren’t her dogs she is doing a great job of undercover photography!
Below is the initial sketch of Baxter, more to come once I have completed all the basics. At the moment just getting the main details and fur direction in.
Starting to add more depth of shadow.
Working on the final detail, just realised I need to do his disk!
The finished scanned image.
Client kindly sent me a photograph of Baxter framed, love her choice of frame.
Well another wonderful photo, this time of Barley, the client really has got the photography side down now! Love the enquiring look. Below is the initial sketch.
Pretty intense few days working on Barley, the reality is that Christmas is looming…….. Am working on getting all the basics in place, adding light, shade and structure.
Continuing to add the basics.
Slowly but surely. From an artists point of view, Barley is easier than Baxter because he has some ‘white bits’, black animals are notoriously difficult and you have to rely on good lighting. Barley’s white sections instantly give interest to a drawing and make him unique.
Now at the final detail stage, my favourite part!
A day of analysing and putting the final touches to Barley. Below is a scanned image of the final portrait – is his expression dreaming of running through the fields, or his dinner?