The ‘purr-fect’ companion
While dog walking and fostering is probably the biggest part of VIPPIES activities other pets take up just as much love, care and attention from the team. Maria, one of the younger carers, specialises in looking after clients’ cats, small furry animals and birds. After graduating from the University of Lincoln in 2016 Maria realised that her degree in contemporary lens media was not quite where her passion lay.
She had already come across VIPPIES when she did a project with them as part of her studies at the University and following graduation she enrolled on a Pet First Aid Course with the team. Sheena and Jade, never ones to let a good opportunity pass, spoke to Maria about joining the team to develop her interest in working with animals. Maria said, “it was always going to be a toss up between the Arts or animals and after my degree it was time to give the animals a chance.” A couple of years on and the animals still hold her heart.
Maria started out walking dogs but soon realised it was the cats that were her main interest along with small furry animals and birds. Looking after cats and other indoor pets generally takes place over a few days when the owners are away on holiday so there is a certain amount of house checking involved as well. But the main purpose of her visit is to feed the pet, make sure there is fresh water and that the bedding is kept clean – not to mention emptying litter trays. Owners can book the basic ten minute visit but if they want their pet to have a few cuddles and a chat they need to book longer visits. Needless to say Maria prefers these, “there is something very calming about spending time with the animals in their own home”. Sometimes she is greeted by little ‘presents’ from the cats if they have access to the outside world, something she is very used to having been around cats from an early age.
While she was at University a local cat adopted her, he too brought the odd mouse to show his gratitude for being let in for a snooze on her bed, “I resisted feeding him though because I knew he had a good home and just wanted a change of scene”. Hubert, as the students christened him, used to knock on Maria’s bedroom window to be let in!
The visits can be to cats who are ‘only ones’ or as many as five in one home, each one a little bit different. Maria really enjoys getting to know them as individuals, she loves how they all have different personalities. One of her regular cats at VIPPIES loves sitting on her lap and having his chest stroked, then his front legs followed by a nose touch; and like all cats he will show affection by rubbing round her legs, sometimes turning his head and giving a random nip – with love of course!
Some of them live with other animals so there is plenty of variety and some great fringe benefits. For example looking after chickens when the owners are away means Maria can help herself to the eggs. “The chickens follow me around when I visit, especially when I am clearing up, they are so curious and want to peck over everything!” Her shyest charges are the guinea pigs who scuttle off when she calls to feed them and tidy up.
Another favourite regular is a canary called Faye. When the ‘Beast from the East’ struck in 2018, she walked through the snow to reach him as she could not get her car out. This little bird loves his broccoli and is a joy to sit with. Maria has whistling conversations with him and again finds the time spent in his company very peaceful. She also has chats with the owner via text to let her know how her canary is and get to hear about the latest exotic holiday. “I leave notes for all the owners when I visit so they know what is going on and some like more of a chat via text”.
Maria’s flat is home to Poppy and Jess, two Degus – Chilean rodents, a bit bigger than a gerbil; and Luna a lovely white and apricot house cat. The Degus love their wheel and occasionally are allowed out for a run in the hall, they are very fast and not completely trained as they were rescues. Luna likes to tease the Degus through the cage and will watch them on their hall runs – Jess squeaks at her when she gets too much.
Luna is clearly a much loved companion – a present from Maria’s partner, and although not a lap cat she is a very playful companion. She and Maria play hide and seek and Luna likes to sit behind Maria while she does the washing up waiting for a game, “I love the way she puffs herself up when she wants to play, she also loves being groomed.”
There is no doubt that Maria’s gentle and calm personality makes her ‘purr-fect’ for her work with the softer creatures.